Balloon over Yukon used to justify Canadian government’s purchase of F-35 warplanes and air-to-air missiles
Photo: An F-35 fires a missile during a live-fire test.
On February 12, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters that he had ordered an object in the air over the Yukon to be shot down because it had “unlawfully” entered Canadian airspace and posed a “reasonable threat” to the safety of Canadians.
The unidentified object over Yukon territory was shot down by an American F-22 fighter jet the previous day, Saturday February 11.
Major-General Paul Prevost also told the House of Commons standing committee on defence that two CF-18s were scrambled (presumably from Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake) but were still five minutes away when the balloon was shot down by the F-22.
The object above Yukon was the second of three shot down by the US Air Force fighter jets on three successive days (February 10 over Alaska, February 11 over Yukon and February 12 over Montana) that was preceded by the shooting down of a balloon near South Carolina earlier in the month (February 4).
The tone of the moment began to change on February 14 when a White House official said that the three objects shot down since February 10 may be connected to “benign” commercial or research efforts.
Then on February 16, US President Joe Biden further elaborated at a media conference: “The intelligence community’s current assessment is that these three objects were most likely balloons tied to private companies, recreation or research institutions studying weather or conducting other scientific research.”
And on February 17, Global News reported: “The U.S. Air Force shot down an object in Canadian airspace using a US$400,000 missile last weekend, and it turns out that object might have been a $12 balloon released by a balloon hobby group.”
What did Canadian pundits say about this between Saturday February 11 and Tuesday February 14 when the United States began to acknowledge the objects were likely benign?
On February 13, Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre stated: “The Prime Minister has made us more vulnerable to foreign aggression. His cancellation of the F-35 jets wasted years and billions of dollars that could have gone into our forces. Had Canada possessed these jets today, we would not be so vulnerable and unprepared for danger.”
Christian Leuprecht of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute commented in The Globe and Mail: “Modernizing Canadian air defence, along with the long-overdue deal for F-35 fighter jets, are down payments to ‘maintain the watch’, and fulfill the most fundamental obligation of the state: keeping its citizens safe and the country secure.”
The Globe and Mail also reported: “Yukon’s Premier [Ranj Pillai] says the downing of a mysterious object over the territory marks an important milestone in the debate over the security of Canada’s arctic.”
And Lee Berthiaume wrote in The Canadian Press: “Canada’s CF-18 fighter jets are still not equipped with the type of missiles [AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles] the U.S. military recently used to shoot down four unidentified flying objects, even though the Canadian military ordered 50 more than two and a half years ago.”
This was also the timing that the Department of National Defence may have chosen to acknowledge that it would be spending $6.3 billion on new advanced air-to-air missiles (capable of shooting down balloons).
And even as late as February 18, a letter to the editor in The Toronto Star noted: “Perhaps, as many have suggested, it would be wise for Canada to purchase a combination of more CF-18s and F-35s. We certainly want to have the capacity to defend this great land with the most appropriate weapons. We want a reliable and always available fighter plane.”
It may also be potentially significant that the Washington Post is now reporting that the surveillance balloon shot down on February 4, may have inadvertently entered Canadian and US airspace because it encountered “atypical weather conditions” and veered north “in response to a strong cold front that had unleashed exceptionally frigid air over northern China, the Korean Peninsula and Japan.”
Today, Christopher S. Chivvis, the director of the American Statecraft Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, warns in The Guardian: “Much uncertainty still surrounds China’s balloon spying program and the other mysterious objects that have now been identified over North American airspace. One thing seems certain, however: incidents like these could too easily spiral out of control in the future, ending in disaster.”
And David Vine, a professor at American University, recently commented on Democracy Now!: “The balloon incident offers a rare opportunity for us to consider a really hard and stark question. And that is: Do we want a war with China? I think the people of the United States absolutely do not want war. They are sick of war, sick and tired of war, after 21 years of war launched by the George W. Bush administration with its ‘war on terror’, the catastrophes in Afghanistan and Iraq, following prior catastrophes dating to the War in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. We need to move in another direction.”
We continue to follow this situation.