US fighter jet shoots down unidentified object over Canada

Shootdown is second such action in as many days and comes amid tensions over a suspected Chinese spying balloon.

A F-22 Raptor fighter jet
A US F-22 fighter jet shot down the unidentified object using an AIM 9X missile, the Pentagon said [File: Wolfgang Rattay/ Reuters]

A United States fighter jet has shot down an unidentified cylindrical object over Canada in a joint operation by the North American neighbours.

The shootdown on Saturday was the second such action in as many days and comes as North America appeared on heightened alert following a week-long saga over a suspected Chinese spying balloon.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau first announced the shootdown over the Yukon territory in the country’s north and said Canadian forces would recover and analyse the wreckage.

Canadian defence minister Anita Anand declined to speculate on the origin of the object, which she said was small and cylindrical in shape. She stopped short of describing it as a balloon but said it was smaller than the Chinese balloon shot down off South Carolina’s coast a week ago, but similar in appearance.

She said it was flying at 12,100 metres (40,000 feet) and posed a risk to civilian air traffic when it was shot down at 3:41 EST (20:41 GMT).

“There is no reason to believe that the impact of the object in Canadian territory is of any public concern,” Anand told a news conference.

The Pentagon said the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) detected the object over Alaska late on Friday evening. US fighter jets from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, monitored the object as it crossed over into Canadian airspace, where Canadian CF-18 and CP-140 aircraft joined the formation.

“A US F-22 shot down the object in Canadian territory using an AIM 9X missile following close coordination between US and Canadian authorities,” Pentagon spokesperson Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said in a statement.

US President Joe Biden authorised the country’s military to work with Canada to take down the high-altitude craft after a call between Biden and Trudeau, the Pentagon said. The White House said Biden and Trudeau agreed to continue close coordination to “defend our airspace”.

“The leaders discussed the importance of recovering the object in order to determine more details on its purpose or origin,” the White House said in a statement.

Shortly after the 3:41 pm (2041 GMT) downing of the  object, aviation authorities also shut down part of the airspace over the northwest US state of Montana after detecting what they called a “radar anomaly,” the US Northern Command said.

In a sign of jitters over possible intrusions, Northern Command said US fighter jets took to the skies but “did not identify any object to correlate to the radar hits”. Skies were then reopened to commercial air traffic.

Suspected Chinese spy balloon

A day earlier, Biden ordered another shootdown of an unidentified flying object near Deadhorse, Alaska. The US military on Saturday remained tight-lipped about what, if anything, it had learned as recovery efforts were under way on the Alaskan sea ice.

The Pentagon on Friday offered only a few details, including that the object was the size of a small car, it was flying at about 12,100 metres and could not manoeuvre and appeared to be unmanned. US officials have been trying to learn about the object since it was first spotted on Thursday.

“We have no further details at this time about the object, including its capabilities, purpose or origin,” Northern Command said on Saturday.

It noted difficult arctic weather conditions, including wind chill, snow and limited daylight that could hinder search and recovery efforts.

“Personnel will adjust recovery operations to maintain safety,” Northern Command said.

On February 4, a US F-22 fighter jet brought down what the US government called a Chinese surveillance balloon off the coast of South Carolina, following its week-long journey across the US and portions of Canada. China’s government has said it was a civilian research vessel.

Some US legislators criticised Biden for not shooting down the Chinese balloon sooner. The US military had recommended waiting until it was over the ocean out of fear of injuries from falling debris.

US personnel have been scouring the ocean to recover debris and the undercarriage of electronic gadgetry since the shootdown of the 60-meter-high (200-foot-tall) Chinese suspected surveillance balloon.

The Pentagon has said a significant amount of the balloon had already been recovered or located, suggesting US officials may soon have more information about any Chinese espionage capabilities onboard the vessel.

Sea conditions on February 10 “permitted dive and underwater unmanned vehicle (UUV) activities and the retrieval of additional debris from the sea floor,” Northern Command said.

“The public may see US Navy vessels moving to and from the site as they conduct offload and resupply activities.”

Source: News Agencies