Two senior US defence intelligence officials said on Tuesday the Pentagon is committed to determining the origins of what it calls “unidentified aerial phenomena” — commonly known as UFOs — but acknowledged many remain beyond the government's ability to explain.
The two officials, Ronald Moultrie and Scott Bray, appeared before a House of Representatives intelligence subcommittee for the first public US congressional hearing on the subject in more than half a century.
It came 11 months after a government report documented more than 140 cases of unidentified aerial phenomena, or UAPs, that US military pilots had observed since 2004.
The more popular term “UFO”, or “unidentified flying object”, has long been widely associated with the notion of alien spacecraft, which received no mention in last June's UAP presentation.
Mr Bray, deputy director of naval intelligence, said the number of UAPs officially catalogued by a newly formed Pentagon task force has grown to 400 cases, Reuters reported.
Both officials chose their words carefully in describing the task force's work, including the question of the UAPs' possible extraterrestrial origins.
“We have no material, we have detected no emanations, within the UAP task force that would suggest it is anything non-terrestrial in origin,” Mr Bray said.
The 2021 report, a nine-page “preliminary assessment” by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and a Navy-led task force, said 80 per cent of UAP instances it reviewed were recorded on several instruments.
Both officials pledged that the Pentagon would follow the evidence wherever it leads and made clear that the primary interest is addressing possible national security threats.
“We know that our servicemembers have encountered unidentified aerial phenomena and because UAP pose potential flight safety and general security risks, we are committed to a focused effort to determine their origins,” said Mr Moultrie, who oversees the latest Pentagon-based UAP investigation team as US defence undersecretary for intelligence and security.
Mr Bray presented two UAP video clips. One showed flashing, triangle-shaped objects in the sky, later determined to be visual artefacts of light passing through night-vision goggles. The other showed a shiny, spherical object zipping past a military aircraft's cockpit window — an observation Mr Bray said remained unexplained.
The 2021 report included some UAPs revealed in previously released Pentagon video of enigmatic objects exhibiting speed and manoeuvrability exceeding known aviation technology and lacking any visible means of propulsion or flight-control surfaces.
Mr Bray said those incidents, including one described by Navy pilots as resembling flying Tic Tac breath mints, are among cases still categorised as “unresolved”.
The focus, instead, was on possible implications for US national security and aviation safety.
The Pentagon in 2020 created the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force (UAPTF) to investigate sightings.
While analysts must consider the possibility that an advanced aircraft might use “signature management” technology to conceal its flight capabilities, “we're not aware of any adversary that is capable of flying an aircraft without any discernible means of propulsion”, Mr Bray added.
Mr Moultrie and Mr Bray said the Pentagon was determined to remove the stigma long associated with such sightings by encouraging pilots to come forward if they observe such phenomena.
Subcommittee chairman Andre Carson stressed the importance of taking UAPs seriously.
“UAPs are unexplained, it's true. But they are real,” Mr Carson said, raising concerns that Pentagon officials have previously focused on “low-hanging fruit” — cases that are relatively easy to explain — while “avoiding the ones that cannot be explained”.
“Can we get some kinds of assurances that your analysts will follow the facts where they lead and assess all hypotheses?” Mr Carson asked Mr Moultrie.
“Absolutely,” he responded. “We're open to all hypotheses. We're open to any conclusions that we may encounter.”
The session marks the first open congressional hearing on the subject since the US Air Force terminated an inconclusive UFO programme code-named Project Blue Book in 1969.
During its 17 years in existence, Blue Book compiled a list of 12,618 total UFO sightings, 701 of which involved objects that officially remained “unidentified”. But the US Air Force later said it found no indication of a national security threat or evidence of extraterrestrial vehicles.
In 1966, nearly a decade before he became president, then-US congressman Gerald Ford of Michigan, who was House Republican leader at the time, organised a hearing in response to scores of witness accounts of strange glowing lights and large football shapes flying at low altitude around Dexter, Michigan, which an Air Force official famously explained away as “swamp gas”.
Reuters contributed to this report