Schumer says Chinese ‘humiliated’ after three flying objects shot down | US military

US and Canadian military are continuing to search by sea and land amid hostile weather conditions in a scramble to recover portions of three flying objects shot down over North American airspace in the past week.

The Democratic majority leader of the US Senate, Chuck Schumer, told ABC’s This Week on Sunday that officials were now convinced that all three of the flying objects brought down by air-to-air missiles this week were balloons. He put the finger of blame firmly on China.

“The Chinese were humiliated – I think the Chinese were caught lying,” he said. “It’s a real setback for them.”

Schumer said that US military and intelligence agencies were “focused like a laser” on gathering information on the flying objects and then analysing what steps needed to be taken to protect American interests in future. He called it “wild” that the US government had no idea about the balloon spying program until just “a few months ago”.

US and Canadian personnel are now scrambling to retrieve elements of the balloons from all three crash sites. In the most recent case, an unidentified flying object was taken down within Canadian airspace on Saturday by F-22 fighter planes with the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or Norad.

Canadian military on Sunday were attempting to reach pieces of the vessel in a remote, rugged area of Yukon. The object, described as cylindrical, had been flying at 40,000ft in Canadian territory and was considered a risk to civilian air traffic.

Searches by US military are also continuing in difficult circumstances off the coasts of South Carolina and Alaska in the wake of the two previous interceptions. Some debris from the first balloon to be destroyed, the largest of the three objects, was shot down on 4 February about six miles off the South Carolina coast.

Underwater survey and recovery teams have already retrieved pieces from the ocean floor 50ft down. The fragments are now being taken to military laboratories for analysis.

US officials have told reporters that stormy seas are slowing the mission. The Chinese government has admitted that this balloon was its own, insisting though that it was used only for weather research.

The Pentagon has disputed the characterization, saying that early indications suggest that the balloon was carrying powerful equipment that could intercept communications. The balloon, flying at 60,000ft, was tracked by US military for several days as it traversed the national airspace, having initially been spotted off the coast of Alaska on 28 January.

The air force decided to wait until it was over the Atlantic before shooting it down out of concern for civilians on the ground, the Pentagon said.

Schumer defended that decision on Sunday against mounting criticism from Republicans who have castigated the Joe Biden White House for failing to act immediately. By following the balloon across the country, the US had gained “enormous intelligence” on what the Chinese were doing, he said.

Schumer predicted that the entire object would be pieced back together in coming days. “That’s a huge coup for the United States,” he told ABC’s This Week.

A third search is being carried out in treacherous conditions off the coast of Alaska near Prudhoe Bay, a major oil drilling community. A flying object described by US officials as being roughly the size of a Volkswagen Beetle car was shot down by F-22 fighter jets using a Sidewinder air-to-air missle on Friday afternoon.

Bits of the vessel have landed in frozen sea in an area of snow and ice which is very hard to navigate amid sub-zero temperatures. Retrieval teams are using helicopters and HC-130 search-and-rescue planes because naval boats are unable to reach the location.

The confluence of three downed flying objects in a week has raised tension and jangled nerves on both sides of the US and Canadian border. As a sign of the jitters, late on Saturday night, the US Federal Aviation Administration closed parts of Montana’s airspace to air traffic after a “radar anomaly” was reported.

Norad fighter jets were sent to scour the skies but found nothing.

The trio of flying objects has also generated political stresses internationally and domestically. The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, postponed the first visit to Beijing by a senior American diplomat since 2018 in response to the high-altitude intrusion of the Chinese balloon.

US officials have told news outlets that they have tracked the balloon program to a number of locations inside China.

At home, the US congress has also seen rising tension between the new Republican leadership of the House and the Biden administration over the handling of the spy objects. Republicans were critical of the Pentagon’s decision to allow the Chinese balloon to fly across the heartlands of America before bringing it down, though they have been less forthright about explaining how it was that at least three suspected Chinese spying vessels entered US airspace under Donald Trump’s previous presidential administration apparently undetected.

The Republican chair of the House intelligence committee, Mike Turner, on Sunday called on the Biden administration to be aggressive in its stance on the flying objects. “I would prefer them to be trigger happy than to be permissive,” he told CNN’s State of the Union.

“This administration now needs to declare that it will defend its airspace.”

Turner said that the three aerial objects in short succession exposed the gaps in US defenses. “What’s become clear in the public discussion is that we don’t really have adequate radar systems, we certainly don’t have an integrated missile defense system,” he said.

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