For the first time since Project Blue Book in 1969, the US Government has issued a new report on UFOs. On June 25, 2021, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released its preliminary assessment on recent Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP)1—the new term for UFOs. Did the report reveal anything extraordinary?
The Report and Its Findings
The Pentagon established the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force (UAPTF) in response to congressional interest in the highly publicized cockpit videos by US Navy pilots of strange aerial phenomena during several operations in 2014 and 2015. The UAPTF analyzed these phenomena, among others, and reported its findings on 144 incidents over the course of 17 years from 2004 to 2021.
The main findings of this study will likely fail to satisfy the two primary groups advocating for the government investigation: those who believe UFOs and extraterrestrial beings (ET) have been visiting us, and those who believe these incidents involve a foreign power that threatens US national security. The report explains that intelligence analysts could not confirm with any degree of confidence that ET or a foreign power, namely Russia or China, is behind this recent spate of sightings.
In fact, the analysts had confidence to classify only one event that was the result of a deflating balloon. Whereas Project Blue Book assessed some 12,618 sightings and provided specific explanations for all but 701 of them (about 94.4%), this study provides explanations for only less than 1%.
The Report’s Shortcomings
The data set of 144 reports suffers from several problems. The first is uneven human reporting procedures. The US Navy adopted uniform procedures for reporting only in 2019, and the US Air Force adopted them only in November 2020. Of these incidents, 80 include observations by pilots and from multiple sensors, including radar and infrared, but the report indicates these sensors were designed for military missions and are ill-suited to fully capture UAP. Wide variability in the reporting and the very limited data set do not allow for a detailed trend or pattern analysis.
Further, the assessment indicates there may be an observer bias in the reporting. All 144 reports were from US government personnel, primarily US Navy pilots, and clustered around military testing and training ranges.
The UAPTF study indicates all UAP fall within one of five broad categories: “airborne clutter, natural atmospheric phenomena, USG [US government] or industry developmental programs, foreign adversary systems, and a catchall ‘other’ bin.” Though unstated in the study, these five categories are the remaining likely explanations intelligence analysts considered in their assessment after discarding all other hypotheses they deemed far less likely, including alien aircraft.
The analysis makes several recommendations for improving upon this preliminary assessment in the future. These recommendations include a request to standardize the reporting across all USG, including the Air Force and the Federal Aviation Administration; expand the collection of UAP cluster areas when US forces are not present in order to provide a “standard” of UAP activity and limit collection bias; and request additional funding for research to further study the topics laid out in the report.
Unlikely vs. Likely Explanations
If only one of the 144 can be classified with any degree of confidence, what other explanations are there? The assessment doesn’t completely rule out many explanations, but suggests it found no evidence that Russia or China was behind UAP. There are a few reasons supporting this notion.
First of all, Russia’s budget is a fraction of the US military budget, and China’s military jet engines are fraught with problems.2 Further, both nations would likely conduct classified and advanced research in regions away from the prying eyes of US intelligence and US military training areas with the most advanced sensors in the world.
The assessment also says it could not confirm one way or another that some of the phenomena were advanced US military or aerospace research activities. But it seems unlikely that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence would release a study on highly classified programs (called Special Access Programs) even if such programs were confirmed. SAPs are compartmented programs known only to a very limited number of people.
The two most likely explanations remain if the previous pattern persists (more than 94% with natural explanations). First, these phenomena may have natural explanations. They may come from advanced research in either drone technology or electronic warfare.3 As the report indicates, the skies are becoming increasingly cluttered with drones and other aircraft, making military training more and more difficult. This could be creating an environment where previously unobserved or rarely seen anomalies are quickly attributed to UFOs or ET instead of being examined in the context of drone technology. Or they could be a yet unidentified natural phenomena, which Hugh Ross, Kenneth Samples and I detail in our book, Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men.4
Second, the phenomena may be supernatural, as we document in our book. We have argued that the small number of residual UFO (RUFO) phenomena that cannot be explained otherwise may be demonic activity that appears to people who have opened doors to the occult.5
Cultural and Theological Impact
This new intelligence report has generated even more interest in UFO phenomena among US citizens. A very recent Pew Research Center survey indicates that 65% of Americans believe that intelligent life exists on other planets, with younger adults (76%) more likely to believe this than those 50 years old and older (57%).
More dramatically, a recent American Worldview Inventory indicates that millennials are more likely to consult their horoscopes than their Bibles for spiritual guidance, further opening doors to the occult. Since we all may know someone who holds interest in UFOs and ET, it remains important for Christians to provide a rational explanation for UAP and to offer a spiritually healthy alternative to belief in ET.
The key takeaways from this assessment are the following:
- The report provides no concrete answers to UAP.
- The most likely explanations are drone technology or advanced military research, or
- The phenomena may include a very small percentage (less than 5%) of RUFOs, which have a rational Christian explanation.
We should continue to prepare ourselves to “always be ready” to provide an answer for the hope that is in us (I Peter 3:15), especially as more and more people pursue spiritual interests apart from biblical Christianity.
- Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Preliminary Assessment: Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, June 25, 2021; https://www.dni.gov/files/ODNI/documents/assessments/Prelimary-Assessment-UAP-20210625.pdf.
- Brett Forrest, “UFO Report Says ‘Unidentified Aerial Phenomena’ Defy Worldly Explanation,” Wall Street Journal, June 25, 2021.
- Julian Borger, “Why the Pentagon UFO Report Is Deeply Troubling for US Security Experts,” The Guardian, June 25, 2021; Tim McMillan, “Area 51 Veteran and CIA Electronic Warfare Pioneer Weigh in on Navy UFO Encounters,” The War Zone (blog), The Drive, November 25, 2019.
- Hugh Ross, Kenneth Samples, and Mark T. Clark, Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002).
- Mark T. Clark, “Responding to UFOs in the News,” Voices (blog), June 25, 2019.