Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder confirmed the United States shot down an aerial object over Lake Huron on Sunday. Photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Alexander Kubitza/U.S. Defense Ministry
Feb. 12 (UPI) -- U.S. Air Force F-16 fighter jets shot down an object flying over Lake Huron on Sunday, the fourth high-altitude object the U.S. military has downed in over a week.
Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder confirmed the shoot down in a statement Sunday evening, saying the unidentified object was flying at about 20,000 feet over Lake Huron in Michigan when it was felled by a Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missile at 2:42 p.m. EST at the direction of President Joe Biden.
It is the fourth aerial object to be shot down over North America and the third over the United States in nine days, a dramatic series of military activity that began on Feb. 4 when a U.S. fighter jet downed a high-altitude surveillance balloon believed to be part of a near-global China spying campaign.
Though only the first object has been publicly identified as a spy balloon deployed by China, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Sunday that two other objects downed over Alaska on Friday and Canada's northwestern Yukon territory on Saturday were likely similar balloons.
Ryder said the path and altitude of the object downed Sunday posed a threat to civil aviation and it was shot over Lake Michigan in an effort to avoid debris hitting civilians and structures.
"There are no indications of any civilians hurt or otherwise affected," Ryder said.
The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed to UPI in a statement that airspace over Lake Michigan had been closed Sunday morning for Defense Department "activities."
"The FAA briefly closed some airspace over Lake Michigan to support Department of Defense activities. The airspace has been reopened," it said, while referring comment on the definition of "activities" and flight restrictions to support the Defense Department to the North American Aerospace Defense Command.
Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., earlier tweeted that she had been called by the Department of Defense informing her that the military was keeping an "extremely close eye" on the object and that more will be known about it "in the coming days."
After it was shot down, she confirmed the military activity, stating "we're all interested in exactly what this object was and it's purpose."
"As long as these things keep traversing the U.S. and Canada, I'll continue to ask for Congress to get a full briefing based on our exploitation of the wreckage," she tweeted.
NORAD said in a statement on Twitter that it had implemented the flight restriction with the cooperation of the FAA around noon EST to "ensure the safety of air traffic in the area during NORAD operations."
Officials with NORAD did not clarify what those operations were in the statement.
NORAD had first detected the object Saturday. A "radar anomaly" had been picked it up, with officials stating the object had flown in proximity to sensitive Defense Department sites.
"We did not assess it to be a kinetic military threat to anything on the ground, but assess it was a safety hazard and a threat due to its potential surveillance capabilities," the Pentagon said Sunday.
"Our team will now work to recover the object in an effort to learn more."
U.S. intelligence officials said last week that the first balloon is connected to a multi-year spying program by China that has been detected over at least five continents. The officials said at least one other object was identified in U.S. airspace early during the Biden administration and three during the administration of former President Donald Trump.
Beijing has rejected the accusations, with China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Mao Ning, stating Thursday during a regular press conference that the notion it has a fleet of balloons is part of the "information and public opinion warfare the U.S. has waged on China."
China maintains that the balloon shot down on Feb. 4 was an unmanned civilian airship that veered off course into U.S. airspace.