A US fighter jet has shot down an unidentified object drifting high over Alaska, the White House said, just six days after the downing of an alleged Chinese spy balloon sparked a fresh diplomatic rift with Beijing.
White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said on Friday it was unclear what the purpose or origin of the new object was, but said that it was taken down because, floating at 40,000 feet, it was a threat to civil aviation.
“The president ordered the military to down the object,” Kirby said.
The object was much smaller than a huge Chinese balloon that crossed the United States last week and was shot down by a US fighter jet off the Atlantic coast on Saturday, Kirby said.
It was “roughly the size of a small car,” he said.
“We do not know who owns it, whether state owned or corporate owned,” he said. “We don’t understand the full purpose.”
The object was brought down using an AIM-9X Sidewinder missile fired from a F-22 jet, the Pentagon said.
Ongoing programme by China?
The incident took place amid a new alarm over what US officials say is an ongoing programme by China to fly surveillance balloons to collect intelligence around the world.
US officials said such balloons have flown over 40 countries, including at least four times previously over United States territory.
The Chinese balloon last week sparked particular concern as it overflew areas where the United States keeps nuclear missiles in underground silos and bases strategic bombers.
The incident led US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel an imminent trip to Beijing that had been long in planning and aimed at improving communications between the two rival superpowers.
Kirby said the new object was detected late on Thursday, and shot down Friday afternoon Washington-time.
It went down in northern Alaska near the Canadian border and fell over a frozen body of water, making recovery feasible, Kirby said.
“We do expect to be able to recover the debris,” he said.