F-22 fighter jet shoots down ‘high-altitude object’ off Alaska coast
Stars and Stripes February 10, 2023
WASHINGTON – A U.S. fighter jet on Friday shot down a “high-altitude object” over U.S. waters near Alaska several days after a Chinese surveillance balloon was shot down off the coast of South Carolina, U.S. officials said.
President Joe Biden ordered fighter jets to shoot down the object because it posed a threat to civilian air traffic, officials at the White House and later the Pentagon said.
“The object was flying at an altitude of 40,000 feet and posed a reasonable threat to the safety of civilian flight,” said Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon’s top spokesman.
John Kirby, spokesman for the National Security Council, had told reporters at the White House that the object was much smaller than the Chinese balloon shot down Feb. 4.
U.S. Northern Command scrambled two F-22 Raptors from Alaska’s Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson to shoot the object with an AIM-9X Sidewinder missile, Ryder told reporters at the Pentagon.
He said the “airborne object,” which was first detected Thursday as it broached U.S. territory, was shot down Friday at 1:45 p.m. EST off Alaska’s northern coast. U.S. officials have not yet said whether they suspect the object belongs to another country.
“At this point, we don’t know the origin of the object. We will know more once we’re able to recover some of the materials,” Ryder said.
Neither Ryder nor Kirby elaborated on the object’s appearance or disclosed whether it was a balloon. However, both said the object was much smaller than the Chinese balloon tracked last week, which measured 200 feet tall and carried a payload about the size of three buses. Ryder said the object shot down Friday was about the size of a small car.
Ryder did note some of the object’s characteristics. For example, he said the object did not have the capability to navigate itself and was subject to the direction of wind gusts and other atmospheric factors. The Chinese balloon last week had the ability to maneuver itself and was operating at an altitude of roughly 60,000 feet.
Ryder also said nothing about the Chinese balloon last week contributed to how the military handled the new object on Friday. Some critics complained last week that Biden should have ordered the balloon to be shot down much sooner. U.S. officials have maintained the large size of the balloon and its payload posed a threat to people on the ground, and it was best to wait until it crossed the continental U.S. and moved over the Atlantic Ocean.
“You have to look at each individual case on its own merits,” Ryder added. “In this particular case, given the fact that it was hovering at an altitude that posed a reasonable threat to civilian air traffic, the determination was made and the president gave the order.”
The existence of another high-altitude object over U.S. airspace comes after the Pentagon has said it believes China is operating a fleet of spy balloons that have been spotted over five continents in recent years. Defense officials said similar balloons have floated over U.S. airspace on at least four other occasions -- three during former President Donald Trump’s term and one during Biden’s administration.
Ryder said Friday that recovery crews are finding more wreckage from the downed Chinese balloon in the large debris field off the South Carolina coast.
“Recovery teams have mapped the debris field and are in the process of searching for and identifying debris on the ocean floor,” he said. “Debris that’s been recovered so far is being loaded onto vessels and taken ashore.”
The Pentagon spokesman also said military and civilian search crews have so far found “a significant amount of debris” that will help U.S. officials learn more about the balloon and its intentions.
The Chinese government has denied the balloon was a spy balloon, maintaining instead that it was a civilian weather balloon.