Wednesday, February 15, 2023

US: The most recent downed objects may be "benign"

US: Latest downed objects could well be 'benign'

 WASHINGTON: The White House acknowledged on Tuesday that the three unidentified aerial objects that the US shot down last week likely had only a "benign purpose," distinguishing them from the massive Chinese balloon that traveled through the US with a possible surveillance purpose.

John Kirby, a spokesperson for the White House's national security, stated, "The intelligence community is considering as a leading explanation that these could just be balloons tied to some commercial or benign purpose."

Officials also said that a missile that was fired at one of the three things on Sunday over Lake Huron missed its intended target and ended up in the water before hitting the second one.

The new information came as Congress reexamined the Biden administration's actions over the past two weeks.

First, due to safety concerns, US fighter jets didn't shoot down what officials said was a Chinese spy balloon until after it had crossed most of the US. The military then deployed F-22 fighters equipped with heat-seeking missiles to rapidly eliminate what appeared to be innocuous objects.

The actions raised political and security concerns about whether the Biden administration overreacted after being criticized by Republicans for responding too slowly to the large balloon.

Even as more details about the three objects become available, it is still unclear what they were, who sent them, and what the US might do in the future in response to unidentified airborne objects.

Questions about the original balloon, such as its spying capabilities and whether it was sending signals as it flew over sensitive military facilities in the United States, remain unanswered. According to a US official, American intelligence initially believed it was heading toward the US territory of Guam.

According to the official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence, the United States followed it for several days after it left China. According to the official, it appears to have been blown off its initial trajectory and ultimately flew over the US continental shelf.

Over Guam, a strategic hub for the US Navy and Air Force in the western Pacific, balloons and other unidentified objects have previously been observed.

China's control over the balloon after it deviated from its original course is unknown. A second US official stated that the balloon could have been directed to loiter over a specific target by external maneuvering, but whether Chinese forces did so is unknown.

Even less is known about the three objects that were shot down on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. This is due, in part, to the difficulty of recovering debris from remote locations in the Canadian Yukon, off the coast of northern Alaska, and near the Upper Peninsula of Michigan on Lake Huron. Officials do not yet have any indication that they or the balloon that was shot down on Feb. 4 off the coast of South Carolina were part of a larger surveillance operation.

Kirby stated to reporters, referring to the People's Republic of China, "We don't see anything that points right now to being part of the PRC spy balloon program." Additionally, "intelligence collection against the United States of any kind — that's the indication now" is highly unlikely to have been the objects.

According to Kirby, neither a nation nor a private company has claimed any of the objects. The US government does not appear to have run them.

Monday, Kirby had hinted that the three things were significantly different from the balloon, including in size. In addition, his remarks on Tuesday marked a clear effort on the part of the White House to distinguish between objects that the administration believes could just be part of some research or commercial effort and the balloon, which officials believe was part of a Chinese military program that has operated over five continents.

Senators were briefed on the shootdowns in secret by Pentagon officials at a meeting in Washington. Legislators heard from constituents about the need to keep them informed, and they came away with the assurance that the objects were not extraterrestrial in nature. However, they wanted much more information.

Despite this, Senator Thom Tillis, R-N.C., stated that the recent successful interceptions were likely to have a "calming influence" and reduce the likelihood of shootdowns in the future.

After the briefing, Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters that he didn't think the objects were dangerous.

They're trying to figure out why, you know, there's a lot of garbage up there. Therefore, you must distinguish between threats and opportunities. "You shouldn't always have to shoot something down when you see something," Graham stated.

Jake Sullivan, Biden's National Security Adviser, has been given the order to form an interagency team to investigate the "disposition of unidentified aerial objects" that could pose security or safety threats.

Leaders around the world have also been paying attention to the recent objects, such as in Canada, where one was shot down on Saturday, and in the United Kingdom, where the prime minister has ordered a security review.

According to a statement made on Tuesday by the Defense Ministry of Japan, at least three flying objects that have been observed in Japanese airspace since 2019 are highly likely to be Chinese spy balloons.

In the meantime, US officials confirmed that a first missile fired over Lake Huron that was meant to hit the object ended up in the water instead, but that a second one hit it.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, stated that the military went to "great lengths" to ensure that none of the strikes endangered civilians, including determining the likely size of the debris field and the maximum effective range of the missiles used.

Milley stated, "We're very, very careful to make sure that those shots are actually safe." Additionally, that is the president's direction. "Shoot it down, but make sure we keep the American people safe and minimize collateral damage."

Sunday marked the third time in as many days that an object had been shot down from the sky. According to the White House, the objects were smaller and less maneuverable than the Chinese surveillance balloon that was shot down by US fighter jets earlier this month. However, their altitude was low enough to pose a threat to civilian air traffic, the White House stated.

Recovery efforts have been hindered up until this point by weather issues and the remote locations of the three objects that were shot down over Alaska, Canada, and Lake Huron.

Milley and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin were in Brussels to discuss additional weapons and defense requirements for Kyiv in advance of Russia's anticipated spring offensive with members of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group.

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