Object shot down near Lake Huron

By Oren Liebermann and Kylie Atwood, CNN

Updated 0938 GMT (1738 HKT) February 13, 2023
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7:38 p.m. ET, February 12, 2023

Objects shot down posed no kinetic military threat, Pentagon says

From CNN's Haley Britzky

The recent “objects” shot down in North American airspace since Friday were taken down out of an “abundance of caution,” Melissa Dalton, the assistant secretary of Defense for homeland defense and hemispheric affairs, told reporters Sunday. 

“In light of the People's Republic of China balloon that we took down last Saturday, we have been more closely scrutinizing our airspace at these altitudes, including enhancing our radar, which may at least partly explain the increase in objects that we detected over the past week,” Dalton said.

An airborne object was shot down Sunday near Lake Huron, marking the fourth time in roughly a week that US aircraft have shot something down in North American airspace. Dalton said high-altitude objects can be used by a range of companies, countries and research organizations for “purposes that are not nefarious, including legitimate research.” 

That was not the case, however, for China’s surveillance balloon that was shot down on February 4 off the coast of South Carolina.

“Because we have not yet been able to definitively assess what these recent objects are, we have acted out of an abundance of caution to protect our security and interests,” Dalton said. “The spy balloon from the PRC was, of course, different in that we knew precisely what [it] was. These most recent objects do not pose a kinetic military threat, but their path in proximity to sensitive DoD sites and the altitude that they were flying could be a hazard to civilian aviation and thus raised concerns.”

7:39 p.m. ET, February 12, 2023

Michigan lawmakers thank US military for operation over Lake Huron

From CNN's Jack Forrest

Rep. Elissa Slotkin asks question during a House Homeland Security Committee hearing in Washington, DC, on November 15, 2022.
Rep. Elissa Slotkin asks question during a House Homeland Security Committee hearing in Washington, DC, on November 15, 2022. (Mariam Zuhaib/AP)

Federal and state lawmakers in Michigan on Sunday recognized the US military's role in the takedown of an airborne object over Lake Huron earlier in the day.

“The object has been downed by pilots from the US Air Force and National Guard. Great work by all who carried out this mission both in the air and back at headquarters. We’re all interested in exactly what this object was and it’s purpose,” Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin said in a tweet.

The Pentagon confirmed Sunday that an F-16 fighter jet shot down the airborne object over Lake Huron in the afternoon. 

"I’ve been in contact with DOD regarding operations across the Great Lakes region today. The US military has decommissioned another 'object' over Lake Huron. I appreciate the decisive action by our fighter pilots. The American people deserve far more answers than we have," Republican Rep. Jack Bergman tweeted.

Michigan's Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, also addressed the operation Sunday, tweeting, “Our national security and safety is always a top priority. I’ve been in contact with the federal government and our partners who were tracking an object near our airspace. I’m glad to report it has been swiftly, safely, and securely taken down."

“The @MINationalGuard stands ready,” Whitmer added.

The downed object marks the third one shot over North American airspace by the US military in as many days, and the fourth in just over a week.

6:12 p.m. ET, February 12, 2023

Pentagon confirms F-16 fighter jet shot down an airborne object over Lake Huron

From CNN's Haley Britzky

The Pentagon confirmed Sunday that an F-16 fighter jet shot down an airborne object over Lake Huron earlier in the day. 

Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said the object was not assessed to be a military threat, but it was a flight hazard.

“We did not assess it to be a kinetic military threat to anything on the ground, but assess it was a safety flight hazard and a threat due to its potential surveillance capabilities. Our team will now work to recover the object in an effort to learn more,” Ryder said in a statement.

Ryder also said the object was the same one that radar detected on Saturday over Montana that caused airspace to briefly close Saturday evening.

“North American Aerospace Defense Command detected the object Sunday morning and has maintained visual and radar tracking of it. Based on its flight path and data we can reasonably connect this object to the radar signal picked up over Montana, which flew in proximity to sensitive DOD sites,” he said.

5:50 p.m. ET, February 12, 2023

Canada 'unequivocally supports' shooting down the unidentified object, defense minister says

From CNN's Paula Newton

Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand said Sunday her country supported the shooting down of an object over US airspace by US fighter jets near Lake Huron. The object was flying at 20,000 feet over Michigan’s Upper Peninsula when it was shot down.

“Today, a high-altitude object was detected in US airspace over Lake Huron," Anand said. "NORAD launched Canadian and US aircraft to investigate and the object was taken down in US. airspace by US aircraft."

"We unequivocally support this action, and we’ll continue to work with the US and NORAD to protect North America,” she said.
7:24 p.m. ET, February 12, 2023

House Intelligence chair says he prefers ‘trigger-happy’ approach with unidentified objects

From CNN's Paul LeBlanc

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner speaks during an interview with CNN on Sunday, February 12.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner speaks during an interview with CNN on Sunday, February 12. (CNN)

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner said Sunday he prefers how the US shot down unidentified objects over North American airspace in recent days to allowing them to traverse the country.

