The unidentified object shot down over Alaska was able to penetrate US airspace before detection, officials have revealed.
A source told Fox News it was discovered ‘over Alaska not far from the northern coast’. The object was first spotted north of Anchorage, Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson tweeted.
It comes after sources told CNN the military had developed a method to track spy balloons last year – despite the object, which is said to be the size of a small car, not being picked up on radar until after it was over Alaska.
National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby revealed on Friday it had been shot down within an hour of an order issued by President Joe Biden. The Pentagon has since sent military helicopters to recover it from frozen waters.
Officials are yet to confirm what the object is or which country it belongs to. It is unclear if it is another Chinese spy balloon similar to the one shot down off the coast of South Carolina earlier this month.
Officials said it was traveling at an altitude that was potentially harmful for civilian aircrafts, The New York Times reported.
The object was taken down by an F-22 using an A9X missile out of Joint Base Elmendorf–Richardson in Anchorage.
Several officials also said the object shattered into pieces after being struck by the missile, adding to the mystery of what the object truly is.
A US 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.
The US began developing a system to detect spy balloons shortly after Biden took office in 2021 after a Chinese spy balloon briefly flew over the US. They use the balloon’s signals to run test to see where other balloons might have popped up in the past.
What they found allowed them to create a consistent technical method to track balloons around the world. They began using the method in 2022 and has not revealed how it was ultimately developed or how signals are detected, according to CNN.
Biden called the second Alaska 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.
‘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.’
The Pentagon said on Wednesday that four previous Chinese spy balloon flights over the United States passed over sites that would be ‘of interest to the Chinese’.
Officials did not elaborate on the paths the balloons took or whether the US sites were military ones.
Pentagon spokesman Ryder said the United States was aware of the four past flights before it detected the latest Chinese balloon prior to its arrival over Alaska on January 28.
A US military fighter jet shot down that balloon off the South Carolina coast, triggering condemnation from China, which claimed it was a civilian air vessel.
China insisted the flyover was an accident involving a civilian aircraft and threatened repercussions.
Biden issued the order but had wanted the balloon downed even earlier, on Wednesday.
He was advised that the best time for the operation would be when it was over water, US officials said.
Military officials determined that bringing it down over land from an altitude of 60,000 feet would pose an undue risk to people on the ground from falling debris.
China responded that it reserved the right to ‘take further actions’ and criticized the US for ‘an obvious overreaction and a serious violation of international practice.’