Asked whether officials have ruled out the existence of aliens, a senior Pentagon official said: “I haven’t ruled anything out at this point.”

WASHINGTON – A U.S. fighter jet shot down an “unidentified object” over Lake Huron on Sunday at the behest of President Joe Biden. It was the fourth such shoot-down in eight days and the latest military strike in an extraordinary chain of events over US airspace that Pentagon officials say is unprecedented in peacetime.

One of the reasons for the repeated shootings is “heightened anxiety” after a Chinese spy balloon flew over US airspace in late January, General Glenn VanHerk, head of NORAD and US Northern Command, told reporters at a briefing.

Since then, fighter jets have also shot down targets over Canada and Alaska last week. Pentagon officials said they posed no security threat, but so little was known about them that Pentagon officials weren’t ruling anything out — not even UFOs.

“We have been studying our airspace more closely at these altitudes, including improving our radar, which may at least partially explain the increase,” said Melissa Dalton, the nation’s assistant secretary of defense.

US authorities have made it clear that they are constantly monitoring the unknown radars and often close the airspace as a precaution to evaluate them. But the unusually forceful response raised questions about whether the use of force was justified, especially as administration officials said the targets did not pose a serious national security concern and that the beatings were merely precautionary.

VanHerk said the U.S. had adjusted its radar so it could track slower objects. “With some adjustments, we were able to get a better categorization of the radar signatures,” he said, “and that’s why I think you’re seeing them, and there’s an increased anxiety to look for that information.”

He added: “I believe this is the first time in United States or American airspace that NORAD or the US Northern Command has taken kinetic action against an aerial target.”

Asked if officials have ruled out the existence of aliens, VanHerk said: “I haven’t ruled anything out at this point.”

Pentagon officials said they were still trying to determine what the objects were and said they considered using jet guns instead of missiles, but that proved too complicated. They drew a strong distinction between the three shot down this weekend and the balloon from China.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz tweeted that pilots from the 148th Fighter Wing, a fighter unit of the Air National Guard in Duluth, shot down the object over Lake Huron.

The air defense emergency began in late January when a white balloon that officials said was from China appeared over the United States and hovered over the country for several days before fighter jets shot it down off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. This event was broadcast live. Many Americans were captivated by the drama unfolding in the sky as fighter jets swooped in to shoot down targets.

The latest downed one was first spotted Saturday night over Montana, but was initially thought to be an anomaly. Pentagon officials said Sunday that radar picked it up again over Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and it was moving over Lake Huron.

Earlier on Sunday, US and Canadian authorities restricted some of the airspace over the lake as planes were sent to intercept and try to identify the object. According to a senior administration official, the object was octagonal, with strings hanging down, but had no discernible payload. It was flying low at about 20,000 feet, said the official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials were still trying to positively identify the two other objects downed by the F-22 fighter jets and were working on whether China was responsible as concerns grew over what Washington called a Beijing affair a large-scale aerial surveillance program.

An object shot down on Saturday over the Canadian Yukon was described by US officials as a balloon much smaller than the balloon – the size of three school buses – that was hit by a missile on February 4. A flying object crashed over the remote north coast of Alaska on Friday was more cylindrical and described as a type of airship.

Both were believed to have payloads attached or suspended, according to officials who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation. Officials could not say who launched the objects and are trying to determine their origin.

The three objects were much smaller in size, different in appearance and flew at a lower altitude than the alleged spy balloon that fell into the Atlantic Ocean after a US missile strike.

Officials said the remaining three sites were not consistent with China’s fleet of aerial surveillance balloons targeting more than 40 countries, stretching back at least to the Trump administration.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told ABC’s “This Week” that U.S. officials are working quickly to rebuild the wreckage. Using shorthand to describe the objects as balloons, he said US military and intelligence officials were “laser-focused” on gathering and accumulating information and then compiling a comprehensive analysis.

“The bottom line is that until a few months ago, we didn’t know about these balloons,” Schumer, DNY, said of the spying program the administration has linked to China’s People’s Liberation Army. “It’s wild that we didn’t know.”

Eight days ago, F-22 jets shot down a large white balloon that had been hovering over the United States for several days at an altitude of about 60,000 feet. US officials immediately blamed China, saying the balloon was equipped to detect and collect intelligence signals and could maneuver on its own. White House officials said improved surveillance capabilities helped detect it.

China’s foreign ministry said the unmanned balloon was a civilian meteorological airship that had gone off course. Beijing said the US had “overreacted” by knocking it down.

Then, on Friday, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, a joint US-Canada organization that jointly defends the airspace over the two countries, detected and shot down the object near sparsely populated Deadhorse, Alaska.

Later in the evening, NORAD detected a second object flying at a high altitude over Alaska, US officials said. It entered Canadian airspace on Saturday and was over the Yukon, a remote territory, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ordered it shot down.

In both of these incidents, the objects were flying at an altitude of approximately 40,000 feet. The object was flying at an altitude of 20,000 feet on Sunday.

The cases have heightened diplomatic tensions between the United States and China, raised questions about the extent of American surveillance of Beijing and sparked days of criticism from Republican lawmakers about the administration’s response.

Associated Press writers Aamer Madhani, Michael Balsama, Ellen Knickmeier and Tara Kopp contributed to this report.

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