The concern is out there.
Pentagon officials on Friday confirmed the existence of a Navy-led “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force” that will monitor ongoing encounters with strange aerial objects and determine whether these phenomena should be perceived as a threat.
Approved on Aug. 4 by Deputy Secretary of Defense David L. Norquist, the task force was officially launched “to improve its understanding of, and gain insight into, the nature and origins of UAPs,” according to a Friday evening news release. “The mission of the task force is to detect, analyze and catalog UAPs that could potentially pose a threat to U.S. national security.”
Pentagon officials did not immediately respond to questions about the timing of this announcement, what sparked it, or whether the UAP designation pertains directly to alien spacecraft.
“The Department of Defense and the military departments take any incursions by unauthorized aircraft into our training ranges or designated airspace very seriously and examine each report,” the release states. “This includes examinations of incursions that are initially reported as UAP when the observer cannot immediately identify what he or she is observing.”
According to CNN, which first reported the launch of the UAP task force, members of Congress and Pentagon officials have long expressed concern regarding the appearance unidentified aircraft in the vicinity of military installations.
A consensus remains elusive, however, with some believing the sightings are intelligence-gathering drones operated by earthly adversaries rather than anything extraterrestrial.
Amid uncertainty the Senate Intelligence Committee voted in June to have Pentagon and intelligence personnel provide analysis of the encounters, a move spurred on by the official Pentagon release of three short videos showing encounters between U.S. aircraft and unidentified flying objects.
The videos — two stemmed from encounters in January 2015, while the third dates back to November 2004 — were released “in order to clear up any misconceptions by the public on whether or not the footage that has been circulating was real, or whether or not there is more to the videos,” Pentagon spokesperson Sue Gough said at the time.
After circulating online for years, the now-declassified videos capture the bewildered reactions of Navy pilots as they were witnessing the inexplicable flight behaviors of up close and personal UFOs.
Defense Department officials claim they initially withheld the release of the footage partially to ensure nothing in the video required ongoing classification. All three are currently posted on the official Naval Air Systems Command page.
“After a thorough review, the department has determined that the authorized release of these unclassified videos does not reveal any sensitive capabilities or systems, and does not impinge on any subsequent investigations of military air space incursions by unidentified aerial phenomena,” Gough added.
The 2004 encounter, which The New York Times documented in 2017, took place over the Pacific Ocean approximately 100 miles off the coast. Pilots were responding to an aerial assistance request from a Navy cruiser after the vessel reported a series of unidentified aircraft sightings.
“It accelerated like nothing I’ve ever seen,” one pilot told the NYT about the encounter.
Multiple air crew members described the object, which hovered at a low altitude over the water before speeding away, as oblong-shaped and about 40 feet in length, the report said.
Following the encounter the pilots departed for the vicinity of the cruiser, a location approximately 60 miles away. But briefly into the return trip, with about 40 miles remaining before the jets reached the cruiser, the ship radioed the pilots to say the UFO had already reappeared.
One of the pilots told the NYT he believed the object traversed the 60 miles “in less than a minute.”
In one of the videos from 2015, one pilot described encountering “a fleet” of high-speed objects that, at one point, appeared to rotate in a static position.
“Look at that thing, dude!” one pilot says in the video. “It’s rotating!”
“Dude, this is a f---ing drone, bro,” another crew member says.
While speculation has long been rife about whether Earth-bound aliens will bring “klaatu barada nikto” sentiments, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said he is more concerned about whether the operators of these objects speak the language of a near-peer enemy.
“We have things flying over our military bases and places where we are conducting military exercises, and we don’t know what it is and it isn’t ours, so that’s a legitimate question to ask,” Sen. Marco Rubio told Miami’s WFOR-TV.
“Frankly, if it’s something from outside this planet, that might actually be better than the fact that we’ve seen some sort of technological leap on behalf of the Chinese or the Russians or some other adversary.”
Howard Altman is an award-winning editor and reporter who was previously the military reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and before that the Tampa Tribune, where he covered USCENTCOM, USSOCOM and SOF writ large among many other topics.
J.D. Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.