WASHINGTON — The US military shot down a «high-altitude object» flying over Alaskan airspace and Arctic waters Friday afternoon, National Security Council official John Kirby confirmed at the White House.

The Pentagon had been tracking the object for the past 24 hours, he said.

«The object was flying at an altitude of 40,000 feet and posed a reasonable threat to the safety of civilian flight,» Kirby told reporters during the White House briefing. «Out of an abundance of caution, and on the recommendation of the Pentagon, President Biden ordered the military to shoot down the object and they did and it entered our territorial waters and those waters are now frozen solid.»

Fighter jets assigned to US Northern Command shot down the object «within the last hour,» Kirby said around 2:30 p.m. ET.

The pilots were able to determine that it was unmanned before it was shot down, he added.

Kirby made it clear that the US does not know who owns the object and would not call it a balloon, like the one supposedly owned by the Chinese government and shot down by the US military on Saturday.

«We call this an object because that’s the best description we have at the moment,» Kirby said. «We don’t know who owns it, whether it’s state, corporate or private. We just don’t know.»

The pilots shot down the object near the northeastern part of Alaska, near the Canadian border, over the Arctic Sea, Kirby said.

Officials did not understand the full purpose of the object, Kirby added, saying the United States hopes it can recover the debris. «There will be a recovery effort and we are hopeful that it will be successful and then we can learn a little bit more about it,» she said.

The object, which the United States learned of late Thursday, was described as «about the size of a small car,» Kirby said.

Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder provided additional details in a briefing with reporters, noting that the object was shot down at 1:45 p.m. ET.

The United States initially detected the object on ground-based radar on Thursday and investigated it further using aircraft, Ryder said. An F-22 fighter jet shot down the object using an A9X missile, he added.

US Northern Command coordinated the operation with assistance from the Alaska Air National Guard, the Federal Aviation Administration and the FBI, Ryder said.

Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, said senior Pentagon officials briefed him on the object and said the US wants it.»

“That has to stop. The best way to do this is through the type of actions we have taken today in Alaska and publicly reiterate that we will shoot down any and all unknown aircraft that violate our airspace,» Sullivan said in a statement. “We also need to properly equip our military in Alaska with the necessary sensors and aircraft to detect and, if necessary, destroy everything from slow-moving balloons to hypersonic missiles.”

Asked why the United States appeared to take more immediate action to shoot down the object compared to last week’s response to the alleged Chinese spy balloon, Ryder said: «In this particular case, given the fact that it was operating at a altitude that posed a reasonable threat. to civilian air traffic, the determination was made and the president gave the order to shoot it down.”

Civil aircraft, he added, typically operate between 40,000 and 45,000 feet, and therefore the object presented a «potential threat or hazard to civilian air traffic.»

The Pentagon determined that the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that was shot down last week was traveling at an altitude of approximately 60,000 feet.

Kirby said the object in Alaska did not appear to have the ability to maneuver independently like the Chinese balloon that flew over the United States for eight days before being shot down off the coast of South Carolina.

«The first one was able to maneuver and loiter, slow down, speed up,» Kirby said. «It was very useful».

A senior State Department official said Thursday that last week’s balloon had proven links to the Chinese military and included «multiple antennas» capable of gathering intelligence signals.

This is a developing story. Please check for updates.

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