Unlike what is portrayed in television and movies, government officials say, they have not found evidence of UFOs—or unidentified flying objects—that are extraterrestrial in nature. However, the government is expanding efforts to collect data on objects it still can’t explain.
According to a media roundtable held last month, the Defense Department’s All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office is tracking and analyzing unidentified anomalous phenomena, or UAP—the term is an updated version of “UFO” and the previous version of UAP, or unidentified aerial phenomena, to reflect unidentified phenomena not just in the air, but also on the ground and in sea and space—that pose a threat.
“Unidentified objects in the skies, sea and space pose potential threats to safety and security, particularly for operational personnel,” AARO Director Sean Kirkpatrick said. “AARO is leading a focused effort to better characterize, understand and attribute these objects and is employing the highest scientific and analytic standards.”
As noted at the roundtable, AARO—which was provided for in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, established in July and replaced the former Navy-led Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force—is working with other agencies to improve its data collection on UAPs. Agency partners include military services, the intelligence community, the Energy Department, NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and others.
In May 2022, the U.S. held its first open hearing about UAPs in 50 years. The hearing primarily discussed a 2021 report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence about 144 incidents studied by the Pentagon’s Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force that are currently unexplainable. During the hearing, speakers noted a lack of and need for data to better address these incidents.
While the sources of the UAPs are unknown, defense officials noted there has been no affirmative evidence that these anomalies came from aliens, although some appear to use advanced or interesting technologies, according to Kirkpatrick.
“At this time, the answer’s no, we have nothing,” Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security Ronald Moultrie said. “We have not seen anything that would—but we’re certainly very early on—that would lead us to believe that any of the objects that we have seen are of alien origin, if you will. If we find something like that, we will look at it and analyze it and take the appropriate actions.”
Instead, officials emphasized the need to better collect and analyze data, including standardizing data collected across the DOD and the rest of government to better understand and resolve the UAPs. Congress has echoed this sentiment, as the 2023 NDAA requires the defense secretary and the director of national intelligence to create a secure way to report on anything relating to UAPs and related government or contractor efforts.
AARO is currently looking at several hundred UAPs, in addition to the 144 from the 2021 report, and prioritizing UAP reports near military operations or other areas important to national security, according to Kirkpatrick.
The officials noted that there is currently no evidence of unidentified trans-medium phenomenon—meaning a UAP that, for example, went from under water to flying in the air.
According to Moultrie, the DOD is concerned about anything that is near its bases, installations and assets, no matter the location. He added that the government is tracking and characterizing phenomena mainly into adversarial activities, amateur activities and anomalous activities.
Without discussing details about the UAPs, Moultrie noted that “there are a lot more civilian drones that are being flown today and other things that have been put up in the skies … I think it would be safe to say that there will be probably a number of these activities that can be characterized as non-adversarial systems—things like balloons and things like [unmanned aerial vehicles]—that are operated for purposes other than surveillance or intelligence collection.”
However, Kirkpatrick noted that there is “not a single answer for all of this.” He indicated that there is reason to believe that some of these UAPs pose a threat to American national security. But, Moultrie added that they are still working to resolve some of the cases, and “some of them probably could not be characterized as civilian balloons or [unmanned aircraft systems] or UAVs or whatever. So, in the absence of being able to resolve what something is, we assume that it may be hostile. And so, we have to take that seriously.”
Moultrie did not want to comment about the government’s ability to resolve UAPs in space at the roundtable because of the sensitive nature of the topic.
And though there is no direct evidence of extraterrestrial technology, Kirkpatrick stated that there are UAPs using unusual or interesting technologies.
“There are things that appear to demonstrate interesting flight dynamics that we are fully investigating and researching right now,” he said, adding that this could be sensor phenomenology—or how sensors register an occurrence—the flight dynamics of the platform or an illusion.
When asked if there is previous evidence of alien visitation to Earth—whether from crashed craft or living or deceased extraterrestrial beings, if discounting meteorites with microbes and only talking about intelligent life visiting or crashing on Earth—Moultrie stated current information does not suggest this has occurred.
In the holdings that the office has gone through—which Moultrie defined as “documentation, things that people may have said, interviews that people may have had, or memos that somebody may have written”—he affirmed that “I have not seen anything in those holdings to date that would suggest that there has been an alien visitation, an alien crash or anything like that.” He noted that AARO is still retrospectively analyzing data.
“In the research I’ve been doing, I’ve not heard, seen or heard of anything at this time that would support that,” Kirkpatrick added.