Feb 13, 2023

Pentagon holds briefing after downing flying object over Alaska Transcript

Pentagon holds briefing after downing flying object over Alaska Transcript
RevBlogTranscriptsAlaskaPentagon holds briefing after downing flying object over Alaska Transcript

Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder spoke to reporters after the White House announced that the Pentagon downed a “high-altitude object” flying over Alaska on Friday at the direction of President Biden. Read the transcript here.

Speaker 1 (00:00):

… aircraft assigned to US Northern Command successfully took down a high altitude airborne object off the northern coast of Alaska at 1:45 PM Eastern Standard Time today within US sovereign airspace over US territorial water. On February nine, North American Aerospace Defense Command detected an object on ground radar and further investigated and identified the object using fighter aircraft. The object was flying at an altitude of 40,000 feet and posed a reasonable threat to the safety of civilian flight. US Northern Command is beginning recovery operations now. US Northern Command’s Alaska Command coordinated the operation with assistance from the Alaska Air National Guard, Federal Aviation Administration, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. We have no further details about the object at this time, including any description of its capabilities, purpose, or origin. The object was about the size of a small car, so not similar in size or shape to the high altitude surveillance balloon that was taken down off the coast of South Carolina on February four.

Separately, US Northern Command continues their recovery operations in support of the recent take-down of the Chinese high altitude surveillance balloon. Recovery teams have mapped the debris field and are in the process of searching for and identifying debris on the ocean floor. Debris that’s been recovered so far is being loaded onto vessels, taken ashore, cataloged, and then moved onwards to labs for subsequent analysis. And while I won’t go into specifics due to classification reasons, I can say that we have located a significant amount of debris so far that will prove helpful to our further understanding of this balloon and its surveillance capabilities. Of note, due to less than favorable sea states right now, teams will continue to conduct underwater survey and recovery as conditions permit. The department wants to thank our interagency partners from the US Coast Guard, the FBI, and state and local authorities for their continuing assistance and partnership.

In other news, and I think this is important that we remember a lot of folks, people in Turkey and Syria right now are suffering. We want to, again, express our support for the people of Turkey and Syria as they respond to the deadly earthquakes that struck their earlier this week. In support of ongoing US assistance efforts spearheaded by the US Agency for International Development, US European Command has positioned personnel equipment and a range of assets to aid the government of Turkey and its continued search and rescue efforts. This includes the US Navy’s George H. W. Bush Carrier Strike Group repositioning to the Eastern Mediterranean Sea to provide logistics, medical, and rotary airlift support if required.

Additionally, US Army rotary wing aircraft began flying missions out of Incirlik Air Base in Turkey on February seven to transport first responders to the most affected populations. And on February 8th, UH-60 Black Hawks transported injured civilians to a local medical facility. US European Command has designated US Naval Forces Europe and Africa as the lead component command overseeing the Ucom humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts within Turkey. To aid in that coordination, US Marine Corps Brigadier, General Andrew Pretty, US Naval Amphibious Forces Europe Commander and Second Marine Expeditionary Brigade Commanding General arrived in Turkey February nine to lead military coordination efforts with US agencies involved in the humanitarian aid and disaster relief efforts. We’ll continue to provide you with updates as we receive them. Ucom will be issuing a press release with further details. But again, we offer our thoughts and prayers to the people of Turkey and Syria during this tragic and difficult time.

And finally, Secretary Austin welcomed Canadian Minister of National Defense, Anand, for a bilateral meeting here in the Pentagon today. The secretary expressed his thanks and appreciation to Minister Anand for the cooperation rendered by Canada in tracking the PRC high altitude surveillance balloon that violated the sovereignty of both of our countries. During the meeting, both leaders reaffirm the close defense relationship between the United States and Canada, and a readout will be available later today on defense.gov. And with that, I will take your questions. We’ll start with Associated Press, Tara Copp.

