The binational organisation protecting US and Canadian airspace has shot down another “high-altitude airborne object” over northern Canada, one day after another similar object was observed and downed near Alaskan waters, and a week after the US military brought down a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon off the South Carolina coast.
An American F-22 Raptor fighter jet shot down the object on Saturday, according to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“I ordered the take down of an unidentified object that violated Canadian airspace,” he announced. “[North American Aerospace Defense Command] shot down the object over the Yukon. Canadian and US aircraft were scrambled, and a US F-22 successfully fired at the object.”
Mr Trudeau also said he spoke with President Joe Biden on the matter. Canadian military will begin a recovery operation and investigation, according to the prime minister.
Earlier on Saturday, Norad had “positively identified a high-altitude airborne object over Northern Canada,” according to a statement from the US military’s Northern Command and Norad.
“While we cannot discuss specifics related to these activities at this time, please note that Norad conducts sustained, dispersed operations in the defence of North America through one or all three Norad regions,” Norad announced.
The latest incident marks the third intrusion into North American airspace within a week, after President Biden ordered US military to take down what officials described as a “small car-sized” airborne object on 10 February and after a suspected Chinese surveillance craft was shot down over the Atlantic Ocean on 4 February.
A statement from US Northern Command on Saturday afternoon did not provide any additional details about the recovery mission in Alaska or the object itself, including “its capabilities, purpose, or origin.”
Military officials and the White House have not speculated publicly; officials reported that the object was hovering above Alaskan waters at roughly 40,000 feet, posing a “reasonable threat” to civilian aircraft.
It remains unclear whether the incidents are connected.
Chinese officials, meanwhile, have rejected claims from the Pentagon that the balloon belongs to military fleet of similar aircraft for what the US and Nato have characterised as a global surveillance programme. China insists that the balloon was a civilian weather research vessel that drifted off course.
But declassified reporting from the US Department of State found that the equipment from the Chinese balloon “was clearly for intelligence surveillance and inconsistent with the equipment onboard weather balloons”.
The balloon was equipped with antennas that were “likely capable of collecting and geo-locating communications,” while solar panels on board were large enough to power “multiple active intelligence collection sensors,” according to the agency.
The balloon – roughly the size of three buses traveleing above the US at 60,000 feet – was first spotted by the government off the coast of Alaska on 28 January.
President Biden had ordered the military to shoot it down as soon as safely possible, though military officials – believing there was no imminent physical threat from the balloon – advised to wait until it was over water where it didn’t endanger anything below and could be more easily recovered. The waters off South Carolina’s coast are roughly 50-feet deep.
“A key part of the calculus for this operation was the ability to salvage, understand and exploit the capabilities of the balloon,” Melissa Dalton, the assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and hemispheric affairs, told a Senate panel investigating the incident.
She told the committee on Thursday that shooting it down over Alaska could have brought it down into ice cover or waters that are thousands of feet deep and in temperatures that would have made recovery and salvage “very dangerous,” she told the committee.
Speaking alongside US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington DC this week, Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said the latest balloon incident “confirms a pattern of Chinese behaviour” using “different types of intelligence and surveillance platforms” around the world.
Mr Stoltenberg said world leaders face a “constant risk of Chinese intelligence” that challenges officials to “step up what we do to protect ourselves.”
“We need to react in a prudent, responsible and vigilant way,” he said. “It also highlights that security is not regional.”
Chinese authorities also have accused members of Congress of engaging with “political manipulation and hype” after the House of Representatives issued a rare, unanimously and swiftly passed resolution this week to condemn China’s balloon surveillance program as a “brazen violation” of US sovereignty.
Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have scrutinised the intrusion of Chinese espionage operations in the US as military officials briefed members of Congress in closed-door hearings about the scale and scope of China’s surveillence programme.
Recovery operations in Alaska continued on Saturday near Deadhorse, Alaska and in the Atlantic Ocean, where the military and federal law enforcement has deployed an unmanned underwater veheicle to comb the sea floor for to collect critical components from the massive balloon.
“Arctic weather conditions, including wind chill, snow, and limited daylight, are a factor in this operation, and personnel will adjust recovery operations to maintain safety,” US Northern Command reported on the progress of the Alaska mission. “Recovery activities are occurring on sea ice.”
The object over Alaskan waters appeared to have been quickly brought down on Friday with an F-22 fighter jet firing an advanced AIM-9X Sidewinder missile at the object. A fleet of US military search-and-rescue aircraft and helicopters are assisting in the operation.