Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Is China studying UAP?

South China Morning Post article

Last year, on 4 June 2021, an article appeared in the "South China Morning Post" about Chinese government interest in UAP, written by Stephen Chen, in Bejing. As we have heard no more about official Chinese government interest in the topic, since then, I thought it was worth while reprinting the text of that 2021 article.

"China military uses AI to track rapidly increasing UFOs.

* To the People's Liberation Army they are 'unidentified air condition' and artificial intelligence is the best way to keep up with them

* Chinese researchers confirm that sighting reports from across the country are on the rise but aliens are unlikely to be responsible.

As the Pentagon prepares its report on UFOs, due later this month, Chinese military researchers have turned to artificial intelligence to track and analyse the increasing number of unknown objects in China's airspace.

To the People's Liberation Army, they are 'unidentified air condition' - a phrase which echoes the US miltary's "Unidentified Aerial Phenomena" but to the public they are better known as unidentified flying objects, or UFOs.

According to Wuhan-based researcher Chen Li from the Air Force Early Warning Academy, human  analytics have been overwhelmed in recent years by the rapidly mounting sighting reports from a wide range of military and civilian sources across the country.

"The frequent awareness of unidentified air condition in recent years brings severe challenges to air defence security of our country," said Chen in a 2019 report to a conference of senior information technology scientists in Bejing in 2019.

The PLA's task force dedicated to the unknown objects increasing relies on AI techniques to analyse its data, according to Chen's report which is in line with several other military studies published in domestic journals, most recently in August last year.

According to Chen, one advantage of AI is that it can "think outside the box" - checking crumbs of information scattered across many data sets created at different times and locations, and draw links unseen by human eyes to help determine whether sightings were caused by a hostile country, amateur aviation enthusiasts, nature or "other reason" he said.

The question about UFOs which most captures the imagination is whether there are alien spaceships. The US military recently confirmed the authenticity of some leaked video footage captured by Navy pilots, in which flying objects appear to move in a manner that cannot be explained by current technology or physical laws.

The Pentagon report - required by Congress on these sightings which is expected to be partially released to the public - could be the first time any military has openly discussed the topic.

UFOs are a sensitive issue for any defence force, not only because they could be related to intelligent lifeforms from space, but also, and perhaps more likely, they may be incursions by another country's military.

An intruder enemy drone or aircraft, eqipped with adanced interference technology, for example, could fool radar or other sensors by creating ghost images that jump around in an inexplicable manner on screen, such incidents are usually classified for defence reasons, or to avoid embarrassment.

China's only official confirmed UFO sighting, occurred over a military airbase in Cangzhou, Hebei Province, on October 19, 1998. According to a report in Hebei Daily official newspaper of the Province, which neighbours Bejing - two military jets were ordered to intercept a low-flying object that appeared suddenly above an airbase. The object looked like a "short stemmed mushroom," with two beams of light shooting down from its belly. When the jets approached the object climbed with "ghost-like" speed to an altitude of 20,000 metres before disappearing from radar and visual contact. 

According to Chen and his colleagues, the PLA has a three-tier reporting system to handle unknown aerial objects. The base-level, which includes military radar stations, air-force pilots, police station, weather station and Chinese Academy of Science is responsible for gathering as much raw data as possible.

The information is passed mid-tier to the PLA's regional military command which conducts preliminary analysis and transferring the data to a national database.

With the help of AI, PLA headquarters assigns a "threat index" to each object based on its behaviour, frequency of occurrences, aerodynamic design, radioactivity, possible make and materials, along with other information.

The AI can pull together other information which may help determine an object's purpose. For instance, if similar unknown objects have a tendency to appear during major political events or military -exercises, they are considered more likely to be a man-made device deployed by another country to gather intelligence.

Nature is responsible for a significant proportion of the suspicious activity detected by the military. Ionised particle can be produced by electricity in the atmosphere, creating apaprently inexplicable images on radar, or other electronic systems, for example.

Manual verification of these events usually takes time, but AI can quickly identify most natural causes by cross-checking various pieces of information - such as weather, satellite data, according to the military researchers.

A radar scientist based in Xi'an in the northeast province of Shanxi said, the increasing number of unknown objects in China's airspace was "more likely caused by humans than aliens."

Chinese authorities have gradually lessened control on flight activity in low altitudes over the past five years with drones have also become relatively cheap and popular, he said.

Meanwhile, increased US military activity in the South China Sea and other sensitive waters near China could also account for the increased appearance of objects that cannot be immediately explained, said the researcher, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the topic.


1. No actual statistics are given for the previous, and current number of sightings in a given period.

2. No links, or citations are given for the Chinese Journal articles mentioned in the article.

3. Although many international media reports reported on the newspaper article, I cannot find any independent sources to confirm various details given in the article.

4. I did locate one paper by Chen Li and others, titled "Research on the optimization strategy of phased array radar multi-area search performance," by Yiming Liu; Wen Sheng; Shihua Liu; Chen Li, at the 11-13 December 2019 IEEE International Conference on Signal, Information and Data processing. The conference location is given as Chongqing, China.

Update: 31 July 2022

The Liberation Times posted an excellent review of China and UN efforts. 

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