The US military has downed an unidentified object over Alaska “out of an abundance of caution”, the White House said.
National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said in a briefing on Friday that the “high altitude object” was tracked by the Pentagon over Alaska airspace in the last 24 hours.
“The object was flying at an altitude of 40,000 feet and posed a reasonable threat to the safety of civilian flight. Out of an abundance of caution, at the recommendation of the Pentagon, president Biden ordered the military to down the object,” he said.
“We’re going to remain vigilant about our airspace,” he added. “The president takes his obligations to protect our national security interests as paramount.”
The Pentagon said the object, which was about the size of a car, was shot down by an F-22 fighter jet with the Northern Command at 1.45pm EST.
Mr Kirby said there was little information available about the object at the time it was shot down, but clarified that it was “much smaller than the spy balloon we took down last Saturday” and had “no significant payload.”
“We’re calling this an object because that’s the best description we have right now,” he said. “We do not know who owns it, whether it’s state-owned or corporate-owned or privately-owned.”
In a separate briefing, Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder said the object was shot down by an F-22 fighter jet out of Elmendorf air force base in Anchorage, Alaska. The jet fired an AIM-9x short-range air-to-air missile to bring it down.
He added that there was “no indication at this time that it was maneuverable. It entered US airspace and we took it down.”
“The important thing to understand here is that any time we detect anything we observe it and then take appropriate action,” Brig. Gen. Ryder said. “In this particular case, it was operating at an altitude that posed a reasonable threat to civilian air traffic and the president decided to take it down.”
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it closed some airspace in northern Alaska to support the Pentagon operation.
The incident comes a little under a week after a US fighter jet shot down a Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina after the US military tracked its progress across US airspace for days.
The suspected Chinese espionage airship was downed by an American F-22 fighter on Saturday. The White House said it was targeting “sensitive military sites” as part of a program that has been known to US officials for a number of years.
The discovery of the balloon deepened a diplomatic freeze between the US and China, causing secretary of state Antony Blinken to cancel his first high-level visit to Beijing in response.
China criticised the US for “an obvious overreaction and a serious violation of international practice.”
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