Lawmakers have called to increase funding for the Pentagon’s unidentified aerial phenomena research office following the release of the Biden administration’s budget request.
During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) questioned senior Pentagon officials, including Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, about the budget request for the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office. Questions from Gillibrand, who chairs the Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, focused on why the office was underfunded for the second year in a row.
“The incidents last month involving the Chinese high-altitude balloon and the three unknown objects highlighted the need for us to continue to improve our understanding of UAP’s over U.S. airspace,” Gillibrand said.
In response, Austin pledged to fully fund the office in the future, and said the Pentagon requested $11 million for its research in the fiscal year 2024 budget.
Military Times has reached out to Gillibrand’s office for clarification on the figure, which was disputed during the hearing. The Pentagon did not respond to a request for comment about Austin’s remarks as of publication. On March 14, Pentagon spokesperson Susan Gough told Military Times the fiscal year 2024 AARO budget figures were classified.
Gillibrand has focused on AARO funding and coordination since the office’s inception. In 2021, Gillibrand introduced an amendment to the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act to replace the Office of Naval Intelligence’s Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force with the AARO. The goal of the restructuring, she said, was to increase intelligence sharing between the Pentagon and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
“Our national security efforts rely on aerial supremacy and these phenomena present a challenge to our dominance over the air,” Gillibrand said in a statement on Dec. 9, 2021, ahead of the office’s formation. “Staying ahead of UAP sightings is critical to keeping our strategic edge and keeping our nation safe.”
As part of the amendment’s text, the ODNI is required to release an annual public report on UAPs.
On Feb. 16, 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 calling for full funding for the AARO. In the fiscal year 2023 budget, the Biden administration failed to fund anything besides basic operating expenses for the AARO, lawmakers argued.
“They just put a placeholder number on it,” Rubio told Military Times on Wednesday. “Luckily, we’re not going to pay attention to [the Biden administration’s] budget numbers.”
“I think they need enough to do their job. If not, don’t have it,” he added.
Gillibrand also questioned Pentagon Comptroller Michael McCord about their budget request for AARO. McCord said he was not told by the Under Secretary of Defense Intelligence and Security Ronald Moultrie, who has purview over AARO, that the office needed more funding.
“[AARO] is a relatively new office we are standing up,” McCord testified. “I am under the impression that we have adequate funding for the relatively new [office].”
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Zamone “Z” Perez is a rapid response reporter and podcast producer at Defense News and Military Times. He previously worked at Foreign Policy and Ufahamu Africa. He is a graduate of Northwestern University, where he researched international ethics and atrocity prevention in his thesis. He can be found on Twitter @zamoneperez.