National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby speaks during the daily briefing in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on February 10, 2023.
Brendan Smialowski | AFP | Getty Images
WASHINGTON — The U.S. military shot down a second “high altitude object” in American airspace, this time off the coast of Alaska on Friday, the White House announced.
The mission occurred less than a week after a high altitude Chinese surveillance balloon was shot down off the coast of South Carolina.
“We’re calling this an object because that’s the best description we have right now,” said White House spokesman John Kirby, adding “we don’t know what entity owns this object.”
The object was destroyed by a missile from an F-22 fighter plane “off the very, very northeastern part of Alaska, near the Alaska-Canada border,” said Kirby, speaking at a White House press briefing.
Kirby said the U.S. military first became aware of the object on Thursday night. On Friday morning, President Joe Biden gave the order to shoot it down, and his order was carried out shortly after noon.
The craft was flying at approximately 40,000 feet in altitude, which is lower than the balloon last week, and it was the size of a small car, he said.
This latest object did not appear to possess any maneuverability, Kirby said.
The spy balloon shot down this past weekend was the size of three school buses, according to Pentagon officials. A sophisticated surveillance craft with propellers that gave it maneuverability, the balloon carried a payload the size of a jetliner.
The latest incident also differed significantly from the prior one in that this floating object was shot down within hours of its detection.
The larger, previous balloon was permitted to float across the United States for a week before Biden gave the order to shoot it down.
The Pentagon defended that decision at a Senate hearing on Thursday, telling senators that the spy balloon’s primary value to the U.S. military lay in what could be learned from its flight course and its debris.
“A key part of the calculus for this operation was the ability to salvage, understand and exploit the capabilities of the high altitude balloon,” said Assistant Secretary of Defense Melissa Dalton.
Another factor influencing the decision to let this balloon remain in the air was that it did not pose an immediate threat to civilian aircraft, because it was floating tens of thousands of feet higher than passenger airliners fly.
The object shot down on Friday was floating at just 40,000 feet, posing a threat to civilian air safety, said Kirby. Commercial airliners typically cruise at an altitude of 35,000 feet.
A Pentagon spokesman said Friday that the salvage operation for the latest object was already underway, but had been hampered by rough seas in the Arctic Ocean that made diving especially perilous.
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