The United States has shot down another flying object. That makes four US airspace intruders destroyed in less than ten days. If nothing else, US Air Force fighter pilots have found a target-rich environment. The latest object of unknown origin was shot down over Lake Huron. So, from wherever it was launched, it made it across Alaska and Canada to the Great Lakes. On Feb. 12, the object was downed by a US F-16, again using an AIM-9X heat-seeking missile, at an altitude of 20,000 feet. It was reported to be like the previous two objects. Government officials described them as elongated balloons the size of an automobile with a sensor package hanging beneath.
Defense Department Briefs Press on Fourth Object
Early reports reveal the latest unidentified flying object was first detected in the skies near Montana on Feb. 11. Sound familiar? However, debate occurred over whether the object was really detected. There was a radar contact, but the “blip” disappeared for a while. In a late-evening Defense Department press briefing on Feb. 12, Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and US Northern Command, provided greater detail on the object’s travels:
“Yesterday evening, approximately 1645 or 4:45 Eastern Time on February 11, NORAD detected a radar contact in Canadian airspace approximately 70 or so miles north of the United States border. It tracked across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We were cleared to engage the target in Eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan over land and, ultimately, down the object at this point about 15 nautical miles east of the Upper Peninsula in Lake Huron … And we have ongoing recovery operations with Coast Guard assets moving towards this area.”
According to the NORAD commander, during the intercept mission, the Canadian Air Force provided two F-18 fighters. The F-16C fighters that took down the object were from the 115th Fighter Wing of the Wisconsin Air National Guard, Dane County Regional Airport, Madison, WI. Additional support came in the form of air refueling tankers from the Pittsburgh, PA, Air National Guard and an airborne warning and control system (E-3 Sentry) modified Boeing 707/320 commercial aircraft. The E-3 flew from Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma and assisted with its 250-mile-range radar and command and control equipment. Clearly, the object got a lot of attention.
The plethora of unknown airborne objects cruising in the sovereign airspace of the United States and Canada is a significant security breach. That problem is compounded by the fact that there are significant questions about how capable the United States is of detecting such craft, which might be able to deliver payloads. Of the four objects that have penetrated US airspace, at least one was a conventional balloon with the volume of three school buses, spotted first in Montana.
Object Dwell Time Is Key to Intelligence Gathering
Early in the Beijing balloon saga, national security pundits asked why the People’s Republic of China (PRC) would use balloons instead of the more advanced satellite technology. The answer was explained well in a recent interview on a prime-time media network. “Why would they (PRC) use a balloon? Part of the answer is in communications intelligence, signals intelligence … where they would be intercepting, say, communications, cell phone communications,” Col. Steve Ganyard (Ret.), former military assistant to the deputy secretary of defense and US Marine Corps fighter pilot, told ABC News.
“If you have what’s called long dwell, where you have a balloon that can stay over a certain spot for a long period of time, it takes a lot more information in.” Ganyard described how a balloon with geolocation capability could isolate communications signals to precise geographic spots. It is much easier to do hanging relatively stationary, and it appears to be what the Chinese are trying to do.
After four breaches of US sovereign territory, there appears to be a balloon infestation, and Capitol Hill lawmakers are not amused. Though one reporter at the Defense Department briefing asked about the F-16C targeting pod video, it was dismissed as a policy question. “The American people deserve transparency and accountability from the Biden administration. We need to know about the numerous invasions of US airspace,'” declared Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), according to Fox News. It’s time more of what the US government knows is presented to the American public. After all, there are a lot of tax dollars tied up in air armadas like the one that took down the latest “object.”
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
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