US shoots down another “height object” over Alaska

The US military shot down an object Friday that was flying over Alaskan airspace, days after it shot down a Chinese spy balloon along the South Carolina coast, the White House confirmed.

John Kirby, a White House national security spokesman, said the Department of Defense is tracking a “high-altitude object” 40,000 feet above Alaska that poses “a reasonable threat to the safety of civilian aviation.”

The object was shot down on President Biden’s orders Friday afternoon, Kirby said, and landed in US waters.

“Upon orders from the President of the United States, at 1:45 a.m. Eastern Standard Time today, within U.S. sovereign airspace and over U.S. territorial waters, fighter jets assigned to U.S. Northern Command successfully shot down a high-flying object off the north coast of Alaska,” Pentagon press secretary Brigadier General Pat Ryder told reporters in a separate briefing on Friday.

John Kirby says US is still gathering intelligence

The government is still gathering information about the object, Kirby said. It is not yet known whether it was operated by another country or whether it was privately or commercially owned. Kirby also wouldn’t say if the object was a balloon or some other device.

“We call this an object because that’s the best description we have right now,” he told reporters.

“We don’t understand the full purpose. We have no information that would confirm a stated purpose for this object,” he continued, adding that officials expect to be able to recover the debris.

Ryder said the North American Aerospace Defense Command spotted the object on ground-penetrating radar on Thursday and sent planes up for further investigation, after which the decision was made to shoot it down.

Biden was briefed on the matter at the time, Kirby said.

The plane, an F-22 taking off from Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska, fired an AIM-9X Sidewinder missile to shoot down the object, which was moving northeast about 40,000 feet above the ground.

Given the balloon was operating at an altitude that posed “a reasonable threat to civilian air travel,” the president gave the order to dismantle it, Ryder said.

The decision to mine the object over Alaska comes six days after Biden ordered the military to do so shoot down a Chinese spy balloon Days after it was first spotted hovering over the continental United States.

In that case, officials said they wanted to wait until the Chinese spy balloon was afloat so it wouldn’t pose a danger to people or property when it crashed.

Pentagon: Origin of the newest object is not known

The US doesn’t yet know where the newest object came from, and was reluctant to call it a different balloon because it was “about the size of a small car,” nowhere near the size of the high-altitude surveillance balloon that flies off the coast of South Carolina .

NORTHCOM begins recovery operations, Ryder added.

Biden has been particularly criticized by Republicans for waiting last week to launch the Chinese balloon, with critics claiming this is allowing Beijing to gather potentially valuable intelligence in the meantime.

The president said in an interview on Thursday he did not consider the Chinese balloon incursion a “major breach,” and he downplayed the potential impact on US-China relations.

Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski upset over handling of first balloon

Tensions ran high Thursday at a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with defense officials over the downed balloon.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R), whose national airspace was the first to be breached by the Chinese balloon on Jan. 28, was visibly angry as she questioned the witnesses.

“As an Alaskan, I am so angry. I want to use different words, but I won’t,” she said. “The fact is, Alaska is America’s first line of defense, right? If Russia comes at you, if China comes at you, we know exactly how they come. They come up and they fly over Alaska.”

She later added, “It seems to me the clear message to China is, ‘We have free range in Alaska because they’re going to let us drive over it.'”

Updated at 3:50 p.m

Brad Dress contributed to this. US shoots down another “height object” over Alaska

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