A database of reports of UFOs now includes about 400 incidents, up from 143 assessed in a report released about a year ago, a Navy intelligence official told lawmakers at a congressional hearing on Tuesday.
The military's 2021 report said no evidence of aliens had been found. Scott W. Bray, the deputy director of Naval intelligence, told lawmakers that they still haven't uncovered anything "nonterrestrial in origin," even though there are incidents they can't explain.
None of the documented objects had attempted to communicate with U.S. aviators, and no attempt had been made to communicate with them, he said, as they all appeared to be unmanned.
Reports of unidentified flying objects – now called unexplained aerial phenomena or UAPs by the military – have been increasing, said Bray. He cited improved sensors, an increase in drones and other non-military unmanned aerial systems, and "aerial clutter" such as Mylar balloons as causes for the uptick.
Encouraging more pilots to come forward
Incidents in the 2021 report date as far back as 2004 and were based on both sensor data and observations by military aviators, said Bray.
Many of the latest entries do not have sensor data — they're from people coming forward with older stories that they chose not to report at the time, Bray said. That's evidence that the military's drive to destigmatize such reports is working, he added.
"Navy and air force crews now have step-by-step procedures for reporting UAPs on their kneeboard, in the cockpit," Bray said.
It's an important effort, said Rep. Andre Carson, D-Ind., who noted that skepticism around UFOs likely has led pilots to avoid making the reports, or getting laughed at when they did.
Transparency vs. secrecy
Tuesday's session, the first public hearing on UFOs in more than 50 years, also included testimony from Ronald S. Moultrie, the Pentagon's top intelligence official. He noted the competing needs for transparency and secrecy in the hearing.
Moultrie noted that he's a science fiction fan, and that simple human curiosity means that "we want to know what's out there just like you want to know what's out there." But he added that his top goal was to keep U.S. military personnel and bases safe.
"We are also mindful of our obligation to protect sensitive sources and methods," Moultrie said in his opening remarks. "Our goal is to strike that delicate balance – one that will enable us to maintain the public's trust while preserving those capabilities that are vital to the support of our service personnel."
"We do not want potential adversaries to know exactly what we see or understand," Moultrie said later in the hearing, which was followed by a closed-door, classified session.
As the effort moves forward, Moultrie told lawmakers, a major focus will be on improving cooperation with the Federal Aviation Administration and other government agencies.
In a back-and-forth with Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, Bray agreed that standardizing the civilian reporting process would also be useful. While the military's database does include some civilian reports, the vast majority have come from within the military.
It's the first congressional hearing held on the subject since a push by then-Rep. Gerald Ford led to an Air Force report and hearing in 1969.