US shoots down an unidentified car-sized object flying over Alaska
By Andrea Shalal, Steve Holland and Phil Stewart
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A US F-22 fighter jet shot down an unidentified object flying high over Alaska on Friday, US officials said, less than a week after the military shot down a Chinese balloon flying over the United States had flown.
A Sidewinder missile downed the latest vehicle, which was about the size of a small car, said US Brig. Gen. Gen. Patrick Ryder, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman.
“We do not know who owns this object,” White House spokesman John Kirby said, adding it was unclear where it began its flight.
President Joe Biden ordered the shoot down, which was announced from the White House.
On February 4, another US F-22 fighter jet, after its week-long tour of the United States and parts of Canada, downed what the US government has dubbed a Chinese surveillance balloon off the coast of South Carolina. China’s government said it was a civilian research vessel.
Some lawmakers criticized the president for not shooting down the Chinese balloon sooner. The US military had recommended waiting until it was over the ocean for fear of injury from falling debris.
The Pentagon and White House declined to provide a detailed description of the latest object, saying only that it is much smaller than the Chinese balloon.
US officials declined to speculate as to what the object might be, even after a day of observation, asking questions about what type of object could be so difficult to identify by experienced US pilots and intelligence officials.
The Pentagon said it was first spotted with ground-penetrating radar on Thursday. F-35 aircraft were then sent to investigate. The UFO was flying about 40,000 feet (12,190 meters) in a northeasterly direction and posed a threat to civilian air traffic.
The object was shot down off the coast of northeast Alaska over frozen US territorial waters near the Canadian border. Officials said it was much easier to recover parts of the object from the ice than with the Chinese balloon, parts of which sank in the ocean when it was shot down.
Ryder said American pilots who flew alongside the last object before it was shot down found that there was no human on board. He added that it is not manoeuvrable and does not resemble an airplane. Ryder and other officials declined to say whether it could simply be a weather balloon or some other type of balloon.
“It wasn’t an airplane per se,” Ryder said at a news conference.
The F-22 shot down the object at 1:45 p.m. EST.
When asked why Biden’s approval was necessary, Ryder acknowledged that the US military commander, who oversees North American airspace, had the authority to shoot down objects that posed a military risk or a risk to the American people.
“In this particular case, it was determined to pose a reasonable threat to air travel,” Ryder said.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it has closed some airspace in northern Alaska to support Department of Defense activities.
Since the launch of the 200-foot (60-meter) Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon, US officials have been scouring the ocean to recover debris and the undercarriage of electronic equipment.
Ryder told reporters “a significant” quantity of the balloon has already been recovered or located, suggesting American officials may soon have more information about Chinese spy capabilities aboard the ship.
After Friday’s target was shot down, some lawmakers praised Biden.
“I am pleased that the President is acting quickly on this new incursion into our airspace,” said Senator Mark Warner, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
During an often-controversial Senate hearing on Thursday, lawmakers slammed the Pentagon for not shooting down the Chinese balloon earlier, underscoring ongoing concerns in Congress about gaps in the U.S. ability to protect its airspace.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal, Steve Holland, Phil Stewart, and Idrees Ali; Editing by Chris Reese, Jonathan Oatis, Don Durfee, David Gregorio, and Cynthia Osterman)