A new report to Congress says the Pentagon's task force on UFOs – now known as unidentified aerial phenomena, or UAPs – has processed more reports in the past couple of years than it did in the previous 17 years. But that doesn't mean we're in the midst of an alien invasion.
The unclassified report was issued this week by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, or ODNI, in collaboration with the Department of Defense's All-Domain Anomaly Resolution Office, or AARO. The office was created by congressional mandate, and this week's report serves as an update to a preliminary assessment of the Pentagon's UAP reports issued in 2021.
That assessment said there were 144 reports relating to aerial anomalies sighted by military service members between 2004 and 2021. "There have been 247 new reports and another 119 that were either since discovered or reported after the preliminary assessment's time period," the newly released report says.
That brings the total to 510 UAP reports as of last August 30.
The authors of the report say the increase in the reporting rate "is partially due to a better understanding of the possible threats that UAP may represent, either as safety of flight hazards or as potential adversary collection platforms, and partially due to reduced stigma surrounding UAP reporting."
Either way, U.S. intelligence and military officials say they see that as a good thing. "This increased reporting allows more opportunities to apply rigorous analysis and resolve events," the report says.
Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon's press secretary, cast the issue of aerial anomalies as a national security concern. "The safety of our service personnel, our bases and installations, and the protection of U.S. operations security on land, in the skies, seas, and space are paramount," Ryder said in a statement. "We take reports of incursions into our designated space, land, sea, or airspaces seriously and examine each one."
Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle praised the report but called for even more transparency. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said "more needs to be done … to utilize existing sensors to collect and analyze more data on UAPs," while Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said he looks forward to continued cooperation "as we work to focus resources on UAP reports that remain uncharacterized and unattributed."
The unclassified version of the report doesn't include details on any cases. Such details are provided only in the classified report to Congress. But the unclassified version does provide a breakdown of the 366 newly identified sightings. More than half of the reports have been tentatively determined to exhibit "unremarkable characteristics":
- 26 were characterized as caused by drones or drone-like devices.
- 163 were characterized as caused by balloons or similar objects.
- Six were attributed to clutter, such as birds, weather events, plastic bags or other airborne debris.
That leaves 171 reports that were "uncharacterized and unattributed." Some of the phenomena described in those still-mysterious reports seem to involve "unusual flight characteristics or performance capabilities, and require further analysis," the status report said. But at least some of the anomalies could end up being attributed to sensor glitches or other not-so-mysterious causes.
"Many reports lack enough detailed data to enable attribution of UAP with high certainty," the report said. Having a larger database of sightings could conceivably help investigators solve lingering mysteries.
The report said none of the reported UAP encounters involved collisions or adverse health effects. There's nothing in the report that addresses the possibility that aliens may play a part in any of the UAP incidents – but last year, during a congressional hearing, Pentagon officials said they haven't seen anything that appears to be "non-terrestrial" in origin.
This week's update received mixed reviews from folks who follow the UAP/UFO issue closely. Christopher Mellon, a former Pentagon official, welcomed the fact that "the UAP issue is gaining traction and acceptance within the government" – particularly when it comes to awareness of the security challenges posed by drones, including surveillance drones that are thought to be fielded by China.
But Mellon said the language in the report demonstrated the U.S. government's "unique and uncanny ability to transform an inherently fascinating topic into vexing bureaucratic jargon."
Avi Loeb, a Harvard astrophysicist who chairs the Breakthrough Starshot Advisory Committee and has written a controversial book about the possibility of intelligent alien life, said the most interesting information about UAP sightings is likely to remain classified and hidden from public view.
"Even if one object out of the 510 reported UAP is of extraterrestrial origin and this object poses no threat to national security, its identification will be the most important discovery that humanity ever made," Loeb wrote in his Medium posting.
"The ODNI report is therefore complementary to the work of scientists. It is intriguing in alerting the scientific community to anomalous objects, but it does not provide sufficient evidence about the nature of UAP which may be moving, accelerating or looking differently than our technological devices."
For what it's worth, NASA created an independent panel last year to assess non-military UAP sighting reports. That panel is expected to issue its findings in mid-2023.
During a discussion forum last October, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson appeared to keep an open mind when asked about the prospects for intelligent life beyond Earth. "My personal opinion is that the Universe is so big, and now there are even theories that there might be other universes," he said.
"And if that's the case, who am I to say that planet Earth is the only location of a life form that is civilized and organized like ours?"