In a rare open hearing Wednesday on the Pentagon’s so-called UFO office, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., panned the Biden administration for not sufficiently funding the outfit’s research.
During a Senate Armed Services Emerging Threats Subcommittee hearing on the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office, or AARO, Gillibrand, who chairs the panel, said despite substantial initial funding for AARO, the budgets that the Biden administration proposed for fiscal years 2023 and 2024 offered only enough funding to cover the office’s operating expenses.
The requests included “almost no funds to sustain the critical research and development work needed to sustain serious investigations,” Gillibrand said. “It took a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III from me, Senator Marco Rubio, and 14 others to get the office temporary relief for this fiscal year,” she said, referring to the Republican senator from Florida.
The office, which Gillibrand and others helped create as part of the fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, is tasked with synchronizing efforts across the Defense Department and other federal agencies to collect, track and identify instances of unidentified flying objects, also called UAPs.
The permanent office replaced the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force, housed within the Department of the Navy. The office, which is administered jointly between the Pentagon and the Director of National Intelligence, was designed to expand the task force’s work with more rigorous reporting requirements.
AARO gained increased attention early this year when a Chinese-operated high-altitude surveillance balloon traversed the country and captured the nation’s attention before being shot down off the East Coast.
At the time, lawmakers and administration officials gave conflicting accounts of the office’s role in advising the government on how to handle the balloon.
Pentagon spokesman Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder told reporters that AARO was a “key player” that provided expert advice when the balloon was first detected.
But Rubio said AARO took more of a back seat after the White House “stepped in.”
The subcommittee’s top Republican, Joni Ernst of Iowa, said the panel needed to know about Chinese or Russian advanced technology programs to spy on the U.S., and if AARO has detected such capabilities.
AARO Director Sean M. Kirkpatrick said his office was reviewing more than 650 UAP incidents reported by military personnel — up from 510 in January.
But, he said, the majority of cases can be explained.
“The majority of unidentified objects reported to AARO demonstrate mundane characteristics of balloons, uncrewed aerial systems, clutter, natural phenomena or other readily explainable sources,” Kirkpatrick said.
And, though he acknowledged it would likely disappoint many UFO-watchers, his office has found “no credible evidence thus far of extraterrestrial activity, off-world technology, or objects that defy the known laws of physics.”
Caroline Coudriet contributed to this report.