What does the Pentagon’s UAP Report really say?
A lot has been written about the brief but fascinating Preliminary
Assessment: Unidentified Aerial Phenomena released late on Friday,
June 25, 2021 by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) of
the US Department of Defense.
Hardcore skeptics and debunkers are pointing out that the
Report does not mention aliens or extraterrestrial spacecraft as possibilities
in evaluating the UAPs. In fact, it avoids that suggestion like the plague.
Ardent UFO zealots, on the other hand, read the Report as
saying that UAPs are physical objects that for the most part have no
explanation. That leaves the door open to the possibility of alien technology,
since the Report also notes that the UAPs investigated don’t seem to be either
American or foreign technology.
But what does the report actually say on all these
points? What details can we glean from its meagre nine pages of information?
First, some media outlets and UFO experts are noting that
only 144 cases were evaluated for the Report, and of those, only one had an
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. (p.5)
That’s a very significant detail, with almost all cases
having no explanation!
But this detail was repeated a few pages later, with a
slight but significant change in wording:
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
here is a big difference between saying 143 cases have
no explanation and saying there’s not enough information to definitively
explain them as specific objects or things.
The second interesting thing to note is that the Report
looked at cases reported during a very small window of time.
The dataset described in this
report is currently limited primarily to U.S. Government reporting of incidents
occurring from November 2004 to March 2021. (p.2)
… the UAPTF concentrated its
review on reports that occurred between 2004 and 2021, the majority of which
are a result of this new tailored process to better capture UAP events through formalized
This “tailored process” is quite important, because it
didn’t exist until 2019!
No standardized reporting
mechanism existed until the Navy established one in March 2019. (p.4)
The Air Force subsequently
adopted that mechanism in November 2020… (p.4)
This meant that the Report was very limited in scope:
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. (p.4)
What this means is that nearly all of the only 144 cases that were examined for
the Report came from a very small time period between March 2019
and (presumably) June 2021, perhaps only two years.
It’s worse than that.
… the USAF began a six-month
pilot program in November 2020 to collect in the most likely areas to encounter
So the Air Force only looked at reports from between
November 2020 and April 2021 as data for the UAPTF Report, and even then, only
from certain unspecified locations. We can only speculate that these were near
military installations, and near operational theaters.
And from whom did these cases come?
…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. (p.4)
So this means that a rather remarkable 144 UAP reports
were submitted to the Navy and Air Force by military personnel (mostly pilots)
during only the past few years, with possibly a few exceptions.
This should be of concern, and it is. That implies that
at least once a week, American military pilots are seeing and reporting
unidentified aerial phenomena.
And what of the sightings themselves? The unclassified
version of the Report that was made available does not mention any case
specifically, save the “deflated balloon,” and even on that one we have no
details as to where or when it was seen, or under what conditions.
The Report offers a few curious tidbits, however.
… 80 reports involved observation with multiple
These “multiple sensors” are laid out earlier in the
… a majority of UAP were
registered across multiple sensors, to include radar, infrared, optical, weapon seekers,
and visual observation. (p.3)
Well that’s something. Eighty cases had at least two
methods of observation, such as both radar and visual, or tracked by weaponry,
although the phrasing could be interpreted to allow for simply two different
visual observations of the same object.
Then there’s this:
And a Handful of UAP Appear to
Demonstrate Advanced Technology:
In 18 incidents, described in 21
reports, observers reported unusual UAP movement patterns or flight
First of all, the UAP Task Force seems to have large
hands, as 18 is more than a typical handful. Secondly, these 18 UAPs moved in such a way as
to seem unlike ordinary craft. But only 18 out of 144, so that the vast
majority of UAPs did not seem to have abnormal movement compared with
Furthermore, some cases involved the same object. In
other words, a UAP was seen by multiple witnesses (or sensors) and reported
independently. This is also significant because it means that at least there
were three reports of the same object, bringing the actual number of UAPs
included in the Report down to 141. One can ask if this was the situation with
others as well. Only an examination of the full, unclassified version of the
Report can shed light on this.
The UAPTF holds a small amount
of data that appear to show UAP demonstrating acceleration or a degree of
signature management. (p.5)
In other words, only a fraction of the total number of
cases have UAPs that move in such a way as to defy explanation. This seems more
manageable in terms of data analyses.
Okay, then, what about the reports themselves? What do
they look like?
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. (p.3)
Right in the Executive Summary, the Pentagon cautions
that the Report has its problems. Most UAP reports are incomplete or inadequate.
This isn’t at all surprising, given that formal reporting by military personnel
only has a reporting process recently, and we have no idea what that looks
This also echoes the problems with Project Blue Book, the
original UFO investigation program by the Pentagon (that most people, including
those on the UAPTF, seem to have forgotten or are ignoring). Even though Blue
Book involved hundreds of UFO sightings by military personnel, many reports
were judged to have insufficient or inadequate information for evaluation,
despite a formalized reporting process.
And actually, that’s why I will now point to the Canadian
The Survey has four categories of conclusions regarding
UFO reports. Two are most obvious: Explained and Unexplained. But there are two
additional categories that we have been using to classify UFO reports: Possible/Probable
Explanation and Insufficient Information. These comprise the bulk of UFO
reports in the Survey every year.
Possible/Probable Explanation is
used if the description of the observed UFO fits well with a prosaic
explanation or a conventional object.
Insufficient Information is used
if there is information lacking that could help identify the UFO. A lack of a
definite date or location is insufficient information, for example.
Typically, the yearly breakdown in Canada has been something like: 2% Explained, 20% Insufficient Evidence, 68% Possible Explanation (for a combined percentage of about 88%), and 10% Unexplained. From what we know from the UAP Report, they had 0.7% Explained, something like 87% Insufficient Information or Possible Explanation, and 12.5% Unexplained.
