The U.S. military shot down another high-altitude aircraft in U.S. territorial waters near northeastern Alaska on Friday, according to National Security Council spokesman John Kirby in a press conference that was aired live on Friday. President Joe Biden reportedly ordered the shoot down.
It’s not immediately clear if the object shot down was a balloon, according to the New York Times, and the breach of U.S. airspace was described as “relatively short.” The White House isn’t even saying whether the aircraft was controlled by another country or was privately owned, according to CBS News reporter Margaret Brennan in a tweet Friday afternoon.
“We do expect to be able to recover the debris,” Kirby said during the press conference.
The unknown aircraft was reportedly flying at about 40,000 feet, making it a potential threat to being close to civilian aircraft, though it had “no affirmative indications of military threat,” according to Kirby.
“It was much smaller than the spy balloon that was taken down last Saturday,” Kirby said.
The aircraft that was shot down didn’t appear to have the ability to be steered in any significant way, according to the Washington Post. The aircraft was reportedly near the Alaskan border with Canada and was shot down around around 1:45 pm ET over frozen waters, according to the Post.
The FAA issued a flight restriction notice on Friday for an area near Deadhorse, Alaska, a very small town in the far north of the state. Deadhorse is close to the Prudhoe Bay oil fields, as the Anchorage Daily News notes.
One reporter in the room during Kirby’s press conference on Friday asked, given this latest shoot down, whether the Pentagon regrets not shooting down the Chinese spy balloon from a week earlier, before it crossed into the continental U.S.
“I’m not going to speak for the Pentagon. I can tell you the President doesn’t regret the way that we handled the first balloon,” Kirby said.
“First of all, apples and oranges here in terms of size. As I said, this was the size of a small car and it was over very sparsely populated area. But, more critically, it was over water when we ordered this down, as we did the last one,” Kirby continued.
Kirby went on to say he expected the debris field for this latest aircraft to be “much much smaller” than the aircraft identified as a Chinese spy balloon that was shot down over the Atlantic Ocean a week ago, but only after it had traversed much of the continental United States. The balloon was first spotted near Alaska, then traveled across Canada and down into Montana before flying all the way to South Carolina.
The aircraft spotted today was “not similar in size or shape,” to the Chinese spy balloon, according to Patrick S. Ryder, a U.S. Department of Defense spokesperson who held a press conference Friday afternoon after Kirby.
“It entered into U.S. airspace on February 9th, we sent up aircraft to assess what it was, the decision was made it posed a reasonable threat to civilian air traffic, the president gave the order to take it down, and we took it down,” Ryder said.
Ryder later explained the aircraft was traveling in a north-easterly direction before it was taken down.
The incident from a week ago caused an uproar about what should have been done, with many people wondering why the U.S. military didn’t just shoot it down when it was over U.S. airspace. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski was particularly upset that something wasn’t done sooner, making a forceful statement during a Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee Oversight Hearing this week, describing her state as “the first line of defense for America.”
“Why was the state that is the first line of defense not able to keep the rest of the country from being more vulnerable when it came to collection of intelligence as [the Chinese spy balloon] flew over important installations?” Murkowski said during an opening statement on Thursday.
Supporters of former President Donald Trump used the spy balloon incident to argue that President Biden is weak when it comes to China. But as we’ve since learned, several surveillance balloons were spotted during his presidency, including near Texas, Florida, Hawaii and the territory of Guam. Balloons also flew near Norfolk, Virginia as well as Coronado, California, which are two areas with highly sensitive military installations.
This story is developing and will be updated as new information becomes available.
Note: An earlier version of this article stated the new aircraft was first spotted Thursday night, a detail that has since been removed without explanation by the New York Times. But the U.S. Department of Defense confirmed it was first spotted on Thursday, February 9, entering U.S. airspace at a press conference on Friday.