UK to conduct security review after US jets shoot down fourth flying object in Western airspace

It is not yet clear what the balloons have been doing, ITV News US Correspondent Dan Rivers has the latest

Ben Wallace has announced the UK will conduct a security review after a series of objects in Western airspace were shot down by the US military, including a suspected Chinese spy balloon.

The defence secretary announced the intended review on Sunday following the recent incidents in the US and Canada which have raised tensions with China.

It comes after American fighter jets shot down an “unidentified object” over Lake Huron, near the Canadian border, on Sunday – the fourth object to enter US or Canadian airspace in just over a week.

Mr Wallace said: “The UK and her allies will review what these airspace intrusions mean for our security. This development is another sign of how the global threat picture is changing for the worse.”

Rishi Sunak said that the UK was in 'constant touch' with allies. Credit: PA

As mystery deepens over the purpose of the flying objects, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak vowed the government will do “whatever it takes” to keep the UK safe from the threat of spy balloons.

He said that “national security matters” prevented him from commenting in more detail, but insisted the UK was in “constant touch” with allies.

“I want people to know that we will do whatever it takes to keep the country safe,” Mr Sunak told broadcasters during a visit to Royton, Oldham, on Monday. “We have something called the quick reaction alert force which involves Typhoon planes, which are kept on 24/7 readiness to police our airspace, which is incredibly important. “I can’t obviously comment in detail on national security matters, but we are in constant touch with our allies and, as I said, we will do whatever it takes to keep the country safe.”

Meanwhile, Transport Minister Richard Holden said Britain would deal “robustly” with China, which he called “a hostile state”, adding that it was “possible” Beijing had flown spy balloons over the UK.

Asked on Sky News whether it was possible that “Chinese spy balloons have already been used over the UK”, the minister said: “It is possible. It is also possible, and I would think likely, that there would be people from the Chinese government trying to act as a hostile state.”

Mr Holden said the UK had to be “robust” in how it dealt with Beijing, admitting the UK government was “concerned about what’s going on” in the US. He added: “China is a hostile state and we need to be aware of that and the way it acts and behaves. I think there was an era when China could have gone a different way and perhaps opened up. “But it is quite clear at the moment that it is not going in that direction and we have got to be really robust in our dealings with China.”

Timeline of events

On February 4, the US military downed a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the Carolina coast after it traversed sensitive military sites across North America.

It had loitered over sensitive areas of Montana where nuclear warheads are siloed, leading the military to take actions to prevent it from collecting intelligence.

Almost a week later on Friday, they shot down an unknown “car-sized” object flying in US airspace off the coast of Alaska.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Saturday that he ordered a US warplane to shoot down an unidentified object that was flying high over northern Canada.

On Sunday, a further unidentified object was shot down with a missile by US fighter jets over Lake Huron on the US-Canada border, on Joe Biden's orders.

Sailors recover a high-altitude surveillance balloon off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on February 5. Credit: U.S. Navy via AP, File

Pentagon officials said the flying objects posed no security threats, but so little was known about them that nothing - not even UFOs - could be ruled out.

"We're calling them objects, not balloons, for a reason," VanHerck, head of North American Aerospace Defense Command and Northern Command, said. He would not rule out aliens or any other explanation, adding: "I'll let the intel community and the counterintelligence community figure that out."

“We have been more closely scrutinising our airspace at these altitudes, including enhancing our radar, which may at least partly explain the increase,” Melissa Dalton, assistant defense secretary for homeland defense, said.

Pentagon officials added that they were still trying to determine what exactly the objects were and said they had considered using the jets’ guns instead of missiles, but it proved to be too difficult.

They drew a strong distinction between the three shot down over this weekend and the balloon from China, which the US government described as being the size of three school buses.

The Biden administration said it was used for surveillance but China claims it was on a meteorological research mission, with Beijing insisting the 'airship' had accidentally drifted far off course.

As the diplomatic row intensified on Monday, China claimed that US high altitude balloons had flown over its airspace without permission over 10 times since the start of 2022. "Since last year, the US's high-altitude balloons have undergone more than 10 illegal flights into Chinese airspace without the approval of the relevant Chinese departments," Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said.

Asked how China had reacted to such incursions into its airspace, Wang, who did not say the balloons were used for spying or military purposes, said its responses had been "responsible and professional". Wang said the US should “first reflect on itself and change course, rather than smear and instigate a confrontation.” The US denied that it operates any surveillance balloons over China.

Also on Monday, the Philippines accused a Chinese coast guard ship of targeting a Philippine coast guard vessel with a military-grade laser and temporarily blinding some of its crew in the South China Sea, calling it a “blatant” violation of Manila’s sovereign rights. Wang said a Philippine coast guard vessel had trespassed into Chinese waters without permission on February 6 and that Chinese coast guard vessels responded “professionally and with restraint”. “China and the Philippines are maintaining communication through diplomatic channels in this regard,” Wang added.

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