The United States has shot down an unmanned, airborne “object” flying at 40,000 feet off the coast of Alaska after it was detected by the military because President Biden deemed it a threat to civilian aircraft, according to the Pentagon.
Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said the Pentagon does not know at this time where the object came from, but characterized it as being about the size of a small car and far smaller than the Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon that the United States shot down off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday.
Ryder said Northern Aerospace Defense Command detected the balloon late Thursday and Biden gave the order to take it down Friday afternoon because it “posed a reasonable threat to civilian air traffic.”
The object was traveling at 40,000 feet, Ryder said, while the high-altitude surveillance balloon was traveling at 60,000 to 65,000 feet.
The object was brought down by an AIM-9X “Sidewinder” missile fired by an F-22 fighter flying out of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. The recovery effort involves HC-130, HH-60 and CH-47 aircraft.
Lawmakers criticized the Pentagon and White House this week for not acting sooner to shoot down the balloon.
John Kirby, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said the U.S. pilots observing the object in flight said it did not appear to have “maneuverable capability” and was “virtually at the whim of the wind.”
"This thing did not appear to be self-maneuvering so therefore at the mercy of prevailing winds, it was much less predictable,” he said. “The president just wasn't willing to take that risk.”
Debris from the downed object landed off northeastern Alaska on frozen waters, which Kirby said could make it easier to recover.
Kirby said the White House has not “ruled anything in or out” in terms of the object’s origin or its purpose.