WASHINGTON: A US F-22 fighter jet on Friday shot down an unidentified object flying over Alaska, US officials said, less than a week after the military brought down a Chinese balloon that had flown across the United States. A sidewinder missile brought down the object, which was about the size of a small car, said US Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, the Pentagon’s chief spokesperson.
President Joe Biden ordered the shootdown, which was announced from the White House — rare presidential level involvement given initial accounts suggesting the object did not pose a military threat and was fairly rudimentary. On Feb. 4, another US F-22 fighter jet shot down what the US government called a Chinese surveillance balloon off the coast of South Carolina following its week-long journey across the United States and portions of Canada.
Republicans and even some of Biden’s fellow Democrats criticized the president for waiting before he acted against that first balloon. The incident set off a diplomatic crisis between the world’s two largest economies and caused US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel a planned trip to Beijing. The Pentagon and the White House declined to give a detailed description of the latest object to be shot down, saying only that it was far smaller than the Chinese balloon. The Pentagon said it was flying at about 40,000 feet (12,190 meters), posing a risk to civilian air traffic.
“We don’t know who owns this object,” said White House spokesperson John Kirby. The object was shot down over the far northeastern part of Alaska near the Canadian border where it had been traveling in northeasterly direction. The Pentagon said it was first detected on Feb. 9 using ground radars. Fighter jets were then sent to investigate further.
Ryder said American pilots who flew alongside it determined that no human was aboard. He added it was incapable of maneuvering and did not resemble an airplane. Ryder and other officials would not say whether it could simply be a weather balloon or another type of balloon. “It wasn’t an aircraft per se,” Ryder told a news briefing.
The F-22 shot down the object at 1:45 p.m. EST. Asked why Biden’s authorization was necessary, Ryder acknowledged that the US military commander overseeing North American airspace had the authority to shoot down objects that posed a military risk or risk to the American people. “In this particular case, it was determined that this posed a reasonable threat to air traffic,” Ryder said.
Since the 200-foot-tall (60-meter-high) Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon was shot down, US officials have been scouring the ocean to recover debris and the undercarriage of electronic gadgetry.
Ryder told reporters “a significant” amount of the balloon had already been recovered or located, suggesting American officials may soon have more information about any sophisticated Chinese espionage capabilities aboard the vessel. “That will be very beneficial to us learning more about it,” Ryder said.