The White House confirmed on Friday that the Pentagon had downed another object over U.S. territory, seven days after the revelation of a Chinese surveillance balloon.
“I can confirm that the Department of Defense was tracking a high altitude object over Alaska airspace in the last 24 hours out,” Adm. John Kirby, National Security Coordinator for Strategic Communications, told reporters during Friday’s White House daily press briefing. “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 the recommendation of the Pentagon, President Biden ordered the military to down the object. And they did. And it came in inside our territorial waters.”
He added, “We are calling this an ‘object’ because that’s the best description we have right now. We do not know who owns it, whether it is state-owned or corporate owned or privately owned.” Nor does the government understand the object’s “full purpose” yet.
Kirby said shortly after 3pm Eastern Time that the incident had only happened within the past hour and a half, and the Pentagon was still assessing where the object had landed and the “degree to which they could get to it.”
“We do expect to be able to recover the debris since it fell not only within our territorial space but what we believe is frozen water,” Kirby continued. “So our recovery effort will be made. And we are hopeful that it will be successful, and then we can learn a little bit more about it.”
Pentagon Press Secretary Brig.Gen. Pat Ryder spoke soon after Kirby and confirmed much of what the White House had said–that the object was flying at 40,000 feet and “posed a reasonable threat to the safety of civilian flight.”
“U.S. Northern Command is beginning recovery operations now,” Ryder added. “U.S. Northern Command’s Alaska Command coordinated the operation with assistance from the Alaska International Guard, Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Bureau of investigation.”
Kirby described the downed object as “much, much smaller” than the Chinese surveillance balloon that was taken down by a U.S. missile on Saturday. “The way it was described to me was roughly the size of a small car as opposed to a payload that was like two or three buses’ size,” Kirby said. Ryder confirmed that description.
The discovery of the Chinese balloon led Secretary of State Antony Blinken to postpone indefinitely a diplomatic visit to China this past weekend.
The relationship between the U.S. and China was further strained when China on February 7 declined a secure call between U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe—the aim of which was reportedly to ratchet down tensions amid the balloon saga. On Friday China said it had declined the call because Washington had not created “the proper atmosphere for dialogue.”
The breach of American airspace by the second object was relatively short, according to officials, which is one reason they could not immediately identify what type of object was involved.
“I would just tell you that we’re going to remain vigilant about our air space,” Kirby said. “We’re going to remain vigilant about the skies over the United States….The President takes his obligations to protect our national security interests. And the safety and security of the American people is paramount.”