The U.S. military is seeking to more systematically classify and characterize reports of unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP), officials said at a congressional hearing on Tuesday (May 17).
Two leading military witnesses shared progress in identifying the phenomena better known as “unidentified flying objects” or UFOs, using modern technologies, a range of experts and other tools.
Tuesday’s hearing of the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence, and Counterproliferation followed on the heels of a preliminary report submitted to Congress last year by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, detailing progress so far with the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force was outlined.
In addition, the National Defense Authorization Act required the military to establish a permanent office to house UAP investigative efforts, along with an annual report and bi-annual briefings to Congress. The office is known as the Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group (AOIMSG)
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“Today we will bring that organization out of the shadows,” said D-Indiana subcommittee chair André Carson, opening the hearing. Calling UAPs a “potential threat to national security,” he said pilots who reported them were stigmatized “for far too long.”
“Pilots avoided reporting, or were ridiculed when they did,” Carson said. “DOD [Department of Defense] officials relegated the issue to the backroom, or brushed it under the rug completely, for fear of a skeptical national security community.”
Witnesses at the hearing included Ronald Moultrie, the senior Pentagon intelligence officer, and Scott Bray, deputy director of Naval Intelligence. Moultrie’s office oversees the UAP office, while Bray was invited, as Navy pilots are among those who have made high-profile UAP sightings over the past 20 years.
Bray and Moultrie said there’s nothing in the reports so far to suggest anything beyond Earth’s origin, noting that astrobiologists are among their advisors to rule out extraterrestrial life. Furthermore, relations with other US military organizations confirm that these are not reports of classified US aircraft.
That said, some information about UAPs (such as wreckage or underwater searches) remains secret. The witnesses promised to discuss the classified information in a private portion of the hearing, after the public discourse.
Moultrie stressed that in recent years pilots have been encouraged to make reports of UAPs and said the new office will go even further. The work to come, he said, “includes the in-depth investigation of hostile platforms and potential breakthrough technologies, U.S. governmental or commercial platforms, allied or partner systems, and other natural phenomena.”
The historical stigma, he noted, will be addressed. “Our goal is to remove the stigma by fully including our operators and mission personnel in a standardized data collection process,” he said. “We believe that making UAP reporting a mission will be necessary for the success of the mission.”
Bray added that new efforts to investigate UAPs include subject matter experts in the DOD, as well as members of the intelligence community spread across various US government agencies and departments, along with academic research labs with specialties that include physics, optics, meteorology and metallurgy.
“Basically, we’ve tried to provide a hands-on-deck approach to better understand this phenomenon,” Bray said, but noted that even with all this expertise, it’s still difficult to quantify all the observations. “Any observation given can be fleeting, or longer. It can be recorded or not. It can be observed through one or more assets. In short, there is rarely a simple answer.”
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Bray showed a short cockpit video to illustrate the problem, in which a streaked object appears for a few seconds in a Navy pilot’s field of view at an undisclosed training range. “In many other cases, we have much less than this,” he said.
But progress has been made in a limited number of cases. Bray then showed two videos shot on opposite shores of the United States, several years apart, by Navy personnel. The shots each showed triangular objects flying through the sky within the view of night vision goggles.
The second encounter, he said, was observed by independent “assets” (which he did not specify) confirming unmanned aerial systems or drones flying in the region. The Navy is now “reasonably certain” that the objects were drones, and the triangular shape arose “as a result of light passing through the night vision goggles and then being recorded by an SLR.”
Noting that the Navy might try to distract from hundreds of recently reported UAPs by focusing on the few that could be explained, Bray said the effort is difficult and ongoing and much of the work is necessarily classified.
Sightings of naval pilots in coastal areas indicate a likely location for advanced reconnaissance craft by other countries, as U.S. mainland flights are easier to spot, Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute in Mountain View, Calif., previously told Space.com.
“We don’t want potential adversaries to know exactly what we can see or understand, or how we arrive at the conclusions we draw,” Bray said, without specifying which countries are of concern. “Therefore, public disclosures should be carefully considered on a case-by-case basis.”
The committee members only briefly pointed out which countries might come under suspicion. “The intelligence community has a serious duty to our taxpayers to prevent potential adversaries, such as China and Russia, from surprising us with unforeseen new technologies as overseers of the intelligence community,” said ranking member Rick Crawford (R-Arkansas).
He said the community has a responsibility to monitor any potential development of hypersonic weapons by these two countries and, where relevant, share “action-oriented intelligence” with countries such as Ukraine. (Ukraine has now been subject to an invasion by Russian forces for nearly three months.)
Independent of this commission process, the US is developing technologies that can counter hypersonic threats. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently announced Phase 2 of a “hypersonic defense interceptor” system called Glide Breaker.
For the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC), another program targeting threats that reach more than Mach 5 (five times the speed of sound), the agency also announced that a prototype Lockheed Martin hypersonic missile with Mach 5 “flew. a longer period.” Another HAWC test was conducted by Raytheon Technologies in September 2021.
UFO investigations themselves have lasted about seven decades. A small selection of Air Force projects include Project Sign (ending in 1947), Project Grudge (1948) and the much more famous Project Blue Book (1952-1969). The latter project investigated more than 12,600 UFO reports.