Air Force fighters shot down an undetermined object of unknown origin off the coast of Alaska on Friday, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said during a briefing.
The object was the size of a small car and was traveling near Alaska’s border with Canada, but the administration hasn’t determined exactly what it was and whether it was state-owned, Kirby said. Pilots on scene were able to assess that it was unmanned, he said.
“President Biden ordered the military to down the object, and they did and it caved in inside our territorial waters,” he said. “And those waters right now are frozen, but inside territorial airspace and over territorial waters, fighter aircraft assigned to U.S. Northern Command took down the object within the last hour.”
North American Aerospace Defense Command detected the object through ground radar on Thursday, a Pentagon spokesman confirmed, calling in F-22 fighters to shoot it down with an AIM-9 Sidewinder missile.
“The object was flying at an altitude of 40,000 feet and posed a reasonable threat to the safety of civilian flight,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said during a briefing Friday. “U.S. Northern Command is beginning recovery operations now.”
Military helicopters are on scene to collect debris from the object, resting on ice.
Both Kirby and Ryder said that pilots were able to fly near the object, but could not confirm whether it was a balloon.
The handling of the object is in stark contrast to the high-altitude Chinese surveillance balloon first spotted over Montana last week and shot down by an F-22 Saturday off the coast of South Carolina.
Ryder clarified that the two objects were handled differently because of the size and location of the objects, with Friday’s object much smaller than the balloon and traveling over an unpopulated area.
Recovery efforts are ongoing for last week’s shot down balloon.
“Recovery teams have mapped the debris field and are in the process of searching for and identifying debris on the ocean floor,” Ryder said. “Debris that’s been recovered so far is being loaded onto vessels, taken ashore, catalogued, and then moved onwards to labs for subsequent analysis.”
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.