The Defense Department is launching a new body to coordinate investigation of UFO sightings in restricted airspace, amid concerns that the flying objects could threaten flight safety and national security.
In a memo released Tuesday, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks announced the creation of a group to lead government efforts to "detect, identify and attribute objects of interests," which are formally known as unidentified aerial phenomena but commonly called UFOs.
The body, known as the Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group, will be a successor to the Navy's UAP task force and its work will be overseen by senior military and intelligence community officials.
Its creation comes after the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a report in June that said the military could not explain over 140 cases of airborne phenomena sighted since 2004, including some that exhibited unusual flight characteristics.
The report identified challenges to collecting data needed to assess and identify the various objects, including the stigma pilots and others face when reporting UFO sightings, as well as inconsistencies in reporting mechanisms.
Together with DOD's April 2020 release of several unclassified videos of unidentified phenomena, the report fueled speculation about conspiracies and visits from extraterrestrials. But defense officials believe there are several categories of more likely explanations, including that the objects are technologies deployed by Russia, China or other governments or entities.
Other possible explanations include airborne objects such as birds, balloons or drones, as well as natural atmospheric phenomena and U.S. government or industry developmental programs. However, officials said that some in an "other" category may defy explanation without scientific advances.
The new body will address some of the shortfalls standing in the way of further study of the issue, including a need for standardized reporting across the federal government and increased collection and analysis.
A council headed by the under secretary of defense for intelligence, along with the director of operations for the Joint Staff and senior officials from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence will oversee its work, the report said.
Hicks' memo said the Navy-led UAP task force would immediately transition to the new group. She directed the oversight council to choose the group's acting director and submit implementation guidance on membership, responsibilities and authorities to her for approval.
The focus of the group's effort will be on special use airspace over military facilities or operating areas, firing ranges and other areas designated for national security or other use. It will also coordinate efforts within DOD, the services and other agencies to minimize flight safety risks and national security concerns, Hicks said in the memo.
In addition to streamlining and improving the reporting, collection and analysis of relevant data, it will recommend changes to laws and regulations, doctrine, training, organizations and "other activities as deemed necessary by the Director," the memo said.