Canadian officials are looking into a pattern of aerial objects that were ordered to be taken down to see if there is a correlation linking the four recent events — including an unidentified object shot down over the Yukon under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s orders.
At the Whitehorse airport firehall on the morning of Feb. 13, Trudeau told reporters the objects could be linked.
“I think, obviously, there is some sort of pattern in there,” he said.
“The fact that we are seeing this in a significant degree over the past week is a cause for interest and close attention, which is exactly what we’re doing. We’ve deployed significant resources here to be able to recover the object as well as diplomatic and international engagements going on to find more information and to get solutions on this.”
Speaking with reporters in Brussels while attending a meeting of NATO defence ministers on Feb. 14, Minister of National Defence Anita Anand said she wouldn’t comment on whether a pattern exists.
“I, personally, am reluctant to make a statement along those lines at this point,” she said.
In a Feb. 13 statement on Twitter, Anand said the Royal Canadian Air Force has deployed a CC-130H Hercules, two CC- 138 Twin Otters, a CH-148 Cyclone and a CH-149 Cormorant aircraft to search for debris from the object in the Yukon.
“The debris is located in a remote location northeast of Dawson City, in complex alpine terrain that is prone to challenging northern weather conditions,” she said.
During a briefing, Melissa G. Dalton, the U.S. Department of Defense’s assistant secretary for homeland defense and hemispheric affairs, said Feb. 12 that the air space is being watched more closely since the first object and the most recent objects do not pose a “kinetic military threat”, but their path in proximity to sensitive defence sites and the altitude at which they were flying potentially pose a hazard to civilian aviation.
“In light of the People’s Republic of China balloon that we took down last Saturday, we have been more closely scrutinizing our air space at these altitudes, including enhancing our radar, which may at least partly explain the increase in objects that we’ve detected over the past week. We also know that a range of entities, including countries, companies [and] research organizations operate objects at these altitudes for purposes that are not nefarious, including legitimate research,” Dalton said.
“That said, because we have not yet been able to definitively assess what these recent objects are, we have acted out of an abundance of caution to protect our security and interests.”
On the afternoon of Feb. 13, federal officials provided a virtual technical briefing about the four airborne objects that were being tracked, monitored and identified by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) since Feb. 4.
Maj.-Gen. Paul Prevost is a director of strategic joint staff at the Canadian Department of National Defence. He said authorities are trying to make sense of the pattern of events.
“There seems to be a pattern,” Prevost said. “What we’re trying to find out [is] if that pattern is correlated.”
The balloon was taken down on Feb. 4, another object was shot down in Alaska on Feb. 10, a third object was shot down between Dawson City and Mayo on Feb. 11 and a fourth object was taken down over Lake Huron on Feb. 12.
Sean McGillis, the acting deputy commissioner for the federal policing program at the RCMP, said that “until we locate these devices and have a true sense of what they are, it’s difficult to say whether or not we can directly link them to the other incidents.”
“We consider it to be a coincidence that we have multiple incidents happening that seem to be similar, but that’s just speculation at this point in terms of whether or not they’re definitely connected,” he said.
McGillis said it’s too early to speculate on what the device looked like, what it contained and what concerns could be until it is located. He said there is no confirmation or visuals to share at this time.
Prevost spoke about NORAD’s response to the unknown object over the Yukon.
“These unprecedented activities have underscored how important our binational military command continues to be and how important it is that NORAD continue to evolve to meet the changing threat environment,” Prevost said.
“We are committed in keeping Canadians and Americans safe, and we will remain in contact with our U.S. partners to ensure binational response to all the situations where a coordinated approach is required.”
Prevost said that while the first object has been officially characterized as a “high-altitude surveillance balloon” and attributed to the People’s Republic of China, the subsequent three objects cannot be characterized or attributed at this time.
“The four objects have been taken down over U.S. and Canadian airspace,” he said. “Recovery operations are ongoing.”
The search for the downed object in the Yukon is being led by the RCMP with the support of the Canadian Armed Forces.
Prevost spoke to the armed forces’ role in the recovery.
“Under the lead our of Canadian Special Forces’ Command, personnel and air assets across from the Canadian Armed Forces and the Royal Canadian Air Force have been mobilized in Yukon, in both Whitehorse and Dawson City,” he said.
“They are supporting initial search efforts, and the RCMP’s on-the-ground recovery efforts to follow.”
McGillis spoke about the RCMP’s role.
“The RCMP is actively engaged with international, federal, provincial and territorial safety and security partners in response to the air incidents that have happened over the past several days,” he said.
“As part of our efforts, we are working in close collaboration with Indigenous community leaders in recognition of their rights, respect, cooperation and partnership.”
McGillis mentioned the RCMP assesses and mitigates potential threats to Canada’s national security on a case-by-case basis.
“While we are not aware of any specific threat to the public at this time, we ask everyone to be cautious and to allow authorized personnel to respond to the incident,” he said.
“Should you locate any debris, please contact the RCMP directly.”
McGillis noted the methodical search is taking place in a vast part of the territory with what he described as “treacherous” terrain. There is no guarantee the object will be found.
“It is unfortunately very rugged and mountainous terrain. The weather conditions are not great. There’s a very high level of snow pack in the region, so our efforts are going to be difficult,” he said.
“This is not going to be an easy recovery and it could potentially take us some time to locate the device.”
Prevost said authorities are using wind models that were available at the time of the shoot down to narrow down the scope of the 3,000-square-kilometre search area.
Prevost said there is no evidence of a system to propel these objects. He said these are “lighter-than-air objects” that follow the wind pattern. With the exception of the surveillance balloon, he said, there is no information on the capabilities of the other three objects.
Prevost said he could not release information on whether the device had been interfering with airplanes.
For the recovery aspect, McGillis said there are hazardous experts on site including investigators and people with explosive, chemical, biological and radiological backgrounds.
“Because we don’t know what this is, we’re exercising an abundance of caution,” he said.
Prevost said what is known about the three objects is that they appear to be smaller in size than the surveillance balloon. He said all three objects are different but follow the same pattern.
“What we know about these objects right now is they’re unauthorized, they’re unwanted, they are of concern, so we have to continue to try to find them,” he said.
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