The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee warned the United States doesn’t have an adequate radar system after multiple incidents involving flying objects in recent days.
“We don’t really have adequate radar system, and we certainly don’t have an integrated missile defense system. We’re going to have to begin to look at the United States airspace as one that we need to defend,” Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), the House Intelligence panel’s chair, told CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday. “This shows some of the problems and gaps that we have.”
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Lawmakers have sounded the alarm after a suspected Chinese spy balloon was spotted over U.S. territory on Feb. 4. While some of them called on the military to shoot it down, the aircraft traveled over much of the continental United States before it was downed by an F-22 Raptor near South Carolina’s coast days later.
In the past several days, more incidents were reported by both U.S. and Canadian officials. On Saturday, another F-22 shot down an unknown object near the Yukon Territory, and a day before that, shot down an object in northern Alaska near Prudhoe Bay.
On Saturday evening, the Canadian-U.S.-operated North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and Federal Aviation Administration shut down airspace in a part of Montana. They later blamed it on a radar anomaly, and the airspace was closed down for a brief period of time.
“They do appear somewhat trigger-happy, although this is certainly preferable to the permissive environment that they showed when the Chinese spy balloon was coming over to our most sensitive sites,” Turner said on the Sunday program.
But the top Republican said that he hasn’t been briefed on the latest developments around unknown objects being shot down. He described the lack of intelligence and details “particularly annoying,” claiming “there needs to be more engagement within the administration and Congress.”
“Probably they’re a little hesitant after the Chinese balloon fiasco, where they let it go across the country to great criticism—bipartisan, bicameral criticisms from Congress,” he continued to say. “I think it’s certainly a new, recent development that you have China being so aggressive in entering other country’s airspace.”
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told a separate news program Sunday that U.S. officials have indicated to him that they believe the recently shot down objects are balloons, although they’re not as large as the one that was shot down off the Carolinas.
When asked during an ABC News interview whether those two recent objects were balloons, Schumer responded in the affirmative. “They believe they were, yes, but much smaller than the first one,” he said.
Schumer said teams were recovering debris from the objects and would work to determine where they came from. The ones downed on Friday and Saturday were smaller and flying at lower altitudes of about 40,000 feet, within the airspace occupied by commercial flights, compared with about 60,000 feet for the first one.
“The bottom line is until a few months ago we didn’t know about these balloons,” Schumer said. “It is wild that we didn’t know. … Now they are learning a lot more. And the military and the intelligence are focused like a laser on first gathering and accumulating the information, then coming up with a comprehensive analysis.”
Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand told a news conference in Ottawa that one of the objects, flying at around 40,000 feet, had been shot down at 3:41 p.m. EST, approximately 100 miles from the Canada–U.S. border in the central Yukon. A recovery operation was underway involving the Canadian Armed Forces and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Hours later, in the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration said Saturday night it had closed some airspace in Montana to support Defense Department activities. NORAD later said the closure, which lasted a little more than an hour, came after it had detected “a radar anomaly” and sent fighter aircraft to investigate. The aircraft did not identify any object to correlate to the radar hits, NORAD said.
Recovery efforts are also underway near Deadhorse, Alaska, a very remote area located within the Arctic Circle, according to U.S. military officials.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.