The U.S. shot down a fourth flying object Sunday afternoon at 20,000 feet above Michigan’s Lake Huron, the Pentagon said, underscoring its stepped-up defense of North American airspace following the discovery of a suspected Chinese spy balloon.
An F-16 jet fighter shot down the object on orders of President Biden at 2:42 p.m., the Pentagon said, with the same kind of missile used in the previous three shootdowns, an AIM-9X Sidewinder.
“Its path and altitude raised concerns, including that it could be a hazard to civil aviation,” the Pentagon said in its statement. “The location chosen for this shoot down afforded us the opportunity to avoid impact to people on the ground while improving chances for debris recovery.”
“There are no indications of any civilians hurt or otherwise affected,” the statement said.
Anita Anand, Canada’s defense minister, said both U.S. and Canadian jet fighters were dispatched to investigate the object, which was flying near the Canadian border.
“We unequivocally support this action, and we’ll continue to work with the U.S.” to defend North America, she said.
The U.S. shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the Atlantic coast Feb. 4. Military jets shot down unidentified objects over Alaska on Friday and over Canada’s Yukon territory Saturday, both of which were described by U.S. and Canadian officials as balloons.
Officials have yet to determine who launched the objects and their purpose.
The Pentagon said it began tracking the latest object over Montana. Earlier this weekend, the Federal Aviation Administration said it temporarily closed airspace to civilian operations over Montana, and later over Lake Michigan, to support Department of Defense operations.
The airspace was later reopened. After the first closure, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or Norad, said it detected a “radar anomaly” and sent jet fighters to the area, but no object was found. It didn’t immediately respond to a request of comment on Sunday’s incident.
In the wake of the objects shot down Friday and Saturday, U.S. officials have reached out to research agencies to determine whether the high-altitude craft might be related to their work, U.S. officials said. But the U.S. hasn’t ruled out that they might be of foreign origin, they said.
The suspected Chinese balloon that traveled over the U.S. led Norad to more closely examine raw radar data, the officials said, leading to the discovery of radar signatures previously unseen. The data has led to a constellation of newly discovered objects that the U.S. is determining how to deal with in real time.
“What we are doing is changing how we visualize the raw radar data,” one of the officials said.
With the new raw data, which in some cases also includes photos, intelligence and assessment of debris, the U.S. is hoping to refine its approach to these objects, the officials said.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said he was briefed on the matter Saturday evening by Jake Sullivan, Mr. Biden’s national security adviser.
“Until a few months ago we didn’t know of these balloons. Our intelligence and our military didn’t know,” Mr. Schumer said on ABC’s “This Week” television show.
While Mr. Schumer didn’t speak directly to the origin of the objects shot down Friday and Saturday, he said China has sent spy balloons around the world.
“They’re not just doing the United States. This is a crew of balloons. We saw one in South America,” he said, adding that now Chinese officials will have to reconsider those actions. “I think the Chinese were humiliated. I think the Chinese were caught lying. And I think it’s a real step back for them.”
China has said the balloon shot down Feb. 4 was for research, not espionage.
Mr. Schumer said U.S. officials are now focused on a comprehensive analysis of the balloons.
“You can be sure that if any, any American interests or people are at risk they will take appropriate action,” he said.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Sunday that recovery teams are in the Yukon to find and analyze debris from the object shot down on Saturday.
“We have to do everything necessary to protect the integrity of our territory in North America,” Mr. Trudeau said before boarding a plane to the Yukon on a previously scheduled trip to participate in an indigenous ceremony. “There is still much to know about it, and that’s why the analysis is going to be very important.”
Mr. Biden and Mr. Trudeau ordered Saturday’s shoot down of an object flying at about 40,000 feet above the Yukon territory on grounds it had violated Canadian airspace.
On Friday, the U.S. shot down an object flying over Alaska that the Pentagon said had posed a threat to civilian aviation.
Recovery operations for the object shot down Friday are taking place under severe weather conditions and limited daylight near Deadhorse, Alaska, Norad said in a statement on Saturday.
“We have no further details at this time about the object, including its capabilities, purpose or origin,” Norad said.
Ms. Anand told reporters Saturday night that the object over the Yukon was cylindrical. Ms. Anand said she wouldn’t speculate on where it originated.
“The importance of this moment should not be underestimated. We identified the object together, and we defeated this object together,” Ms. Anand said of the joint U.S.-Canada mission.
She said this marked the first time in the history of Norad that jet fighters shot down an object. Norad was a central part of the U.S. and Canadian militaries’ Cold War deterrence strategy against the former Soviet Union.
Canada, under pressure from the Biden administration, last year revealed plans to spend tens of billions of Canadian dollars over the next two decades to improve the military’s capacity to detect and track military threats from Russia and China in the Arctic.