An unidentified high-altitude object was shot down over Alaska on orders from President Biden, White House and Pentagon officials confirmed on Friday, raising new concerns regarding possible surveillance efforts by adversary nations like China.
Speaking from the White House, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby said during a press conference that the Pentagon had been tracking the object in Alaskan airspace over the last 24 hours as it traveled at an altitude of 40,000 feet.
The object was brought down after it was deemed to present “a reasonable threat to the safety of civilian flight,” Kirby said.
“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,” Kirby said.
Also speaking on Friday, Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder confirmed that the object was dispatched by two F-22 fighter aircraft with U.S. Northern Command flying out of joint base Elmendorf that fired an A-9x at the object, which thereafter fell into U.S. territorial waters.
“At this point we don’t know the origin of the object,” Ryder said on Friday. Ryder confirmed that the object had been detected by ground radar stations, and was thereafter shot down following orders from the president at 1:45 pm ET.
Recovery efforts currently involve aircraft including an HC-130 Hercules search and rescue aircraft, along with HH-60 and CH-47 helicopters that are also aiding in the search for debris from the object.
“We will know more once we are able to recover some of those materials.”
Ryder told reporters the object was estimated to be roughly the size of a small automobile and was not similar in size and shape to the Chinese balloon shot down off the coast of South Carolina last Saturday.
Ryder said the object shot down on Biden’s orders Friday displayed no indication of maneuverability, but “posed a reasonable threat to civilian traffic so the determination was to take it down.”
Ryder also said there was no indication the object was a manned aircraft.
“We have no further details about the object at this time, including any description of its capabilities, purpose, or origin,” Ryder said.
Although White House and Pentagon officials were able to offer few details during Friday’s briefings, available information about the object’s size, altitude, and other characteristics appear to be inconsistent with a spy balloon, which normally operates between 80,000 and 120,000 feet.
The 40,000-foot altitude at which the unidentified object was operating on Friday also marks the upper threshold at which most commercial airliners typically fly, although some military aircraft have an upper range of close to 65,000 feet. U-2 spy planes, which participated in surveillance of the Chinese balloon that passed over the U.S. last week, are capable of ascending to altitudes exceeding 80,000 feet.
The object, which displayed no means of propulsion, reportedly hovered over U.S. airspace in Alaska for several hours and was described as “cylindrical and silverish gray” by one official speaking with ABC News.
The Federal Aviation Administration issued a TFR/NOTAM at 2:42 pm Eastern Time on Friday just within the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) boundary marking U.S. sovereign airspace, indicating the shootdown likely occurred near the vicinity of Prudhoe Bay along Alaska’s northern coast.
The NOTAM was classified as National Defense Airspace, prohibiting entry and ordering all aircraft already airborne within the area to leave “using the most expeditious route consistent with safety and in coordination with ATC as appropriate.”
The NOTAM issued on Friday, with temporary airspace active from ground level to 10,000 feet, appears to have been issued in relation to recovery operations being carried out by U.S. officials, which are currently being hampered by weather conditions in the Alaskan region where the shootdown occurred.
“It came in, inside our territorial waters,” Kirby said on Friday. “Those waters right now are frozen,” he added.
Asked by reporters whether the shootdown of unidentified objects observed flying near or within U.S. borders represents the Biden Administration’s official policy under such circumstances, Kirby clarified that the President would take such actions whenever deemed necessary in the interest of national security.
“The President will always act in the best interest of our national security, and the safety and security of the American people,” Kirby said.