What We Know About The UFO Encounters Reported By The Pentagon

UFO sightings were up among American naval personnel, according to Pentagon officials speaking to a House panel in mid-May of 2022. This increase in UFOs — sometimes called unidentified aerial phenomena, or UAP — could relate to another briefing from the U.S. intelligence community released one year earlier. That 2021 report detailed more than a hundred similar sightings from Navy Pilots. The initial 2021 report may have also emboldened more military members to come forward with less fear of reprisal and ridicule, per ABC News

At the time of their presentation, the number of reported sightings had now grown to nearly 400, the Pentagon said. After the contents of the 2021 UAP report were revealed, the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force was created, housed within the United States Office of Naval Intelligence. The 2022 hearing with the bipartisan U.S. House panel was the first of its kind in 50 years, according to CBS News. Here's what's known and what questions remain about this uptick in UAP sightings. Deputy director of naval intelligence Scott Bray is pictured at the hearing above.

UFO vs UAP: What's the difference?

In the view of the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force, unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) are similar to Unidentified flying objects (UFOs), as The Verge explains. Although both the 2021 and 2022 reports lend some credence to a long history of such sightings, there's nothing in either report that offers evidence of extraterrestrial life. Although unusual, UAP sightings are often attributed to drones or other types of experimental aircraft from foreign countries, some of which may be hostile; still others defying explanation. The job of the task force is to investigate all UAP sightings in terms of national security.

The 2021 UAP report also brought the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP) to light, a top-secret Pentagon project active from 2007 to 2012 (via The Verge). That program's objective was to investigate reports of UAP sightings in secret.  At the May 2022 hearing, Democratic Indiana Representative André Carson (pictured) who also chairs the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Counterintelligence, Counterterrorism, and Counterproliferation, said (via CBS News) "UAPs are unexplained, it's true. But they are real. They need to be investigated. And any threats they pose need to be mitigated."

What types of UAP have been seen?

Some types of UAP reported by Navy pilots are pyramid shaped, while others are shaped more like Tic Tacs, according to the 2022 report from the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force. Still others are small, white, and spherical (per CBS News). Many also display unusual and unique behaviors, descending, ascending, accelerating, and decelerating in unexplained ways based on experts' understanding of aeronautics and jet propulsion (via Vox). No known collisions between UAP and terrestrial aircraft have occurred. Many UAP sightings are confirmed using multiple sensor readings.

At the May 2022 hearing, Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence, Scott Bray (pictured) said that many encounters reported were new, while others were from personnel who had the experience some time ago but who had only just now come forward. "We've seen an increasing number of unauthorized and or unidentified aircraft or objects and military control training areas and training ranges and other designated airspace," Bray said (via ABC News). 

Those pyramid objects were likely drones

A well-known UAP sighting of pyramid-like objects off the coast of California was explained by the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force in their May, 2022 presentation. These objects were unable to be explained at first, but now, it's believed they are U.S. drones from a nearby Naval asset, and that the triangular shape produced from night vision goggle distortion which was then captured on a video. For this reason, deputy director of naval intelligence Scott Bray said (via ABC News) the task force is reasonably confident that those triangle-shaped objects "correlate to unmanned aerial systems in the area." 

"This is a great example of how it takes considerable effort to understand what we're seeing in the examples that we are able to collect," Bray continued. Other possible explanations for UAP include birds, man-made objects like balloons, top-secret technology from within the U.S. government, or natural phenomena such as unusual atmospheric conditions, or other types of optical illusions, as The Verge explains. Nonetheless, Indiana Representative Rep. André Carson called UAPs (via CBS News) "a potential national security threat, and they need to be treated that way."

Not all UAP can be explained

Although most UAP reports can be explained, many questions remain, such as a 2004 incident when a Tic Tac-like object was spotted by a Navy pilot, and a number of other examples in which objects moved in ways that defy our understanding, as Bray told the House panel (per ABC News). In footage revealed for the first time in the May 2022 hearing, an unknown object is seen flying past a fighter jet, according to the BBC. A spherical shape spotted in the sky also remained unresolved, as CBS News reports.

Deputy director of naval intelligence Scott Bray said (via BBC) "There are a small handful [of events] in which there are flight characteristics or signature management that we can't explain with the data we have available ... Those are obviously the ones that are of most interest to us." 

But he confirmed that there's no evidence of extraterrestrial origins nor any wreckage recovered so far that was not man-made. There have been near-miss encounters between objects and aircraft, however. In summation, "I can't point to something that definitively was not man-made ... but I can point to a number of examples which remain unresolved," Bray continued (via ABC News).

What are the next steps?

Not every lawmaker was pleased with the public report from the task force, followed by a closed-door classified meeting with elected officials. Arkansas Republican Rick Crawford (pictured) likened the lack of any hard evidence of national security threats from UAP to an intelligence failure. Crawford added (via BBC) "It's not about finding alien spacecraft." 

For their part, private UFO scholars are thankful the reality of what they've fought so long and hard to bring to light is now being finally addressed. As documentary filmmaker James Corbell who publicized the "pyramid" UAP footage explained to ABC News, he's encouraged that the public is demanding the truth and that lawmakers so far have responded. 

"It is direct response to public pressure," Corbell said. "It is representative government representing the citizens and their interest. ... It's the biggest story of our time. And finally, we're beginning to have the conversation without ridicule and stigma that has so injured the search for scientific truth on this topic" (via ABC News). 

Other goals outlined in the May 2022 presentation include streamlining the process by which UAP reports are investigated "in a methodical, logical, and standardized manner," one top Pentagon official said (ABC News).