F-16 Shoots Down “Octagonal Object” Over Lake Huron (Updated)
For the third time in three days, an unknown object has been shot down, a U.S. Rep. from Michigan said Sunday.
Another unknown object was shot down, this time over Lake Huron, according to U.S. Reps. Elissa Slotkin and Jack Bergman of Michigan.
"The object has been downed by pilots from the US Air Force and National Guard," Slotkin tweeted Sunday afternoon. "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."
“I’ve been in contact with DOD regarding operations across the Great Lakes region today,” Bergman said on Twitter Sunday afternoon. “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.”
DoD officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. We will update this story with any information they provide.
The apparent shootdown follows the closing on Sunday of some airspace over the Great Lakes and Canada for U.S. Defense Department and Canadian Defense Ministry purposes.
Those airspace closings - over Lake Michigan near Green Bay, Wisconsin and over Lake Huron near Tobermory, Canada - come in the wake of two objects being shot down over Alaska and the Canadian Yukon respectively in the past few days. It also comes a little more than a week after a Chinese spy balloon was shot down off the coast of South Carolina after traversing the U.S.
The Notice To Airman (NOTAM) was issued, and then rescinded, over the Green Bay area Sunday afternoon, then later, one was issued by Canadian authorities. That was still in effect as of 3:30 P.M. EST.
Flight tracking sites show that a KC-135 Stratotanker out of the 171st Air Refueling Wing near Pittsburgh, PA, is performing orbits over the area while an E-3 Sentry AWACS out of Tinker Air Base in Oklahoma is in the area as well.
“With the cooperation of the Federal Aviation Administration, North American Aerospace Command (NORAD) implemented a temporary flight restriction airspace over Lake Michigan at approximately 12 p.m. EST on Feb. 12, 2023, to ensure the safety of air trafficking the area during NORAD operations,” NORAD said in a media release. “The temporary flight restrictions have since been lifted.”
We reached out to NORAD for more details and will update this story with any information they provide.
We’ve also reached out to the 171st ARW and Tinker to get more details and will update this story with any information they provide.
“We do not have any information to share at this time,” Air Force Lt. Col. Devin Robinson, a Pentagon spokesman, told The War Zone Sunday when we asked about the FAA NOTAM.
We are still awaiting a response from the Canadian MoD about the airspace closure over their portion of the Great Lakes and will update this story with any information provided.
“The FAA briefly closed some airspace over Lake Michigan to support Department of Defense activities,” the FAA said in an email to The War Zone Sunday. “The airspace has been reopened.”
This is a developing story. Stay with The War Zone for updates.
UPDATE: 4:44 P.M. EST—
Two radio monitors have informed us that a pair of 148th Fighter Wing "Bulldogs" F-16C/Ds launched out of Madison, Wisconsin, at around 10:30 A.M. under the AESIR callsign on an alert scramble that turned into a live intercept. We cannot say they shot down the object for certain, but they were involved with the event at the very least. They were supported by a KC-135 tanker. The 148th FW is based out of Duluth, Minnesota, but is providing quick reaction alert duty for NORAD missions while the local 115th FW transitions to F-35s. This is a common arrangement.
UPDATE: 5:06 P.M. EST—
Multiple radio interceptors have told us the target of interest (TOI) was at around 20,000 feet, much lower than previous encounters. This cannot be confirmed that this was the final target engaged, but it is worth noting as it was the initial call.
UPDATE: 5:22 P.M. EST—
Representative Bergman tells Fox News that the object was 'octagonal' and was shot down by F-16s using an AIM-9 missile at around 20,000 feet.
It looks like both the KC-135 and the E-3 are now returning to base based on tracking information from ADSBExchange.com:
Let's get caught up on some of the issues surrounding the last few days of events as well. Senator Chuck Schumer says the two objects shot down on Friday and Saturday were balloons, stating "They believe they were, yes. But much smaller than the first one.”
UPDATE: 5:53 P.M. EST—
More info coming out now that the octagonal object had strings hanging from it but no payload on them as reported by CNN:
The full statement from the DoD, this seems to have been the same object picked up on radar over Montana but that F-15s couldn't find on arrival:
"Today at 2:42 p.m., at the direction of President Biden, and based on the recommendations of Secretary Austin and military leadership, an F-16 fired an AIM9x to successfully shoot down an airborne object flying at approximately 20,000 feet altitude in U.S. airspace over Lake Huron in the State of Michigan. Its path and altitude raised concerns, including that it could be a hazard to civil aviation. The location chosen for this shoot down afforded us the opportunity to avoid impact to people on the ground while improving chances for debris recovery. There are no indications of any civilians hurt or otherwise affected. 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. 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."
And here is Canada's position:
UPDATE: 6:54PM EST—
A DoD press conference was delayed an hour but should start soon, which we will report back on.
It's worth mentioning that there is high-fidelity visual intelligence that has been collected on these objects. The F-16s would carry targeting pods on alert — in the case of the 148th, the highly capable Sniper ATP — as is now customary. The low altitude, daytime intercept would have allowed them to collect high-quality IR/EO video of the entirety of the object before shooting it down. This is in addition to handheld cameras.