Speaker 2 (04:24):

Hi, thank you for doing this. A couple of questions on this latest shoot-down. First, what type of US fighter aircraft were used and what type of munition did they fire? And do you already have Navy assets or Coast Guard assets out involved in a recovery process? And then I have a few more.

Speaker 1 (04:43):

Thanks Tara. So the aircraft that took down the object was an F-22 flying out of joint base Elmendorf in Alaska and employed an AIM-9X to take down the object. In terms of assets that are currently involved in terms of recovery, we have HC1-30, HH-60, and CH-47 aircraft participating in that recovery effort.

Speaker 2 (05:14):

Okay. You mentioned there was a reasonable threat. Was there also a threat to potentially this object detecting some of our more sensitive radar capabilities that are based in Alaska? And then what hasn’t been said is where this object has come from. Is there any indication that this was also a Chinese surveillance balloon, object, whatever it is?

Speaker 1 (05:37):

Yeah, so at this point, we don’t know the origin of the object. Again, we will know more once we’re able to potentially recover some of those materials, but the primary concern again was the potential hazard to civil flight. And so again, we’ll know more later. Thank you.

Speaker 2 (05:57):

There were no perceived threat to any of the radar installations that we have based in Alaska?

Speaker 1 (06:02):

Again, right now, we’ll know more once we assess it. Let me just leave it at that. Thank you. Liz.

Speaker 3 (06:14):

Thank you. What made this-

Speaker 4 (06:15):

[inaudible 00:06:15].

Speaker 3 (06:15):

Thank you. Thanks for taking my question. What made this threatening enough to shoot down? What is different about this object than the last object that was over Alaska because it was chosen not to shoot the last one down over Alaska?

Speaker 1 (06:29):

So the important thing to understand here is anytime we detect anything, we’re going to first of all observe it and then make a decision and take appropriate action. So you have to look at each individual case on its own merits. In this particular case, given the fact that it was operating at an altitude that posed a reasonable threat to civilian air traffic, the determination was made and the president gave the order to take it down.

Speaker 3 (06:55):

Was there a specific threat, a specific civilian air traffic incident that could have happened?

Speaker 1 (07:00):

Again, as you well know, civilian aircraft operate at a variety of ranges up to 40 to 45,000 feet. So again, there was a reasonable concern that this could present a threat or a potential hazard to civilian air traffic. So let me-

Speaker 3 (07:16):

Just one more question. Has Secretary Austin reached out to his Chinese counterpart or any other counterparts at all since this has been tracked?

Speaker 1 (07:23):

Since this particular object, no. Let me go here and then I’ll come over to Warren.

Speaker 5 (07:36):

Now that most of the significant amount of things from the previous balloon has been recovered, what additional information you have now about the capabilities of that balloon?

Speaker 1 (07:42):

Yeah, so we’re continuing to assess that. Again, I’m not able to go into more detail other than, in addition to learning a lot about the balloon and the capabilities that it has while it was over the continental United States, we have identified or located a significant amount of debris on the ocean floor that will be very beneficial to us learning more about it. But at this point in time, I’m not going to have more details.

Speaker 5 (08:08):

[inaudible 00:08:08] manufacturing label on these equipments or the balloons indicate that they’re all manufactured in China and sourced from China?

Speaker 1 (08:15):

Again, I’m not going to have details to provide at this point in time.

Speaker 5 (08:18):

Also, say that-

Speaker 1 (08:18):

Last question.

Speaker 5 (08:19):

Yeah. 39 other countries have indicated they have seen balloons in their territory. Are you sharing those information from the Pentagon to these countries, or the capabilities, how you shot them down?

Speaker 1 (08:33):

So in terms of what we’re learning about these balloons, I know the State Department has talked to this in terms of our international outreach, certainly the Department of Defense plays a role in those relationships, and so we will continue to work with our allies and partners to share information along with our State Department colleagues. Let me go to Warren.

