US fighter jet shoots down unidentified cylindrical object over Canada

A US Air Force F-22 Raptor, based out of Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, flies alongside a KC-135 Stratotanker during an aerial refuelling mission above an undisclosed location, in this undated handout picture released by US Air Force on July 29, 2019. — Reuters
  • PM Trudeau says Canadian forces would recover, analyse wreckage.
  • Defence minister declines to speculate about object’s origin.
  • Biden authorised US military to work with Canada to take down craft.

WASHINGTON/OTTAWA: A US F-22 fighter jet shot down an unidentified cylindrical object over Canada on Saturday, the second such instance in as many days, as North America appeared on edge following a week-long Chinese spying balloon saga that drew the global spotlight.

Separately, the US military also scrambled fighter jets in Montana to investigate a radar anomaly that triggered a brief federal closure of airspace.

“Those aircraft did not identify any object to correlate the radar hits,” the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) said in a statement.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau first announced Saturday’s shootdown over the northern Yukon territory, saying Canadian forces would recover and analyse 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 calling it a balloon but said it was smaller than the Chinese balloon shot down off South Carolina’s coast a week ago, though similar in appearance.

Aloft at 40,000 feet (12,200 m), it posed a risk to civilian air traffic and was shot down at 3:41 EST (2041 GMT), she added.

“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 NORAD detected the object over Alaska late on Friday.

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 spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said in a statement.

US President Joe Biden authorised the US 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,” it said in a statement.

A day earlier, Biden ordered another shootdown of an unidentified flying object near Deadhorse, Alaska.

On Saturday, the US military remained tight-lipped about what, if anything, it had learned as recovery efforts were underway on the Alaskan sea ice.

On Friday, the Pentagon offered only a few details, such as that the object was the size of a small car, was flying at about 40,000 feet (12,200 m), 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 mentioned difficult Arctic weather conditions, including wind chill, snow, and limited daylight that can hinder search and recovery.

“Personnel will adjust recovery operations to maintain safety,” it added.

On Feb. 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 United States and portions of Canada.

China has said it was a civilian research vessel.

Some US lawmakers criticised Biden for not shooting down the Chinese balloon sooner. The US military had recommended waiting until it was over the ocean, for 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 200-foot (60-metre) -tall 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.

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 US Navy vessels moving to and from the site as they conduct offload and resupply activities.”

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