The U.S. Navy has officially acknowledged three incidents reported by F/A-18 Hornet fighter pilots of "unidentified aerial phenomena" -- what most refer to as UFOs -- and released video of the encounters.
The Defense Department on Monday published the videos of the separate incidents, one taken in November 2004 and the other two in January 2015, "which have been circulating in the public domain after unauthorized releases in 2007 and 2017," officials said in a statement.
"After a thorough review, the department has determined that the authorized release of these unclassified videos does not reveal any sensitive capabilities or systems, and does not impinge on any subsequent investigations of military air space incursions by unidentified aerial phenomena," according to Pentagon spokeswoman Sue Gough.
The Navy has previously stated the videos did belong to the service, but did not give credence to the idea its pilots have confronted alien spacecraft.
But after Navy pilots in recent months have stated there has been an increase of UFO sightings in recent years, the service issued new guidelines on how to best document sightings or encounters, according to a report from Politico last year. The New York Times also reported pilots had sightings -- and, in one instance, a near collision -- while flying training missions off the East Coast between 2014 and 2015.
That said, the U.S. government has looked into UFOs for years, most notably between 2007 and 2012 when the Pentagon began its Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, an effort championed by then-Sen. Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada and the Senate majority leader at the time.
The program was meant to "pursue research and investigation into unidentified aerial phenomena," the Defense Department has said, motivated by notorious events such as the 2004 "Tic Tac" incident.
In that incident, F/A-18 pilots from the aircraft carrier Nimitz, operating off the San Diego coast, reported spotting a large, Tic Tac-shaped object that appeared to be floating without the assistance of an engine or exhaust plume.
Reid on Monday said DoD's recent video acknowledgement only "scratches the surface" of the research into these encounters.
"The U.S. needs to take a serious, scientific look at this and any potential national security implications," Reid said on Twitter. "The American people deserve to be informed."
"DoD is releasing the videos in order to clear up any misconceptions by the public on whether or not the footage that has been circulating was real, or whether or not there is more to the videos," Gough said. "The aerial phenomena observed in the videos remain characterized as 'unidentified.'"
The released videos -- labeled "FLIR," "GO FAST," and "GIMBAL" -- can be found at the Naval Air Systems Command Freedom of Information Act reading room website here.
-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.