AARO Has Only “Moderate Confidence” in Findings From Its Latest UAP Investigation. It’s Easy to See Why.

Eglin UAP

Welcome to this week’s Intelligence Brief… earlier this week, the Pentagon’s All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office released a report on its findings involving a UAP sighting reported by a military pilot near Eglin Air Force Base in January 2023. In our analysis, we’ll look at 1) background details on the UAP incident, and events leading up to the publication of AARO’s new report, 2) what AARO determined, and its conclusions about the purported UAP, 3) problems with AARO’s analysis, and 4) what both pro-UAP and skeptical experts have said about AARO’s findings.

Quote of the Week

“AARO has moderate confidence in this assessment due to the limited data provided.”

– Official AARO Report on “Eglin UAP”, 14 October 2023

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With that all behind us, it’s time we shift our attention over to the latest findings released by the DoD’s All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office, and why they have once again left the public questioning the efficacy of the Pentagon’s official UFO investigations.

Case Resolved: AARO Releases Its Latest Findings

On Wednesday, the Pentagon’s All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO) released the results of its investigation into a UAP incident involving four unidentified flying objects encountered by a military pilot near Eglin Air Force Base last year.

The incident, which reportedly occurred in January 2023, was first brought to widespread public attention by Florida Representative Matt Gaetz, who spoke about the incident publicly during a Congressional Hearing last summer.

“We were initially denied access to images, radar, and conversation with all members of the flight crew,” Gaetz said at the time, although eventually he was allowed to speak to the pilot who obtained images Gaetz was later shown which he characterized as “a UAP that I am not able to attach to any human capability, either from the United States or from any of our adversaries.”

Earlier this year, additional confirmation of the incident came to light through a response to a Freedom of Information Act request, which led to the release of drawings of the object based on the pilot’s description.

Sketch of “UAP-1” as described by the unnamed USAF pilot during the 2023 incident over the Gulf of New Mexico (Credit: USAF via FOIA/John Greenewald, The Black Vault)

Now, for the first time, infrared and electro-optical images obtained by the pilot during the aerial encounter have been made available as part of a report published at AARO’s website, along with the Pentagon UFO investigative group’s official determination about what they think the object may have been.

AARO’s Official Report on the Eglin Incident

“On 26 January 2023, a military pilot reported four potential unidentified anomalous phenomena (UAP) while operating in the Eglin Air Force Base training range off the coast of Florida,” an official report published at AARO’s website this week states of the 2023 incident.

“Through the onboard radar system, the pilot initially observed that the four objects were aloft between 16,000 – 18,000 feet and appeared to be flying in formation,” the report states, although noting that “the pilot observed only one of the four objects visually and captured two images of the single object via the aircraft’s electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensor,” and that the pilot was unable to record video of the event because the “the aircraft’s video recording equipment was inoperable prior to and during the aircraft’s flight.”

Eglin UAP
Electro-optical image of the object photographed by a military pilot in January 2023 near Eglin AFB (Credit: DoD/AARO)

Based on the imagery and description of the object and its behavior provided by the pilot, AARO investigators concluded that the UAP “very likely was an ordinary object and was not exhibiting anomalous or exceptional characteristics or flight behaviors,” although conceding that it only had “moderate confidence in this assessment due to the limited data provided.”

So what do AARO investigators think the object had probably been? “AARO assesses the object was a lighter-than-air (LTA) object,” the report states, “such as a large form-factor balloon; a meteorological balloon; a large Mylar balloon; or a large, commercial, outdoor, helium-filled, lighting balloon.”

“Moderate Confidence” and More Questions

Despite AARO’s “moderate confidence” in its identification, the report goes on to note that AARO’s Intelligence Community (IC) and Science and Technology (S&T) partners both expressed “high confidence” that the object “was not anomalous and very likely was some kind of balloon.”

Following the tried-and-true principle of Occam’s razor, one might assume that the balloon theory is indeed the simplest and, therefore, perhaps the best potential explanation in this instance. However, AARO’s self-asserted “moderate confidence” about this conclusion does seem to suggest its investigators maintained some uncertainty which, in fact, also seems highly warranted given several facts the AARO investigation fails to explain.

In his original report, the pilot stated that he had initially observed four objects on his radar before the system began to malfunction as he approached within 4000 feet of the nearest object (AARO found that the radar’s malfunction had been due to a circuit breaker that had tripped, and that engineers confirmed that this had previously occurred several times on this same aircraft; thus they did not link the malfunction to the presence of the object or any anomalous capabilities it displayed).