Speaker 6 (08:51):

Two questions. First, did this object show any signs of maneuverability or propulsion? And then, you and other Pentagon officials made a big deal about how much intelligence was gathered by letting the other one float across much of the United States, and yet you shot this one down before it entered the United States. Is that the Pentagon bowing to political pressure? Was there nothing to gain from this one?

Speaker 1 (09:10):

Yeah, so again, we’re going to judge each of these on its merits. No indication at this time that it was maneuverable, but again, we’ll know more. And in terms of entering the United States, it did enter US airspace and we took it down.

Speaker 6 (09:26):

Did you gain intelligence from this one as you did from the previous one?

Speaker 1 (09:29):

We’re going to recover what we can from this and more to follow?

Speaker 6 (09:33):

And was the decision to shoot it down before it entered too far into the US airspace the Pentagon bowing to political pressure from the Hill?

Speaker 1 (09:39):

Look, again, we’re going to judge each of these objects on its own merits. It entered into US airspace on February 9th. We sent up aircraft to assess what it was. The decision was made that it posed a reasonable threat to civilian air traffic. The president gave the order to take it down and we took it down. Thank you. Laura. And then I’ll go to Dan.

Speaker 7 (10:01):

Oh, thanks. Sorry. Thanks for taking my question. So a couple questions. First of all, has anything like this happened before with an object this size, this shape, in this particular height, the 40,000-foot range? Has it happened before? And then second of all, can you say more about why you knew that last balloon or object was from China, whereas this one you don’t know?

Speaker 1 (10:30):

So in terms of this particular object, again, as I highlighted, we don’t know where it’s from. It posed a reasonable threat to civilian air traffic, and so the determination was made to take it down. In terms of the other balloon, as I mentioned in our previous briefing, we have learned a lot about the Chinese surveillance high altitude balloon program. We’ve gathered a lot of information over the last couple of years, and so we were able to, based on that information, detect at a very early stage. As it approached US airspace, we had a good understanding of what it was. As I mentioned, we were able to monitor that closely, track it while it went over the continental United States, learn a lot about it, and take it down at the appropriate time.

Speaker 7 (11:15):

So would you urge us to put this in a different bucket than that or should we be-

Speaker 1 (11:21):

Yeah, I think I was pretty clear. This was traveling at about 40,000 feet, which posed a potential, a reasonable threat to civilian air traffic and the decision was made to take it down. Dan.

Speaker 8 (11:38):

When the pilots approached it and they determined… I understand that it was not manned. How did they determine that? And at that point, wouldn’t it be possible to at least describe what they were looking at? Did it resemble a balloon or an airplane or what?

Speaker 1 (11:53):

Again, we’ll know more and have more information once we’ve recovered this. I will give credit to our pilots that they’re very capable in terms of looking at an object, assessing whether or not this had the potential to be manned at that altitude. Something that small, very, very unlikely that it was manned, and so again, no indication that it was manned. Presented a potential reasonable threat to civilian air traffic and we took it down.

Speaker 8 (12:24):

At what speed was it traveling at, by the way?

Speaker 1 (12:26):

I don’t have that information.

Speaker 8 (12:27):

Just on the Chinese balloon, if we could go back, is it still, in the Pentagon’s view, plausible or maybe even likely that it was not necessarily intentional when that balloon turned and blew eastward, that it seemed to had some technical problem?

Speaker 1 (12:47):

So Dan, what I would tell you is based on the information that we have. It was being maneuvered and purposefully driven along its track. Again, recognizing that winds do play a role. Because of the maneuver ability of the balloon, it’s our assessment that this was a purposeful mission. In terms of the Chinese motivations, again, I’d have to refer you back to China to talk about that. Ma’am, and then come to Nancy.

Speaker 9 (13:22):

Thank you. Sorry, I got it. We emailed you police body camera footage showing a National Guard general in Ohio pushing my colleague and having to be escorted away from him this week. We asked the Ohio National Guard for comment, but do you as a spokesperson for the Department of Defense condone such conduct by a commissioned officer of the US military against an American journalist?

