The United States shot down an unknown flying object off the coast of Alaska on Feb. 10, according to the White House. The move came less than a week after the U.S. military shot down a Chinese spy balloon off the country’s east coast.
The object was flying at 40,000 feet and had traveled inside U.S. airspace over territorial waters off the northern coast of Alaska, Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said at Friday afternoon press briefing.
An F-22 jet fired a single Sidewinder missile to take down the object at 1:45 p.m. ET, Ryder said. This was the same type of missile used to take down the Chinese spy balloon last weekend.
Earlier in the afternoon, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby confirmed that the Pentagon was tracking a “high-altitude object over Alaska airspace in the last 24 hours.”
It was spotted yesterday, and President Joe Biden was briefed on the matter “as soon” as the object was tracked, Kirby said. Biden then ordered its shootdown this morning after the object was assessed as presenting a reasonable threat to the “safety of civilian flight.”
“The president will always act in the interests of the American people and national security,” he said.
Earlier in the day, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a no-fly warning over Alaska to allow for defense operations, which the FAA has since confirmed was to support the military operation.
Kirby described the device as an “object,” saying, “I am not classifying it as a balloon right now,” while Ryder said the object was different in size and shape from a balloon.
The object was about the size of a small car, and did not appear to have maneuverable capability, in contrast with last week’s Chinese spy balloon that possessed the ability to move independently within the jetstream.
“It did not appear to have the ability to independently maneuver,” Kirby said.
Ryder said the object was unmanned, adding he couldn’t yet verify the object’s speed of travel.
The origin of the object is currently unknown, according to the officials.
“We just don’t know what this object was. It would be difficult for me to point to a threat … when we just don’t know what this object was doing,” Kirby said.
Ryder confirmed that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has not reached out to the Chinese on this latest incident.
The downed objected landed on frozen water, meaning it’d be easier to recover debris, according to Kirby.
Washington is working to learn more and improve its own detection capabilities, Kirby added.
“I think we’re going to continue to learn a lot about how these things are or can be detected in a better way,” he said.
The incident follows the illegal incursion into U.S. airspace by a Chinese spy balloon last week, which was ultimately shot down off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday.
That balloon first entered U.S. airspace over Alaska’s Aleutian Islands on Jan. 28.
Kirby said the United States would “remain vigilant” about its airspace.
“The president takes his obligations to protect our national security interests and the safety and security of the American people as paramount. He’s always going to decide and act in a way that is commensurate with that duty,” he said.
The Chinese spy balloon shot down late last week has been linked by the state department to a global espionage campaign years in the making. The balloon incurred into U.S. airspace and appeared to travel towards and linger over several sensitive U.S. military sites related to the nation’s nuclear program.
Biden has maintained that the administration’s decision to collect intelligence from the balloon over the course of a week before shooting it down was the prudent decision, and praised the Pentagon’s decision not to down the airship in a location where the debris could have hurt Americans on the ground.
“This thing was gigantic,” Biden said of the balloon during an interview with Telemundo on Feb. 9. “What happened if it came down and hit a school in a rural area?”
“They made a wise decision. They shot it down over water.”
Lawmakers, from both sides of the aisle, have questioned the decision to allow the balloon to traverse across the continental United States, however.
“This was a serious and blatant attempt by the Chinese to collect valuable data,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) during a Thursday senate hearing on the issue.
“It defies belief that there was not a single opportunity to shoot down this balloon prior to the coast of South Carolina.”
Similarly, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) vowed to hold Pentagon officials accountable for the decision should it be revealed that they took an unnecessary risk in allowing the balloon to continue its flight for so long.
“Make no mistake about it: What China did last week was completely unacceptable and a real threat to American sovereignty,” Tester said at the hearing. “It deserves a real response from a united America.”
“This administration owes Americans answers not only on what happened this week but on what steps they’re going to take to ensure that this never happens again.”