UPDATE: 7:07 P.M. PST—
We have images of the F-16Cs from the 148th FW "Bulldogs" that scrambled against the target out of Madison earlier in the day recovering after their mission. As you can see, one of the jets, 91-0405 "AESIR11," is landing with its underwing station that would carry an AIM-9X empty. This is likely the aircraft that got the kill. In addition, the jets are carrying Sniper targeting pods as discussed in the last update. These images come to us from our friend @Badger_wings, who you can follow on Instagram here. A huge thanks to him!
UPDATE: 8:00 P.M. EST—
The DoD has held an off-camera press conference with Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Hemispheric Affairs Melissa Dalton and the Commander of NORAD and USNORTHCOM Gen. Glen VanHerck that The War Zone attended. Here are some basic notes on the highlight from it. We will add further details once we parse the entire transcript.
-Canadian CF-18s and a tanker were involved in today's investigation of the object over Lake Huron.
-The object likely landed in Canadian waters.
-It was likely the same object detected over Montana, but that F-15s could not find once they arrived on scene.
-F-16s out of Wisconsin, a KC-135 tanker out of Pittsburgh, and a E-3 AWACS out of Oklahoma all were involved in today's operation.
-NORAD began scrutinizing airspace more deeply since the Chinese balloon saga last week and 'enhancing our radar.'
-They don't know exactly what these objects are, but they made enhancements to radars out of an abundance of caution and at the direction of President Biden.
-They are trying to understand the purpose and nature of these smaller unidentified objects.
-They are small and produce a very low radar cross-section, going at the speed of the wind. It is challenging to gain descriptions of them due to the speed of the fighters [strange statement as the fighters carry advanced targeting pods].
-Radars filter out information based on clutter, such as low-speed clutter. They have adjusted some of those filter 'gates' including velocity and altitude gates to see what was out there after the Chinese balloon incident. This was paired with a heightened alert to look for these types of targets.
-First time NORAD has taken kinetic action against an airborne object in American airspace.
-They won't officially categorize them as balloons or as having some type of a propulsion system, although there could be a gaseous envelope inside. They don't know what country they are coming from. When asked about aliens, officials said they just won't rule anything out at this point.
-They don't pose a kinetic threat according to their analysis. They have made no outright hostile acts.
-A hostile act would be shooting a missile or dropping a bomb, and hostile intent would be maneuvering aggressively toward a NORAD-controlled or other aircraft, neither of which has been the case.
-They are assessing if their passing over key facilities is a risk or if they are a risk to aircraft in the air, or people on the ground. All of this goes into the risk assessment as to how to act against a target of interest.
-They have scrambled fighters on tracks they cannot correlate with what those fighters see once on station. They cannot attribute some of them over the years. They may look back at overlooked incidents now that their posture has changed.
-They are still searching for an object that was taken off Alaska's north coast. A Navy P-8 and helicopters are looking, but they do not have it now.
-They had extra intelligence that the large balloon taken down off South Carolina was from China.
-Risk to civilian aviation is a big factor in deciding to take down these recent smaller balloons.
-Getting a radar track on these smaller objects is very hard. An AIM-120 would have a lower probability of success against them. Looked at using gun shots yesterday and today, but size of the target was an issue, as was altitude for the one from yesterday. They could get so close to the object you could fly into the debris or hit it. AIM-9X has been the weapon of choice. They use extreme caution to limit collateral damage. Clearing airspace, pilots check for mariners and aircraft in the vicinity, then the pilots used the best weapon they think will work.
-Won't talk about if they have interfered with sensors, as has been reported.
-No other objects are being tracked now. They could be out there, but they need to look back at old data to see if they were missing these recently.
-Shape could make them hard to detect. Need to 'get their hands on one' to see if that's the case. Would not elaborate on the shapes they are seeing.
-The last three objects shot down are similar objects in terms of size, that they go with the wind.
-Each object of interest is taken on a case-by-case basis as far as to shoot them down or not.
-As to why did it take so long to re-calibrate radars when the Chinese balloon program was briefed by intel last August? They say the timing in the intel after the Chinese balloon incident caused this to occur, before they didn't see a need then. The PRC balloon was different because it transited the continental US.
-Will not say if they will release targeting pod video, as it is a policy decision. They hope to "share more in the coming days."
-Contrast between the target and the sky above allows for AIM-9X to work well for this mission.
-The FBI is taking the lead on recovery efforts and they are embedded with DoD to do so. Canada has the lead in recovering the one shot down there with the FBI to liaison and share information.
Those are the abbreviated notes, please take them as such. We should have a transcript at some time in the near future.
UPDATE: 8:30 P.M. PST—
We are getting additional images of the 148th FW F-16s returning to Madison. We see the other F-16 is also missing an AIM-9X, so more evidence of two shots having been taken. The aircraft are also in F-16CM configuration with a HARM Targeting System pod on the intake station opposite their Sniper ATP.
A huge thanks to @Jac_airandsoace for sharing these with us. Make sure you give him a follow over on Instagram.
Contact the author: email@example.com