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By El Lento

This article will diverge from what one likely expects from Binghamton Review. Despite the facetious title, what follows is not satirical and is instead a serious attempt at analysis of the incidents in February wherein multiple unidentified objects (I will attempt to avoid the nomenclature “UFO” due to its association with aliens) were shot down. I acknowledge that although I lack definitive evidence of what really happened, I believe the standing narrative is not entirely truthful. 

Finally, to assuage some of your warranted skepticism, I will point out that I do not believe in extraterrestrial life, aliens or little-green-men of any sort; I believe that my theory is firmly within the realm of geopolitics and modern science, not science fiction.

First, the official narrative ought to be reiterated. According to the New York Times, the timeline of events is as follows:

  1. February 4: After roughly a week over the United States, a Chinese spy balloon is shot down at 60,000-65,000 feet.
  2. February 10: An object is shot down over Alaska roughly a day after detection.
  3. February 11: Again roughly a day after detection, another object is shot down by the United States over Canada near Alaska.
  4. February 12: Again roughly a day after detection, a third object is shot down over Lake Huron at 20,000 feet.
  5. February 16: President Biden states that these objects, excluding of course the initial spy balloon, “likely served commercial or recreational purposes.”
  6. February 17: The search for the wreckage of these objects officially ends.

The most immediately suspicious fact is this rather sudden acknowledgment that the objects were not military or strategic in nature. First, our government almost always avoids admitting fault if possible. From a pragmatic standpoint, there is no reason to immediately admit to the objects being non-threatening—unless one believes that proof will soon be public. One could not claim that this announcement was to prevent further tensions (as the NYT seems to imply), as tensions would already be high because of the initial spy balloon. 

Initially, I believed that the administration lacked sufficient information to conclude that the objects were private aircraft. I also believed that the objects were not civilian in nature, as one would have expected someone to have claimed them (which has yet to occur months later), and it seems extremely unlikely that three unidentifiable civilian aircraft would all suddenly be detected at roughly the same time. Some might argue in response that the United States government simply increased scrutiny of their airspace at this time and that accounts for their detection in rapid succession. Indeed, on March 17th, published an article in which they quoted General VanHerck on Chinese spy balloons that he had “seen that type of…vehicle, probably for about a year and a half to two years before what you saw happened…we’ve been watching them…we had been monitoring it” before stating “we are very attuned to vehicles that aren’t flying at airline type speeds” and “we have [detected] thousands of other objects now that we’ve changed the sensitivities of our radars.” 

Taken at face value, these statements support the increased-scrutiny hypothesis. Yet upon further analysis they seem entirely contradictory. Supposedly, multiple objects were detected after radar sensitivities were changed in response to this incursion. But if the U.S. was able to monitor these balloons prior to this point, why would they need to alter their radar sensitivity? Similarly, if the military was aware of these balloons, why wouldn’t it have already adjusted their radar in response? VanHerck even states that they had been preparing for an incursion since August. Thus, failing to adjust their radar despite this preparation would be a near-unprecedented display of incompetence. Furthermore, if their detection was caused by an adjustment in our radar usage, wouldn’t we expect to detect them over a much narrower time frame, like immediately after the adjustment? 

Furthermore, it’s strange enough that these three objects—ostensibly out of thousands—were singled out for destruction; some might argue that the other objects had their identity verified or were otherwise deemed non-threatening. But this implies that non-military aircraft can normally be identified yet these three objects would still be an abnormality. Thus, these explanations appear increasingly unlikely. One final point: notes that the government made explicit that these were “objects,” not balloons. However, it should be noted that according to Al Jazeera, even balloons above a certain weight are required to have transponders on them; it is difficult, then, to imagine how these objects could remain below this requisite weight if they were not balloons, and thus any legitimate commercial or recreational craft would have had a transponder that clearly identifies them.

The second suspicious fact is the rather sudden decision to halt the search for wreckage. If an unidentified object had violated U.S. airspace, one would think that its recovery and analysis would be a high ranking priority. Further, we have just determined that these craft likely were not recreational or commercial in nature, and the government therefore should assume that they were the work of some state actor. Ostensibly, the search was halted due to weather conditions at the time. Yet much of the Chinese spy satellite was recovered despite being shot down “six nautical miles” off the Atlantic shore. It should be expected that an object from a much smaller lake would be easier to locate, or that at least something could be recovered. Furthermore, the U.S. has historically demonstrated a remarkable ability to recover underwater objects. During the Cold War, the U.S. managed to not only locate but even recover a large section of a sunken Soviet submarine roughly 16,000 feet under the sea. Considering that Lake Huron has an average depth of 195 feet and a maximum of 750, recovery shouldn’t seem difficult. This isn’t even addressing the fact that the “Canadian” unidentified object had been shot down over the Yukon and thus should be considerably easier to recover than something submerged in water. This decision to officially halt the search thus seems unreasonable and warranting suspicion.

