This article is going to be on a somewhat unusual subject, and one that I am somewhat hesitant to approach. But it is one that quite frankly is a defence issue, certainly enough for the U.S. authorities to start getting serious about it. As a result, I thought it might be of interest to some of you folks to talk about what is going on in a field that is often dismissed as for crackpots, but which is beginning to garner serious attention.
On the 25th June, the Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Task Force (UAPTF for short), which answers to the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, released their Preliminary Assessment on a study they are conducting into UAPs.
UAPs – formerly known as Unidentified Flying Objects, or UFOs – are a well recorded phenomenon that have been subject to military study and speculation, (with various degrees of seriousness) since at least the 1940s.
Generally taking the appearance of fast-moving lights or even appearing to be some form of aerial vehicle capable of performance outside the possibility of current technology, military pilots and defence installations – as well as countless civilians – have been reporting encounters with such phenomena for decades – and arguably much longer than that.
But now improved technology, especially in terms of the ability to observe such objects across a wide range of the electro-magnetic spectrum, has bought the issue very much to the surface. As a result, the United States Congress commissioned a report into UAPs in June 2020 to study evidence and to try to determine their cause and what sort of threat they present.
Please note, I am not the one describing these phenomena as a threat, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is.
So, what are UAPs?
Well, the Preliminary Assessment is a nine-page document so, spoiler alert, it doesn’t come up with any definitive answers. But it does give a few interesting details on the methodology the US military and intelligence community is employing in studying UAPs.
The UAPTF has examined 144 reports which originated from US Government sources between 2004 and 2021. This represents a tiny fraction of the number of incidences that are reported because it focuses exclusively on such a select number of encounters. However, the benefit of this is that the quality of the recorded information is generally higher than previously available.
In fact, the UAPTF reports that of the examined incidents, eighty involved observations of UAPs with multiple sensors. This is an important way to determine more about the phenomenon and is critical to discounting instrumentation error as a cause.
These study cases also, as the report admits, focus on reports around U.S. training and testing grounds. This is an understandable collection bias as those sites tend to have alert observers present and greater numbers of advanced sensor equipment active.
The UAPTF report states that of the examined incidents, they were able to determine the cause of one – a balloon – but the others remain unexplained currently. This is not necessarily due to anything exotic, but because of limited available data. 3.28.
The Task Force divides the suspected causes of UAPs into five categories.
- Airborne Clutter: Birds, balloons, recreational drones and even things like plastic bags blowing in the breeze can all confuse both visual and electronic sensors.
- Natural Atmospheric Phenomena: This includes ice crystals, moisture, and thermal fluctuations that may register on some infrared and radar systems as well as visually. I honestly believe that many reports historically of UPAs/UFOs are caused by these two factors.This leads onto the third category
- Classified US test programs: Personally, I think this might explain some of the sightings. There is certainly precedent for this, as the US Air Force famously avoided comment about a spate of UFO observations that occurred in the 1970s that turned out to be sightings of the F-117 stealth aircraft.
We know that the Air Force is currently testing a new stealth fighter, the NGADs, but have released no information about its performance or appearance. As many of the UAP observations have occurred around U.S. Navy ships, especially in U.S. waters, I do wonder if the Air Force has been conducting field tests against their colleagues in blue.
After all, the U.S. Navy is as formidable an adversary as pretty much any country in the world, with cutting edge radars and defences. Running experiments against them would be a useful way to test against the best fielded systems in the world, while keeping the platform secure and then being able to gather test data from the Navy on the hush.
And if one of these advanced testbeds crashes, well it’s in the sea where nosy civilians aren’t likely to stumble over wreckage, and where you can recover it at leisure.
As a fan of Occam’s Razor, this would be my favoured explanation for many of the cases. And interestingly, in several cases military aircraft also picked up radio frequency energy emitting from UAPs. This could be either communications or scanning technology being employed.
However, the sheer performance demonstrated during some of these encounters does raise issues on just what the hell can fly in ways that seem to defy the known laws of physics. In 18 of the incidents examined by the Task Force, UAPs exhibited what is described as “unusual… movement patterns or flight characteristics.”
The extreme performance demonstrated by certain UAPs is also why the next potential cause, while possible, seems unlikely.
- Foreign Adversary Systems: The report speculates that some UAPs may be technologies being deployed by a foreign power or even a non-governmental body.
