At a recent hearing of the Australian Senate Estimates; Senator Peter Whish-Wilson asked a number of questions relating to Unidentified Aerial Phenomena. This is the second year in a row, that the Senator has raised this issue. The questions were posed at the 9 November 2022 hearing for Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade.
Melbourne researcher Grant Lavac has been closely following the Senator's interest in the subject of UAP; and following the exchange in Senate Estimates, published a series of tweets which may be read here, including video clips of the questions and answers.
On18 November 2022, the official Australian Parliament Hansard transcript of the 9 November 2022 Senate Estimates Hearings, Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, became available. This is the Committee on which Senator Whish-Wilson sits. I extract the UAP relevant section of the transcript below.
Air Marshal Chipman: I started at ADFA in 1989.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: I graduated from there in 1988, so I was interested if you were there while I was there.
About a year ago, I asked the previous Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Hupfeld, about the release of a US defence intelligence report, a preliminary report on UAPs, unidentified aerial phenomena. I've just got some follow-up questions for you. There's obviously been a lot happening in this space in the last 12 months, and, of course, you've taken over the role. Just to fill you in briefly: following the release of that preliminary assessment by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, there was a defence legislation amendment in December 2021 that required the ODNI organisation to report to congress every year on any updates in relation to UAP. There was a series of congressional hearings in May this year, and then, actually only a few weeks ago, NASA set up their UAP study team or taskforce. I was hoping that, by the time I got to ask you these questions, they may have released their first preliminary assessment to congress, which was due last week, but we are waiting for that. So, with that kind of rough time line used as context, could I just ask you: since you've taken over as Chief of Air Force, in what capacity, if any at all, have you been briefed on the UAP phenomena since you've taken over the role in July?
Air Marshal Chipman: I haven't had any specific briefings in relation to UAPs since I've taken over.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Have you followed it on a personal level, just as a matter of interest?
Air Marshal Chipman: I do not follow it on a personal level.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: At the US Congressional hearing on UAP back in May, the Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence, Scott Bray, confirmed that, since the release of this preliminary report in 2021, they now had 400 case reports they were considering. Most of them were from pilots like you. He was quoted at those hearings as saying that the US had brought many allies and international partners into their discussions on UAP. Given how close we are to the US, have there been any discussions with Australian intelligence services or the Air Force in relation to their approach—
Air Marshal Chipman: I'm not aware of any formal discussions that we've held with the US.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: You're 'not aware'; does that mean that this just hasn't come across your desk, or can you say categorically there haven't been any?
Air Marshal Chipman: I imagine it would have come across my desk if those discussions were held in the last four months, but I can take that on notice and see if there were any other discussions that have been held.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Thank you. You are a pilot yourself. When our military aviators or defence personnel spot something they don't understand or can't identify in our airspace, what encouragement and reporting mechanisms are afforded to the men and women of the ADF in relation to that?
Air Marshal Chipman: We have a really strong reporting culture. If there's anything related to safety or airworthiness issues, then we strongly encourage our pilots to report those. There are also mechanisms through standard operational means: our air traffic control, and also our air defence personnel, who maintain constant surveillance of our airspace.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Back at the congressional hearings on UAP in May, the same Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence stated that Navy and Air Force crews now have step-by-step procedures for reporting on UAPs on their kneeboard in the cockpit and in their post-flight debrief procedures. Does that surprise you?
Air Marshal Chipman: We've seen no reason why we would institute those measures in Australia.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Would you understand why they are implementing—
Air Marshal Chipman: No.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Is there a reason you haven't had a discussion with our chief ally about why they're implementing those procedures?
Air Marshal Chipman: I was not aware of those procedures.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: As Chief of Air Force, would the establishment of a comparable reporting procedure be relatively straightforward to implement in Australia?
Air Marshal Chipman: I think so, if we saw the need. If there were issues that we became aware of that affected our safety or security of our operations in our airspace, then yes, it would be a simple matter for us to implement those procedures.
Wednesday, 9 November 2022 Senate Page 56
FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Lastly, in the context of our strong alliance with the US, the recently executed joint vision statement with the US Air Force, would you be prepared to make a commitment to establishing comparable reporting procedures, and what process would be required for that to occur?
Vice Adm. Johnston: We have routine practices across all of our defence capabilities. If an operationally significant event occurs, including those they might be able to explain or not, there is a reporting practice that is not limited to UAPs but anything that would accrue, whether on a vessel, aircraft, in the field, who might see something, there is an obligation to report those.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Obviously, incursions in defence training ranges by unidentified objects, intrusions by an unknown aircraft or objects would represent serious hazards to the safety of flight and potential threats to security of our operations. You obviously have strategies in place to do that here. I did raise this with the previous Air Marshal as well but are you aware of reports of US military exercises being cancelled because of concerns around air safety and observation of UAP's?
Senator Wong: Is this a UFO question?
Senator WHISH-WILSON: You could call them UFOs, if you like, Senator Wong. They are now technically known unidentified aerial phenomena.
Senator Wong: Just so I am clear.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Do you think it is funny?
Senator Wong: I haven't been here before. I don't think I have been asked questions about this. Can we assist at all, the senator, with this line of questioning?
Air Marshal Chipman: What I would say is I am not aware of that. I am aware there is a report due in the United States. If there is anything in that reporting that raises anything that would be of concern to us in our air space then we would take that seriously.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Thank you for that. Perhaps this is the last question for me and I will put some other questions on notice. I understand in 1996 the Air Force ceased handling reports on UAPs. It determined there was no scientific or compelling reason to continue to devote resources to that investigation. I mean, part of the reason these US structures have been set up is to provide an evidence based or a data based, including NASA's involvement, approach to: Can we eliminate this as a potential threat to national security? Are these foreign flying objects from other places? Who knows? Are you aware of any documentation around the process that led the Air Force to move away from devoting resources to investigating it?
Air Marshal Chipman: There is a history of that. We have confidence in the reporting mechanisms that the vice chief mentioned before so that if there were any issues of concern to us then they would be reported.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: But if there was new data, that would shift your determination to investigate this as a potential issue such as the US reports?
Air Marshal Chipman: If there are issues raised that we thought were relevant to the safety and security of operations in our air space then we would be seriously concerned about it.
The DOD's interest, if any, in UAP
For my summary of what interest, if any, the Australian Department of Defence has in UAP, please take a look at my review article here.