Speaker 1 (13:47):

Yeah, so let me be clear. The answer is no, that’s not acceptable behavior. The Secretary of Defense, the Department of Defense absolutely supports, strongly supports a free and independent press. So again, I’d refer you to the Ohio National Guard for any comment about that particular incident, but I can assure you that that is not acceptable behavior.

Speaker 9 (14:18):

Can face any kind of conduct on becoming charged under the UCMJ?

Speaker 1 (14:18):

Yeah, again, I’d have to refer you to them. I’m not going to make those kinds of policy comments here from the podium in terms of what they may or may not be doing to address it. It would be inappropriate for me to comment on that. Let me go to Nancy.

Speaker 10 (14:37):

I just had a couple clarifying questions. You said that the pilots were able to see it, that it wasn’t the same shape or size as the balloon. Can you say definitively it was not a balloon?

Speaker 1 (14:50):

At this point, considering the fact that we’re still assessing the object, I don’t want to get into characterizing it. So just leave it at that.

Speaker 10 (15:02):

You mentioned you didn’t know how fast it was traveling. Can you say if it was traveling faster or slower than the balloon?

Speaker 1 (15:08):

I don’t have that information in front of me, so I don’t want to make it up.

Speaker 4 (15:11):

[inaudible 00:15:12].

Speaker 10 (15:12):

Try a couple more. Did anyone try to, within the administration, contact their Chinese counterparts before the decision was made to shoot it down?

Speaker 1 (15:22):

In terms of when you say the administration, if you’re referring to the White House, I’d have to refer you to them. The Department of Defense, to my knowledge, did not. Again, we don’t know the point of origin of this object.

Speaker 10 (15:35):

And was there any effort to jam or somehow disable this object before, such that it opposed less of a-

Speaker 1 (15:44):

I don’t want to get into specific tactics or techniques that we may or may not use when observing these types of things. Again, NORAD sent up aircraft to observe, to see what it was, and then the ultimate decision was made based on the reasonable threat to civilian air traffic to take it down. Thank you. Tony.

Speaker 11 (16:06):

A couple things. You mentioned you’ve recovered a significant or located a significant amount of debris. Is it fair to say you’ve located a significant amount of their payload?

Speaker 1 (16:16):

Are you talking about the PRC high altitude balloon?

Speaker 11 (16:20):

Yeah, this one today.

Speaker 1 (16:21):

So Tony, at this point, I’m not able to go into more detail other than what I would describe we’ve discovered or located a significant amount of the debris associated with the balloon. Again, we’ll have more details to follow, but I’ll just leave it at that.

Speaker 11 (16:39):

You’ve located, but you haven’t recovered and pulled out of the ocean for forensic analysis. Is that right?

Speaker 1 (16:44):

Yeah, so great point. So the way to understand how this is unfolding is as we map out the area where the debris field would be, it enables us to figure out where are the places that we need to prioritize a search, recognizing that we’re talking a wide area. And so as that happens, divers are able to go down, and depending on the size of the debris, they’re able to tag it. So debris that can be brought up quickly is brought up, put on a vessel, taken ashore. Debris that’s going to take more time, and again, especially given the current sea states, it may take a little longer. We know where it is, so we tag it, and then we’ll go back and eventually recover all of that and bring it up.

Speaker 11 (17:26):

So the equivalence, you found the Titanic, but you haven’t started pulling up debris yet from it.

Speaker 1 (17:31):


Speaker 11 (17:32):

I’m want to ask you about the overall program. You said you’ve been learning a lot about this balloon program over the last couple years, yet the annual China report doesn’t have a peep above balloons in there. You spend a lot of money and effort, but no balloons. We learned about Taiwan and China’s balance of power against them and satellites and jets, but no balloons. Why not?

