President Joe Biden ordered Joint-base Elmendorf F-22 fighter planes to shoot down an “object” that was flying in U.S. airspace off the coast of Alaska on Feb. 10 at 9:45 a.m.
John Kirby, National Security Coordinator for Strategic Communications, said that the object was shot down just off the northeastern most part of Alaska, near the Alaska-Canada border and the Arctic Ocean.
According to General Patrick Ryder, of the Pentagon, the object was first detected on Feb. 9 via ground radar.
Kirby said two fighter aircraft initially surveilled it to try and discover what it was. Pilots determined it was unmanned, and on Feb. 10 it was destroyed, Kirby said.
“I can confirm that the Department of Defense was tracking a high altitude object over Alaska airspace in the last 24 hours,” he said from the White House press room. “The object was flying at an altitude of 40,000 feet and posed a reasonable threat to the safety of civilian flight. 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. Now those waters, right now, are frozen.”
He said fighter aircraft assigned to U.S. Northern Command shot down the object. Kirby emphasized that Biden gave direct orders to do so.
“We’re calling this an object because that’s the best description we have right now,” Kirby said. “We do not know who owns it – whether it’s state owned or corporate owned or privately owned. We just don’t know.”
Kirby said the White House expects to recover the debris with the hope that they can learn more about its purpose.
“It was much, much smaller than the spy balloon that we took down last Saturday,” Kirby said in reference to the Chinese-owned balloon that flew for several days over the continental U.S. before being shot down last Saturday off the coast of South Carolina.
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Kirby said the object shot down in Alaska was “roughly the size of a small car,” which is significantly smaller than the Chinese spy balloon that was roughly the size of two or three buses.
“So, much, much smaller and not of the same – and no significant payload, if you will,” he added.
When asked if Biden regrets not shooting down the Chinese spy balloon earlier, Kirby said there are no regrets.
“I can tell you that the president doesn’t regret the way that we handled the first balloon,” he said. “First of all, apples and oranges here in terms of size. As I said, this was the size of a small car and it was over a very sparsely populated area, but also – more critically – it was over water – water space when we ordered this down, as we did the last one.”
Kirby said the second difference between the two objects was that the confirmed Chinese balloon was “in fact a surveillance asset and capable of surveillance over sensitive military sites.” He said it had “self-propulsion and maneuver capability.”
“There’s no indication that this one (in Alaska) did,” Kirby noted. “The other one was able to maneuver and loiter, slow down, speed up. It was very purposeful.”
He said the main concern Biden had with the Alaska object was that it posed a “safety of flight issue for civilian aircraft.” He said he does not know if it posed any threat to Alaska’s oilfields.
When asked whether the White House believes the Chinese claim that the balloon from last week accidentally flew across the U.S., Kirby said it appears to have been deliberately flown over sensitive military sites.