White House: US military shoots down object over Alaska at Biden’s orders
Washington, Feb 10 (EFE).- The United States military on Friday brought down an unidentified object off the coast of Alaska at President Joe Biden’s orders, a White House spokesman said at a news conference.
The Defense Department had been tracking that “high-altitude” object for 24 hours, and on Friday afternoon Biden gave the order for a US Northern Command fighter jet to shoot it down over the Arctic Ocean, John Kirby said.
The spokesman added that the object initially appears to be much smaller than the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that traversed the country from west to east and was downed Saturday by a US fighter jet off the coast of the state of South Carolina.
Kirby said that whereas the balloon was the size of two or three buses, the object downed over Alaska was the “size of a small car.”
The Chinese balloon also was able to maneuver independently, while this latest object did not appear to have that capability and “was virtually at the whim of the wind,” he added.
In giving the order to shoot down the object, Biden was concerned that its altitude of 40,000 feet (about 12 kilometers) could make it a potential threat to civilian aircraft, Kirby said.
By contrast, the Chinese balloon was flying at a higher altitude of 65,000 feet.
The object downed over Alaska fell into waters that are currently frozen, and the debris is now being collected to determine exactly what it is, Kirby said.
Pentagon spokesman Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, said for his part in a press conference that the object was downed by the US Northern Command at 6.45 GMT Friday in US airspace off the northeastern coast of Alaska.
It had been detected on Thursday and was shot down Friday by an F-22 fighter jet that had taken off from the Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska, and fired an AIM-9X air-to-air missile.
Asked why this object was taken down much more quickly than the Chinese balloon, Ryder said these decisions are made on a case-by-case basis and that in this instance a potential threat to civilian air traffic had been identified.
Ryder stressed that the origin of the object remains unknown, although he said it was not similar in either size or shape to the Chinese balloon.
The US has accused the Chinese government of developing a surveillance-balloon program that has already targeted 40 countries across five continents.
Beijing says the balloon that Washington downed on Saturday was a weather device that had strayed off course due to “force majeure.”
The discovery of the suspected surveillance balloon sparked a new diplomatic crisis between the US and China and prompted US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to postpone a high-profile visit to the Asian country. EFE