Speaker 1 (17:53):

So Tony, what I would say on the unclassified China power report, there’s going to be certain elements, intelligence aspects in the unclassified version that may not be included in that particular report. In terms of what’s in that report and what’s not in that report, again, we can go back and look at that, but I can tell you, I can assure you that there are a lot of activities that we continue to monitor to include this balloon program, and we’ve learned a lot over the last couple years.

Speaker 11 (18:22):

You’re hinting that the classified version has balloons in there. Is that-

Speaker 1 (18:25):

I’d have to go back and look. I do not know the answer to that.

Speaker 11 (18:27):

Thank you.

Speaker 1 (18:28):

Thanks. Let me get a couple other folks here. Mike, and then over here.

Speaker 12 (18:33):

Thank you, Pat. The only reason the American people know about the first balloon is because a couple of guys in Montana spotted it and it leaked out. My question is, if it had remained secret and had not become a spectacle and arguably an embarrassment to the White House, would you have shot it down or allowed it to continue on its way?

Speaker 1 (18:52):

So you’re asking me to speculate?

Speaker 12 (18:58):

Sure. If you’d like to.

Speaker 1 (18:58):

So Mike, I’ll just push back a little bit at the assertion there. So first of all, again, what made this balloon different was the length and duration that it was over the continental United States. Look, we track activities all over the globe on a daily basis, some of which will remain classified because again, we don’t want to reveal sources and methods. In this particular case, I can tell you that there were efforts underway to make that public. Montana journalists reporting notwithstanding. All that to say, look, there are going to be times when there’s activities happening that we’re monitoring that we’re not going to go public, especially if it doesn’t present a particular or pose a significant threat to the American public. But again, as we monitored that balloon, there was an effort underway to ensure that folks understood what this was, especially given how visible it was. And I’ll just stop there. Thank you. Yes, ma’am.

Speaker 13 (20:03):

Thank you, General. First, a really quick follow up on Tony’s question. At this point, is the Pentagon reassessing the need for counter balloon or counter object capabilities at that altitude at this time?

Speaker 1 (20:16):

So what I would tell you is not to… In the Air Force, sometimes we talk about don’t get platform specific. So what we’re talking about is monitoring the domain and having domain awareness. And again, as I highlighted, seems like a couple days ago, probably last week, we’re continuing to learn more and more about this program, which enables us to identify and track objects and thus ensure that we’re continuing to protect our skies and our airspace.

Speaker 13 (20:48):

Thank you. And then real quick, first, do you and Admiral Kirby know the shape of this new object? And if so, what is the reason for why you can’t share its shape before it was shot down? And then separately, how is the recovery efforts of this new object downed over ice different from the one downed over the coast and water? And are you guys using unmanned systems for this new object as well?

Speaker 1 (21:13):

Yeah, thank you. So in terms of the shape, I don’t know, I have not seen any imagery of it. I’m just telling you the verbal characteristics as it was described to me. In terms of the difference in the recovery effort, I mean, again, so this literally was what, an hour and a half, two hours ago? So that’s underway right now. So more to follow on that front.

Speaker 13 (21:34):

Are you using drones?

Speaker 1 (21:36):

Right now, I think they’re moving to the site. We’ll have more to follow in the days ahead. Let me go a few other folks here. Sorry. Some new folks back here and then we’ll go over here to Mike.

Speaker 14 (21:48):

You mentioned that the object was spotted yesterday. Is that the first that we saw it, or did we see it coming in a couple days before?

Speaker 1 (21:57):

No, it was spotted yesterday.

Speaker 14 (21:59):

And for follow up, what we learned about the first balloon last week, did that help us detect this object?

Speaker 1 (22:09):

I would say that, again, when we detect objects… Well, let me just back up. So what you’re asking is did what we learned from the PRC balloon help us track this. Kind of a little bit of apples and oranges. In terms of NORAD, Northcom maintains the ability to track objects. So again, they track this as it approached and entered into US airspace. Again, we’re still assessing what this object was, so I don’t know that we learned anything new as a result of that other than… Again, I think we’re all to include the media and the public, very attuned to balloons at the moment. So thank you. Yes, sir.

