Pentagon’s UFO office needs more data to study hundreds of cases

The AARO is building its own sensors and working with NASA to help it examine reported unidentified phenomena.
Nicholas Slayton Avatar
UAP seen in May, 2022, through night vision equipment and an SLR camera. The DoD states that “the UAP in this image were subsequently reclassified as unmanned aerial systems.” (US Navy photo) Unidentified aircraft seen in May, 2022, through night vision equipment and an SLR camera. The DoD states that the unidentified object in this image were subsequently reclassified as unmanned aerial systems. (U.S. Navy)

The Pentagon office tasked with investigating unidentified aerial phenomena has been developing and using its own sensors to track them. Those new detection tools are needed as more and more UAP cases are reported. 

The details came out of a public panel presentation by NASA’s Independent UAP Study Group. The presentation included remarks from Dr. Sean Kirkpatrick, Director of the All-Domain Anomaly Resolution Office. Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon, or UAPs, are the term used by the military and NASA for what are commonly called UFOs. Wednesday’s event was one of the most detailed looks at what the agencies are investigating and what tools they are using to do so. 

So far, of the hundreds of cases the AARO is looking at, only 2%-5% of them are “really anomalous,” Kirkpatrick said on Wednesday. 

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One of the biggest challenges remains going through existing data and analyzing what has been documented. Kirkpatrick said that AARO looks at UAP data from the military as well as NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, seeing if they can corroborate reports. The AARO has been quiet about much of the work it is doing, and what tools it uses. At the presentation, Kirkpatrick revealed that the office has developed its own sensors, which are “purpose built, designed to detect, track and characterize those particular objects.” The AARO is also trying to find the balance between using some of its sensors within the United States to track UAPs without violating any surveillance laws. 

The study group was set up in June 2022. The AARO, also set up last summer, is the successor to the Office of Naval Intelligence’s Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force. As the name suggests, the AARO is looking at unidentified sightings not just in the skies but in other media such as underwater. 

You can watch the presentation here: 

So far AARO is looking at 800 UAP cases. That’s up from 650 in April, when Kirkpatrick briefed the Senate Armed Services Committee about UAPs. Of those, the typical descriptions of the UAP follow a few common points: they’re round, like an orb or sphere, have no visible thermal exhaust, and are in the skies between an altitude of 10,000-30,000 feet. They’re also not particularly big, only 1-4 meters in size. 

As the group noted, some of the videos and photos might be marked classified not because of what it is documenting but because footage and images were recorded on military planes or other sensitive assets. 

Kirkpatrick said that coordination with NASA and civilian agencies is important, because “the resolution of all UAP cases cannot be accomplished by DOD and the intelligence community alone.” NASA’s sensors, satellites and other tools are useful for “analyzing open source clutter.”

The NASA panel also noted that there was a rise in reports of UAPs in February, at the time where a Chinese spy balloon and other balloons were spotted over North America before being shot down. 

The AARO director also noted that the stigma around reporting UAPs has improved in recent years, but the stigma still exists “inside the leadership of all of our buildings.” As a result, Kirkpatrick said, he and his team have been “subjected to lots of harassment.” 

“The greatest thing that could happen to me is I could come out and say, ‘Hey, I know where all these things are. Here you go.’ Alright, but I don’t,” he said. “And it’s gonna take us time to research all that. When people want answers now, and so they are, they’re actually feeding the stigma by exhibiting that kind of behavior to all of us.”

The AARO is currently working on its annual report. Kirkpatrick said that is due before Congress on Aug. 1. 

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