The Office of Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released an unclassified preliminary intelligence assessment in late June that details reports on unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP). While in almost every instance the UAP can’t be explained, the report suggests that UAP can present a threat to national security.
Safety concerns primarily center on aviators contending with an increasingly cluttered air domain. UAP 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 report, which provides a response to the Senate Report accompanying the Intelligence Authorization Act for the fiscal year 2021, is used to update the Senate on the progress made by the Department of Defense Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force (UAPTF) on their understanding of UAP and related data.
Overall, the report is largely inconclusive. Every time a possible explanation is reached, there is a caveat to follow regarding the lack of high-quality data. With time and standardization, the ODNI hopes to have the ability to explain the UAP sightings fully.
“The limited amount of high-quality reporting on unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) hampers our ability to draw firm conclusions about the nature or intent of UAP,” ODNI states.
Despite the challenges regarding data, there are five potential explanatory categories explained in the report. Objects like birds and balloons fall into the airborne clutter category, and ice crystals and moisture fall into the natural atmospheric phenomenon category. Industry developmental programs, foreign adversary systems and “other” round out the category list.
Probably most notable is that while the report lists foreign adversary systems as a possible explanation, ODNI said that it currently lacks data to indicate any UAP are part of a foreign collection program or indicative of a major technological advancement by a potential adversary.
While data doesn’t suggest that the UAP are related to U.S. adversaries, the report doesn’t explicitly rule the possibility out. If foreign adversaries were able to use UAP, they would be able to collect and monitor sensitive data.
Sightings of UAP carrying the most advanced USG sensor systems were reported mostly around U.S. training and testing grounds, which could be why the report doesn’t rule out foreign adversaries, however, there could also be a collection bias due to greater numbers of sensors in those specific areas. Almost all data regarding UAP comes from the U.S. Navy. In order to get accurate and wholesome data, other government agencies and U.S. military services are working on standardizing incident reporting.
Other patterns emerged from the data regarding size, shape and propulsion. Among 21 reports, 18 described unusual UAP movement patterns or flight characteristics. Additionally, some cases reported that military aircraft systems had processed radio frequency energy associated with the sighting.
Ultimately, the report finds that “UAP clearly pose a safety of flight issue and may pose a challenge to U.S. national security”. And aviation security is another concern, with UAPTF receiving 11 documented reports of “near misses” with a UAP.
In total, there have been 144 reports. Even though 80 of the reports involved observation with multiple sensors, only one could be identified and explained with high confidence. Almost all the reports described the UAP as interrupting pre-planned training or other military related activity.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been continuously capturing and monitoring UAP data and related anomalies, but in order to fully identify and understand the national security threats that UAP pose, the report suggests further investigating be done.
These suggestions include widening and analyzing the scope of work to include larger numbers of UAP events that are documented by a broader swath of USG personnel and technical systems. Additionally, highlighting the importance of reporting UAP is a top goal of the department. The success of such suggestions could lead to the UAPTF effectively employing data analytics to detect trends and understand UAP better.