The U.S. military downed a “high-altitude object” over northeastern Alaska on Friday because it posed a threat to commercial aviation, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters.
“We’ll attempt recovery and we’ll see what we can learn more from it,” Kirby told reporters during a White House news conference.
When Kirby was asked who might have launched the object, he replied, “I have no idea.”
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The object was downed at 1:45 p.m. Eastern Time on Friday by an F-22 Raptor from Joint Base Elmendorf–Richardson, Alaska, which fired an AIM-9X Sidewinder missile, said Air Force Gen Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman.
“U.S. Northern Command is beginning recovery operations now,” Ryder said at a Pentagon news briefing. “We have HC-130, HH-60, CH-47 aircraft participating in that recovery effort.”
U.S. military officials do not know where the object tame from, Ryder told reporters.
The shootdown came less than a week after an another Air Force F-22 Raptor shot down a Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon that had drifted from Montana, where it was first spotted the previous week, to the Carolina coast at an altitude of around 65,000 feet.
The object that the U.S. military downed on Friday was much smaller than the Chinese spy balloon and it did not appear to have the ability to maneuver itself, Kirby said.
“The way it was described to me: It was roughly the size of a small car,” Kirby said.
U.S. government officials first became aware of the object on Thursday evening, said Kirby, who declined to say if the object was a balloon.
President Joe Biden ordered the object shot down because it was flying at an altitude of roughly 40,000 feet, which could put it in the path of commercial aviation
The object appeared to breach U.S. airspace on Thursday evening for a “relatively short” period of time, the New York Times reported citing unnamed U.S. officials.
U.S. military aircraft were able to observe the object before it was downed and determined that it was not manned. Kirby said.
North American Aerospace Defense Command commander Gen. Glen D. VanHerck stated earlier this week that the spy balloon incident was the fifth such time the Chinese had breached U.S. airspace using such technology in recent years, and NORAD had previously failed to detect earlier incursions near Texas, Florida, Hawaii and Guam.
“As NORAD commander, it’s my responsibility to detect threats to North America,” VanHerck told reporters on Monday. “I will tell you that we did not detect those threats. And that’s a domain awareness gap that we have to figure out.”
UPDATE: 02/10/2023; this story was updated on Feb. 10 to include comments from Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman.
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