The Pentagon shot down an unknown object flying in U.S. airspace off the coast of Alaska on Friday on orders from U.S. President Joe Biden, White House officials said.
The object was flying at about 40,000 feet (about 12,100 metres) and posed a “reasonable threat” to the safety of civilian flights, said John Kirby, White House National Security Council spokesperson. He described the object as roughly the size of a small car and said it was shot down near the U.S.-Canada border.
It was the second time in a week U.S. officials had downed some type of flying object over the U.S. On Saturday, fighter jets shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina.
There were few answers about the object, and the White House drew distinctions between the two episodes.
Kirby said it wasn’t yet known who owned the object, and he did not say that it was a balloon. Officials also couldn’t say if there was any surveillance equipment on the device. He also didn’t know yet where it came from or what its purpose was.
Still, it posed enough of a concern that U.S. officials felt it best to knock it out of the sky.
Fighter pilots watched object
“We’re going to remain vigilant about our airspace,” Kirby said. “The president takes his obligations to protect our national security interests as paramount.”
Kirby said fighter pilots visually examined the object and determined that it wasn’t manned. The president was briefed on the presence of the object Thursday evening after two fighter jets surveilled it.
The object fell into frigid waters and officials said they expected they would be able to recover debris from the downed device faster than they were able to with last week’s massive balloon.
The development came almost a week after the U.S. shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the Carolina coast after it traversed sensitive military sites across North America. China insisted the flyover was an accident involving a civilian craft and threatened repercussions after the U.S. downed it.
Biden issued the order but had wanted the balloon downed even earlier. He was advised that the best time for the operation would be when it was over water. Military officials determined that bringing it down over land from an altitude of 60,000 feet (about 18,200 metres) would pose an undue risk to people on the ground.
China responded that it reserved the right to “take further actions” and criticized the U.S. for “an obvious overreaction and a serious violation of international practice.”
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