US fighter shot down object over northern Canada: prime minister

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with President Joe Biden about the object, and jets from both countries, operating as part of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, were scrambled.

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks in Vancouver, British Columbia, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, shown in January, said Saturday that a U.S. fighter jet had shot down an object over Canada.

Associated Press

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Saturday that on his order a U.S. fighter jet shot down an “unidentified object” flying high over the Yukon, acting a day after the U.S. took similar action over Alaska.

North American Aerospace Defense Command, the combined U.S.-Canada organization that provides shared defense of airspace over the two nations, detected the object flying at a high altitude Friday evening over Alaska, U.S. officials said. It crossed into Canadian airspace on Saturday.

Trudeau spoke with President Joe Biden, who also ordered the object to be shot down. Canadian and U.S. jets operating as part of NORAD were scrambled and it was a U.S. jet that shot down the object.

Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand told a news conference in Ottawa that the object, flying at around 40,000 feet, was shot down about 100 miles from the Canada-U.S. border in the central Yukon. A recovery operation was underway involving the Canadian Armed Forces and the RCMP. The object was downed at 2:41 p.m. Chicago time.

Hours later, in the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration said Saturday night it had closed some airspace in Montana to support Defense Department activities. NORAD later said the closure, which lasted a little more than an hour, came after it had detected “a radar anomaly” and sent fighter aircraft to investigate. The aircraft did not identify any object to correlate to the radar hits, NORAD said.

F-22 fighter jets have now taken out three objects in the airspace above the U.S. and Canada over seven days, a stunning development that is raising questions on just what, exactly, is hovering overhead and who has sent them.

The first object downed was believed to be a spy balloon from China.

Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said both of the other objects also were balloons, though smaller than the first, which was downed over the Atlantic Ocean last weekend.

Schumer, D-N.Y., told ABC’s “This Week” he was briefed Saturday night by the president’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, after the incident hours earlier over the Yukon. On Friday, an object roughly the size of a small car was downed over remote Alaska, according to the White House.

The U.S. government has said the first balloon was about the size of three school buses. It was shot down Feb. 4 off the South Carolina coast after it had traversed the United States. The Biden administration said it was used for surveillance. China claims it was on a meteorological research mission.

Schumer said teams were recovering debris from the objects and would work to determine where they came from. The ones downed on Friday and Saturday were smaller and flying at a lower altitudes of about 40,000 feet, within the airspace occupied by commercial flights, compared with about 60,000 feet for the first one.

“The bottom line is until a few months ago we didn’t know about these balloons,” Schumer said. “It is wild that we didn’t know. ... Now they are learning a lot more. And the military and the intelligence are focused like a laser on first gathering and accumulating the information, then coming up with a comprehensive analysis.”

While Trudeau described the object Saturday as “unidentified,” Anand said it appeared to be “a small cylindrical object, smaller than the one that was downed off the coast of North Carolina.” A NORAD spokesman, Maj. Olivier Gallant, said the military had determined what it was but would not reveal details.

Anand refused to speculate whether the object shot down over Canada came from China.

“We are continuing to do the analysis on the object and we will make sure that analysis is thorough,” she said. “It would not be prudent for me to speculate on the origins of the object at this time.”

Anand said to her knowledge this was the first time NORAD had downed an object in Canadian airspace.

“The importance of this moment should not be underestimated,” she said. “We detected this object together and we defeated this object together.”

She was asked why a U.S. jet, and not a Canadian plane, shot the object down.

“As opposed to separating it out by country, I think what the important point is, these were NORAD capabilities, this was a NORAD mission and this was NORAD doing what it is supposed to do,” she said.

Anand didn’t use the word “balloon” to describe the object. But later, Gen. Wayne Eyre, chief of the defense staff, said the instructions given to the planes was “who ever had the first, best shot to take out the balloon had the go-ahead.”

Trudeau said Canadian forces would recover the wreckage for study. The Yukon is westernmost Canadian territory and the among the least populated part of Canada.

After the airspace closure over Montana, multiple members of Congress, including Montana Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester, said they were in touch with defense officials. Daines tweeted that he would “continue to demand answers on these invasions of US airspace.”

Officials couldn’t say if the object shown down over Alaska contained any surveillance equipment, where it came from or what purpose it had.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said it was shot down because it posed a “reasonable threat” to the safety of civilian flights, not because of any knowledge that it was engaged in surveillance.

According to U.S. Northern Command, recovery operations continued Saturday on sea ice near Deadhorse, Alaska.

In a statement, the Northern Command said there were no new details on what the object was. It said the Alaska Command and the Alaska National Guard, along with the FBI and local law enforcement, were conducting search and recovery.

“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,” the statement said.

The first object was shot down Feb. 4 off the coast of South Carolina.

The large white balloon was part of a large surveillance program that China has been conducting for “several years,” the Pentagon has said. The U.S. has said Chinese balloons have flown over dozens of countries across five continents in recent years, and it learned more about the balloon program after closely monitoring the one shot down near South Carolina.

China responded that it reserved the right to “take further actions” and criticized the U.S. for “an obvious overreaction and a serious violation of international practice.”

The Navy continued survey and recovery activities on the ocean floor off South Carolina, and the Coast Guard was providing security. Additional debris was pulled out Friday, and additional operations will continue as weather permits, Northern Command said.

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