WASHINGTON – A US fighter jet shot an unidentified object out of the sky on Friday off the coast of Alaska, off the Canadian border, White House officials confirmed, just days after Canada’s defense minister was due to meet with his American counterpart at the Pentagon. Only hours later
National Security Council coordinator John Kirby confirmed the latest encounter and its location during a Friday press briefing at the White House, and said the order to shoot it down came directly from President Joe Biden.
Kirby said the object was first observed Thursday night not far from the Canada-US border when it splashed down off the northern Alaska coast over the frozen Arctic Ocean. Pentagon spokesman Brig.-Gen. Pat Ryder said it was traveling in a “northeast direction” at the time.
Kirby described the object as “the size of a small car”, but had few other details, such as where it may have come from or its capabilities.
Kirby said, “I can tell you it was an object that was at 40,000 feet” that did not have the ability to maneuver, considering it a hazard to civilian aircraft at that altitude.
“I’m not ruling anything in or out,” he said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was briefed on the situation and supported the decision to take action. “Our military and intelligence services will always work together, including (NORAD) to keep people safe.”
Defense Minister Anita Anand said in a statement that she had learned about the object at the Pentagon, where she met with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Friday.
She said in the statement that while there, she and Austin participated in a call with NORAD Commander General Glenn VanHerk “a high altitude object detected over Alaska.”
The object did not fly in Canadian airspace, Anand confirmed, and he “conveyed Canada’s support” to take it down. He said Canada would continue to “work closely with our American allies” to protect North American airspace.
Earlier on Friday, the US Federal Aviation Administration restricted flights over an area of about 26 square kilometers over Bullen Point, the site of a disused US Air Force radar station on the Beaufort Sea, about 160 kilometers from the Canada-US border.
“Whenever we become aware of something, we first investigate it and then make a decision and take appropriate action,” Ryder said.
“Given the fact that it was operating at an altitude that was a justifiable danger to civilian air traffic, determination was made and the President ordered it taken down.”
In a meeting earlier on Friday, Austin thanked Canada for its help tracking Chinese surveillance balloons that passed over North America last week.
Anand said earlier in the day that it was still unclear whether American or Canadian intelligence managed to gather information before the balloon dropped out of the sky – an option Canada rejected because it posed no threat to public safety. .
Anand said the US is at the forefront of analyzing the balloon, which was shot down off the South Carolina coast on Sunday, and that Canada was not directly involved.
Through NORAD, a jointly commanded continental defense system, both the US and Canada made the balloon’s week-long voyage from Alaska’s Aleutian Islands to its violent demise over the Atlantic Ocean at the hands of an F-22 Raptor fighter pilot monitored.
But the minister gave no further details about where exactly the balloon was when Canada first learned of the invasion.
Anand said, “We … were investigating the trajectory and analysis of the balloon, including the height of the balloon and the contents of the balloon, and determined that it did not pose a threat to Canadians.”
“The analysis of the balloon and its contents … is being done by the United States on its own. We are not a part of that.”
At the Pentagon briefing, Ryder said recovery teams have mapped the debris field on the ocean floor and are collecting it for analysis as weather conditions permit.
“While I will not go into specifics for classification reasons, I can say that we have so far detected a significant amount of debris that will prove helpful to our further understanding of this balloon and its monitoring capabilities.”
In his meeting with Anand, Austin specifically mentioned last week’s balloons as he cited the value of NORAD and the importance of an ongoing binational effort to upgrade a system that experts say is too is old.
“The United States and Canada recently worked through NORAD to track (China’s) high-altitude surveillance balloons that violated both of our countries’ sovereignty,” Austin said.
“That coordination underscored the importance of our efforts and the need for continued investment in NORAD modernization on both sides.”
VanHerck acknowledged earlier this week that the balloon was not the first of its kind to enter US airspace, and that previous incidents were not known, highlighting a “domain awareness gap” that needs to be closed .
Anand has said that none of those prior episodes involved Canadian airspace.
“I think we’ll continue to learn a lot about how these things are or can be detected,” Kirby said. “We expect to learn a lot more about our systems, our processes for detection and tracking.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on February 10, 2023.
James McCartan, The Canadian Press