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Fri, Feb 24, 2023

Cost of Downing Mystery Aerial Objects “Unacceptable”

A Matter of Ratios

U.S. taxpayers paid an inordinate, arguably indefensible sum of money to have three unidentified aerial objects removed prejudicially (read “Blasted”) from American and Canadian skies.

Between the dates of 10 and 12 February 2023, aircraft of the U.S. Air Force—for purpose of bringing down three interloping aerial objects tracked over Alaska, northern Canada, and Lake Huron respectively—fired a total of four AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles—each of which came with a princely $400,000 price-tag. The destruction of the Lake Huron object, owing to a Sidewinder missing the slow-moving target, required two missiles.

Notwithstanding the absence of formal statements asserting such, Pentagon officials suspect the three objects were recreational balloons launched by hobbyists.

Following condemnation of the Biden administration’s refusal to shoot down a now-confirmed Chinese spy balloon, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) reportedly ramped-up its surveillance of the U.S. Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) and National Airspace System (NAS) to such a degree that a surfeit of unidentified aerial objects were detected and brought down in short order.

On 17 February 2023, members of the Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade disclosed their collective supposition that the mystery object downed over Canada’s Yukon Territory was a pico-balloon the group had launched, then subsequently lost contact with.

In the most rudimentary sense, a pico-balloon is a three-foot mylar-foil party balloon filled partially with ultra-pure helium gas. Commonly equipped with a single, 13-gram, solar-powered Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) transmitter, the gossamer contraptions are designed to travel aloft for long distances—if not at excessively high altitudes—and not be recovered. On many occasions, pico-balloons—which are functionally exempt from Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airspace regulations insomuch as they mass less than six-pounds—have repeatedly circumnavigated the globe before finally descending. What’s more, as they can be purchased for as little as $12, the per-mile costs of messing about with pico-balloons are nigh unbeatable.

The last transmission made by the pico-balloon belonging to the Bottlecap Balloon Brigade was broadcast on 10 February 2023 from a point 38,910-feet above Alaska’s north coast. The balloon, at that time, was moving east toward Canada’s Yukon Territory.

The following day, U.S. officials reported an F-22 fighter jet had downed an object floating over the Yukon Territory at an approximate altitude of FL400.

Cost analyses of the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DOD) responses to the Alaska, Yukon Territory, and Lake Huron mystery aerial objects are exceedingly unfavorable.

To wit.

According to the Pentagon, the three aforementioned objects were downed by a USAF F-22 Raptor, a second USAF F-22 Raptor, and a USAF F-16 Falcon respectively. The per-hour operational cost of the F-22 is roughly $70,000. The F-16’s per-hour operational cost is a comparatively reasonable $8,000.

Though the cumulative number of hours the F-22’s and F-16s were engaged in pursuing and destroying the mystery objects remains unknown, it can be stated with certainty that the final bill for the three exercises is in the amount of some multiple of $70,000 and $8,000.

Factor in the total price of a quartet of $400,000 AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles, and a truly formidable number begins to take shape—formidable, but not final.

Speaking to the subject of the object downed over Alaska on 10 February, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby set forth that upon its detection, NORAD had dispatched F-35 Lightning II fighter jets to observe and reconnoiter the thing. Note the plural jets.

The F-35 Lightning II, in addition to costing $89.2-million per-unit, has an hourly operating cost of $36,000.  

In light of the several million dollars expended in the pursuit, intercept, and destruction of perhaps as little as $36 worth of mylar balloons, lawmakers have demanded accountability, calling the repeated tax-dollar outlay against successive, likely non-existent threats “unacceptable.”

The US, not surprisingly, has desisted in its attempts to recover the objects brought down over Alaska and Lake Huron.



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