The Morning Jolt

National Security & Defense

The Conventional Wisdom on UFOs Is Shifting

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Skyler Stevens uses new night optics technology during Advanced Naval Technology Exercise 2018 at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., March 19, 2018. (U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Rhita Daniel/Handout via Reuters)

On the menu today: A deep dive into the U.S. military — and former president Barack Obama! — declaring that indeed, pilots encounter flying objects that we cannot identify on a regular basis.

Obama on UFO Videos: ‘We Don’t Know Exactly What They Are’

Much like the sudden shift on the conventional wisdom around the lab leak, the conventional wisdom about UFOs — not necessarily space aliens, but the existence of flying objects that authorities cannot identify — is shifting rapidly; it’s like you can feel the ground moving beneath your feet. 60 Minutes did a lengthy and credulous report, featuring declassified videos of objects that don’t look like any conventional aircraft, and interviews with former Pentagon officials and retired Navy pilots who seemed convinced.

No less a figure than former president Barack Obama is weighing in, indicating that he, as president, was kept in the loop about what U.S. military pilots were seeing the skies and unable to identify.

Last night on The Late Late Show with James Corden, Obama declared, “What is true, and I’m actually being serious here, is that there is footage and records of objects in the skies that we don’t know exactly what they are.” He continued: “We can’t explain how they move, their trajectory. They did not have an easily explainable pattern. And so I think that people still take seriously, trying to investigate and figure out what that is.”

What’s going on here? There are four main possibilities. These pilots could be witnessing secret U.S. government or military technology, secret technology from the private sector, secret technology from an unfriendly country, or . . . aliens. (Insert “I’m not saying it’s aliens . . . but it’s aliens” meme here.)

One: Secret U.S. government or military technology. Every now and then, government officials make comments that suggest our government has made amazing technological breakthroughs. 

Several times during his presidency, Donald Trump referred to a “super-duper missile.” In May 2020, he said at a press conference about the Space Force, “We’re building, right now, incredible military equipment at a level that nobody has ever seen before. We have no choice. We have to do it — with the adversaries we have out there. We have a — I call it the ‘super-duper missile.’ And I heard the other night, [it’s] 17 times faster than what they have right now.” Pentagon officials later elaborated that the president was referring to research and development of hypersonic weapons that can travel 17 times faster than the speed of sound.

For what it’s worth, one of the retired government officials interviewed in the 60 Minutes report, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for intelligence Christopher Mellon, said it’s not one of ours.

Former president Obama could be lying — come on, it’s happened before — and it could be that the highest levels of the U.S. government do know what these things are, but doesn’t want to say, as part of an elaborate effort to maintain the secrecy of a U.S. aerial-combat or surveillance advantage. But if we had technologies so advanced that our own pilots, who were not read into the program, thought they were beyond the capacity of human beings . . . well, wouldn’t we be doing a lot better on a lot of fronts? Does our military and intelligence community act like they’ve got access to technology that, in the words of one Pentagon investigator, “can do 6-to-700 g-forces, that can fly at 13,000 miles an hour, that can evade radar and that can fly through air and water and possibly space”?

And if you had that technology, would you be flying around off the coast of Virginia Beach “every day for at least a couple years,” as one former Navy pilot lieutenant told 60 Minutes?

Wouldn’t you spend more time buzzing the Natanz nuclear-research site in Iran or something?

Compared to other technological breakthroughs, classified aviation projects are a lot harder to keep secret, because they need to fly around. Sure, those testing the crafts can try to keep them in restricted airspace such as Groom Lake, a.k.a. Area 51, but sooner or later, someone will see something, either on the ground, in the air, on radar, or in a satellite image. The same is true for our space-based programs. Even when NASA has something secret, like the X-37B Secret unmanned Space Shuttle, sky-watchers know they’re launching it, they just don’t know what that shuttle’s mission is. And when NASA runs tests of aircraft near cities, it sends out a press release; it doesn’t want large numbers of people convinced they’ve just seen alien spacecraft.

And companies that develop these aircraft are often itching to showcase them to the world, like Northrop Grumman’s B-21 heavy bomber and Lockheed Martin’s new Speed Racer drone.

