President Joe Biden ordered the military to shoot down a “high altitude object” flying over Alaskan airspace in the last hour, National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby said Friday.
“The object was flying at an altitude of 40,000 feet and posed a reasonable threat to the safety of the civilian flight,” Kirby said at a White House press briefing. “Out of an abundance of caution and at the recommendation of the Pentagon, President Biden ordered the military to down the object, and they did, and it came inside our territorial waters.”
Kirby said the object was much smaller than the Chinese spy balloon — about the “size of a small car” for the object over Alaska as opposed to “two or three buses size” Chinese balloon — that was shot down near South Carolina last Saturday.
U.S. Northern Command took down the object using fighter aircraft over the northeastern part of Alaska, near Canada, Kirby said. The Pentagon doesn’t know who owns the aircraft or whether it’s state-owned or privately owned.
“We don’t have any information that would confirm a stated purpose for this object,” Kirby said.
The object fell into U.S. territorial space, into waters that are currently frozen. Kirby said because of where the object fell, “a recovery effort will be made, and we’re hopeful that it will be successful.”
Kirby also confirmed that a military pilot assessed the object was not manned, and that there is no indication of the object having surveillance capabilities. He said Biden’s primary reason for ordering the military to shoot the object down “was the safety of flight issue.”
Kirby emphasized the differences between this object and the Chinese balloon that came into U.S. airspace last week, noting repeatedly the smaller size of the new object and that it was over water when Biden ordered to shoot it down. The president faced criticism from both Republicans and Democrats for the delay in shooting down the Chinese balloon, waiting for it to float across the country from Alaskan airspace all the way to the coast of South Carolina before a fighter jet took it down.
Kirby defended that decision on Friday, saying the Pentagon knew the basic flight path of the balloon and was able “significantly curtail any intelligence ability that the Chinese could get from the balloon.” But he said the information gleaned from the surveillance of the balloon did not provide insights for the detection and track of this new object.
“At this time, all I can tell you is it did not appear to have the ability to independently maneuver,” Kirby said. “We’ll attempt recovery and see what we can learn more from.”