America’s former Chief of Naval Operations stated on Thursday that the unidentified flying objects that appeared to have outperformed Navy fighter pilots on videos recorded in 2004 and 2015 remain a mystery.
“I’ve seen the videos and, at least in my time, most of the assessments were inconclusive as to what it was,” said retired Admiral Gary Roughead, following a speaking engagement in Sarasota. “But the whole issue of defense against autonomous vehicles is one that the department is taking pretty darned seriously.”
Three sets of gun-camera videos — one taken from an F-18 assigned to the USS Nimitz operating off southern California in November 2004, and two more from Super Hornets attached to the USS Roosevelt during maneuvers off Jacksonville in January 2015 — were authenticated as official government footage by the Defense Department last year.
The target of the 2004 footage, dubbed the “Tic Tac” for its oblong shape, reportedly plunged from 80,000 feet to 20,000 feet in less than a second, a speed that would have easily destroyed a conventional aircraft. The New York Times broke the story in 2017 and, last summer, in an unprecedented move, the Navy publicly announced it had issued new guidelines for its pilots to report “unidentified aircraft.”
Roughead commanded both the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets before serving as CNO from 2007 through 2011. Booked for a Sarasota Institute of Lifetime Learning lecture on China’s 21st century military strategy, the Admiral said “there weren’t that many” such events on his watch, but that developing “unmanned autonomous aircraft” remains a priority.
“I think we’re going to continue to see new technology in the form of unmanned systems that will begin to interfere with military capability. And we’re not alone. There’s no question that China and Russia want to plan.
“Without knowing what they may be — are they phenomena or are they vehicles that someone was able to get into place? — I think one of the great challenges that more people looked at is, where would these have come from? And quite frankly, I haven’t spent a lot of time on that issue.”
Retired Navy Cmdr. David Fravor, who chased the Tic Tac UFO and recounted that experience for the Times, also reported a related mystery occurring simultaneously underwater, beneath the Tic Tac. Roughead said underwater weapons systems pose the next great evolutionary hurdle.
“I remember there was one (UFO), and it may have been after I retired, that seemed to go underwater,” he said. “If in fact it was a real vehicle, how did it launch and recover? Because as you know, it’s not an easy thing to get something that can perform extraordinarily well in the air and dive into the water and become something else. What that phenomenon was, I can’t help you out there.”
In fact, Roughead recalled how, in public speeches to defense contractors, he announced the next “game-changing” breakthrough will be submersible military assets, whose power-sourcing could be “more transformative than the autonomous stuff in the air.” He compared the scale of such ambitions to the Apollo moon shots, which will demand “a triad of business, government, and academia coming together.”
“The aerodynamics and the hydrodynamics and the strength that’s required to be able to fly and operate at depths, and the power you need to move at high speeds in the air, then how do you convert that power to something under the water — those are huge technological challenges,” he said. “There’s no question in my mind that in the future of warfare, probably long after I’m gone, we’ll see that type of thing beginning to occur.”
Imagine, Roughead said, being able to park military technology at the bottom of the ocean, virtually undetected, at a strategic location, “tell it to go to sleep” indefinitely, and then activate it when needed.
But with a little foresight, he added, investigations into these mind-bending scenarios could be used to build bridges with rivals such as China.
“We have to look for opportunities, we have to look for venues where we can bring caring people together to say, OK, there’s a technological issue here, how do we bring the bright minds together,” Roughead said.
“How do we protect our legitimate national security technologies and intellectual property, but still get after some of the hard problems? I think that’s a way for closing some of the gaps down the road and bringing trust between the two.
“The first step for me is, how do you define what it is that we can work on together (to) remove some of the sensitivities and suspicions? Until you have that discussion, you’re not going to make any progress. The journey begins with the first step.”
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