Today's D Brief: Pentagon shoots down 3 flying objects; Austin, Milley to Europe; Army explains recruiting hurdles; DOD cyber strategy coming soon; And a bit more.

“Trigger-happy” or hypervigilant? For the past three days, United States military jets patrolling the limits of U.S. and Canadian territory shot down three unmanned but unspecified flying objects traveling over North America—first over northern Alaska on Friday, then another over northwestern Canada on Saturday, and the third was spotted and shot down over Lake Huron, near Michigan, on Sunday. 

About the object downed over Alaska on Friday: It was approximately the size of a small car and traveling in the northeasterly direction. It was first spotted by F-35 jets, and later dispatched by an F-22 firing another AIM-9X heat-seeking missile, the Defense Department said. (That’s the same missile used to bring down the 200-foot alleged Chinese surveillance balloon off the South Carolina coast on February 4.) 

“The [Friday] object was flying at an altitude of 40,000 feet and posed a reasonable threat to the safety of civilian flight,” National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby said in a briefing with reporters. The object came down close to the town of Deadhorse a few hours before noon local time, and U.S. personnel worked to recover the thing in “a mix of ice and snow,” according to the military.  

And the one shot down over Canada on Saturday: It was first spotted over Alaska late Friday, and monitored by U.S. F-22 jets, the Pentagon said. Canadian CF-18 and CP-140 aircraft soon joined the observation flights before Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ordered it shot down for violating Canadian airspace. His military chief, Anita Anand, said it was brought down shortly before 4 p.m. ET, and had a “cylindrical” shape. 

The next day, Defense Minister Anand was the one alerting folks about the latest shootdown. “Today, a high-altitude object was detected in U.S. airspace over Lake Huron,” said Anand, who’s been on the job just over a year. “NORAD launched Canadian and U.S. aircraft to investigate and the object was taken down in U.S. airspace by U.S. aircraft.” U.S. officials described it as “an octagonal structure with strings hanging off but no discernible payload,” according to Edward Wong of the New York Times.

The object was traveling at around 20,000 feet in the air when it was shot down by an F-16 using another Sidewinder missile just before 3 p.m. ET. “Its path and altitude raised concerns, including that it could be a hazard to civil aviation,” the Pentagon said in a statement. “We unequivocally support this action” and “will continue to work with the U.S. and NORAD to protect North America,” Anand wrote on Twitter.

So what are these things? ​​The short answer is it’s still too soon to say. “We call them objects for a reason,” said NORAD chief Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck to reporters on Sunday. “I am not able to categorize how they stay aloft,” he said. “It could be a gaseous type of balloon inside a structure or it could be some type of a propulsion system.”

The Carolina incident was clearly a “Chinese spy balloon,” he said. But these three subsequent incidents aren’t as clear-cut. “I'll let the intel community and the counterintelligence community figure that out. I haven't ruled out anything,” he added. As for what may have sent it aloft, “We don't know,” VanHerck said Sunday. “That's why it's so critical to get our hands on these so that we can further assess and analyze what they are.”

POV from the Upper Peninsula: “I've been in touch with the Pentagon, DHS, and FAA regarding the closure of airspace over the Great Lakes,” said Michigan Democratic Sen. Gary Peters in a tweet on Sunday. “I'm glad the object was neutralized over Lake Huron and I'll continue pressing DOD for transparency,” he said. 

Said Air Force Chief Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., on Monday: The balloon was “something that got all of our attention,” he said during an event hosted by the Brookings Institution in Washington. The Feb. 4 event has since led to “better scrutiny of our airspace” and “the adjusting of the radar sensitivities, which means we’re seeing more things than we would normally see.”

Said House Intelligence Chairman GOP Rep. Mike Turner from Ohio: The Biden White House does “appear somewhat trigger happy,” he said Sunday to Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union.”  But, he added, “Obviously I would prefer them to be trigger happy than to be permissive,” as he alleged was the case before Feb. 4. He then floated the idea that the White House may be “trying to change headlines” before pointing out, “what I think this shows, which is probably more important to our policy discussion, is that we really have to declare that we’re going to defend our airspace and then we need to invest.” 

To be clear: Chinese surveillance balloons have been spotted in the Middle East in recent years, but they’ve never posed a threat to American forces or positions, Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command told reporters Monday morning at the Center for a New American Security. The last spotting Grynkewich could remember was in the fall, and that balloon stayed primarily over water, he said.

“They did not go anywhere near any of our sensitive sites, but we have seen them in the past transiting through the region,” Grynkewich said, adding that he’s interested in “getting some of those very high altitude balloons” for AFCENT, “for surveillance purposes, to get a more persistent stare.”

Related reading: 

From Defense One

US Shoots Down ‘Objects’ Off Alaska Coast, Over Canada, Lake Huron // Patrick Tucker: White House was worried object on Friday posed “potential hazard to civilian air traffic.”

Expect Pentagon's Cyber-Worker Strategy 'Any Day Now' // Edward Graham: Plan aims to attract smart, effective people, in part by reducing education and certification requirements.

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to this newsletter, you can do that here. On this day in 2017, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un’s brother Kim Jong-nam was assassinated in Malaysia with a nerve agent. 

Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin is heading to Europe this week for two key meetings: (1) The U.S.-led Ukraine Defense Contact Group will meet for the ninth time in Brussels on Tuesday; and (2) NATO defense ministers will convene later that day at NATO headquarters, which is also in Brussels. Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley will also attend that contact group meeting Tuesday. And afterward, Austin will fly to Germany and Estonia to visit alliance troops training in the region.
BTW: Austin rang his Ukrainian counterpart on Saturday. Afterward, he said in a statement that air defense and artillery help remain atop Kyiv’s highest priorities.
Next week, President Joe Biden is traveling to Poland. The goal is to “meet with the leaders of the Bucharest Nine,” and “deliver remarks ahead of the one year anniversary of Russia’s brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine,” according to the White House. While there, Biden intends to describe “how the United States has rallied the world to support the people of Ukraine as they defend their freedom and democracy, and how we will continue to stand with the people of Ukraine for as long as it takes,” officials said in a preview.
Related reading: 

Bad news, culture warriors: The traditional dangers of serving in the U.S. military appear to be the biggest obstacle to Army recruiting—instead of diversity and inclusion programs or vaccines, as Republican lawmakers have bullhorned on social media and Sunday morning talk shows for many months now. That’s according to multiple Army officials, speaking Sunday to Lita Baldor of the Associated Press.
The gist: The “top three reasons young people cite for rejecting military enlistment are the same across all the services: fear of death, worries about post-traumatic stress disorder and leaving friends and family—in that order,” Baldor writes after speaking to Maj. Gen. Alex Fink, the Army’s marketing chief. He said several hundred troops were given a survey to try to help pinpoint some of these issues over last spring and summer.
The unsurprising bottom line: “[Y]oung people simply do not see the Army as a safe place or good career path, and believe they would have to put their lives and careers on hold if they enlisted,” AP reports. Read the rest, here