Then again, sometimes our defense establishment can keep secrets from the rest of the world. Last September, the U.S. Air Force revealed it had secretly designed, built, and flown at least one prototype of its Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) fighter, years ahead of schedule. And the concept art, revealed just last month, makes it look a little like the flattened, dart-like alien fighters from the movie Independence Day. It’s not hard to imagine someone seeing a test flight of that craft and thinking it was something alien.

Similarly, in the 1980s, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and Northrop Grumman developed an odd, boxy craft named “Tacit Blue.”

One problem with this theory is that one of the sightings discussed in the 60 Minutes report occurred in November 2004, almost 17 years ago. We’ve had aviation breakthroughs in the past 17 years, but nothing like what the Navy pilots described in that incident — the speed, the maneuverability, the ability to virtually disappear.

Two: Secret technology from the private sector. SpaceX and Blue Orchard are doing some amazing things, but what they’ve shown the world is nothing like what is seen on the Navy jets’ infrared-targeting cameras. And we’re stuck with the same question as this being a secret government project: If someone had the ability to do this 17 years ago . . . what have they been doing with it since? If you developed these kinds of extraordinary stealth and surveillance abilities, wouldn’t you want to apply it to some sort of goal other than checking out sunbathers around Virginia Beach?

Three: Secret technology from an unfriendly country. This is arguably the most ominous potential explanation.

We know China is developing its own stealth fighters, and it is believed that the FC-31 Gyrfalcon completed a flight test late last year. But the publicly available images of the Gyrfalcon suggest it looks like . . . a jet fighter, nothing like the circular or tube-like images seen on 60 Minutes.

Russia’s Okhotnik unmanned combat air vehicle is now being tested, and drones can definitely look more “alien” because they don’t need to fit a human pilot inside. They don’t need windows, and they don’t need wings. If talented tinkerers can create floating versions of the “Baby Yoda” cradle, Russian or Chinese flight engineers could create a flying drone that looks like a sphere or Tic-Tac. The question is whether they could make a vehicle that could move the way these images move.

And while China or Russia may seem aggressive and confident on the world stage right now, if they really had technology that was several generations ahead of the U.S. military’s, wouldn’t they be even more aggressive than they are now? Why rattle the saber on Taiwan or Ukraine when you’ve got an unbelievably lopsided air-superiority advantage?

And finally . . .

Four: They’re aliens. Weirdly, if these are alien craft, that almost seems more reassuring than a hostile human foreign power. These craft certainly don’t seem hostile, or at least immediately hostile. They certainly don’t seem to be interested in appearing in a giant craft above our cities, like in V. Maybe they have something akin to a “Prime Directive,” and believe they should only quietly observe humanity, and not interfere in our development. Maybe we’ve become a giant reality show for some alien civilization.

The isolated tribesmen of North Sentinel Island in the Bay of Bengal have never had serious contact with the outside world because they attack anyone who comes near them. The Indian government strongly discourages efforts to contact the tribesmen; attempts to contact them or interact usually are met with a volley of arrows and spears. The Sentinelese presumably have little to no sense of life outside of their island, in part because of their uniquely isolated culture.

Maybe we look like that to an alien culture. Human beings are messy, divided, sometimes mean. We’re capable of great acts and great mercy, but also atrocities and cruelty. Collectively, some group of people somewhere on Earth has been fighting wars over territory, resources, cultural differences, and faith for the entirety of human existence. Our societies are getting better — gradually — but human nature hasn’t changed much if it has changed at all. We exhibit short-term thinking, self-destructive bad habits, impulsive decision-making, greed, arrogance, stubborn denial of inconvenient facts, and lie to others and ourselves.

An alien civilization capable of developing the technology to travel between star systems — and to create stealthy surveillance craft! — probably worked a lot of these issues out a long time ago. We must look like unruly toddlers to them. Maybe we are best watched from a safe distance.

ADDENDUM: When you have 90 minutes or so to spare, check out my long chat with old friend Jonah Goldberg on The Remnant podcast.

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