By 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 shootdown in as many days, as North America appeared on heightened alert following a week-long Chinese spying balloon saga that drew the global spotlight.
Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau first announced the shootdown over the Yukon territory in the country’s north and said Canadian forces would recover and analyze the wreckage.
Canadian Defence Minister Anita Anand declined to speculate about the origin of the object, which she said was 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 40,000 feet and posed a risk to civilian air traffic when it was shot down at 3:41 EST (2041 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 Friday evening. U.S. 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 U.S. F-22 shot down the object in Canadian territory using an AIM 9X missile following close coordination between U.S. and Canadian authorities,” Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said in a statement.
U.S. President Joe Biden authorized the U.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.
A day earlier, Biden ordered another shootdown of an unidentified flying object near Deadhorse, Alaska. The U.S. military on Saturday remained tight-lipped about what, if anything, it had learned as recovery efforts were underway 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 40,000 feet and could not maneuver and appeared to be unmanned. U.S. 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 can hinder search and recovery efforts.
“Personnel will adjust recovery operations to maintain safety,” Northern Command said.
On Feb. 4, a U.S. F-22 fighter jet brought down what the U.S. government called a Chinese surveillance balloon off the coast of South Carolina following its week-long journey across the United States and portions of Canada. China’s government has said it was a civilian research vessel.
Some U.S. lawmakers criticized Biden for not shooting down the Chinese balloon sooner. The U.S. military had recommended waiting until it was over the ocean out of fear of injuries from falling debris.
U.S. personnel have been scouring the ocean to recover debris and the undercarriage of electronic gadgetry since the shootdown of the 200-foot-tall (60-meter-high) Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon.
The Pentagon has said a significant amount of the balloon had already been recovered or located, suggesting American officials may soon have more information about any Chinese espionage capabilities aboard the vessel.
Sea conditions on Feb. 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 U.S. Navy vessels moving to and from the site as they conduct offload and resupply activities.”