Three objects shot down by fighter jets over North America in the past week probably had a “commercial or benign” purpose, the White House has admitted.
The US said it destroyed the objects out of an abundance of caution after an alleged Chinese spy balloon drifted across its airspace earlier this month.
Expensive Sidewinder missiles, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars each, downed the objects over Alaska, Canada’s Yukon territory and Lake Huron in Michigan over a three-day period.
It’s still unclear what the UFOs were, and the search for the debris could be hampered by the remote locations.
The White House has now dampened speculation they were similar to the high-altitude balloon shot down on 4 February.
“The intelligence community is considering as a leading explanation that these could just be balloons tied to some commercial or benign purpose,” said national security spokesman John Kirby.
“We don’t see anything that points right now to being part of the PRC [China] spy balloon programme.”
He said they appeared unrelated to “intelligence collection against the United States of any kind” and that no one had come forward to claim the objects.
US officials previously suggested the object shot down over Lake Huron on Sunday could have had a surveillance purpose because it passed near sensitive military sites.
General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the military had gone to “great lengths” to ensure there was no risk to the public before the F-16 jet took aim.
“We’re very, very careful to make sure that those shots are in fact safe,” he said.
“And that’s the guidance from the president: Shoot it down, but make sure we minimise collateral damage and we preserve the safety of the American people.”