U.S. President Joe Biden ordered a “high altitude object” shot down by fighter aircraft on Friday, an official said, a week after an alleged Chinese spy balloon was found floating across the United States.
Biden’s national security spokesman, John Kirby, said at a press conference on Friday afternoon that the object was shot down over Alaska hours earlier when it was found flying at an altitude used by civilian aircraft. But he said it was yet unclear what it was.
“We’re calling this an object because that’s the best description we have right now. We do not know who owns it, whether it’s state-owned or corporate owned, or privately owned, we just don’t know,” Kirby said, adding it was different than last week’s balloon.
“Apples and oranges here in terms of size,” he said. “This was the size of a small car, and it was [shot down] over a very sparsely populated area but also, more critically, it was over water space when we ordered this down, as we did the last one.”
He said it was at about 40,000 feet (12,100 meters) and was not maneuverable, unlike last week’s alleged spy balloon, which was at about 65,000 feet (20,000 meters) and was maneuverable, according to Pentagon officials. The decision was made “out of an abundance of caution,” he said.
“The predominant concern by the president was the safety-of-flight issue at that altitude,” the official said, explaining it was “a potential threat to the safety of flying customers, of civilian air traffic.”
Asked whether he thought the origin of the “object” could be China, the spokesman said he would not speculate until more information was available. “We haven’t ruled anything in or out,” he said.
“I know of no plans to reach out to the Chinese specifically on this,” Kirby said. “We don’t know who owns this object.”