FLIR1 is one of three US military videos of unidentified aerial phenomenon (UAP) that has been through the official declassification review process of the United States government and approved for public release. It is the only official footage captured by a US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet present at the 2004 Nimitz incident off the coast of San Diego.

FLIR1 is one of three US military videos of unidentified aerial phenomenon (UAP) that has been through the official declassification review process of the United States government and approved for public release. It is the only official footage captured by a US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet present at the 2004 Nimitz incident off the coast of San Diego. US NAVY

‘More capable than anything we have’: lawmakers, witnesses, express alarm on UFO phenomenon

Witnesses recounted other-worldly events, but the head of the government office investigating those claims isn’t biting.

Three witnesses to unidentified aerial phenomena told Congress on Wednesday about objects performing maneuvers beyond what any known aircraft could achieve—aerial events that pose a rising threat to civilian aircraft, they said. But the unusually wide-ranging testimony also gave stage to uncorroborated accusations of a massive government cover up, expositions on the existence of alien life and even theories about interdimensionality. 

The key takeaway: however much the government reveals about the unidentified flying object phenomena, it likely won’t be enough to satisfy skeptical lawmakers and witnesses. 

David Fravor, a former U.S. Navy fighter pilot who posted the 2004 video purporting to show images of a UFO taken from sensors aboard an F/A-18 Super Hornet, told lawmakers the object he saw performed in a way that was beyond the capabilities of any aircraft he had ever seen. In the hands of an adversary, that would pose an enormous capability gap, he said. 

The technology was “beyond the material science and the capabilities that we had at the time, that we have currently, or that we're going to have in the next 10 to 20 years,” he said, showing the ability to hover in the face of strong winds and then rapidly accelerate, all with no visible wings or obvious means of propulsion. Further, he said, his crew “experienced significant jamming to the APG-73 radar” upon landing. 

Ryan Graves, the executive director of Americans for Safe Aerospace, told lawmakers the objects he had seen footage of behaved in ways that seemed to defy known physics. “We would see these objects being at 0.0 Mach, that's zero airspeed, over certain pieces of the ground. So what that means, just like a river, if you throw a bobber in, it's going to float downstream. These objects were staying completely stationary in category four hurricane winds. The same objects will accelerate to a supersonic speeds 1.1 1.2 Mach, they would do so in very erratic and quick behaviors that we don't, I don't have an explanation for.”

When lawmakers asked Fravor if humans could survive such accelerations, he answered frankly: “no.” 

In the absence of clear explanations for how something like that could happen, David Grusch, a former officer at the National Reconnaissance Office and a representative of the Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena Task Force, offered second-hand accounts from current and former officials he had spoken to—people he said had direct knowledge that the objects were extraterrestrial in origin. 

The government has even recovered crashed versions of the objects and has biological evidence of alien life, he claimed. 

Grusch said he filed a whistleblower complaint due to efforts to suppress his findings and said the government has pursued an aggressive and violent intimidation campaign against him and others, but said he could not provide details in an open setting due to current litigation. Neither Graves nor Fravor reported any such similar treatment. In fact, Fravor said he was treated very well after going public with his experiences. 

Grusch also claimed—without providing direct evidence— U.S. military contractors are in possession of pieces of the alien technology and at one point even entertained speculation that the phenomenon might be due to an interdimensional portal. To wit: “In terms of multi-dimensionality, that kind of thing, the framework that I'm familiar with, for example, is something called the holographic principle…It derives itself from general relativity and quantum mechanics…If you want to imagine 3D objects, such as yourself, casting a shadow onto a 2D surface, that's the holographic principle. So you can be projected, quasi-projected from higher dimensional space to lower dimensional. It's a scientific trope that you can actually cross literally, as far as I understand.” Still, he acknowledged he had no direct knowledge of whether this was the source of the phenomena. 

What the government is actually doing about UFOs

Military accounts of unidentified aerial phenomenon, or UAPs, emerged as an issue of public concern and speculation after a 2017 New York Times report first brought the experience of naval aviators who had witnessed UAPs to the public. The Pentagon established the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force (UAPTF) within the Navy, an office that later became the DOD Airborne Object Identification and Management Group and then, in 2022, the All-Domain Anomaly Resolution Office, or AARO, under the direction of Sean M. Kirkpatrick. 

Kirkpatrick testified in April (to much less attention and fanfare) about the government’s actual efforts to understand what was going on. At the time of his testimony, he said the government was tracking some 650 cases of UAPs. 

“The majority of unidentified objects recorded to AARO demonstrates mundane characteristics of balloons,” he said. 

But the sheer number shows that experiences like those Fravor aren’t isolated, even if they are all anecdotal. 

Grusch said he met with Kirkpatrick briefly at once and never got a call back. 

Kirkpatrick in April said individual testimony from operators and witnesses like Grusch doesn’t leave investigators much to go on. “If all I have is an operator report that says, ‘I saw XY or Z, my assessment is A, B or C.’ That's not really sufficient. That's a good place to start. But I have to have data. I have to have radar data, overhead data and we need to look at all that.” 

So how does the government investigate these events under the new office? When there is actual sensor data to corroborate eyewitness accounts, two teams—one made up of intelligence workers, the other composed of scientists and sensor developers—look at the data independently of one another. Kirkpatrick then summarizes their findings and passes them to an independent “senior technical advisory group” for a peer-review-like evaluation. They return to him with their notes and questions and he incorporates those into a final report for filing. 

Because so many of those incidents are balloon-based, the team is looking at safe and cost-effective recommendations for bringing down the UFOs. “There are non-kinetic options to engage pretty much everything. Whether it's electronic warfare, whether it's laser technology,” Kirkpatrick said, but that’s why more data collection is necessary.

Contrary to witness claims Wednesday, Kirkpatrick said “our research has found no credible evidence thus far of a terrestrial activity, off-world technology, or objects that defy the known laws of physics.”

Witnesses and lawmakers did agree Wednesday on the need for a central clearing house for UAP and UFO information, so civilian pilots and other military pilots can have access to intelligence about objects that may pose a threat to them. Lawmakers and witnesses expressed dissatisfaction at the pace of declassifying information related to the phenomena and said more public attention is helping alleviate the stigma pilots face when reporting such incidents.