(Update: Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on intelligence and special operations, said on Sunday a U.S. Air Force F-16 has shot down an “octagonal” object about 20,000 feet over Lake Huron. Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand confirmed the incident: “Today, a high-altitude object was detected in U.S. airspace over Lake Huron. NORAD launched Canadian and U.S. aircraft to investigate and the object was taken down in U.S. airspace by U.S. aircraft. We unequivocally support this action.”)
(CNSNews.com) – The administration believes that two unmanned objects shot down by the U.S. Air Force over Alaska on Friday and western Canada on Saturday were balloons, but “much smaller” ones than the Chinese spy balloon downed of South Carolina on February 4, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on Sunday.
Schumer told ABC’s “This Week” that he was briefed on Saturday night by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. Earlier in the evening, the White House and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed that an unidentified “high-altitude” airborne object had been shot down over the Yukon.
Recovery efforts are underway in both cases, led by U.S. Northern Command and the Alaskan National Guard off Alaska’s north coast near the town of Deadhorse, and by Canadian authorities in Yukon, in cooperation with the FBI and Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand told reporters the “small, cylindrical object” was shot down in central Yukon, about 100 miles from the Canada-Alaska border.
“Were these balloons Friday and Saturday night?” host George Stephanopoulos asked Schumer.
“They believe they were, yes, but much smaller than the – than the one – the first one,” he replied, referring to the Chinese surveillance balloon.
“Both of those, one over Canada, one over Alaska, were at 40,000 feet,” he said. “Immediately it was determined that that’s a danger to commercial aircraft, which also fly at 40,000 feet. And so the second one, in cooperation with the Canadians, the first one with the Americans, took it down. And that’s appropriate.”
Schumer went on to echo one of the administration’s two stated justifications for its controversial decision not to shoot down the earlier Chinese spy balloon immediately it approached U.S. airspace. Instead, it was allowed to drift over the U.S. (and briefly, Canada) for a full week before being shot down after crossing the South Carolina coastline.
“The first balloon, there was a much different rationale which I think was the appropriate rationale,” Schumer said. “We got enormous intelligence information from surveilling the balloon as it went over the United States.”
“Didn’t get the Chinese get enormous intelligence as well?” Stephanopoulos interjected.
“Well, they – they could have been getting it anyway,” Schumer said. “But we have to know what they’re doing, okay? And we don’t know exactly, but we got a lot of that.”
Schumer added that because it was intentionally shot down over waters near the U.S. coastline, the U.S. will “probably be able to piece together” the whole balloon – “a huge coup for the United States.”
The other reason given by the administration for the delay in downing the spy balloon was concern about the risks posed to Americans on the ground from the falling debris from the airship, which the Pentagon described as about the size of three buses.
The administration also said that it had taken steps to minimize the balloon’s ability to collect intelligence as it made its way across the U.S., including over sensitive military installations.
Adding to the uncertainty surrounding the three recent incursions and shootdowns, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) over the weekend twice announced temporary air restrictions, once over Montana and once over Lake Michigan.
NORAD said of the Montana incident on Saturday that it had “detected a radar anomaly and sent fighter aircraft to investigate. Those aircraft did not identify any object to correlate to the radar hits. NORAD will continue to monitor the situation.”
The restriction was subsequently lifted.
On Twitter, Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines referred to an “object in Montana’s airspace.”
“I’m in direct contact with the Pentagon regarding the object in Montana’s airspace & will receive frequent updates,” he tweeted. “Montanans still have questions about the Chinese spy balloon that flew over our state last week. I’ll continue to demand answers on these invasions of US airspace.”
Montana’s other senator, Democrat Sen. Jon Tester, told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that the “anomaly” was still being investigated, and that “there may still be something out there,” or “it may be a false alarm.”
Of Sunday’s incident over Lake Michigan, NORAD said the restriction was ordered “to ensure the safety of air traffic in the area during NORAD operations,” without elaborating. That restriction too was then lifted.
Super Bowl precautions
Earlier, in line with previous practice, the FAA announced a temporary flight restriction (TFR) over the Phoenix, Arizona area on Sunday during Sunday’s Super Bowl LVII at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
The restriction runs from kickoff time at 4:30 PM MST until 9 PM MST.
In an “inner core” with radius of ten nautical miles and up to 18,000 feet above sea level, only approved law enforcement, military, and air ambulance flights are permitted during that period, along with specified approved commercial and cargo carriers.
The TFR prohibits unmanned craft such as drones, gliders, and various other specified categories, including “balloon operations.”
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