Following the saga of the Chinese spy balloon making its way across the United States before being shot down off the coast of South Carolina last week, the U.S. military downed three unidentified flying objects over Alaska, Canada and Michigan on the weekend, sparking concern and a lively debate about what is going on in the skies above.
And while U.S. officials are still figuring out what the flying objects shot down on the weekend were and what purpose they served, there may be a simple explanation for why there suddenly appears to be an onslaught of unidentified flying objects over the United States. In the wake of the very public incursion by the Chinese balloon, the U.S. military is extra vigilant in monitoring the airspace and flagging objects that might previously have flown quite literally under the radar.
“In light of the Chinese balloon program and this recent incursion into our airspace, the United States and Canada, through NORAD, have been more closely scrutinizing that airspace, including enhancing our radar capabilities, which — as the Commander of NORTHCOM and NORAD, General VanHerck, said last night — may at least partly explain the increase in the objects that have been detected,” National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby said at a White House press briefing on Monday.
Unidentified flying objects or unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP), as they are officially called, are nothing new, however. In fact, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence published an unclassified report on the topic last month, showing how frequent sightings and reports of UAPs are. Between March 2021 and August 2022, authorities received 366 reports of UAPs, more than half of which were found to exhibit “unremarkable characteristics”. 26 were classified as unmanned aircraft systems (mostly drones), 163 were characterized as balloons or balloon-like entities and six were attributed to clutter, e.g. birds, weather events or airborne debris such as plastic bags. When the report was published, 171 UAPs were yet uncharacterized, but the report states that some of them “appear to have demonstrated unusual flight characteristics or performance capabilities, and require further analysis.”