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  • Writer's pictureChristopher Mellon

Thoughts about the Security of U.S. Airspace in Advance of the Pending Hearing with AARO Director.

Thoughts about the Security of U.S. Airspace in Advance of the Pending Senate Hearing with AARO Director Dr. Sean Kirkpatrick:

Chinese spy balloons generated sensational press attention earlier this year, but they are no longer a significant problem now that we have adjusted our air defense radar systems. Large balloons can easily be detected, and, if necessary, destroyed, long before they reach the U.S. However, before concluding that U.S. airspace is secure, consider these disturbing incidents documented by investigative journalists at The War Zone:

To the best of my knowledge, none of these incidents has been resolved. Even more worrisome, these events are certainly no more than a small fraction of the total number of unresolved intrusions. Unfortunately, the taxpayer has no way of knowing the true scale of the problem or the adequacy of U.S. air defense capabilities since:

  1. NORAD itself was probably not notified of many of these events (e.g. events in the Pacific that are not in its jurisdiction). Indeed, I have it on good authority that NORAD was not even aware of the innumerable UAP intrusions of DoD test ranges off the East Coast of the U.S. from 2015-2017!

  2. NORAD and the USAF share little information regarding violations of U.S. airspace with Congress or others. For example, the new AARO office was not notified by NORAD of the incident above involving a mysterious aircraft that flew across the Pacific Northwest causing NORAD to launch fighter aircraft on strip alert in Oregon in 2017. Many thought AARO was created precisely for the purpose of investigating such UAP intrusions, yet that information was not provided to AARO. Indeed, I do not believe any member of Congress knows whether NORAD has scrambled jets 10 times or 1000 times to chase unidentified aircraft over the last decade.

  3. I do not believe any of the oversight committees has a clear sense of how often NORAD’s multi-billion dollar radar and space surveillance systems detect intrusions of U.S. airspace. By some accounts, NORAD detects over 1000 “uncorrelated targets” operating over North America annually.

One reason for the current dysfunctional state of affairs is the often excessively high levels of classification employed by the Air Force and now the Space Force. When I served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, there were numerous programs I was privy to that not even the Chairman or Ranking members of the Intelligence Committees could be briefed on pursuant to Section 119 of Title 10 which establishes “Waived Special Access Programs.” Those who think the government can’t keep secrets are wildly off the mark, the Defense Department, for the most part, does a splendid job with these programs (unlike the frequent leaks of intelligence data we see all too often). The only compromise of any of these SAP programs that I can recall during my time at DoD was simply the result of using that system in combat. Unfortunately, the reality is that the handful of members who are cleared for these closely held programs rarely find time to receive briefings on them. On the rare occasions when they did, they only had time for the most cursory, high-level review. I believe a somewhat larger group in Congress needs far more detail and specificity to determine the extent of the threat to U.S. airspace and the adequacy of U.S. air defenses. This will require some staff access to highly compartmented space defense data and programs to facilitate a proper inquiry.

In the meantime, I hope Congress will hold a hearing with the Commander of NORAD, the Director of National Intelligence and the U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff to drill down on the numbers and kinds of aircraft violating U.S. airspace. High on the agenda should be the effectiveness of the massive solid-state, phased array radars (SSPAR) that monitor the approaches to North America. This is essential if we are to determine the effectiveness of America’s massive multi-billion dollar air defense systems and plug gaps in those defenses.

In light of the Chinese balloon incident, and many other unsolved intrusions over vital installations, an accounting is urgently needed. Especially as tensions grow with Beijing, which is likely responsible for a number of these incidents.

In the meantime, here are some questions members of the Senate Armed Services Committee might consider asking Dr. Kirkpatrick on Wednesday. If Dr. Kirkpatrick doesn’t know the answers to the following questions, he should seek the answers and provide them to the Congressional oversight committees for the record:

  1. How many UAP have been reported to AARO based principally or solely on their detection by the SSPAR radar network?

  2. In how many cases did these detections lead to the launch of U.S. or Canadian fighter aircraft?

  3. Is AARO privy to reporting from Canadian NORAD military components? If so, how many such reports have been received? If not, why not?

  4. There seems to be some confusion about the outstanding number of currently unresolved UAP reports. What is the current total number?

  5. Did the SSPAR radar at Beale AFB detect any of the UAP observed by U.S. Navy radar operators aboard the USS Princeton from Nov 12-14., 2004? Those UAP reportedly descended from extremely high altitudes, and since they were visible to the USS Princeton’s Spy 1 radar, they should also have been visible to U.S. Air Force personnel operating the far more powerful radar at Beale AFB. If they weren’t, does this not suggest a major shortcoming that needs to be addressed?

  6. As noted above, since 2019 there have been a series of incidents involving close-range surveillance of U.S. navy warships operating off the coast of Southern California. These incidents have occurred almost directly in front of the powerful radar at Beale AFB. Again, did the Beale radar detect any of these unidentified objects?

  7. U.S. Navy aviators began seeing bizarre UAP violating restricted DoD airspace off the East Coast of the U.S. beginning in 2015. Some pilots, such as former F-18 aviator Lt. Ryan Graves, reported encountering these objects almost every time they conducted training exercises in that area. Did the SSPAR radar at Cape Cod detect any of these craft? If not, what needs to be done to enhance the effectiveness of these radars?

  8. America’s SSPAR radar network operates without interruption and covers immense regions, including some regions of near-earth space. Inevitably, these systems detect anomalous objects. Records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and testimony of retired military personnel indicate that, on occasion, objects demonstrating extreme, even unprecedented capabilities have been detected. What access has Dr. Kirkpatrick had to NORAD data about anomalous objects detected by U.S. air and space defense? Is he satisfied that he has been granted access to all pertinent information?

  9. Since the first famous American sighting of UAP by Kenneth Arnold in the 1940’s, tens of thousands of witnesses have reported UAP appearing to move silently at supersonic speeds. Such reporting is commonplace. These vehicles also generally do not appear to issue exhaust or have air intakes. Further, there is typically no evidence of plasma from the intense temperatures generated by the friction we would normally expect to observe at such extreme speeds (i.e. as observed when rockets return from space at extreme velocities). In other words, many UAP do not appear to be powered by combustion engines and the technology they are using seems to negate sonic booms and friction. What unique signatures might allow us to detect and track craft employing such radical technologies?

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