'Sidewinder' Missile Biden Used Over Lake Huron Cost Over $450K

An unidentified object shot down by the U.S. military on Sunday above Lake Huron was destroyed using missiles costing over $450,000 each.

The Pentagon said in a statement Sunday that President Joe Biden, at the direction of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and other military leaders, ordered an F-16 to fire an AIM-9x Sidewinder missile to shoot down the airborne object flying at approximately 20,000 feet altitude in U.S. airspace over Michigan.

It was the third such airborne object shot down in a three-day span, with previous objects being linked to Chinese surveillance. One was recently retrieved by the U.S. Navy off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Sidewinder Missile Fighter Jet AIM-9 China Spy
A U.S. sailor checks the AIM-9 sidewinder of a F-14 Tomcat aboard the USS Constellation on December 25, 2002, in Gulf waters. The U.S. has recently used Sidewinder missiles to shoot down multiple airborne objects over North America, including two confirmed by the government to be Chinese spy balloons. LEILA GORCHEV/AFP via Getty Images

As of 12:30 p.m. Monday, the most recent object shot down had not been confirmed to be a Chinese spy balloon.

The AIM-9x Sidewinder, first developed by the U.S. Navy and later utilized by the U.S. Air Force, is described by the air force as a supersonic, air-to-air missile with a high-explosive warhead and an infrared heat-seeking guidance system.

The missile's main components are an infrared homing guidance section, an active optical target detector, a high-explosive warhead, and a rocket motor. Infrared units cost less than other types of guidance systems and can be used in the daytime or nighttime.

Based on the 2021 fiscal year defense budget, AIM-9x Sidewinders cost about $430,818 for Navy use and about $472,000 for Air Force use.

Was It Necessary To Use An F-16 and Sidewinder Missile?

Some remain curious, though, if it was necessary to use such force to take down the flying object.

Rajan Menon, director of the Grand Strategy program at Defense Priorities, told Newsweek that the F-22 Raptor was used in previous incidents involving Chinese spy balloons due to their ability to hit higher altitudes than F-16s.

While Sidewinder missiles for various fighter jets routinely cost over $400,000, he said that cost becomes negligible in the larger context due to such defense items already being paid for in previous budgets.

As he stated, "Nobody is writing new checks."

"The question is not the cheapest way to bring it down, but the best way because you need to find out what it is because it seemed to escape the detection systems of NORAD...This is not rocket science," Menon said. "It's really the question of the best tool to use."

If the U.S. has systems in place for situations like these, along with the armaments that provide the best way to shoot down such objects, he added it would be "foolish" not to use them.

Jordan Cohen, a policy analyst at the Cato Institute, told Newsweek that he doesn't think any cheaper options would have offered the same combination of effectiveness and inefficiency.

"The cynic in me does think that the total cost of this mission—the guaranteed $470,000 loss plus potential losses of more AIM9xs, plus the potential loss of a downed F-22—would cost many millions of dollars and being able and willing to risk that could signal U.S. resolve to China, at least in the mind of U.S. policymakers," Cohen said.

The object on Sunday was shot down at 2:42 p.m., did not pose any threats to civilians and resulted in no injuries. It was originally detected by North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which maintained visual and radar tracking, on Sunday morning.

The Pentagon said that based on the object's flight path and data, it was connected to a radar signal picked up over Montana and affiliated with a flight path in proximity to "sensitive Department of Defense sites."

"Its path and altitude raised concerns, including that it could be a hazard to civil aviation," the Pentagon statement read. "The location chosen for this shoot down afforded us the opportunity to avoid impact to people on the ground while improving chances for debris recovery."