The US military has shot down an unknown object flying in US airspace off the coast of Alaska on the orders of President Joe Biden, White House officials said.
The object was flying at about 40,000ft and posted a “reasonable threat” to the safety of civilian flights, said John Kirby, White House National Security Council spokesman.
He described the object as roughly the size of a small car.
It was the second time in a week the US military had downed some type of flying object over the US. On Saturday, fighter jets shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina.
White House officials drew major differences between the two episodes.
Mr Kirby said it was not yet known who owned the object and he did not say that it was a balloon.
Officials also could not say if there was any surveillance equipment on it. Mr Kirby also did not know yet where it came from or what its purpose was.
The Pentagon on Friday declined to provide a more precise description of the object, only saying that US pilots who flew up to observe it determined it did not appear to be manned.
Officials said the object was far smaller than the previous balloon, did not appear to be manoeuvrable and was travelling at a much lower altitude.
Mr Kirby maintained that Mr Biden, based on the advice of the Pentagon, believed it posed enough of a concern to shoot it out of the sky — primarily because of the potential risk to civilian aircraft.
“We’re going to remain vigilant about our airspace,” Mr Kirby said. “The president takes his obligations to protect our national security interests as paramount.”
The president was briefed on the presence of the object on Thursday evening after two fighter jets checked it out.
Brigadier General Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, told reporters that an F-22 fighter aircraft based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson shot down the object using the same type of missile used to destroy the balloon nearly a week ago.
Ahead of the strike, the Federal Aviation Administration restricted flights over a roughly 10-square mile area within US airspace off Alaska’s Bullen Point, the site of a disused US Air Force radar station on the Beaufort Sea about 100 miles from the Canadian border.
The object fell on to frozen waters and officials expected they could recover debris faster than from last week’s massive balloon.
Mr Ryder said the object was traveling north east when it was shot down. He said several US military helicopters have gone out to begin the recovery effort.
The development came almost a week after the US shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the Carolina coast after it traversed sensitive military sites across North America. China insisted the flyover was an accident involving a civilian craft and threatened repercussions.
Mr Biden issued the order but had wanted the balloon downed even earlier.
He was advised that the best time for the operation would be when it was over water. Military officials determined that bringing it down over land from an altitude of 60,000ft would pose an undue risk to people on the ground.
The balloon was part of a large surveillance programme that China has been conducting for “several years”, the Pentagon said.
China responded that it reserved the right to “take further actions” and criticised the US for “an obvious overreaction and a serious violation of international practice”.