Not bad, for a ballpark comparison.
If a UFO report has characteristics of, say, a drone, but
the specific drone cannot be located or the operator can’t be identified positively,
the report is not completely explained, but we suspect it may have a
And if a report is submitted but the date or time of
observation is not precisely given or known, then there isn’t full enough
information to evaluate the case.
And that’s what’s missing in the UAPTF Report. It appears
as though they were considering only two options: Explained or Unexplained,
without allowing for any “grey basket” (as ufologist Stanton Friedman called
it). No wiggle room.
They note this situation exactly, as noted earlier:
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. (p.5)
What were these other 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. (p.5)
“Airborne clutter” meant “birds, balloons, recreational
unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), or airborne debris like plastic bags,” and “natural
phenomena” include sundogs and moisture-laden clouds that can be detected on
Then there’s this one:
USG or Industry Developmental
Programs: Some UAP observations could be attributable to developments and
classified programs by U.S. entities. We were unable to confirm, however, that
these systems accounted for any of the UAP reports we collected. (p.5)
In other words, some UAP reports could be of classified American
craft or devices. UFO fans note correctly that the Pentagon should know if an
observed object seen by its own military personnel was one of “ours.” And
indeed, the Report states that it could not get confirmation that any UAPs were
secret American projects.
(Because, presumably, they might have been secret, and not simply “classified.” In
fact, in an unclassified report, it would be unlikely that any information on
secret programs would be provided.)
Similarly, UAPs don’t seem to be craft or vehicles
belonging to China or Russia. That we know of.
And then there’s the “catchall ‘other’ bin”:
Although most of the UAP
described in our dataset probably remain unidentified due to limited data or challenges to
collection processing or analysis, we may require additional scientific knowledge to
successfully collect on, analyze and characterize some of them. We would group
such objects in this category pending scientific advances that allowed us to
better understand them. (p.6)
First, note the reaffirmation that most UAPs are
unidentified because of a lack of data or information. But then the sentence
goes on to note that some cases might need “additional scientific knowledge” to
What the heck does that mean? This is a phrase that many
UFO fans and experts are pointing to as proof that notable cases such as the “Tic
Tac” and the “Go Fast” involve craft that seem to break the laws of flight and
physics. They seem to move in and out of water, accelerate but don’t make sonic
booms, and so forth.
But do they? We simply won’t know until we get more
What else do we know about the UAP reports?
… there was some clustering of
UAP observations regarding shape, size, and, particularly, propulsion. (p.5)
Again, we don’t have the data so it’s hard to understand
what this means. But varying shapes of UFOs have been recorded for decades, and
there are some shapes that seem more common than others. Similarly, with sizes.
(See, for example, the Canadian UFO Survey statistics.)
The “propulsion” observation likely means that the witness
did not see an visible means of propulsion for the UAP, which is almost
universal (pardon the pun).
UAP sightings also tended to cluster
around U.S. training and testing grounds… (p.5)
f course they did. Most reports were from military
One of the most significant
parts of the Report was in bold capital letters: UAP THREATEN FLIGHT SAFETY
AND, POSSIBLY, NATIONAL SECURITY. (p.6)
That almost didn’t need the emphasis. If UAP are being
seen by military personnel in and around military installations or bases, and
if there’s no explanation for some of the objects seen, then that’s obviously
The Report states in no uncertain terms:
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. (p.6)
If UAPs are flying circles around jet fighters, then that’s
Okay, so what happens when a pilot does see something?
What does he or she do about it?
When aviators encounter safety
hazards, they are required to report these concerns. (p.6)
Indeed, pilots are required to report UAPs (and UFOs), according
to flight regulations. In Canada, this directive is found in NAV Canada
instructions on CIRVIS reporting, under Transport Canada regulations:
188.8.131.52 CIRVIS Reports – Vital
Communication Instructions for
Reporting Vital Intelligence Sightings (CIRVIS) reports should be made immediately
upon a vital intelligence sighting of any airborne and ground objects or
activities that appear to be hostile, suspicious, unidentified or engaged in
possible illegal smuggling activity. Examples of events requiring CIRVIS
reports are: unidentified flying objects…
(Yes, the term unidentified flying object (UFO) is
actually used in Canada, not UAP.)
Okay, so pilots are supposed to report UAPs, but the UAP
Report acknowledges that they might not be believed, and one challenge in
studying UAPs is that:
Narratives from aviators in the
operational community and analysts from the military and IC describe
disparagement associated with observing UAP, reporting it, or attempting to
discuss it with colleagues. Although the effects of these stigmas have lessened
as senior members of the scientific, policy, military, and intelligence communities
engage on the topic seriously in public, reputational risk may keep many
observers silent, complicating scientific pursuit of the topic. (p.4)
The Report goes on to note ways in which it is hoping to
overcome witness reporting hesitancy, including by working with the FAA to
reach out to pilots who might have seen UAPs.
The FAA has its own way of gathering UAP data, analogous
to the Transport Canada and NAV Canada:
The FAA captures data related to
UAP during the normal course of managing air traffic operations. The FAA
generally ingests this data when pilots and other airspace users report unusual
or unexpected events to the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization. (p.7)
But by acknowledging that serious UFO research by members
of the scientific community has helped lessen the “stigma” of UAP reporting, the
Report suggests that civilian UFO research is having an impact on concerted
studies in this field.
This of course leads to the obvious question of who will
be paying for UAP studies by scientists. The Report offers this in its final
The UAPTF has indicated that
additional funding for research and development could further the future study
of the topics laid out in this report. (p.7)
Send some of that our way, please.