My final point concerns a topic which has hitherto gone unmentioned: the unidentified object sighted over China during this time period. On February 12 it was announced that the Chinese government had detected an unidentified object near a major naval base at Qingdao and had “prepared” to shoot it down… and I have been unable to find any update on this situation since then. Indeed, the closest thing to an update I could find was a Wikipedia article which stated that there was no official update. If China had shot down the object, failure to acknowledge that would be extremely strange. If China allowed an object to enter its airspace, particularly near a military installation, failure to address this intrusion would suggest weakness on its part, entirely undesirable for any autocratic regime. China particularly felt pressure to demonstrate strength since Chinese nationalists called for shooting down the object in response to the U.S. shooting down their balloon. China also faced strategic pressure to do so, since inaction could cause other countries to view China as either unable or unwilling to protect its airspace. 

Thus if China had shot down the object, it would have been in their best interest to publicize that fact. Alternatively, if China opted to not shoot down the object, they could have attempted to contrast themselves with the U.S. by claiming that their intelligence had determined the object was no threat and would be tolerated, thereby portraying them as “calculating” and “rational” compared to the U.S. response. It seems that China chose the least rational and worst option, portraying them as neither strong nor even-keeled. It seems that the only reason why anyone would opt for this decision is if it were somehow less embarrassing or destructive than the reality of the situation.

Now, I will attempt to SPECULATE on what may have really happened. This is merely a guess, an explanation in line with what we otherwise know, without any hard evidence at present. 

I believe that after our government shot down the Chinese spy balloon on February 4, their government was furious. In response, they may have deployed experimental or covert aircraft in order to either (1) test the U.S. response and defensive capabilities after our prolonged failure to respond to their spy balloon or (2) demonstrate Chinese capabilities and thereby intimidate us out of acting in a similar manner again. 

It’s unlikely that these aircraft were also spy balloons, as their characteristics are different. One of the objects was described as the size of a small car, while the balloon was “200 feet tall with a jetliner size payload.” The balloon was a sphere, while the descriptions of the objects include one being shaped like a cylinder and another being octagonal. Furthermore, the altitudes of the unidentified objects were at 40,000 feet, 40,000 feet, and 20,000 feet, while the balloon was at roughly 60,000 feet. It also does not make sense to cover up these objects being spy balloons, as Biden had already announced that multiple balloons had entered our airspace. Thus, any effect of revealing additional spy balloons would undoubtedly be less destructive than the potential of public panic at the news of “unidentified objects” being shot down, with the government unable to explain what they were. 

If experimental aircraft had been shot down, this also explains the strange decision to halt the search for wreckage, as it lifts public scrutiny from sources of sensitive intelligence. The unidentified object sighted by the Chinese may have, in turn, been an experimental American aircraft sent to demonstrate that further attempts at intimidation or violations of airspace would not be tolerated. Thus, China may not have offered an update if they had attempted to shoot down the aircraft and failed. 

Undoubtedly some are likely to scoff at this talk of experimental aircraft as merely the product of conspiracy theories and an overactive imagination. Yet the SR71 Blackbird was designed and built in the 1960s and it still holds the official record for fastest air-breathing manned jet aircraft. It would be absurd to believe that after roughly sixty years that a faster aircraft has not secretly been built despite numerous scientific and technological advances. Furthermore, while the existence of the Blackbird was not kept secret for long, it would be roughly a decade before the public ever saw it and twenty years before they received the details. It’s not difficult to imagine that there are aircraft that are following similar or more stringent standards of secrecy. 

Some may also question why both sides wouldn’t escalate the situation. In the case of Biden, note that he initially opposed the visit by Pelosi to the independent Republic of China (Taiwan), suggesting that he is hesitant to risk conflict with China. Some may argue that China under Xi’s leadership and their “wolf-warrior” diplomacy would escalate the matter. If what I have speculated is true, however, it would be in their best interests to not escalate. If China had failed to shoot down an experimental U.S. aircraft, while the U.S. in turn succeeded in shooting down these Chinese aircraft, this would demonstrate that they are at a technological disadvantage and that conflict at this time would not be in their best interests.


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