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For over a week, the US aerospace defense system has responded to a series of incursions by balloon-ish objects. On February 4, the USAF downed a Chinese spy balloon after it had accomplished a casual jaunt across North America (US Navy Sailors Recover Remains of Chinese Spy Balloon but We Still Have Lots of Questions and No Plausible Answers). On February 10, the USAF shot down another “object” near Deadhorse, Alaska (US Air Force Shoots Down Something Over Alaska, Maybe a Chinese Balloon, but Who Knows?). On February 11, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ordered the shooting down of yet a third “object” over Yukon (‘Object’ Shot Down Over Canada Similar to What Was Shot Down in Alaska; Pilots Divulge More Concerning Info). The next day a USAF fighter shot down a fourth “object” over Lake Huron (First Attempt to Take Down UFO Over Lake Huron Failed as $439k Sidewinder Missile Missed the Target).
Two things have remained constant throughout this debacle. First, other than the first balloon, the Department of Defense and White House have refused to tell us what we shot down (Defense Sec. Lloyd Austin’s Remarks From Brussels on ‘Objects’ Raise More Questions). The second constant is that Donald Trump is to blame (Desperate White House Blames the Bad Orange Man for Chinese Spy Balloon Infestation).
Today we may have seen the beginning of an embarrassing climbdown for the Biden White House. Earlier Tuesday, National Security Council Spokesman John Kirby started framing the eventual result.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters the evaluation is based on what the U.S. knows from images of the three objects and cautioned that the assessment is preliminary because no debris from any of them has been recovered.
“One thing we have to consider, and we believe the intelligence community is considering as an explanation, is that these could be balloons tied to commercial or research entities and therefore totally benign,” Kirby said.
“Totally benign,” but with $1.7 million of Sidewinder missiles stuck up their nether regions.
If we have just shot down three commercial or scientific balloons, I’m not sure if we’re a laughingstock or if we have achieved that “nuke the moon” moment where everyone knows not to f*** with us.
In all seriousness, it is obvious that NORAD is a seething, effervescent puddle of failure and incompetence. Shortly after the actual Chinese spy balloon was shot down, NORTHCOM/NORAD commander General Glen VanHerck had this to offer, “I will tell you we did not detect those threats [the previous alleged Chinese violations of US airspace] and that’s a domain awareness gap we have to figure out.”
As comical and inadequate as it sounded at the time, he is correct. It is bad enough not knowing what is in or approaching our airspace. It is even worse to know something is in our airspace and not know what it is or have any way of managing the problem short of an air-to-air missile.