Speaker 15 (23:02):

Thank you, sir. And just to clarify, so this was first identified when it flew into the US airspace, is that correct? Or was it identified before?

Speaker 1 (23:10):

It was detected yesterday. And then again, NORAD sent up aircraft to observe it, see what it was, and then the decision was made to take it down.

Speaker 15 (23:18):

And do you have any information whether this object flew over any other sovereign nations or countries?

Speaker 1 (23:24):

I do not. Do not. Okay. Have time for a few more. Let me go to Joe.

Speaker 16 (23:30):

Another question about the recovery effort. I think you had mentioned at the outset that it was going to involve rotary wing aircraft. That’s because it landed on ice as opposed to water. That’s why there’s a watercraft being used. Is it-

Speaker 1 (23:46):

Yeah. Joe, we’ll get you more information on that front. Again, this happened just a short while ago. And so according to Northcom, these are the assets that were being used to go out and do the initial recovery, but we’ll have more information in terms of the various roles and responsibilities of those.

Speaker 16 (24:06):

And just get down in the weeds for a second, any idea what units are involved in the recovery effort or in the F-22 that shot it down?

Speaker 1 (24:14):

We can get you that information. Thanks. Phil.

Speaker 17 (24:20):

Hey there. Just a couple clarification questions. First off, when you first identified it, was it traveling at the same altitude, around 40,000 feet? Did you at that point know its velocity? And secondly, doesn’t Northcom have the authority on its own to shoot down unidentified objects entering US airspace if they pose a threat to civilian air traffic? And if so, then why was the president’s authorization required in this case?

Speaker 1 (24:45):

Yeah, thanks. So my understanding is it was at 40,000 feet when it was detected and ultimately taken down. The NORAD Northcom commander does not have the authority necessarily to take down an object if it’s not posing a potential hostile intent or actions. However, given the fact that this aircraft was, or excuse me, this object was operating in an altitude that posed a reasonable threat to civilian air traffic, after consultation with the secretary and the president, and of course the president on our advice gave the order to take it down and we took it down.

Speaker 17 (25:31):

I guess I was trying to clarify, is his authorization required in a situation like this?

Speaker 1 (25:38):

Again, it’s kind of a moot point at this point because the president gave the order, but he has the authorization to take action against anything that presents a potential threat to the American public or people on the ground. In this particular case, it was determined that this posed a reasonable threat to air traffic. Yeah, I’ll just leave it at that. Thanks. Tara.

Speaker 2 (26:04):

Just a couple of clarifiers. Was it a single F-22 or a pair that were up today for the shot? And then when NORAD sent the initial aircraft up to sea, was there any sort of hailing or any type of warning given? Typically, when an aircraft makes an incursion into protected airspace, there’s a whole lot of procedures that have to be followed before it would escalate to something like this.

Speaker 1 (26:29):

Okay, well this was an object, so it wasn’t an aircraft per se. And to answer your earlier question, it was a two ship of F-22s, but one aircraft took the shot. I’ve got time for one more. Go to the Liz.

Speaker 3 (26:47):

Thank you so much. Really quick, when it was started to be tracked last night, were you able to tell what direction it was coming from?

Speaker 1 (26:54):

This was traveling in a northeasterly direction when it was taken down.

Speaker 3 (27:00):

And then one more. The aircrafts that were observing it, what type of aircrafts were those?

Speaker 1 (27:06):

I’ll have to come back to you. I think I know, but I don’t want to make it up from the podium, so we’ll come back to you on that one. Okay, thank you very much everybody. I appreciate it.

Speaker 4 (27:13):

Okay. [inaudible 00:27:13]. All right. I can stick around for a few minutes [inaudible 00:27:25].

Transcribe Your Own Content

Try Rev and save time transcribing, captioning, and subtitling.