By Andrew Thornebrooke
Over eight days and using five missiles, U.S. forces shot down four objects flying above U.S. and Canadian airspace.
Those objects include a Chinese spy balloon and three unidentified objects, one roughly the size of a Volkswagon Beetle and another an octagonal black-metallic object.
It’s a historic time for the North American Aerospace Defense Command, the joint American–Canadian organization responsible for overseeing North American airspace and its defense, which in its 65-year history had never before shot down an aerial object over North America.
The United States’ encounters with unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) over the past two weeks, as well as pilots’ hardships in identifying and engaging with them, highlight glaring weaknesses in U.S. military readiness, according to several defense and security experts.
Such shortcomings included an apparent inability to detect one of the objects until it had already entered U.S. airspace, as well as a failure to track and engage another object that lingered near sensitive U.S. nuclear silos in Montana before evading further detection by fighter jets.
Paul Crespo, a former Marine officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency and now president of the Center for American Defense Studies, believes that the problem is largely due to the size, heat, and speed of the UAPs encountered in recent weeks, all of which factor into the ease with which they could be seen on radar.
“The recent flurry of unidentifiable aerial phenomena over the United States and Canada underscores our weakness in detecting and identifying nontraditional aerial threats,” Crespo told The Epoch Times in an email.
“If it isn’t made of metal, super hot, and traveling hundreds if not thousands of miles an hour, our air surveillance and defense systems appear stymied.”
Crespo’s comments highlight a problem addressed by the White House, which has acknowledged that the three UAPs had very small radar cross sections and were difficult to spot. It’s a small problem with big consequences.
US in ‘New Strategic Era’
The problem is one year in the making, according to Sam Kessler, a national security and geopolitical analyst with risk management firm North Star Support Group.
Because U.S. forces are trained to use radar primarily to detect other fightercraft, much-related technology and intelligence gathering hasn’t been honed to find objects that otherwise look either benign on radar or else don’t appear at all.
“The detection issues are complicated since the sensing and radar technologies typically used for surveillance and detection purposes are usually set up under a different system of threats, such as the use of objects and vehicles that are typically fast-moving and carry a significant heat signature,” Kessler said.
“The objects that evaded detection last week were slow-moving and carried little to no heat or energy signature that could have been detected more easily.”
Kessler said balloons, drones, and other small air vehicles were increasingly being used in both peace and war to gain an asymmetrical advantage. This leads to unpredictable results at times, he said.
“We are in a new strategic era where aerial threats that are commonly used in theaters of war can also be utilized on the home front as well,” Kessler said.
“In many ways, the objects that have been detected last week are also a great opportunity to assess what has happened, what’s needed going forward, and what solutions can be necessary and helpful.”
It should be noted that the United States doesn’t know what the three UAPs are, whether they’re commercial or military in nature, or where they came from. To that end, officials have said that while the objects posed a risk to civil aviation, they didn’t present a kinetic security risk to Americans on the ground.
Official depictions of the objects don’t necessarily mesh with the government’s response to them, however, nor with fighter pilots’ firsthand observations.
While the Pentagon has acknowledged, for example, that the object shot down over Alaska was able to penetrate U.S. airspace before being detected, some of the pilots who approached the object said that it appeared to interfere with their onboard sensors.
Likewise, the UAP that appeared over Montana near fields of U.S. nuclear silos was apparently lost after fighters scrambled to intercept it. The object was later rediscovered the following day over Lake Huron, where it was shot down.
The objects have been described by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley as “balloons” that appeared to be carrying small payloads of an indeterminate nature.
In audio recordings from the pilots’ cockpits taken during the interception over Lake Huron, one pilot observes that the object appears to have strings attached, but no payload.
“In the targeting pod, I can’t tell if it’s metallic or what, but I can see, like, lines coming down below it, but I can’t see anything below it,” the pilot says.
“You can definitely see strings below but don’t see anything hanging below.”
Perhaps relatedly, Milley has acknowledged that the first missile fired over Lake Huron missed its intended target.
“The first shot missed, the second shot hit,” Milley said during a Feb. 14 press briefing.
“In this case, the missile landed harmlessly in the water of Lake Huron. We tracked it all the way down.”
Milley didn’t indicate if the miss was in any way caused by interference with the aircraft’s sensors.
‘A Failure of Imagination’
Nic Chaillan, former chief software officer of the U.S. Air Force, said that the United States would need to do better to defend its airspace and that the United States’ apparent struggles to track and engage with these UAPs presented an operation shortcoming.
“Clearly this demonstrates we need to do better when it comes to protecting our airspace,” Chaillan told The Epoch Times in an email.
Chaillan remarked that while the United States’ own stealth technology was advanced, the military seemed to be struggling with keeping up with new types of threats that are apparently now penetrating U.S. airspace. To that end, he said that the United States ought to attempt to capture future unidentified aerial objects to study them.
“We’re doing very well with our own stealth technology, but we seem ill-prepared when it comes to our own defensive capabilities,” Chaillan said. “Particularly when it comes to balloons and higher altitude objects, and particularly when they fly over large cities.
“It seems we need capture options that would allow us to take them away without destroying them. I’m also concerned that it is taking so long to recover the objects.”
For Crespo, the failure to more adequately prepare for such an eventuality, when the White House claims to have known about a spy balloon program for some time, is a failure of imagination.
“Yes, the Pentagon appears to have tweaked its techniques, processes, and algorithms to better detect slow-moving, high-altitude balloons, but what is the next threat we won’t see coming?” Crespo said.
“Our 9/11 intelligence failure was a lack of imagination. Seems we haven’t learned much since then.”