Authors: Phil Stewart, Idrees Ali and Steve Scherer
WASHINGTON/OTTAWA (Reuters) – A U.S. F-22 fighter jet shot down an unidentified cylindrical object over Canada on Saturday, the second such incident in as many days, as North America appeared on edge after a week-long Chinese balloon spy saga drew global attention.
Separately, the U.S. military also sent fighter jets to Montana to investigate a radar anomaly that prompted a brief federal airspace shutdown.
“These aircraft did not identify any object to associate the radar hits,” the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said in a statement.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau first announced Saturday’s crash over the northern Yukon Territory, saying Canadian forces would retrieve and analyze the wreckage.
Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand declined to speculate on the origin of the object, which she said was cylindrical in shape.
She didn’t call it a balloon, but said it was smaller than the Chinese balloon shot down off the coast of South Carolina a week ago, although it looks similar.
At an altitude of 40,000 feet (12,200 m), it posed a risk to civilian air traffic and was shot down at 3:41 a.m. EST (2041 GMT), she added.
“There is no reason to believe that the impact of the facility on Canadian territory is of any public concern,” Anand told a news conference.
The Pentagon said NORAD detected the object over Alaska late Friday.
US fighter jets from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, tracked the object as it crossed into Canadian airspace, where Canadian CF-18s and CP-140s joined the formation.
“A US F-22 shot down a facility on Canadian territory using an AIM 9X missile after close cooperation between US and Canadian authorities,” Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gene. Patrick Ryder said in a statement.
US President Joe Biden authorized the US military to work with Canada to shoot down the high-altitude aircraft following talks between Biden and Trudeau, the Pentagon said.
The White House said Biden and Trudeau agreed to continue close coordination to “defend our airspace.”
“Leaders discussed the importance of recovering the item to determine more details about its purpose or origin,” the statement said.
A day earlier, Biden ordered another downing of an unidentified flying object near Deadhorse, Alaska.
On Saturday, the U.S. military remained tight-lipped about what, if anything, it has learned as recovery efforts are underway on the Alaskan sea ice.
On Friday, the Pentagon offered few details, such as that the object was the size of a small car, flew at about 40,000 feet (12,200 m), was unable to maneuver and did not appear to be in control.
US officials have been trying to learn more about the object since it was first spotted on Thursday.
“At this time we have no further details about the object, including its capabilities, purpose or origin,” the Northern Command said on Saturday.
They cited harsh arctic weather conditions, including wind chill, snow and limited daylight that can hinder search and recovery efforts.
“Staff will adjust recovery operations to maintain safety,” it added.
On February 4, a US F-22 fighter jet shot down what the US government called a Chinese surveillance balloon off the coast of South Carolina after a week-long trip across the United States and parts of Canada.
China said it was a civilian research vessel.
Some US lawmakers criticized Biden for not busting China’s bubble sooner. The US military recommended waiting until it was over the ocean, fearing injury from falling debris.
US personnel are searching the ocean to recover debris and electronic undercarriage from the downing of a 200-foot (60-meter) high-altitude Chinese surveillance balloon.
The Pentagon said a significant number of the balloons had already been recovered or located, suggesting that US officials may soon have more information about any Chinese spying capabilities on board.
Sea conditions on February 10 “allowed for diving and underwater unmanned vehicle (UUV) activities and the recovery of additional debris from the seabed,” Northern Command said.
“The public can see US Navy ships moving to and from the site as they conduct unloading and supply activities.”