Later Sunday, a US fighter jet shot down an unidentified object near Lake Huron, marking the fourth time in a week that the US military has taken down objects in North American airspace. An unidentified object was shot down over northern Canada on Saturday, and on Friday, an unidentified object was shot down in Alaska airspace by a US F-22. A Chinese surveillance balloon was taken down by F-22s off the coast of South Carolina last weekend.

“I would prefer them to be trigger-happy than to be permissive, but we’re going to have to see whether or not this is just the administration trying to change headlines,” Turner, an Ohio Republican, said of the Biden administration in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union" before Sunday's shoot-down took place.

“What I think this shows, which is probably more important to our policy discussion here, is that we really have to declare that we’re going to defend our airspace. And then we need to invest,” added Turner. “This shows some of the problems and gaps that we have. We need to fill those as soon as possible because we certainly now ascertain there is a threat.”

There’s no indication at this point that the unidentified objects have any connection to China’s surveillance balloon but it seems that national security officials across the continent remain on edge.

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5:19 p.m. ET, February 12, 2023

Object was flying at 20,000 feet when shot down near Lake Huron

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand, Arlette Saenz and Phil Mattingly

The object shot down Sunday by US fighter jets was flying at 20,000 feet over Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and about to go over Lake Huron when it was neutralized, a senior administration official told CNN.

The object was shaped like an octagon with strings hanging off it and no discernible payload, according to the official and another source briefed on the matter. Although the United States has no indication that the object has surveillance capabilities, that has not been ruled out as yet. 

The object was first detected by the North American Aerospace Defense Command and the US Northern Command over Montana on Saturday night, and fighter aircraft were sent to investigate, the senior administration official said. At the time, those planes did not identify any object to correlate to the radar hits, which led NORAD and NORTHCOM to believe it was an anomaly.

But on Sunday, defense officials reacquired the radar contact and detected the object flying over Wisconsin and then Michigan. The path of the object and its altitude raised concerns that it could pose a threat to civilian aircraft, but it did not pose a military threat to anyone on the ground, the official said. President Joe Biden ordered the object to be shot down. 

CNN initially reported that the object was shot down over Lake Huron based on what sources said to CNN and a public tweet by Rep. Jack Bergman.

5:10 p.m. ET, February 12, 2023

NORAD has readjusted its filters to better track slow-moving targets

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand

One reason why additional “objects” have been detected by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in recent days could be because the command recently readjusted its filters to better spot slow-moving targets operating above a certain altitude, a source briefed on the matter told CNN.  

The filters were only readjusted and broadened in the past week, the source said, after a high-altitude, suspected Chinese spy balloon transited the US and ignited a debate over the United States' ability to detect and defend against any potentially threatening objects entering its airspace. 

The Washington Post first reported on NORAD’s adjustment.

The US was able to track the spy balloon’s path before it entered US airspace -- and ultimately shoot it down off the coast of South Carolina -- in large part because the US intelligence community developed a method within the past year to track the balloons using a particular set of signals they emit, as CNN has previously reported.

But, in general, NORAD has tended to prioritize the detection of fast-moving targets below a certain altitude -- at which threatening planes or certain missiles, for example, might fly.

The more narrow filters were meant to allow NORAD and defense officials to better make sense of the mass of data that was being collected on any particular day, the source said. If they didn’t filter out slow-moving objects, early warning air defense systems would pick up lots of noise, such as weather balloons and birds. 

Two of the three objects shot down in the past three days-- near Alaska and over northern Canada -- were flying at around 40,000 feet, US and Canadian officials said, posing a potential risk to civilian aircraft. Both of the objects also appeared to feature a balloon, with a small metal cylinder underneath, officials said.

Very little is known so far about the third object shot down near Lake Huron on Sunday.

4:58 p.m. ET, February 12, 2023

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer: Michigan National Guard stands ready

Michigan's governor said Friday that the object was taken down "swiftly, safely and securely."

5:38 p.m. ET, February 12, 2023

US military shoots down high-altitude object over Lake Huron on Sunday

From CNN's Oren Liebermann and Kylie Atwood

The Pentagon is seen November 29, 2022, in Arlington, Virginia.
The Pentagon is seen November 29, 2022, in Arlington, Virginia. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The US military shot down another high-altitude object over Lake Huron on Sunday afternoon, according to a US official and a congressional source briefed on the matter.

Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan said Sunday that the operation to down the object over Lake Huron was carried out by pilots from the US Air Force and the National Guard.

“Great work by all who carried out this mission both in the air and back at headquarters. We’re all interested in exactly what this object was and it’s purpose,” she said in a tweet.

Republican Rep. Jack Bergman of Michigan also confirmed the operation Sunday, tweeting, “The US military has decommissioned another ‘object’ over Lake Huron.”

“I appreciate the decisive action by our fighter pilots,” he said.

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