On February 9, NORAD detected an object flying at an approximate altitude of 43,000 feet. The next day, while it was over the coast of Alaska, the President of the United States ordered it shot down. The target in question had already been identified by two fighter patrols the day before. The Pentagon confirmed that the object was not of the same size as the recently shot down Chinese balloon but did not specify the type of flying object destroyed in flight.
Flying object over Alaska
On Feb. 10, Brigadier General Patrick S. Ryder, the Pentagon spokesman, announced, among other things, during a press conference :
"At the request of the President of the United States, fighter jets belonging to Northern Command [USNORTHCOM] successfully shot down a high-flying object over the northern coast of Alaska at 1:45 p.m. [eastern time] within U.S. airspace, over U.S. territorial waters.
On Feb. 9, the North American Aerospace Defense Command [NORAD] detected an object with its ground-based radars, investigated and deployed fighters to identify the object. The object was flying at an altitude of 42,000 feet [12,801.6 meters] and posed a reasonable threat to civilian flight safety.
USNORTHCOM is conducting recovery operations at this time.[...]"
He also added that he had no more details to add, other than the size of the craft, which was equivalent to the size of a small car. With the recently shot down Chinese balloon (more info at the end of this article), many are thinking of a new Chinese stratospheric balloon. However, Brig. Gen. Ryder confirmed that the size and altitude of the object did not match the Chinese balloon at all. Two separate flights identified the craft, that it was unarmed and not directly piloted by a person.
The object in question was shot down by an F-22 Raptor that took off from its base in Elmendorf, Alaska, USA. The latter used an AIM-9X Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missile. In this region, Gen. Ryder confirmed that many aircraft were flying between 40 and 45,000 feet, making this one dangerous. Conversely, the Chinese balloon was at an altitude of 60,000 feet, well above civilian air corridors.
An HC-130 deployed
During the press conference, an HC-130J Combat King II tactical airlifter was just flying over the northern coast of Alaska (northeast of the Stockton Islands), even making low passes. In fact, it was over this area that a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) was issued via a message to airmen (NOTAM). The Combat King II is deployed to support the various search efforts in the area. Its specific mission is not known but it is an aircraft designed primarily for certain specific missions;
- As a specialized aircraft for in-flight refueling of helicopters, in order to increase the autonomy of deployed helicopters.
- As a search or even command aircraft. The Combat King II is also designed to support U.S. Special Forces. It must be able to fly at low altitude, day and night, land and take off on prepared or unprepared terrain,... in order to rescue friendly personnel far behind enemy lines.
As a reminder, the HC-130J Combat King II is a KC-130J modified for the missions mentioned above. It has better protection systems and notably a greater range compared to the KC-130J.
Article updated January 11, 2023 at 12:46 a.m. (GMT+1).
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