A U.S. fighter jet shot down a mysterious, high-altitude object that traveled into American airspace Friday, acting on orders from President Joe Biden after it was determined the object posed a potential threat to commercial aviation.
According to the Pentagon, the object first moved into U.S. airspace late Thursday and was tracked by U.S. Northern Command as it moved over the skies of northeastern Alaska, staying consistently at about 12,000 meters (40,000 feet).
Pentagon and White House officials said U.S. planes approached the object, said to be the size of a small car, and determined that no human was in it before one of two F-22 fighter jets sent on an intercept course shot it from the skies with an AIM-9x Sidewinder missile.
Officials at both the Pentagon and the White House defended the decision to shoot down the object, saying that at 12,000 meters it “posed a reasonable threat to the safety of civilian flight.”
When asked by reporters at the White House about the object's downing, Biden said only, "It was a success."
'Object,' not an aircraft
Officials gave few details about the downed object.
There was “no indication, at this time, that it was maneuverable,” said the Pentagon press secretary, Air Force Brigadier General Patrick Ryder, speaking less than two hours after the object had been brought down.
"This was an object ... it wasn't an aircraft per se,” Ryder said, briefing Pentagon reporters. “We have no further details about the object at this time, including any description of its capabilities, purpose or origin.”
U.S. officials said recovery efforts for what remained of the object were underway with a variety of aircraft.
“We do expect to be able to recover the debris since it fell on our territorial space but on what we believe is frozen water,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said during a separate White House briefing. “We’re hopeful that we’ll be successful and then we can learn a little bit more about it."
“We're calling this an object because that's the best description we have right now,” Kirby added. "We do not know who owns it. … We don't have any information that would confirm a stated purpose for this object."
A Federal Aviation Administration notice issued earlier Friday put the location of the object in the vicinity of Deadhorse, Alaska, and warned pilots to stay clear of the area.
The area is also near Prudhoe Bay, the largest oil field in North America and the 18th-largest oil field in the world.
The U.S. has also used Deadhorse and the north slope of Prudhoe Bay for training helicopter pilots and other personnel in an arctic environment. U.S. Navy submarines conduct training in the area as well.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a tweet Friday that he "was briefed on the matter and supported the decision to take action."
"Our military and intelligence services will always work together," he said.
The incursion into U.S. airspace of the high-altitude object came less than a week after a Chinese surveillance balloon was shot down off the coast of the U.S. state of South Carolina, after it had traveled over much of the country.
U.S. officials, who said they were able to learn a lot about China’s spy balloon program by allowing it to traverse the U.S., even as it sought out sensitive locations, defended the decision to shoot down this latest object just about a day after it was first spotted.
They said that unlike the Chinese surveillance balloon, which was traveling at more than 18,000 meters (60,000 feet) and above the level of commercial air traffic, this object was 6,000 meters lower and likely to fall into the path of commercial planes.
The officials also said that unlike the Chinese surveillance balloon, this high-altitude object was at the mercy of the winds, making its flight path unpredictable and therefore more dangerous to air traffic.
Also, unlike the Chinese surveillance balloon, which was described as the size of two to three buses, the White House’s Kirby said this new object over Alaska “had no significant payload.”
Biden had faced criticism from some lawmakers for not shooting down the Chinese balloon sooner.
On Friday, Democratic Senator Mark Warner, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on Twitter, "Glad to see the president act swiftly on this new intrusion to our airspace."
VOA's Patsy Widakuswara and Steve Herman contributed to this report.