President Joe Biden told CNN that the shoot down of a “high-altitude object” hovering over Alaska on Friday “was a success,” shortly after American national security officials disclosed that the commander-in-chief gave the US military approval to take the action.
The incident marked the second time American fighter jets have taken down an object flying over US airspace in a little less than a week after a suspected Chinese spy balloon was shot down off the coast of South Carolina last Saturday.
“The Department of Defense was tracking a high-altitude object over Alaska airspace in the last 24 hours,” National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby announced to the press on Friday.
The high-altitude object, Kirby said during a White House press briefing, was flying at an altitude of 40,000 feet and “posed a reasonable threat to the safety of civilian flight.”
There were two efforts to get closer to the object and evaluate it as it flew. The first engagement by fighter aircraft took place late Thursday night and the second Friday morning. Both engagements yielded “limited” information, Kirby told reporters.
We were able to get some fighter aircrafts up and around it before the order to shoot it down, and the pilots assessment was this was not manned,” Kirby added.
Biden, at the recommendation of the Pentagon, ordered the military “to down the object and they did,” Kirby added. The object came inside territorial airspace and was brought down by fighter aircraft assigned to US Northern Command. It went down over frozen Arctic Ocean waters near the Canadian border and northeastern Alaska. The US expects to recover the debris.
Biden, asked later on Friday if he had any comment on the object shot down over Alaska, told CNN, “It was a success.”
An F-22 fighter jet from Joint Base Elmendorf in Alaska took down the object “at 1:45 p.m. eastern standard time today, within US sovereign airspace over US territorial water,” Pentagon press secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters on Friday.
Ryder said that the Defense Department had no details about the object’s “capabilities, purpose or origin.” He added the object posed a reasonable threat to the safety of civilian flight, noting that “the object was about the size of a small car, so not similar in size or shape to the high altitude surveillance balloon that was taken down off the coast of South Carolina on February 4.”
US Northern Command’s Alaska Command coordinated the operation with assistance from the Alaska Air National Guard, Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ryder said.
The object brought down over Alaska was much smaller than the Chinese surveillance balloon downed over territorial waters on Saturday. The payload of the Chinese balloon downed last Saturday was described by US officials as approximately the size of three buses, whereas the object taken down on Friday has been described as a small car. The US has not attributed the second flying object to any country or entity.
“We’re calling this an object because that’s the best description we have right now. We don’t know who owns it — whether it’s state-owned or corporate-owned or privately-owned, we just don’t know,” Kirby said.
The object first came to the attention of the US government “last evening.” Biden was first briefed Thursday night “as soon as the Pentagon had enough information,” Kirby said
The object “did not appear to be self-maneuvering, and therefore, (was) at the mercy of prevailing winds,” making it “much less predictable,” said Kirby.
The Federal Aviation Administration issued a temporary flight restriction Friday in the area around Deadhorse, Alaska, as the military took action against the object.
The Biden administration has faced questions over its handling of a suspected Chinese spy balloon that floated across the nation last week before being shot down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of the Carolinas on Saturday.
While the president has stood by how he and his administration handled that balloon, he has faced criticism from Republicans for allowing the suspected spy balloon to float over much of the country before shooting it down.
Since news broke last week about the Chinese balloon that was floating over US airspace, new details have emerged about what’s now understood to be a global surveillance operation by China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army.
On Thursday, officials revealed that they believe the spy balloons the US has discovered are part of a large fleet that is conducting surveillance operations globally. The US has traced the balloons to 40 countries across five continents.
The US has developed a method to track China’s spy balloon fleet within the last year, CNN reported exclusively on Friday.
This story has been updated with additional developments.