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The Pentagon got hundreds of new reports of UFOs in 2022, a government report says

The Pentagon released this image of an Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) that was later determined to be a drone last year. The U.S. office that investigates UAP received hundreds of reports in 2022. This image was captured through night vision goggles during naval exercises off the U.S. East Coast in early 2022.
U.S. Navy
The Pentagon released this image of an Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) that was later determined to be a drone last year. The U.S. office that investigates UAP received hundreds of reports in 2022. This image was captured through night vision goggles during naval exercises off the U.S. East Coast in early 2022.

The Pentagon's new office for investigating potential UFO sightings received hundreds of new reports in 2022, and while it can explain more than half of those events, a sizable chunk remains a mystery.

Within the new batch of sightings, the All-Domain Anomaly Resolution Office and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence say, they're focusing on some 171 cases — including some in which objects "appear to have demonstrated unusual flight characteristics or performance capabilities, and require further analysis."

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Thursday released an unclassified version of the government's new report on UFOs. The annual report stems from a law that also requires the ODNI to send Congress a classified version of the report each year.

Reports of unidentified objects rose sharply

Since it was formed last summer, the All-Domain Anomaly Resolution Office has received 366 reports of Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (or UAP — essentially the military's term for a UFO).

That total reflects 247 new UAP reports and another 119 that occurred before March 2021, but hadn't been included in an earlier preliminary report.

The new numbers indicate a steep rise in UAP sightings: The preliminary report released in June 2021 listed just 144 reports, covering a 17-year period. With the subsequent additions, the All-Domain Anomaly Resolution Office, or AARO, had 510 UAP reports in its files at the end of August 2022.

Officials say they believe the rise in UAP reports is due to U.S. government efforts "to destigmatize the topic of UAP and instead recognize the potential risks" the phenomenon poses, both as an aviation hazard and "potential adversarial activity," such as foreign surveillance efforts.

Many of the aerial objects were found to be balloons

Out of the 366 reports, the All-Domain Anomaly Resolution Office's initial analysis found that 195 objects had shown "unremarkable characteristics," saying they were the linked to common activities.

The bulk of those reports — 163 — were attributed to balloons "or balloon-like entities," the government said. Another 26 were found to be various types of drones (the report notes an increase in civilian drone use). And six reports were attributed to "clutter" — a category that includes plastic bags, weather phenomena and birds (sorry, birds).

Alien update: so far, no aliens

The report does not include the word "alien." But weeks before the report was released, journalists asked two senior officials whether their work had turned up any anomalies that might signify beings visiting Earth from outer space.

"At this time, the answer's no, we have nothing," said Ronald Moultrie, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence and security. He later added, "We have not seen anything that would ... lead us to believe that any of the objects that we have seen are of alien origin, if you will."

The AARO's director, Sean Kirkpatrick, stated, "We are structuring our analysis to be very thorough and rigorous. We will go through it all. And as a physicist, I have to adhere to the scientific method, and I will follow that data and science wherever it goes."

This isn't just about UFOs

The AARO doesn't only study objects in the air. The military's definition of a UAP was recently expanded to include objects in the air and sea, as well as "transmedium objects."

AARO defines that last category as "Objects or devices that are observed to transition between space and the atmosphere, or between the atmosphere and bodies of water, that are not immediately identifiable."

In recent years, one of the most compelling accounts of a UAP encounter came from retired U.S. Navy fighter pilot Alex Dietrich, who has described seeing a highly unusual object off the coast of Southern California in 2004, after a colleague spotted something "roiling water below us."

"It was this sort of roundish, oblong shape, and it didn't have any apparent flight control surfaces," Dietrich said. "It seemed to be bouncing around and changing course very quickly and in a way that we would not have been able to maneuver our own aircraft or certainly to keep up."

Through the AARO's work, the U.S. is particularly keen to learn whether the unexplained phenomena might signal a foreign adversary's attempts to collect data. And perhaps, the report notes, it will uncover evidence that a potential foe has "achieved a breakthrough aerospace capability."

In a passage that might tantalize or simply annoy UFO enthusiasts, the new report states, "Additional information is provided in the classified version of this report."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.