President Joe Biden ordered an unidentified object in the skies of Alaska to be shot down Friday, less than week after a Chinese surveillance balloon was downed following a flight across the U.S.
At a press briefing, Pentagon press secretary Pat Ryder said an F-22 fighter jet shot the object down over U.S. waters at 1:45 p.m. EST. It was initially detected by ground radar Thursday moving northeast, he said, adding that the object was subsequently observed by fighter jet pilots.
It was not immediately clear whether the object was a balloon, what its purpose was, or whether it was Chinese in origin. Officials said those facts are difficult to determine because its incursion into American airspace was relatively brief, the New York Times reported.
Ryder said the object, which was “about the size of a small car,” was flying at 40,000 feet, potentially putting civilian aircraft at risk. Ryder described the “high-altitude airborne object” as “not similar in size or shape” to the Chinese spy balloon.
The balloon flew at about 60,000 feet, well above the typical commercial airliner range of around 30,000-40,000 feet.
An operation to recover the unidentified object is now underway, Ryder said, adding, “We have HC-130, HH-60 and CH-47 aircraft participating in that recovery effort.”
“Right now, I think they’re moving to the site,” he said. “We’ll have more to follow in the days ahead.”
Biden drew fury from Republicans last week after news emerged that the Chinese spy balloon, which was first detected over Alaska, had already flown over the U.S. for days before it was revealed to the public on Thursday, Feb. 2. It flew over the country for two more days before it was shot down Saturday off the coast of South Carolina.
The president later said that once he was briefed on the balloon, he had ordered it shot down “as soon as possible,” as reported by The Hill. A senior defense official said the military determined that civilians would be at risk if it was shot down over land, so commanders opted to down it over the water.
Asked by a reporter whether Biden’s order was required for the latest shootdown over Alaska, Ryder said: “He has the authorization to take action against anything that presents a potential threat to the American public or people on the ground. In this particular case, it was determined that this posed a reasonable threat to air traffic. I’ll just leave it at that.”
This was a breaking news story. The details were periodically updated as more information became available.