Although the balloon explanation could potentially make sense for a single object, what is the likelihood that there had been four of these escaped commercial balloons, all of which had seemingly maintained a diamond-shaped formation before the nearest object, under observation by the pilot, “descended into the cloud deck”? Notably, AARO’s investigators did not dispute the presence of the other three objects, probably because the radar had successfully recorded its detection of them prior to going offline.

However, while AARO offers a potential explanation for the radar malfunction, it remains unclear why the video recording capabilities on board the aircraft had been “inoperable prior to and during the aircraft’s flight.” Was there any determination about why the video systems had been deemed inoperable before the training operation in which the UAPs were observed? If so (and regardless of whether this is in any way associated with the object the pilot observed), one must wonder why an advanced fighter aircraft would be engaging in training exercises with both a disabled camera system and a faulty circuit breaker known to have tripped previously on several occasions, thereby disabling the aircraft’s radar.

Experts Remain Doubtful

There is at least one thing that AARO’s recent report and its “escaped commercial lighting balloon” theory does help to explain. Shortly after his departure as Director of AARO, Dr. Sean Kirkpatrick came forward with statements in a series of OpEds and interviews, one of which was conducted by CNN’s Peter Bergen, in which Kirkpatrick made references to such balloons escaping and causing UAP sightings. It seems fairly evident, based on the report released by AARO this week, that the Eglin case had been the instance Kirkpatrick had been referring to. Additionally, AARO’s report on the incident, dated October 14, 2023, would have been completed prior to Kirkpatrick’s departure as Director of AARO.

A lighting balloon displayed in a large garage, as depicted in AARO’s recently published report on the Eglin incident (Credit: DoD/AARO).

However, several commentators have expressed skepticism about AARO’s conclusions. In a posting on X, Marik von Rennenkampff, a former analyst with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, noted that he contacted the balloon company believed to have been the provider referenced by Kirkpatrick in interviews earlier this year, which said it had not lost any of its inflatable devices.

“I called the Florida-based company that makes these high-end industrial products,” von Rennenkampff wrote. “They told me their balloons do not come untethered randomly.”

Along similar lines, writer and investigator Mick West also expressed doubts about the lighting balloon hypothesis in a posting on X.

“This Eglin UFO looks like a white sphere wearing a hat,” West wrote, offering a pair of comparison images depicting the newly released infrared image of the object obtained by the pilot, which appears to be consistent with his description of the upper portion of the object resembling “a rounded, three-dimensional cone shape, similar to the shape of the ‘Apollo spacecraft’,” as described in AARO’s new report.

“The image on the left is the IR thermal image, adjusted the levels only,” West wrote in his X posting that accompanied the image comparison. “It shows a quite irregular ‘hat,’ which is not really consistent with the lighting balloon hypothesis.”

Eglin UAP
Unclassified infrared image of the Eglin UAP, depicting the conical “hat” shaped feature on the upper portion of the object, which appears inconsistent with the balloon hypothesis, albeit matching the pilot’s description of the object (Credit: DoD/AARO).

In summary, it seems clear why AARO only has “moderate confidence” in its explanation of the Eglin incident. In attempting to explain only the single object for which imagery was obtained, AARO fails to account for how four of the objects—all detected on radar and in a diamond formation—could similarly be explained by the “escaped lighting balloon” hypothesis. Further, this characterization appears to be inconsistent with what the imagery provided to AARO investigators by the pilot shows; images that, by contrast, seem to be a good match for the pilot’s description of the object based on memory, and on sketches he provided.

Thus, it’s no wonder that feedback appearing online about the new report—both from UAP proponents and from skeptics—has cast serious doubts on AARO’s conclusions. While expressing only “moderate confidence” in their findings and failing to account for several lingering questions about the 2023 Eglin case, that didn’t seem to prevent AARO from proceding with labeling the case as “Resolved” and clearing it for open publication… making it only the latest in a series of recent gaffes that do little to inspire public confidence in the Pentagon’s official UAP investigative office.

That concludes this week’s installment of The Intelligence Brief. You can read past editions of The Intelligence Brief at our website, or if you found this installment online, don’t forget to subscribe and get future email editions from us here. Also, if you have a tip or other information you’d like to send along directly to me, you can email me at micah [@] thedebrief [dot] org, or Tweet at me @MicahHanks.

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