This preliminary report is provided by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) in response to the provision in Senate Report 116-233, accompanying the IAA for Fiscal Year 2021, that the DNI, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense (SECDEF), is to submit an intelligence assessment of the threat posed by unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) and the progress the DoD UAPTF has made in understanding this threat.
This report provides an overview for policymakers of the challenges associated with characterizing the potential threat posed by UAP while also providing a means to develop relevant processes, policies, technologies, and training for the U.S. military and other U.S. Government (USG) personnel if and when they encounter UAP, so as to enhance the Intelligence Community’s (IC) ability to understand the threat. The Director, UAPTF, is the accountable official for ensuring the timely collection and consolidation of data on UAP. The dataset described in this report is currently limited primarily to U.S. Government reporting of incidents occurring from November 2004 to March 2021. Data continues to be collected and analyzed.
ODNI prepared this report for the Congressional Intelligence and Armed Services Committees. UAPTF and the ODNI National Intelligence Manager for Aviation drafted this report, with input from USD(I&S), DIA, FBI, NRO, NGA, NSA, Air Force, Army, Navy, Navy/ONI, DARPA, FAA, NOAA, NGA, ODNI/NIM-Emerging and Disruptive Technology, ODNI/National Counterintelligence and Security Center, and ODNI/National Intelligence Council.
Various forms of sensors that register UAP generally operate correctly and capture enough real data to allow initial assessments, but some UAP may be attributable to sensor anomalies.
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. The Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force (UAPTF) considered a range of information on UAP described in U.S. military and IC (Intelligence Community) reporting, but because the reporting lacked sufficient specificity, ultimately recognized that a unique, tailored reporting process was required to provide sufficient data for analysis of UAP events.
In a limited number of incidents, UAP reportedly appeared to exhibit unusual flight characteristics. These observations could be the result of sensor errors, spoofing, or observer misperception and require additional rigorous analysis.
There are probably multiple types of UAP requiring different explanations based on the range of appearances and behaviors described in the available reporting. Our analysis of the data supports the construct that if and when individual UAP incidents are resolved they will fall into one of five potential explanatory categories: airborne clutter, natural atmospheric phenomena, USG or U.S. industry developmental programs, foreign adversary systems, and a catchall “other” bin.
UAP clearly pose a safety of flight issue and may pose a challenge to U.S. national security. Safety concerns primarily center on aviators contending with an increasingly cluttered air domain. UAP would 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.
Consistent consolidation of reports from across the federal government, standardized reporting, increased collection and analysis, and a streamlined process for screening all such reports against a broad range of relevant USG data will allow for a more sophisticated analysis of UAP that is likely to deepen our understanding. Some of these steps are resource-intensive and would require additional investment.
Limited data and inconsistency in reporting are key challenges to evaluating UAP. No standardized reporting mechanism existed until the Navy established one in March 2019. The Air Force subsequently adopted that mechanism in November 2020, but it remains limited to USG reporting. The UAPTF regularly heard anecdotally during its research about other observations that occurred but which were never captured in formal or informal reporting by those observers.
After carefully considering this information, the UAPTF focused on reports that involved UAP largely witnessed firsthand by military aviators and that were collected from systems we considered to be reliable. These reports describe incidents that occurred between 2004 and 2021, with the majority coming in the last two years as the new reporting mechanism became better known to the military aviation community. We were able to identify one reported UAP with high confidence. In that case, we identified the object as a large, deflating balloon. The others remain unexplained.
Although there was wide variability in the reports and the dataset is currently too limited to allow for detailed trend or pattern analysis, there was some clustering of UAP observations regarding shape, size, and, particularly, propulsion. UAP sightings also tended to cluster around U.S. training and testing grounds, but we assess that this may result from a collection bias as a result of focused attention, greater numbers of latest-generation sensors operating in those areas, unit expectations, and guidance to report anomalies.
In 18 incidents, described in 21 reports, observers reported unusual UAP movement patterns or flight characteristics.
Some UAP appeared to remain stationary in winds aloft, move against the wind, maneuver abruptly, or move at considerable speed, without discernable means of propulsion. In a small number of cases, military aircraft systems processed radio frequency (RF) energy associated with UAP sightings.
The UAPTF holds a small amount of data that appear to show UAP demonstrating acceleration or a degree of signature management. Additional rigorous analysis are necessary by multiple teams or groups of technical experts to determine the nature and validity of these data. We are conducting further analysis to determine if breakthrough technologies were demonstrated.
The UAP documented in this limited dataset demonstrate an array of aerial behaviors, reinforcing the possibility there are multiple types of UAP requiring different explanations. Our analysis of the data supports the construct that if and when individual UAP incidents are resolved they will fall into one of five potential explanatory categories: airborne clutter, natural atmospheric phenomena, USG or industry developmental programs, foreign adversary systems, and a catchall “other” bin. With the exception of the one instance where we determined with high confidence that the reported UAP was airborne clutter, specifically a deflating balloon, we currently lack sufficient information in our dataset to attribute incidents to specific explanations.
UAP pose a hazard to safety of flight and could pose a broader danger if some instances represent sophisticated collection against U.S. military activities by a foreign government or demonstrate a breakthrough aerospace technology by a potential adversary.
When aviators encounter safety hazards, they are required to report these concerns. Depending on the location, volume, and behavior of hazards during incursions on ranges, pilots may cease their tests and/or training and land their aircraft, which has a deterrent effect on reporting.
We currently lack data to indicate any UAP are part of a foreign collection program or indicative of a major technological advancement by a potential adversary. We continue to monitor for evidence of such programs given the counter intelligence challenge they would pose, particularly as some UAP have been detected near military facilities or by aircraft carrying the USG’s most advanced sensor systems.
In line with the provisions of Senate Report 116-233, accompanying the IAA for FY 2021, the UAPTF’s long-term goal is to widen the scope of its work to include additional UAP events documented by a broader swath of USG personnel and technical systems in its analysis. As the dataset increases, the UAPTF’s ability to employ data analytics to detect trends will also improve. The initial focus will be to employ artificial intelligence/machine learning algorithms to cluster and recognize similarities and patterns in features of the data points. As the database accumulates information from known aerial objects such as weather balloons, high-altitude or super-pressure balloons, and wildlife, machine learning can add efficiency by pre-assessing UAP reports to see if those records match similar events already in the database.
The majority of UAP data is from U.S. Navy reporting, but efforts are underway to standardize incident reporting across U.S. military services and other government agencies to ensure all relevant data is captured with respect to particular incidents and any U.S. activities that might be relevant. The UAPTF is currently working to acquire additional reporting, including from the U.S. Air Force (USAF), and has begun receiving data from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The UAPTF is looking for novel ways to increase collection of UAP cluster areas when U.S. forces are not present as a way to baseline “standard” UAP activity and mitigate the collection bias in the dataset. One proposal is to use advanced algorithms to search historical data captured and stored by radars. The UAPTF also plans to update its current interagency UAP collection strategy in order bring to bear relevant collection platforms and methods from the DoD and the IC.
The UAPTF has indicated that additional funding for research and development could further the future study of the topics laid out in this report. Such investments should be guided by a UAP Collection Strategy, UAP R&D Technical Roadmap, and a UAP Program Plan.
This report and UAPTF databases use the following defining terms:
Senate Report 116-233, accompanying the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021, provides that the DNI, in consultation with the SECDEF and other relevant heads of USG Agencies, is to submit an intelligence assessment of the threat posed by UAP and the progress the UAPTF has made to understand this threat.
The Senate Report specifically requested that the report include: