President Joe Biden speaks Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, in Washington about the Chinese surveillance balloon and other unidentified objects shot down by the U.S. military.

President Joe Biden speaks Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, in Washington about the Chinese surveillance balloon and other unidentified objects shot down by the U.S. military. (Evan Vucci/AP)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said Thursday that he is directing his government to create new parameters for guarding U.S. airspace after the military shot down three objects during the past week that are likely tied to private entities.

The objects downed Friday over Alaska, Saturday over the Yukon Territory in Canada and Sunday over Lake Huron are still being investigated but do not appear to be linked to the Chinese spy balloon shot down off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 4, he said. Instead, they seem to be tied to private companies or institutions conducting scientific research.

“We don't yet know exactly what these three objects were,” Biden said. “But nothing right now suggests they were related to China's spy balloon program, or they were surveillance vehicles from any other country.”

The objects were flying at the height of commercial air traffic and were discovered partly because the military had loosened its radar filters after shooting down the Chinese spy balloon, he said.

“We don’t have any evidence that there has been a sudden increase in the number of objects in the sky,” Biden said. “We’re now just seeing more of them partially because of the steps we’ve taken to increase our radars.”

Biden said this new approach requires “sharper rules” for distinguishing between flying objects that pose a threat to American safety and those that do not. The three recently shot down objects were downed in accordance with established parameters, he said, but new parameters are needed to guide the U.S. response to unmanned and unidentified aerial objects going forward.

The new rules will be shared with Congress but will remain classified to the public so that foreign entities cannot evade them, Biden said. Lawmakers have criticized the White House for transparency issues surrounding unidentified flying objects and grilled Pentagon officials last week for not taking down the Chinese spy balloon when it was first spotted over Alaska on Jan. 28.

Biden on Thursday said he has directed his administration to establish a better inventory of unmanned airborne objects flying around U.S. airspace and improve the capacity to detect them. Pentagon officials told senators last week that the U.S. is working with Canada to modernize the surveillance capabilities of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and develop a new system of sensors to detect airborne threats.

Biden said he has also ordered officials to update rules and regulations for launching and maintaining unarmed objects in the skies above the U.S. and tasked the Secretary of State with leading an effort to establish global norms for airspace.

“These steps will lead to safer and more secure skies for our air travelers, our military, our scientists and for people on the ground as well,” he said.

Remnants of the Chinese spy balloon are continuing to be analyzed and are expected to help enhance U.S. knowledge of the Chinese surveillance program, Biden said. He emphasized the need to keep lines of communication with China open despite the spying episode and said he expects to speak to Chinese President Xi Jinping soon.

“I hope we’re going to get to the bottom of this,” Biden said. “But I make no apologies for taking down that balloon.”

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Svetlana Shkolnikova covers Congress for Stars and Stripes. She previously worked with the House Foreign Affairs Committee as an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow and spent four years as a general assignment reporter for The Record newspaper in New Jersey and the USA Today Network. A native of Belarus, she has also reported from Moscow, Russia.

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