Biden says 3 unidentified objects shot down likely not spy balloons

President Biden gave his most detailed assessment yet of the Chinese spy balloon and other objects that have crossed into U.S. airspace. The president said three unidentified objects shot down were likely linked to private companies or scientific research, not foreign surveillance, but he made no apologies for ordering the takedowns. Laura Barrón-López reports.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    Good evening. and welcome to the "NewsHour."

    President Biden today gave his most detailed assessment yet of the Chinese spy balloon and other objects that have crossed into U.S. airspace.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Addressing the country today, President Biden sought to calm concerns about three unidentified objects and a Chinese spy balloon shot down over the U.S. and Canada.

    The president made no apologies for ordering the takedown of these objects.

    Joe Biden, President of the United States: Make no mistake. If any object presents a threat to the safety and security of the American people, I will take it down.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The president's remarks came after days of mounting pressure from lawmakers in both parties.

    Following all of this closely is our White House correspondent, Laura Barrón-López.

    Laura, good to see you.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Good to see you.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So there's been a lot of questions about when or if the president would come out and address publicly these — the shooting down of these objects.

    You were there when he made his remarks. What did we learn?

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    So, the president talked about these three unidentified objects very specifically that were shot down in the last week over the course of three days starting on February 10.

    And so those three objects were shot down starting over the waters of — over the coast of Alaska — excuse me — and then Yukon territory in Canada, and then over Lake Huron off the coast of Michigan. The president, in addition to talking about these three objects, provided some of the clearest details about them and what type of entities officials believe were responsible for these objects.

  • Joe Biden:

    The intelligence community's current assessment is that these three objects were most likely balloons tied to private companies, recreation, or research institutions studying weather or conducting other scientific research.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    President Biden also said that the U.S. military and Canadian military are working to try to get the debris out of the ocean, the lake, the Yukon territory, but, ultimately, weather is actually proving that recovery effort to be pretty difficult.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So these objects were shot down on the 10th, 11th, and 12th, as you noted.

    But it was that shooting down of the Chinese spy balloon back on February 4, right, after — off the coast of South Carolina that triggered all of this. What is the latest intelligence on that? What do we know?

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    So, according to recent reports, administration officials believe that that spy balloon was intended to surveil military bases over Guam and over Hawaii.

    But here's what we ultimately know about that flight path. It started in Hainan, and then, again, it was intended to fly over Guam and Hawaii, but was — it took a turn, and it was instead directed towards Alaska and then over the continental United States, before it was ultimately shot down off the coast of South Carolina on February 4.

    And despite the fact that Chinese officials refused to take a call from Secretary of Defense Austin, President Biden said today that he and his team are trying to keep as many channels open with the Chinese and that he is hopeful and expecting to talk to Chinese President Xi soon.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So one of the questions we have seen put to U.S. officials again and again is, is there a plan? What's the policy now for any future flying objects that could be deemed a threat? Does the president have a plan?

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    The president directed his national security adviser to come up with this all-of-government approach, establish some parameters. And so, today, he really did give some of the clearest points of this plan, which is specifically for unmanned objects in U.S. airspace.

    It would establish better inventory for these unmanned objects, improve capacity to detect these unmanned objects, update regulations for launching and maintaining them, as well as the secretary of state is going to work to establish some common global standards. And the president said that he is going to — continuing to get daily updates on all of the intel that is being gathered on these objects, and that he will continue to share it with Congress.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Improving capacity to detect, so increased vigilance, basically, of U.S. airspace. There has to be a cost associated with all of that.

    What do we know?

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    So, it's hard necessarily to get the entire cost of this.

    And some say that this is already budgeted into the ultimate costs, because these are training exercises or these fighter jets are already ready to respond to real-world events. But the cost — we did get some of the cost data from the Air Force and from the GAO about what it takes to fly these fighter jets.

    So the cost per flying hour of an F-22 is $85,000 per hour. The cost per flying hour of an F-35 is $40,000. And each missile that is fired to shoot-down these objects costs over $400,000, as well as the tanker aircraft which have been used in a number of these situations cost $25,000 to $30,000 an hour, depending on which tanker they use.

    Ultimately, Amna, it costs a decent amount of money to shoot down all of these objects that have been found in U.S. airspace.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    A decent amount, to say the least.

    Our White House correspondent, Laura Barrón-López, thank you.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Thank you.

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