Members of the Air Combat Command F-22 Raptor Demonstration Team prepare to launch out a jet during a demonstration at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, July 10, 2020.

Members of the Air Combat Command F-22 Raptor Demonstration Team prepare to launch out a jet during a demonstration at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, July 10, 2020. Air Force / 1st Lt. Sam Eckholm

US Shoots Down ‘Objects’ Off Alaska Coast, Over Canada, Lake Huron

White House was worried object on Friday posed “potential hazard to civilian air traffic.”

On Friday, an F-22 Raptor used an AIM-9X missile to down what U.S. officials described as a flying “object” off the coast of Alaska the White House and the Pentagon said. It marked the second time within a week that the United States shot down an unmanned object that had entered U.S. airspace. Just one day later, a second F-22, accompanied by a Canadian CF-18 and CP-140, shot down a second object over Canadian airspace, under direction of U.S. President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The U.S. military reportedly shot down a fourth object over Lake Huron on Sunday. 

North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, detected the first object Thursday evening, John Kirby, the coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council, told reporters at the White House on Friday. Kirby described the object as much smaller than the Chinese spy balloon that NORTHCOM shot down last week. This new object was roughly the size of a car, smaller than the bus-sized balloon, he said. But neither he nor Defense Department spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder were able to say where the second object came from, its intended purpose, or what sort of equipment it may have had on it. 

President Joe Biden ordered the shoot-down on Friday because the object was flying at an altitude of around 40,000 feet, much lower and closer to the flight path of commercial aviation than the balloon, which flew half again as high.  

“There was a reasonable concern that this could present a threat to or potential hazard to civilian air traffic,” Ryder told reporters at the Pentagon. 

Because the takedown occurred over frozen ocean, the Pentagon is hopeful that recovery efforts will yield more information, he said. 

Neither Kirby nor Ryder named the aircraft that spotted the airborne object before the two F-22s were deployed, but Alaska Beacon reporter James Brooks spotted an Air Force C-130 near a no-fly zone over Prudhoe Bay on Friday afternoon. 

NORAD detected the second object late Friday evening, according to a DOD statement on Saturday. “Two F-22 aircraft from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska monitored the object over U.S. airspace with the assistance of Alaska Air National Guard refueling aircraft, tracking it closely and taking time to characterize the nature of the object,” it reads.

Trudeau on Saturday posted a statement to Twitter saying that he ordered the takedown of the object over the Yukon after consulting with Biden. “Canadian Forces will now recover and analyze the wreckage of the object,” he said. 

On Sunday morning, NORAD detected a fourth object over Montana. “Based on its flight path and data, we can reasonably connect this object to the radar signal picked up over Montana, which flew in proximity to sensitive DOD sites,” the Pentagon said in a statement. 

The command continued to monitor the object and briefly shut down airspace over portions of Michigan. The fourth object was flying at 20,000 feet, according to the statement. “Its path and altitude raised concerns, including that it could be a hazard to civil aviation,” the statement said. At 2:42 p.m., an F-16 fired an AIM-9X missile at the object and downed it, on orders from the president. 

“The location chosen for this shoot down afforded us the opportunity to avoid impact to people on the ground while improving chances for debris recovery,” the military said. 

Some U.S. lawmakers have criticized the Biden administration’s handling of the spy balloon earlier this month, which the president allowed to cross the United States before ordering its downing. 

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, put out a statement on Friday afternoon. 

“I appreciate the Biden administration learning from its prior inaction and acting quickly to address this latest airspace incursion, and I look forward to further updates about this incident,” Wicker said. “However, I still have many outstanding questions regarding last week’s incident. Today’s decisive action is a reminder that it is even more important that we understand fully why the first balloon was allowed to traverse the entirety of our sovereign airspace uncontested.”

Kirby denied that such criticism affected Friday’s decision.

“We knew for a fact that the PRC balloon that we shot down last week was…a surveillance asset and capable of surveillance over sensitive military sites and that it had self propulsion and loitering capabilities. No indication that this one did,” he said.  “The first one was able to maneuver and loiter, slow down, speed up.” 

The balloon also pursued a flight path over several sensitive U.S. military sites. 

Kirby and Ryder reiterated that the Pentagon was able to take measures to limit the balloon’s collection capabilities and that the U.S. learned a lot more about the Chinese spy program because of the decision to observe the balloon rather than immediately shoot it down. 

Said Kirby: “We are we are talking to dozens of nations who we know have had been overflown by Chinese surveillance balloons as a part of this program that the Chinese have invested…to share with [those countries] the context and information that we've learned by the forensics we've done since we came in office about this particular program.”

The balloon incident led Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel a trip to meet with Chinese counterparts. English writing was reportedly discovered on some of the recovered wreckage from the balloon’s payload. The Biden administration is considering new tech sanctions against Chinese companies and even U.S. companies looking to invest there. 

“I think we are also looking at a pilot potentially on outbound investment as well of sensitive technologies,” U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told lawmakers this week.