The FAA temporarily shut down a significant swath of airspace over Northern Wisconsin and Northern Michigan at noon yesterday to “support Department of Defense activities.” The closure followed a similar action taken over Montana Saturday night and was related to the shootdown of a third unidentified object over the U.S. and Canada within a 72-hour period. The Great Lakes area airspace reopened late Sunday afternoon; however, a Canadian TFR remains in the immediate area over Sunday’s shootdown over Canadian waters.
Sunday night a senior Pentagon official admitted to significant gaps in national defense radar while discussing the Sunday shootdown at 20,000 feet over Lake Huron, just south of Manitoulin Island. The latest object entered U.S. airspace over Montana shortly before dusk on Saturday, but was lost, according to U.S. Northcom commander Gen. Glen VanHerck, who said Oregon-based F-15 fighters dispatched to investigate the “radar contact” were “unsuccessful.”
“It’s also important to point out in this part of the United States we did not have datalink for queuing like we had had before [used to track a suspected Chinese spy balloon that traversed the U.S. for several days before being shot down off the coast of South Carolina]. Datalink allows the radars on the ground to share information to the fighters [that are] airborne, allowing them to queue their sensors and their visual acuity in an attempt to visually identify the track. At sunset, we were unable to find the track. Also, our radar operators lost the track on radar and the FAA was never tracking the radar,” VanHerck said.
VanHerck said, after original China spy balloon incident earlier this month, the U.S. Air Force reset “velocity gates” on several of its radars to better allow it to detect slower-moving objects and different altitude blocks. He also said, “There’s a heightened alert to look for this information.”
What is now believed to be the same object was reacquired on radar late Saturday night/early Sunday morning crossing into northern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. On Sunday morning, two F-16s from the Minnesota Air National Guard’s 148th fighter wing, based in Duluth, took off from Truax Field in Madison, Wisconsin to conduct the intercept.
One of those aircraft dispatched the object with an AIM-9X “sidewinder” air-to-air missile. They were supported by a KC-135R tanker from the Pennsylvania Air National Guard 171st aerial refueling wing in Pittsburgh, an E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS) from Tinker AFB, Oklahoma, two Canadian Air Force F/A-18s, and a Canadian tanker.
Over the weekend the Pentagon said it was continuing to search for wreckage associated with the shootdown of two other objects, one near Deadhorse, Alaska, on Friday and the other in the Canadian Yukon on Saturday. Van Herck declined to confirm or deny media reports that the object shot down Friday caused interference with the flight instruments aboard a USAF F-22 involved in the intercept.
All three of the recently downed objects were done so because they were cruising at altitudes between 20,000 and 40,000 feet and presented a hazard to civil aviation, according to the Pentagon. The FAA issued a TFR for the area around Deadhorse on Friday.