The Washington Post

Pentagon announces new group to track unexplaine­d airborne objects

- BY KAROUN DEMIRJIAN karoun.demirjian@washpost.com

The Pentagon has created a new intelligen­ce division exclusivel­y dedicated to investigat­ing unidentifi­ed objects that breach sensitive U.S. airspace, to understand both their origin and whether they could threaten national security.

Announced late Tuesday night, the new division — which the Defense Department will call its Airborne Object Identifica­tion and Management Synchroniz­ation Group — is a direct response to more than 140 reports of “unidentifi­ed aerial phenomena,” or UAP, dating back nearly two decades and documented in a government study issued this past summer. That inquiry, intended to determine whether such sightings were signs of foreign threats, atmospheri­c anomalies, faulty sensors or even extraterre­strial life, yielded a report with few firm conclusion­s.

The group’s formation was directed by Kathleen Hicks, President Biden’s deputy secretary of defense. In a statement accompanyi­ng Tuesday’s announceme­nt, defense officials said the government study made clear a need “to improve our ability to understand UAP.” The Pentagon treats reports of such “incursions — by any airborne object, identified or unidentifi­ed — very seriously,” particular­ly sightings occurring “on or near DOD training ranges and installati­ons,” it said.

Before the UAP report, produced by the Office of the Director of National Intelligen­ce, public scrutiny of such sightings was largely anecdotal, shrugged off in many circles as fantastica­l. But many of the observatio­ns it documented originated with U.S. military personnel, mainly Navy aviators. And there has been pressure on the Pentagon since, especially from Capitol Hill, to come up with more exacting and comprehens­ive answers about what these objects are and whether they pose a threat to U.S. interests.

The report released in June presented multiple possible explanatio­ns for what the source of these unidentifi­ed objects could be. Three of the categories — space junk, climate or atmospheri­c idiosyncra­sies, and classified aircraft tests by U.S. contractor­s — posed no critical threat to the United States, though the authors did not rule out that such objects could pose other potential dangers to flight safety.

A fourth category suggested that the unidentifi­ed objects could be evidence of advanced technology operated by foreign adversarie­s.

In recent weeks, U.S. officials have scrutinize­d China’s apparent test of a hypersonic missile capable of orbiting Earth and delivering weapons — potentiall­y nuclear warheads — to targets in a manner difficult to track. Russia, meanwhile, recently completed an antisatell­ite missile test, creating a concerning amount of space debris.

The government report from June left open the possibilit­y that there are “other” explanatio­ns for the observed unidentifi­ed phenomena, though its authors were careful to note they found no evidence of alien life.

A task force that had led the Pentagon’s efforts to understand UAP will be replaced by the new Airborne Object Identifica­tion group, which will function under the authority of the undersecre­tary of defense for intelligen­ce and security, the Pentagon’s statement said. The group’s mandate will include not only collecting intelligen­ce and counterint­elligence data but offering solutions for any threats that such objects may pose. Its director — who has not yet been named — will recommend what personnel and other resources are needed.

A separate oversight counsel, made up of officials from the Defense Department and intelligen­ce community, will scrutinize the group’s work.

 ?? DEFENSE DEPARTMENT/ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? An unexplaine­d object is tracked as it soars among clouds, traveling against the wind, in a Defense Department video from 2015.
DEFENSE DEPARTMENT/ASSOCIATED PRESS An unexplaine­d object is tracked as it soars among clouds, traveling against the wind, in a Defense Department video from 2015.

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