Six days after U.S. F-22 shoots down a Chinese balloon, the U.S. shoots down another high-altitude object over Alaska.
On Friday afternoon, the U.S. military shot down another unauthorized “high-altitude object” that was flying over Alaska Airspace, National Security Council official John Kirby told reporters at the White House.
Kirby said President Joe Biden gave the OK to shoot down the object after the U.S. Department of Defense tracked it over the last 24 hours. “The object was flying at an altitude of 40,000 feet and posed a reasonable threat to the safety of civilian flight,” Kirby said. “Out of an abundance of caution, and at the recommendation of the Pentagon, President Biden ordered the military to down the object, and they did.”
Officials have not specified if the object was a similar high-altitude balloon to the one that was shot down by a USAF F-22 Raptor over the Atlantic coast on Saturday, February 3, 2023.
The object was much smaller than a huge Chinese balloon that crossed the United States last week and was shot down by a US fighter jet off the Atlantic coast on Saturday, Kirby said.
It was “roughly the size of a small car,” he said.
“We do not know who owns it, whether state-owned or corporate-owned,” he said. “We don’t understand the full purpose.”
The incident took place amid a new alarm over what US officials say is an ongoing program by China to fly surveillance balloons to collect intelligence around the world.
US officials said such balloons have flown over 40 countries, including at least four times previously over United States territory.
The Chinese balloon last week sparked particular concern as it overflew areas where the United States keeps nuclear missiles in underground silos and bases strategic bombers.
The incident led US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel an imminent trip to Beijing that had been long in the planning and aimed at improving communications between the two rival superpowers.
– ‘Reasonable threat’ –
Kirby said the new object was detected late Thursday and shot down Friday afternoon Washington time.
It went down in northern Alaska near the Canadian border and fell over a frozen body of water, making recovery feasible, Kirby said.
“We do expect to be able to recover the debris,” he said.
Biden ordered the shoot-down because at the altitude it was flying, the object posed “a reasonable threat” to civil aviation.
He said that the US military sent a plane to observe the object before it was taken down and “the pilot’s assessment was that this was not manned.”
The Chinese surveillance balloon had clear abilities to propel and maneuver itself, he noted.
It “was clearly for intelligence surveillance and inconsistent with the equipment onboard weather balloons,” a senior State Department official said Thursday.
“It had multiple antennas to include an array likely capable of collecting and geo-locating communications,” the official.
The official also tied the balloon to China’s People’s Liberation Army, without saying directly that it had been deployed by the PLA.
Beijing rejected US allegations that it sent the balloon to spy on the United States, and said it had simply drifted by accident into US airspace.