THE United States Pentagon has admitted it spent millions of dollars a year on a secret program to investigate sightings of UFOs.
The shadowy program officially ended in 2012, according to the US Defence Department which has for the first time admitted its existence, but the New York Times has reported it is still up and running.
The unidentified flying objects were brought to the Pentagon’s attention by US military service members while performing their regular duties.
Dubbed the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program, the investigative branch of the Defence Department reportedly operated from 2007 to 2012 and had $US22 million ($A28.7 million) tucked away in the Pentagon’s $US600 billion ($A784.5 billion) annual budget.
The niche unit was run by former military intelligence officer Luis Elizondo who left his government role two months ago. The program produced documents describing sightings of UFOs that apparently moved very fast with no visible sign of propulsion or hovered with no apparent means of lift.
In a bid to shine a light on the secretive program, before he left the Defence Department, Mr Elizondo agitated for the release of three of the most unusual videos in the Pentagon’s secret vaults.
They included raw footage of encounters between US fighter jets and what the Pentagon calls “anomalous aerial vehicles”, or essentially UFOs.
One of the videos shows two Navy F/A-18F fighter jets chasing an unidentified object off the coast of San Diego during a routine training mission in 2004. The footage — snippets of which have now been made public — was taken from cockpit cameras and shows the US fighter pilots struggling to lock their radar on to the small oval-shaped white object.
“Look at that thing!” one pilot can be heard saying. “It’s rotating,” replies another pilot, clearly mystified by the strange aircraft.
“There’s a whole fleet of them,” they remark at one point.
The objects, which the pilots initially suspected as being some sort of drone, appear to hover briefly before zipping away at speeds that elicit gasps and shouts from the pilots, the Washington Post reported. The vision has prompted advocates of UFO research to claim such incidents are worthy of more public investigation.
In an interview with the New York Times one of the pilots featured in the released footage, Commander David Fravor, recounted the bizarre incident.
When he began a circular descent to get a closer look at the aircraft, the object began ascending towards him. Then it suddenly peeled away out of sight. The US pilots were then instructed to head towards a rendezvous point 96km away, but before they arrived they received a radio call from a Navy ship they were in contact with.
“Sir, you’re won’t believe it,” the operator said. What was believed to be the same object had been picked up on a radar and was already at the rendezvous point well before them.
“It accelerated like nothing I’ve ever seen,” Commander Fravor said in the interview, something which left him “pretty weirded out”.
At the time, Navy cruiser USS Princeton had been tracking mysterious aircraft in the area for two weeks.
The objects would appear suddenly at 80,000 feet and then hurtle toward the sea, eventually stopping at 20,000 feet and hovering. Then they either dropped out of radar range or shot straight back up, the Times reported.
Trying to explain the encounter to a fellow pilot at the time, he said: “I have no idea what I saw. It had no plumes, wings or rotors and outran our F-18s.”
The Department of Defence said in a statement the UFO program was now over.
“The Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program ended in the 2012 time frame. It was determined that there were other, higher priority issues that merited funding and it was in the best interest of the DoD to make a change,” a department spokesperson said.
“The DoD takes seriously all threats and potential threats to our people, our assets, and our mission and takes action whenever credible information is developed.”
However, officials familiar with the initiative told the Washington Post collection efforts continued as recently as last month.
The program was initially funded at the request of then Democratic Senator for Nevada, Harry Reid, who is a long-time enthusiast of space phenomena. He also reportedly ensured the program had a high degree of secrecy.
Most of the money allocated to the UFO program went to an aerospace research company run by billionaire entrepreneur Robert Bigelow who is a longtime friend of Mr Reid.
Mr Bigelow, who is currently working with NASA to produce innovative expandable spacecrafts, told America’s 60 Minutes earlier this year he was “absolutely convinced” that aliens existed and UFOs had visited Earth.
His former senator friend also clearly thinks there is something still worthy of investigation.
“If anyone says they have the answers, they’re fooling themselves,” Mr Reid wrote in a tweet yesterday.
“We don’t know the answers but we have plenty of evidence to support asking the questions.
“This is about science and national security. If America doesn’t take the lead in answering these questions, others will,” he said.
Funding reportedly dried up for the program around 2012 but Mr Elizondo continued in the role working with government agencies to investigate curious instances before leaving the post this year.
His decision to leave was apparently in protest of the mandate of excessive secrecy and internal opposition to the program among some senior ranking officials in the Pentagon.
“I was honoured to serve at the DoD and took my mission of exploring unexplained aerial phenomena quite seriously,” Mr Elizondo said. “In the end, however, I couldn’t carry out that mission, because the department — which was understandably overstretched — couldn’t give it the resources that the mounting evidence deserved.”
Mr Elizondo said the effort to investigate such cases continued and told the media he had a successor but declined to name them.
— With AFP