The first U.S. missile fired at an object over Lake Huron on Sunday missed its target and landed in the waters below, the Pentagon said Tuesday, an embarrassing disclosure in America’s recent whack-a-mole effort to purge its skies of possible threats.
“The first shot missed,” Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a news conference in Brussels. “The missile landed harmlessly in the water of Lake Huron. We tracked it all the way down.”
A second missile, fired from an American F-16 fighter jet, hit the mysterious object, Milley said. The object, possibly a balloon, was said to be an octagonal structure moving at an altitude of about 20,000 feet.
The successful AIM-9X Sidewinder missile strike brought the object down at about 2:42 p.m. on Sunday, according to the Pentagon, marking the third such takedown over North American skies in three days.
Milley, the top Pentagon general, told reporters that the Great Lakes shootdown was the only of the three that required multiple shots.
After the U.S. brought down a hulking suspected Chinese spy balloon in shallow Atlantic Ocean waters on Feb. 4, the military has been closely monitoring the movements of other aerial objects.
President Biden received criticism for allowing the Chinese aircraft to float across the continental U.S. over sensitive military stations; he said the military had advised that the U.S. wait until it reached the water before bringing it down with a missile.
On Friday, the U.S. shot down an object the size of a small car over frozen waters north of Alaska. On Saturday, a U.S. fighter jet acting on the orders of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took down an object drifting over the frosty Yukon Territory.
The Sunday miss underscored the potential dangers in the U.S. military lobbing missiles at aerial objects. The Pentagon has largely chosen to limit its strikes to skies over water.
“We go to great lengths to make sure that the airspace is clear and the backdrop is clear,” Milley said Tuesday. “And we made sure that the airspace was clear of any commercial or civilian or recreational traffic.”
Officials cited threats to civilian aircraft for the decisions to take down the trio of objects, which were flying at much lower altitudes than the suspect Chinese surveillance balloon.
But little is known about the last three objects. All three fell in remote locations and have not yet been recovered.
“They didn’t have propulsion. They weren’t being maneuvered,” John Kirby, a White House spokesman, said at a news conference on Monday. “We don’t know for sure whether they had a surveillance aspect to them.”
Milley said Tuesday that the U.S. was working to recover the objects.
“We’ll get them eventually,” he said. “But it’s going to take some time.”
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