How to decipher the liberation of the Pentagon
Photo: Bettmann Archives / Getty Images
In the early 1960s, Cuban radar operators witnessed a strange phenomenon: looking at their screens, they could see targets howling towards their airspace at tremendous speed. But when fighter jets were launched to intercept them, the targets simply disappeared. The elusive contraption appearing on their screens seemed to be the product of hyper-advanced technology – perhaps even an advanced civilization on another planet.
But what the Cubans saw was not alien technology. It was the result of human, and specifically American, technology, something called electromagnetic war, or EW. Knowing what EW is is crucial in putting into context the report released last week by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Entitled “Preliminary Assessment: Unidentified Aerial Phenomena”, the document had been eagerly awaited by those who hoped it would finally provide definitive official evidence that UFOs are real. Although these hopes did not materialize, the report was nonetheless revealing, if read closely.
Six pages long, the document lists 144 incidents reported by US government sources, mostly in the Navy, since 2004. Of that total, 18 events involved unknown aircraft that exhibited “patterns of movement or unusual flight characteristics ”, such as appearing to“ remain stationary in high winds, move upwind, maneuver abruptly or move at considerable speed, without discernible means of propulsion ”.
For many, impossible-moving aerial objects are an immediate reminder of extraterrestrial visitors. But for those working in the electronic warfare industry, strangely obvious phenomena are their stock-in-trade. The terrain is responsible for detecting adversaries across the electromagnetic spectrum, from visual light to infrared and radar, as well as manipulating signals so that your forces are not detected by the enemy. “By radiating electromagnetic energy, one can deny, deceive, disrupt, delay or deceive this energy to confuse an observer into what you are doing,” says Glenn “Powder” Carlson, president of the Old Crows Association, the organization professional EW.
The field dates back to the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, when both sides interfered with each other’s wireless telegraphy. But EW really took off during WWII with the invention of radar, which works by diffusing microwave energy to incoming enemy aircraft and detecting the reflected echo. Almost as soon as the radar became operational, both sides began to find countermeasures.
“The first electronic countermeasures, called ‘jamming’, involved emitting so much noise at the radar frequency that the real target was obscured,” said former Air Force test pilot Thomas Tilden. “Or you could drop a lot of ‘glitter’ [tiny metal strips] to flood the returns radar.
As technology progressed, the number of countermeasures techniques multiplied, which in turn spurred countermeasures. “It’s a game of chess in progress,” Carlson said. “As soon as you make a move, someone will do a countermove or a countermeasure.”
One breakthrough was to build planes in certain shapes, from particular materials, so that they reflected very little radar energy back to the sender. The F-35 and F-22 stealth fighters do this, as do the Chinese J-20 and the Russian Su-57. Another trick is to record the electromagnetic pulses from an enemy radar, and then read them with delays, to make it appear that an aircraft is further away, or with an offset frequency, so that it appears to be moving. at a different speed. It was this kind of trick, called Doppler spoofing, that allowed the United States to outwit Cuban air defense personnel.
The new ODNI report does not provide any details on individual UAP events, so it is impossible to independently weigh the underlying causes. But among the incidents he identifies, there is probably an event from 2014 that has already been described by New York Time. At the time, the pilots of a Navy squadron operating out of Virginia repeatedly detected strange targets on their newly updated radar systems. The objects appeared to drop suddenly from 30,000 feet to sea level, slowing down and accelerating to hypersonic speeds. In an incident, one of the pilots, Lt. Danny Accoin, turned to intercept one of these targets, but when he flew over his supposed location, there was nothing to see.
It’s possible that weird sightings like this could be the result of extraterrestrial activity, but what is more worrying for the Pentagon is the possibility that one of its potential adversaries stole a march on US capabilities to electronic warfare. The United States has long been at the technical forefront of electronic warfare, but there is no guarantee that this will continue to be the case. As electronics and data processing have become much more sophisticated, they have also become more widely available. Adversary nations like China and Russia have their own systems, as do smaller nations like Israel, Turkey, and Iran.
As last week’s report noted, “The UAP would present… a challenge to national security if it is a collection platform for foreign adversaries or if it provides evidence that an adversary potential has developed a revolutionary or disruptive technology ”.
Also of concern is the possibility that the sophisticated software running on US detection systems will also conceal bugs or glitches. In the past, a radar operator’s display showed the actual strength of the returned signal. Current systems electronically filter and enhance data to make it more useful. But this processing creates the possibility that information may be missed or created in error. Likewise, if your countermeasures make incorrect assumptions about your opponent’s equipment, it could also lead to errors.
“If you know the logic of your opponent’s sensor, you design measures to overcome that logic,” says Tilden. “The concern when we are testing is whether we have tested against real logic to encounter with an enemy or whether we have only tested against our own computers. As our measures, countermeasures and countermeasures become more and more complex, there is always a risk of programming error, which can lead to unexpected events.
So, just as Silicon Valley requires beta testers to report bugs in new software so that they can be fixed, the military needs its electronic warfare users to report malfunctions in order to make their equipment fully effective. . However, it would be a real problem if flight crews saw strange phenomena on their screens but did not report the incidents because they were afraid of being mocked.
The ODNI report notes that “socio-cultural stigmas and the limitations of sensors remain obstacles to collecting data on UAP…. “
By opening up the discussion of the mysterious aviation encounters to the general public, even to the point of endorsing the idea that alien UFOs are real, the military hopes to encourage regular reporting of potentially disturbing anomalies. “One of the reasons we’re so open is that we want the Airmen to give us their opinion, provide us with the data we need to look at this objectively,” said the spokesperson for the Navy, Joseph Gradisher. “The more data you have, the better you can analyze it and turn that data into information into knowledge. “
For Jonas Peter Akins, who served as an intelligence officer aboard the aircraft carrier Enterprise in the 2000s, the UAP military initiative is that it brings all branches of the military together in a single, standardized approach to the problem. “The services fly different jets, with different sensors, often built by different contractors,” he says. This means that the anomalies will tend to manifest themselves differently depending on who is looking at them. “Ensuring that there is a consistent form for reporting these encounters requires some sort of standardization that needs to happen not at the service level, but at the Department of Defense level,” Akins explains.
If the Pentagon is essentially fueling the public’s belief in UFOs to encourage reporting of electronic warfare attacks or sensor issues, it begs the question: why didn’t it just tell everyone that what really worries him are the shortcomings in his electronic warfare capabilities?
Akins has a theory. “One of the big challenges of a large organization of millions of people is admitting that you don’t know what’s going on without undermining morale,” he says. “There’s probably a little bit of,” we have to get our house in order, but we don’t want to admit that our house is not in order. “”