The Pentagon said it shot down an unidentified object over frozen waters around Alaska on Friday at the order of President Biden, less than a week after a US fighter jet brought down a Chinese spy balloon over the Atlantic in an episode that increased tensions between Washington and Beijing.
US officials said they could not immediately confirm whether the object was a balloon, but it was travelling at an altitude that made it a potential threat to civilian aircraft. At a news conference on Friday, John F. Kirby, a White House spokesman, said Biden ordered the unidentified object near Alaska downed “out of an abundance of caution”.
The Friday shootdown showed Biden taking direct and forceful action far more quickly than he did last week, when some Republican lawmakers criticised him for letting the spy balloon linger over the US for several days before destroying it. But that period of observation last week allowed American officials to collect intelligence about the spy balloon, while in the episode on Friday, officials seemed unsure about what exactly they shot down.
Pentagon officials said they were able to immediately bring down the object over water, so they could easily avoid the dilemma posed by the spy balloon drifting over populated areas, which had prompted commanders to recommend to Biden to wait to shoot down the machine in order to avoid any chance of debris hitting people on the ground.
Three US officials said that as of Friday evening, the government did not know whoowned or sent the object seenabove Alaska, which, like theChinese balloon last week,was shot down by an F-22 fighter jet using a Sidewinder airto-air missile.
Several officials said they believed the object shot down on Friday was a balloon, but a defence department official said it broke into pieces when it hit the frozen sea, which added to the mystery of whether it was indeed a balloon, a drone or something else.
Kirby said that the object was “much, much smaller than the spy balloon that we took down last Saturday” and that “the way it was described to me was roughly the size of a small car, as opposed to the payload that was like two or three buses”.
He added that pilots confirmed it was unmanned before bringing it down over the Arctic Ocean near Canada. US radar picked up the object around 9pm on Thursday, Alaska time, and US Northern Command sent an AWACS surveillance aircraft, accompanied by an aerial refuelling plane, to track it.
The object, officials said, had traverse dover land in Alaska and was back over the sea heading towards the North Pole before itwas struck down.
New York Times News Service