America races to identify mystery flying objects as RAF ‘ready to shoot down Chinese spy balloons’

America races to identify mystery flying objects as RAF ‘ready to shoot down Chinese spy balloons’
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America is racing to identify three mystery flying objects it downed as RAF planes were on alert to shoot down Chinese spy balloons if they fly over Britain.

An unprecedented spate of mysterious flying objects over North America - including a Chinese spy balloon shot down more than a week ago - has sparked fears that national security could be compromised and planes put at risk.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Monday said fighter jets are on standby in Britain to be launched within minutes to shoot down Chinese spy balloons if they are flown over the country.

The Prime Minister made clear that the UK would not tolerate such espionage missions after four high altitude objects were blown out the skies by America.

Mr Sunak said: “I want people to know that we will do whatever it takes to keep the country safe.

“We have something called the Quick Reaction Alert Force which involves Typhoon planes which are kept on 24/7 readiness to police our air space.”

In a briefing on Monday night, the White House said it was still trying to identify three of four objects shot down by US fighters jets in recent days but warned it had been able to establish that China has a “high-altitude balloon programme”.

The first of the four objects was a 200-foot-tall aerial intruder first spotted two weeks ago. It was identified by US officials as a balloon that China was using to spy on the United States, although Beijing denies it was for surveillance.

The other three remain officially unidentified, as crews work to retrieve and identify debris.

They include an object about the size of a small car shot down over sea ice in Alaska on Friday, another similar in shape but smaller than the Chinese spy balloon brought down over Canada’s Yukon on Saturday and an octagonal object shot down over Lake Huron on Sunday.

John Kirby, National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications, speaking at a White House briefing on Monday (AFP via Getty Images)
John Kirby, National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications, speaking at a White House briefing on Monday (AFP via Getty Images)

While officials race to track down debris from the downed objects, the White House ruled out one theory.

“I know there have been questions and concerns about this, but there is no indication of aliens or extraterrestrial activity with these recent takedowns,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Monday night.

America’s National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, John Kirby, told the briefing the US had established “China has a high-altitude balloon programme for intelligence that’s connected to the People’s Liberation Army”.

His comments came hours after a UK Government minister said China may have launched spy balloons over Britain.

Transport minister Richard Holden stressed that China is a “hostile state” and the UK needed to be “robust” in how it responded to Beijing’s actions.

Asked on Sky News if China may have carried out such espionage missions over the UK, Mr Holden told Sky News: “It’s possible. It’s also possible and I would think likely that there would be people from the Chinese government trying to act as a hostile state.”

Mr Holden, a former special adviser at the Minstry of Defence added: “The Government is concerned about what is going on, concerned about influence more broadly of some states.

“China is a hostile state and we need to be aware of that and the way it acts and behaves.

“There was an era where China could have gone a different way and perhaps opened up but it’s quite clear at the moment it’s not going in that direction.

“We have got to be really robust in our dealings with China.”

The  suspected Chinese spy balloon spotted over US airspace two weeks ago (AP)
The suspected Chinese spy balloon spotted over US airspace two weeks ago (AP)

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has ordered a security review following the incidents in America.

His move came after US fighter jets shot down an “unidentified object” over Lake Huron on Sunday, the fourth object to enter US or Canadian airspace in just over a week.

Mr Wallace said: “The UK and her allies will review what these airspace intrusions mean for our security. This development is another sign of how the global threat picture is changing for the worse.”

US Air Force General Glen VanHerck, who is tasked with safeguarding US airspace, said that the military has not been able to identify what the three most recent objects were, how they stayed aloft, or where they came from.

“We’re calling them objects, not balloons, for a reason,” Gen VanHerck, head of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and Northern Command, explained.

He would not rule out aliens or any other explanation.

“I’ll let the intel community and the counterintelligence community figure that out,” he added.

Another defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, subsequently said the military had not seen any evidence that the objects were extraterrestrial.

On President Joe Biden’s order, a US F-16 fighter shot down the object at 2:42 p.m. local time over Lake Huron on the US-Canada border, Pentagon spokesperson Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said in an official statement.

Though it did not pose a military threat, the object could have potentially interfered with domestic air traffic as it was traveling at 20,000 feet (6,100 m), and it might have had surveillance capabilities, he added.

The object appeared to be octagonal in structure, with strings hanging off but no discernible payload, said a US official speaking on condition of anonymity.

The object was believed to be the same as one recently detected over Montana near sensitive military sites, prompting the closure of US airspace, the Pentagon said.

The military will try to recover the object downed over Lake Huron to learn more about it, explained Gen VanHerck.

He said it likely fell into Canadian waters.

The incident raised questions about the spate of unusual objects that have appeared over North American skies in recent weeks and raised tensions with China.

“We need the facts about where they are originating from, what their purpose is, and why their frequency is increasing,” said US Representative Debbie Dingell, one of several Michigan lawmakers who applauded the military for downing the object.

China’s Foreign Ministry said that since last year US high altitude balloons had flown over Chinese airspace without Beijing’s permission 11 times. The White House has rejected the claim.