‘It was a success’: White House says a second ‘high altitude object’ shot down over Alaska

Written by on February 10, 2023

WASHINGTON — The U.S. shot down an unidentified object Friday over frozen waters near Alaska at the order of President Joe Biden, less than one week after shooting down a Chinese spy balloon off the East Coast.

John Kirby, a White House spokesman, described a “high altitude object” roughly the size of a small car traveling in Alaska’s air space. He said the Pentagon was not ready to determine whether the object was a balloon, where it was from or whether it was conducting surveillance.

“It was a success,” Biden told reporters about the military operation to down the object. 

The object was flying at an altitude of 40,000 feet, significantly lower than the 65,000-foot altitude of last week’s Chinese spy balloon, and “posed a reasonable threat to the safety of civilian flight,” Kirby said. The Pentagon first detected the object Thursday evening by ground radar and shot it down “out of an abundance of caution” Friday at 1:45 p.m. ET over the frozen Arctic Ocean waters near Alaska’s northeast border close to Canada. 

“We’re going to remain vigilant about the skies over the United States,” Kirby said. 

Kirby said the pilots tracking the object confirmed that it was unmanned before shooting it down. He said the object traveled over land in Alaska before it was downed.

If it turns out to be another Chinese surveillance craft, that revelation could rupture already strained relations with America’s top adversary. Beyond the threat to civilian airliners, a surveillance craft could spy on several sensitive military sites in Alaska, including sophisticated radar systems and missiles designed to detect and intercept ballistic missiles headed toward the United States.

Recovery crews aboard C-130, Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters were converging on the site late Friday to recover the wreckage, Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, told reporters. 

US President Joe Biden waits for the arrival of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and his wife Rosangela Janja da Silva at the White House in Washington, DC, on February 10, 2023. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images) ORIG FILE ID: AFP_338Y8QL.jpg

The object was downed by a sidewinder missile shot from an F-22 fighter jet, the same warplane and weapon that were used to take down the Chinese surveillance balloon in the Atlantic Ocean on Saturday. 

Kirby said the U.S. will try to learn more information about the object from the debris, which he said was spread out over a smaller area than the spy balloon. 

The Chinese spy balloon, which transfixed America over the past week, had a flight path that took it over sensitive military sites, and it “had propulsion capability and steerage capability and could slow down, speed up,” Kirby said. In contrast, he said, the object shot down Friday “did not appear to have the ability to independently maneuver.”

“I want to stress again, we don’t know what entity owns this object,” Kirby said. “There’s no indication that it’s from a nation or an institution or an individual. We just don’t know. We don’t know who owns this object.”

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Friday, Feb. 10, 2023. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Last week’s spy balloon crossed the continental U.S. and some of the military’s most sensitive sites, including nuclear missile siloes. Its breaching of U.S. airspace cratered relations with China, prompting Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel a planned trip to Beijing.

Biden has faced criticism from Republicans who say the White House should have ordered it be shot down immediately. The president said he was waiting for the balloon to reach the ocean so falling debris would not hurt civilians. 

Kirby did not say whether the Biden administration planned to reach out to China about the origins of the object shot over Alaska. 

Meanwhile, Canadian Defence Minister Anita Anand met with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon on Friday to discuss issues of mutual military cooperation, including the Chinese spy balloon that traversed the airspace over both countries.

Anand thanked Austin “for the United States’ close collaboration during the response to China’s high-altitude surveillance balloon,” according to a readout of the meeting provided to USA TODAY by the Canadian embassy in Washington.

Anand and Austin “agreed that continued cooperation between Canada and the United States, including through NORAD, ensures the security and defense of North America – and that NORAD modernization is a pressing mutual priority.”

NORAD, short for the North American Aerospace Defense Command, is the bi-lateral U.S.-Canada military command that provides continuous real-time worldwide detection, validation and warning of incoming ballistic missiles and other potential airborne threats – including balloons. 

Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison. Josh Meyer is at @joshmeyerdc.

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