The Pentagon’s office for investigating unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs) over U.S. airspace needs more funding, according to lawmakers who questioned senior defense officials during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday, reports militarytimes.com.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who chairs the Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, asked Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and other officials why the budget request for the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO) was insufficient for the second consecutive year.
Gillibrand cited the recent incidents involving a Chinese high-altitude balloon and three unknown objects that challenged U.S. aerial supremacy as examples of why the U.S. needs to improve its understanding of UAPs.
Austin agreed that the AARO was an important office and said the Pentagon requested $11 million for its research in the fiscal year 2024 budget. However, this figure was disputed during the hearing and Military Times could not confirm it with Gillibrand’s office or the Pentagon as of publication.
The AARO was established in 2021 as a replacement for the Office of Naval Intelligence’s Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force, which was criticized for its lack of transparency and coordination with other agencies.
Gillibrand introduced an amendment to the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act that created the AARO and required it to share intelligence with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and release an annual public report on UAPs.
“Our national security depends on our ability to maintain air superiority and these phenomena pose a challenge to that,” Gillibrand said in a statement last December. “We need to stay ahead of UAP sightings and keep our nation safe.”
However, in the fiscal year 2023 budget, the Biden administration only funded the basic operating expenses for the AARO, leaving no room for research or analysis, according to lawmakers. In February, Gillibrand and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) wrote a letter signed by 12 other senators to Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks and Deputy Director of National Intelligence Stacey Dixon urging them to fully fund the AARO.
“They just put a placeholder number on it,” Rubio told Military Times on Wednesday. “We’re not going to pay attention to their budget numbers.”
“I think they need enough to do their job.”