Many unidentified flying objects observed by the military and other government sources since 2004 probably actually exist and may pose a threat to national security, according to an intelligence report released Friday.
Government sources originated 144 reports of unidentified aerial phenomena, or UAPs, the term the government now uses to describe objects popularly referred to as UFOs. Many incidents were witnessed firsthand by military aviators and observed by reliable sensor systems, the report adds.
UAPs largely remain a mystery. Aside from one that was identified as a large, deflating balloon, the government can't explain what they are.
The report gives no indication the UAPs' origins are extraterrestrial. But whatever they are and wherever they're from, the intelligence community says they exist -- and should be taken seriously.
"UAP clearly pose a safety of flight issue and may pose a challenge to U.S. national security," states the report from the Director of National Intelligence, or DNI, titled "Preliminary Assessment: Unidentified Aerial Phenomena." "Safety concerns primarily center on aviators contending with an increasingly cluttered air domain. UAP would also represent a national security challenge if they are foreign adversary collection platforms or provide evidence a potential adversary has developed either a breakthrough or disruptive technology."
The Pentagon announced Friday afternoon that Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks has ordered the military to draw up a plan to formalize the mission now performed by the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force.
Hicks said that military aircrews and other personnel need to speak up when they see UAPs.
"It is critical that the United States maintain operations security and safety at DoD ranges," she wrote in a memo released Friday by the Pentagon. "To this end, it is equally critical that all U.S. military aircrews or government personnel report whenever aircraft or other devices interfere with military training. This includes the observation and reporting of UAPs."
The DNI report states that 80 of the UFOs observed were tracked across multiple sensors, including radar, infrared, electro-optical sensors and weapon seekers, as well as visual observation. For that reason, the report concluded that most of the observed UFOs probably were actual physical objects.
In a few cases, the UAPs showed unusual flight characteristics, the report found, such as appearing to remain stationary in the air, moving against the wind, abruptly maneuvering, or traveling at considerable speed without any observable propulsion. The DNI said this could be the result of sensor errors, spoofing or observers misperceiving what was happening; it added that the issue needs further study.
In a handful of cases, military aircraft systems observed radio frequency energy alongside UAP sightings.
Reported UAP sightings tended to cluster around U.S. training and testing grounds, the report states, but that may be because there are more advanced sensors there and greater attention by personnel.
There is probably no single explanation for what UAPs are, the report concluded. They could be as mundane as airborne clutter such as birds, balloons and recreational drones, or airborne debris like plastic bags.
They could also be natural atmospheric phenomena such as ice crystals and moisture registering on some infrared and radar systems, the report states.
They also could be technology deployed by potential adversary nations such as China or Russia, or non-governmental entities.
The report acknowledges that some UAPs could be classified programs run by U.S. agencies, but said this could not be confirmed.
When it passed the fiscal 2021 Intelligence Authorization Act, Congress ordered the DNI and Pentagon to produce a report on the threat posed by UAPs and what progress the Defense Department's task force has made in understanding that threat.