This situation is one that is a major focus of interest by the UPATF because if true it means that another power has achieved a remarkable technological breakthrough that gives them the ability to run circles around the might of the U.S. military – something they are not happy about.
- “Other”: The UAPTF report admits that many of the cases are unexplained because of the dearth of information on them, but some are inexplicable.
They also add that their study has yielded a small amount of data that appear to show UAP demonstrating acceleration or a degree of signature management that is not known to be possible by current science.
To this end, the Task Force states that additional rigorous analysis of their data is necessary by multiple teams or groups of technical experts to determine the nature and validity of it.
To demonstrate an example of this, let us run through a rather famous incident that made the news when footage of the encounter leaked in 2017.
The Nimitz Interaction.
In November 2004, the Nimitz Carrier Group was conducting exercises 40 miles off the coast of San Diego. Amongst the escorts was the USS Princeton, a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser. This vessel sports an AEGIS air defence radar, an extremely capable system.
This picked up numerous aircraft lacking transponders that were recorded as performing astounding feats for manoeuvre. In one instance, one of the UPAs vertically descending from 80,000 ft to 20,000 ft in a fraction of a second, before coming to an instant hover.
Such performance is not possible in any conventional aircraft and the crew, thinking they may have a technical issue, ran a diagnostic and then rebooted the entire system. No issue was detected with the AEGIS, and UAPs continued to be monitored.
On November 14, one of these was detected headed toward the Carrier Group. Two F-18 fighters on patrol were directed to intercept and identify the intruder. The pilots reported seeing a wingless white object nearly 50ft long close to the surface. They further reported that the water was roiling as though something was just below the waves.
Squadron Commander Dave Fravor descended to get a better look, but as he did the vehicle turned towards him, then began ascending in a spiral, maintaining its distance from the fighter. Talking later Cmdr. Fravor states that visibility was perfect and that both he and his colleagues could make out a smooth featureless white object with no air intake, exhaust, tail or wings – described as being more like a “tic-tac” sweet than an aircraft.
While his wingman observed from above, Cmdr. Fravor tried to close on the strange craft and intersect its path of travel. But the object then moved away at an amazing speed that the F-18, hardly a slouch itself in air manoeuvring, could never hope to match. This was observed not just by the pilots, but also on the Princeton’s radar.
The “tic-tac” then flew directly to the location that the fighters had used previously as a rendezvous point and planned to use again. This would indicate that the object had awareness of the F-18s flight plans, either from observing them previously or else by being able to read their encrypted communications. When you think about it, neither of these options are particularly comforting.
A third F-18 was dispatched to investigate. This, flown by Lt. Chad Underwood acquired the object at a range of 20 miles on its radar and infrared targeting pod. However, Underwood reported being unable to achieve a target lock with either system.
What he was able to do was record the object on his FLIR, before the “tic-tac” shot off again with an impossible turn of speed. This was once again recorded by the Princeton.
This represents just one case from a vast number of such incidents, many of the details are essentially the same as a host of others that have occurred for decades. It also demonstrates why I think this is a topic that needs discussion, despite the “little-green-man” baggage that gets inevitably intertwined with it.
We have a regularly occurring phenomenon.
It is routinely detected by our most advanced military sensors.
Our best available aircraft and weapon systems can neither identify nor engage with these objects – if objects they are.
These phenomena are routinely able to penetrate the most secure airspace while our most formidable military assets are present and which are apparently unable to do anything about this.
How can this NOT be a security issue of the highest order.
I also think we need to be much more circumspect about conclusions on what we are dealing with. The tendency to jump straight to Close Encounters, is not helpful. To give the U.S. military their credit, they recognise this.
The UAPTF report highlights that fear of ridicule is a major impediment to their acquiring information and reports on UAPs. But now both the U.S. Navy and Air Force have put into place proper reporting procedures for personnel who encounter UAPs.
And I applaud this.
I am not going to make any conclusions about what UAPs are either. But I do think that proper study and analysis is the key to figuring them out.
After all, to a tribesman living in the middle of the Amazon, the glint and contrails of an airliner flying overhead is a source of impossible wonder. But all that separates him from us is essentially our respective knowledge base.
For millennia, humans have wandered around with all sorts of assumptions on all sorts of things, and just taken it for granted that those assumptions were right and barely worth investigating. But once we DO start investigating, we often make discoveries that change everything.