The U.S. military on Sunday shot down an “object” over Lake Huron in Michigan—the latest takedown of an unidentified vessel flying over North America in the last week, U.S. officials said Sunday.
The “object” was shot down over concerns about its “potential surveillance capabilities,” the Department of Defense said Sunday in a statement. But the Pentagon has yet to determine where the object came from and what it was doing, according to two U.S. officials.
The DOD said it downed the object at approximately 20,000 feet altitude with an F-16. Prior to engaging, Canadian and U.S. aircraft both investigated the “object,” Canada’s minister of national defense, Anita Anand, said Sunday. Lake Huron borders Michigan and the Canadian province of Ontario.
The DOD clarified that the object’s “path and altitude raised concerns, including that it could be a hazard to civil aviation,” noting that it did not appear to pose a “kinetic military threat to anything on the ground.”
The location “chosen” for the shoot down minimized the chances of civilian injury while maximizing those of debris recovery, according to the Pentagon. “There are no indications of any civilians hurt or otherwise affected,” it said.
This is the fourth object the U.S. military has taken down in the last week. The unprecedented flurry of activity has raised questions about the U.S. government’s capability to track potential threats in American skies, and what nation—or other entity—may be responsible for the “objects.” Pressure has mounted for the Biden administration to secure U.S. airspace following the appearance of a Chinese spy balloon earlier this month over the continental United States, which the military shot down after allowing it to float across the country for a few days.
Although the DOD assessed the first object as a spy balloon, questions remain about the other recently downed objects, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Hemispheric Affairs Melissa Dalton told reporters in a briefing Sunday evening.
“We have not yet been able to definitively assess” what the objects are, Dalton said.
Suspicions have grown about whether the DOD is shooting down alien-linked objects in the absence of other assessments about their nature and purpose. When asked Sunday evening about whether the objects were extraterrestrial in nature, the commander of NORAD and USNORTHCOM, Gen. Glen VanHerck, declined to rule out alien origins and deferred comment to the intelligence community.
“I’ll let the intel community and the counterintelligence community figure that out. I haven’t ruled out anything, at this point. We continue to assess every threat or potential threat unknown that approaches North America with an attempt to identify [it],” VanHerck said.
The DOD declined to categorize other recently downed objects as “balloons” on Sunday, noting that there are still unknowns about the objects and how they are moving that the Pentagon is trying to determine.
“I am not able to categorize how they stay aloft,” VanHerck told reporters in the same briefing. “It could be a gaseous type of balloon inside a structure or it could be some type of propulsion system. But clearly, they’re they’re able to stay aloft.”
On Friday, the U.S. military shot down an object over Alaska, and then shot down another one over Canada the next day. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) confirmed on Sunday morning that those two objects are believed to be more surveillance balloons, based on his briefing from President Joe Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan.
As questions bubble up about what objects are floating over the country, the United States government has increased its attempt to track U.S. airspace since the Chinese spy balloon appeared last week, which may help to explain the increase in shoot-downs of objects over the United States, Dalton said.
“In light of the People’s Republic of China balloon that we took down last Saturday, we have been more closely scrutinizing our airspace at these altitudes including enhancing our radar, which may at least partly explain the increase in objects that we've detected over the past week,” Dalton said.
Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) seemed to indicate in a tweet that the item shot down on Sunday is the same one that had “invaded Montana’s airspace” and triggered a brief closure of airspace over the state on Saturday.
The DOD said that it could “reasonably connect” the Lake Huron object to the radar signal in Montana, which “flew in proximity” to an unspecified number of “sensitive” sites.