Pentagon is committed to determining the origins of what it calls "unidentified aerial phenomena" or UFOs, senior intelligence officials tell lawmakers, but acknowledge many remain beyond the government's ability to explain.
An increasing number of unidentified flying objects (UFOs) have been reported in the sky over the past 20 years, a top US defence official has told lawmakers in the first public congressional hearing on UFOs in half a century.
"Since the early 2000s we have seen an increasing number of unauthorised and/or unidentified aircraft or objects in military-controlled training areas and training ranges and other designated airspace," Scott Bray, deputy director of Naval Intelligence, told a House security panel on Tuesday.
Bray attributed the rise to efforts by the US military to "destigmatise the act of reporting sights and encounters" as well as to technological advances.
However, he said the Pentagon had detected nothing "that would suggest it's anything non-terrestrial in origin" behind these phenomena.
On the other hand, Brey also did not definitively rule out that possibility.
"We've made no assumptions about what this is or isn't," Bray said.
Bray presented two UAP video clips. One showed flashing triangle-shaped objects in the sky, later determined to be visual artifacts of light passing through night-vision goggles. The other showed a shiny, spherical object zipping past a military aircraft's cockpit window –– an observation Bray said remained unexplained.
“Pilots avoided reporting or were laughed at when they did … Today we know better. They need to be investigated.”— TRT World (@trtworld) May 18, 2022
US Congress held a hearing on UFOs, also referred to as “unidentified aerial phenomena” or UAPs after a report documented over 140 cases since 2004 pic.twitter.com/ymXIYV7lKF
National security threat
Tuesday's hearing came 11 months after a government report documented more than 140 cases of unidentified aerial phenomena, or "unidentified aerial phenomena", that US military pilots had observed since 2004.
And in June 2021, US intelligence had already claimed in a long-awaited report that there was no evidence of the existence of extraterrestrials in the skies while acknowledging that they had no explanation for dozens of phenomena observed by military pilots.
Some could be explained by the presence of drones or birds creating confusion in the radar systems of the US military.
Others could stem from tests of military equipment or technologies carried out by other powers, such as China or Russia.
The US military and intelligence are primarily interested in determining whether these aerial objects may be linked to threats against the United States.
"Unidentified Aerial Phenomena are a potential national security threat. And they need to be treated that way," said Democratic Representative Andre Carson of Indiana, who was chairing the panel holding the hearing.
READ MORE: Pentagon to open new office to probe UFOs
'They are real'
Subcommittee chairman Andre Carson stressed the importance of taking UAPs seriously.
"UAPs are unexplained, it's true. But they are real," 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?" Carson asked Ronald Moultrie, another senior US defence intelligence official.
"Absolutely," Moultrie responded. "We're open to all hypotheses. We're open to any conclusions that we may encounter."
"We want to know what's out there as much as you want to know what's out there," Moultrie said, acknowledging that he grew up as a science-fiction enthusiast.
Turnaround for US
Last year's report said UAP sightings probably lack a single explanation, with more data and analysis needed to determine whether they represent some exotic aerial system developed by a secret US government or commercial entity or by a foreign power.
Atmospheric conditions, "airborne clutter" and pilot misperception could also be factors, it said.
The subcommittee's top Republican, Rick Crawford, said he was "on board" with examining the topic but was "more interested" in subjects such as better understanding Chinese and Russian hypersonic weapon development.
The 2021 report and Tuesday's hearing marked a turnaround for the US government after decades spent deflecting, debunking and discrediting observations of UFOs and "flying saucers" dating back to the 1940s.
There had been no open congressional hearing on the subject since the Air Force terminated an inconclusive UFO programme code-named Project Blue Book in 1969.