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Downing of unidentified object flying over the North Slope: Reaction from Juneau

News about the destruction of an unidentified object, flying in the eastern corner of the North Slope near the Alaska -Canadian border, came as lawmakers were wrapping up their week in Juneau.

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy says the unidentified object, which was shot down by an F-22 from Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson over Alaska airspace on Friday, should raise concern for every American.

In a statement, Dunleavy thanked military, based in Alaska, for eliminating the threat and said it’s evidence that Alaska’s military capability is robust, but says it also points to a need to improve its readiness.

The Republican governor also criticized the Biden administration’s decision not to delay shooting down a Chinese surveillance balloon when it entered Alaska airspace on Jan. 28.

“Unlike other states, Alaska is truly on the front lines,” Duneavy said in the statement. “Because of our close proximity to our neighbors, there is very little margin for error. We are the one state closest to the Korean Peninsula and China.”

State lawmakers heard about the airspace incursion, as they went about their end-of-the-week business at the State Capitol.

Sen. Donny Olson said he was in the midst of a floor session, when he heard the news about the Pentagon’s decision to shoot down an unknown object.

Olson said that got his attention for two reasons. The North Slope is his district, and he is also a commercial pilot, who has flown over the region many times at the 40,000-foot level, the same altitude where the invading object was shot down.

It’s very concerning that you have something up there flying along, or suspended in the air, without an air traffic control clearance,” Olson said. “If you couldn’t see it because of clouds, or it was nighttime, it could very easily be a collision.”

Olson says this latest incident, coupled with the Chinese surveillance balloon’s incursion into Alaska airspace and growing aggression from China and Russia, is disturbing.

“I think this shows that we are very vulnerable,” said Olson, who said these last two aircraft were slow-moving. “You can imagine if they have some sort of horsepower, we could have a very shortened response time to go ahead and try to protect ourselves.”

Olson is a Democrat from Golovin, near Nome, and is a member of the Republican Majority Coalition. He serves on the Senate Finance Committee.

The lawmaker says he’s not sure how the legislature might address this invasion of Alaska airspace through policy, but says the state needs to take these threats to its security seriously.