The Pentagon and White House have admitted they don’t know who owns or operates the unidentified object that was shot down off the coast of Alaska by an F-22 on Friday – just a week after the Chinese spy balloon was taken out.
President Biden ordered the Pentagon to down the unmanned airship, which was 40,000ft over the Arctic Ocean, in the second major military operation in less than seven days.
The fighter jets were scrambled from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson near Anchorage on Friday morning to intercept the object – which was the ‘size of a small car’ – near Deadhorse Bay on the northeast coast.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said it posed a threat to civilian aircraft, but conceded the military was still investigating where it came from and who it belonged to.
A U.S official revealed the pilots who intercepted the object said it had a cylindrical shape and no observable surveillance equipment attached.
The Pentagon has now launched a recovery operation to collect the debris from the surface of the frozen waters off Alaska.
Biden called the second operation a ‘success’ when asked by reporters at the White House – but Republicans were quick to ask why the US didn’t shoot down the Beijing surveillance balloon earlier.
The GOP has been hounding the White House with questions over its response to the Chinese balloon and have demanded to know if some parts were made in the US.
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‘So we can shoot down suspicious objects BEFORE they get over our border… Just as I suggested,’ Kansas Republican Senator Roger Marshall tweeted Friday afternoon.
Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan, a Republican, said in a Friday press release that he ‘appreciated the senior Defense Department officials who briefed me this morning on the sighting of this latest object.
‘As I’ve been doing for the past week, including in a classified briefing with senior Pentagon officials yesterday, I strongly encouraged the NORTHCOM Commander this morning to shoot down this latest unidentified intrusion into Alaska air space,’ Sullivan said. ‘I commend them for doing so today.
‘As I reiterated with senior Defense Department officials yesterday, we need to reestablish deterrence with regard to Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party, which believes they can willfully infiltrate American airspace whenever they want.
‘That has to stop. The best way to do this is through the type of actions that we’ve taken today in Alaska and to publicly reiterate that we will be shooting down any and all unknown aircraft that violate our airspace.
‘We also need to appropriately equip our military in Alaska with the sensors and aircraft needed to detect and, if necessary, destroy everything from slow-moving balloons to hypersonic missiles.
‘Alaska is the frontline of defense for our nation. The past few weeks have made this even more evident.’
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said at Friday’s briefing: ‘So, I can confirm that the Department of Defense was tracking a high-altitude object over Alaska airspace in the last 24 hours.
‘The object was flying at 40,000 feet and posed a reasonable threat to the safety of civilian flight.’
Kirby said that ‘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, and it came inside our territorial waters.’
He said US authorities do not know if the object was ‘state-owned’ and described it as ‘much, much smaller’ than the Chinese spy balloon shot down Saturday.
Kirby said it was ‘roughly the size of a small car’ and had no significant payload.
‘I am not classifying it as a balloon right now,’ he also said.
Originally discovered on Thursday, Biden ordered to shoot it down on Friday morning, after military pilots determined the object was unmanned.
A pair of F-22 fighter jets were sent to monitor the object near the northeastern corner of Alaska, close to the Canadian border and over the Beaufort Sea. One of the pilots launched a single AIM-9X Sidewinder missile, which brought the object down to the frozen waters of the Arctic Ocean but inside US territory.
The Federal Aviation Administration put in place temporary flight restrictions near the town of Deadhorse, Alaska.
The latest military action comes after much of last week was devoted to Biden’s handling of a Chinese spy balloon, which was spotted in Montana and then drifted all the way to South Carolina’s coastline, before the Air Force sent an F-22 to take it down on Saturday.
Biden insisted that he gave the order to shoot down the balloon on Wednesday, but listened to Defense Department officials’ advice to wait until it was over water, because it was so large.
The Pentagon described that balloon as being 200 feet tall, weighing thousands of pounds and with a payload the size of a jetliner.
The delay opened him up to political attacks from Republicans, who demanded that the Chinese spy balloon be shot down immediately.
The president, speaking to Noticias Telemundo’s Julio Vaqueiro Thursday in Tampa, said it was ‘not a major breach’ for the balloon to fly almost the entire length of the US.
The State Department determined that the balloon was part of Beijing’s vast surveillance network.
It had multiple antennas that were likely capable of collecting and geo-locating communications.
It flew over military bases housing U.S. missiles.
‘It’s totally… it’s a violation of international law. It’s our airspace. And once it comes into our space, we can do what we want with it,’ Biden said in the same interview.