(OTTAWA) Senior Canadian NORAD officers revealed on Friday that the alleged “Chinese spy balloon” flew past several military bases and through “radar blind spots” during its flight over Canada.
Posted at 8:23pm
Lee Berthiaume The Canadian Press
But until the remains of the balloon are analyzed, Canadian and American officials won’t know exactly what it was capable of — and what information it may have gleaned.
On the other hand, Major General Paul Prévost, director of the Canadian Armed Forces Strategic Joint Staff, said on Friday that the suspected balloon had not flown over particularly sensitive locations in Canada.
“It went roughly from Alaska to the Yukon and central British Columbia, roughly between the Alberta border and the (Pacific) coast,” Maj. Gen. Prévost told the House of Commons Defense Committee. There was no Canadian Forces infrastructure worth mentioning on its way. »
Mr. Prévost testified Friday morning accompanied by Lt. Gen. Alain Pelletier, deputy commander, Canadian, of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).
Parliamentarians have been able for the first time to question senior military officers about the Chinese balloon and three other unidentified flying objects shot down over North America late last week.
One such vehicle, shot down over the central Yukon last Saturday, was described by Mr. Pelletier as a “suspicious balloon.” Another flying object was shot down the next day over Lake Huron between Michigan and Ontario.
A search was immediately conducted for the wreckage of these two objects, as well as a third, which was shot down off the coast of Alaska on Friday, February 10. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canadian Army and Canadian Coast Guard have been called upon to participate in the operations. The search in Lake Huron was suspended on Thursday.
Lt. Gen. Pelletier confirmed Friday that the Chinese balloon, first spotted in Alaskan airspace on Jan. 28, crossed Canada on Jan. 30-31 before flying in over the United States, where its presence was publicly announced.
“NORAD monitored the balloon’s trajectory for most of its trajectory over Canada,” he said.
Mr. Pelletier added that there were some beaches “without radar coverage” on part of its trajectory […] The high altitude surveillance balloon approached some Canadian bases, but I cannot comment on how those Canadian bases reacted. »
Canada has several military bases in Alberta and British Columbia, including one of its main combat squadrons in Cold Lake, Alberta. But Major General Prévost downplayed any threat to national security: “There was no Canadian Forces infrastructure in his path to speak of.”
Find the wrecks
Lt. Gen. Pelletier also said Friday that the Canadian and American military would like to know more about the balloon’s capabilities, including not only its ability to gather information, but also whether it could be used for other purposes.
The two senior Canadian military officers were also questioned Friday morning about the three other downed objects after the Chinese balloon and the ability of Canada’s aging CF-18 to shoot them down.
US President Joe Biden indicated Thursday that the three objects shot down over Alaska, the Yukon and Lake Huron posed no threat to national security.
MM. Pelletier and Prévost did not go into much more detail: they emphasized the importance of finding the debris of these objects in order to determine what they really were. On the other hand, they indicated that these searches might turn up nothing.
In announcing Thursday that the Lake Huron search would be suspended, the RCMP blamed worsening weather conditions and a low probability of success. As for the Yukon, Major General Prévost described the search as trying to find “a needle in a snowdrift.”
The object “landed in mountainous terrain with about a meter to a meter and a half of snow,” he said. Imagine an object falling 20,000 feet into that snow. »
But whatever they are, “what we know about these objects is that they were unauthorized, that they were unwanted,” Mr Prévost said.
The Major General also explained to the committee members that it is basically only a matter of time before it is an American F-22 fighter plane that destroys the suspicious object over the Yukon and not a Canadian CF-18. He explained that two Canadian fighter jets headed for the area were about five minutes from where the American fighter jet fired. He said the American F-22 was in the right place when the first opportunity arose, “just as the object crossed the border.”
Some observers have questioned whether Canada’s old CF-18s could really have shot down a small, slow-moving high-altitude balloon, especially as their sensors and combat weapons are outdated and yet to be upgraded.
Mr. Prévost agreed on Friday that the CF-18s carried an older version of the type of missile that the F-22 used to destroy the balloon over the Yukon and that tests would have been conducted ahead of Canadian fire. The Major General believes the CF-18 could “attempt” the shot: “It would have been the first attempt by an F-18. And before we started shooting, we could have done some tests.