DOD To Expand Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Assessments

The new group is tasked with detecting and identifying incursions of unidentified aerial phenomena near DOD training ranges and installations.

The Department of Defense’s Joint Safety Council (JSC) has convened for its first meeting as Pentagon officials aim to improve operational safety in military aviation.
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The Department of Defense (DOD) is expanding efforts to detect and identify unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) that could pose flight risks near military training ranges and installations, according to a new directive issued by Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, the DOD announced.

The move, made in collaboration with the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), aims to expand UAP data collection that intelligence officials say is needed to better understand the nature or intent of the incidents. 

“UAP clearly pose a safety of flight issue and may pose a challenge to U.S. national security."

Director of National Intelligence statement

Hicks directed the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security to establish the Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group (AOIMSG), which will be the successor to the U.S. Navy’s Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force, the DOD said.

According to the DOD, the AOIMSG will:

  • synchronize efforts across the DOD and the broader U.S. government to detect, identify and attribute objects of interests in Special Use Airspace (SUA)
  • assess and mitigate any associated threats to safety of flight and national security

“Incursions by any airborne object into our SUA pose safety of flight and operations security concerns, and may pose national security challenges,” the DOD said in a statement. “DOD takes reports of incursions—by any airborne object, identified or unidentified—very seriously, and investigates each one.”

In June, Hicks outlined the need for improved procedures and timely collection of consistent data when UAP incidents occur. 

“It is critical that the United States maintain operations security and safety at DOD ranges,” Hicks wrote in a June 25 memo. “To this end, it is equally critical that all U.S. military aircrews or government personnel report whenever aircraft or other devices interfere with military training. This includes the observation and reporting of UAPs.”  

Between 2004 and ‘21, military aviators reported 144 UAP incidents, and of those, 80 involved observation with multiple sensors, the DNI said. At least 11 reports documented an incident when the pilot reported a near miss with a UAP, and in at least 18 reported incidents, observers reported unusual flight characteristics or movement patterns.

In a report released earlier this year, the DNI said analysis of limited data indicates that UAP incidents, when resolved, typically fall into one of five potential categories:

  • airborne clutter, such as birds, balloons, recreational unmanned aerial vehicles, airborne debris like plastic bags
  • natural atmospheric phenomena, such as ice crystals, moisture, and thermal fluctuations that may register on some infrared and radar systems
  • USG or U.S. industry developmental programs, such as classified programs by U.S. entities
  • foreign adversary systems, such as technologies deployed by China, Russia or a non-governmental entity
  • a catchall “other” bin

Consistent and standardized government-wide reporting and a streamlined process for screening reports will deepen understanding of UAP, the DNI said.

“UAP clearly pose a safety of flight issue and may pose a challenge to U.S. national security,” the DNI said. “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.”

Kimberly is managing editor of FLYING Digital.

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