Between late 2014 and early 2015, several incidents involving UAP were reportedly observed by U.S. Navy personnel with the USS Theodore Roosevelt carrier strike group.¹ Some of these UAP encounters were observed both visually and on radar, and in two instances produced footage of objects the Department of Defense later authorized for release and characterized as “unidentified.”²
The USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) is the fourth Nimitz-class carrier in the arsenal of the United States Navy. One of several ships named for U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, construction began on October 31, 1981, by Newport News Shipbuilding. Following its completion and christening in 1984, the ship was placed into active service on October 25, 1986.³ The USS Theodore Roosevelt Strike Group consists of the Nimitz-class carrier with support from Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 11, Destroyer Squadron 23, the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill (CG 52) and the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Russell (DDG 59).⁴
On March 11, 2015, Theodore Roosevelt departed from its homeport in Norfolk, Virginia, for deployment in the U.S. Navy's 5th, 6th and 7th Fleet areas of responsibility.⁵ In the months prior to the carrier’s deployment, several Navy personnel began reporting encounters with UAP during training exercises off the U.S. East Coast between Virginia and Florida.
The Objects, and the Witnesses
The UAP sightings, initially reported by The New York Times in May 2019, were said to have occurred “almost daily” for periods between the summer of 2014 and the Theodore Roosevelt’s deployment in March of the following year.
Although the appearance of the UAP varied between accounts, most of the objects were described by Navy personnel as small and lacking features. One description of the objects likened the UAP to “a spinning top moving against the wind.” In another incident involving pilots who reported a near midair collision as one of the objects flew between them, the UAP was said to resemble “a sphere encasing a cube.” According to the Times, Navy pilots who observed these objects said that no engines or power sources were visible on the UAP, and that exhaust plumes or other evidence of propulsion also remained absent when observing the UAP through infrared imaging systems.⁶
According to former Navy lieutenant and F/A-18F pilot Ryan Graves, the objects sometimes resembled “gauzy blobs” when viewed through cockpit displays. The UAP sightings reportedly occurred so frequently between late 2014 and early 2015 that pilots began calling them “those damn things” when they appeared.⁷ Graves told the Times that the objects “would be out there all day,” and were reportedly observed remaining in the air for periods of as much as 12 hours. ⁸
Along with Lieutenant Graves, the objects were also observed by Lieutenant Danny Accoin and others in Strike Fighter Squadron 11 (VFA-11), the “Red Rippers”, a United States Navy strike fighter squadron out of Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia. Three pilots with the squadron who spoke with the Times in 2019 declined to be named. The UAP incidents reportedly “tapered off” once Theodore Roosevelt was deployed for its mission in the Persian Gulf in March 2015. However, Graves later clarified that he “did occasionally see radar signatures that performed in ways that were consistent with our experiences back home, though at a significantly reduced rate.”⁹
Technologies Used to Detect the UAP
Although visual sightings of the objects were occasionally reported, pilots with VFA-11 were primarily able to detect the UAP witnessed in 2014 and 2015 with the aid of new systems the Navy’s F/A-18F Super Hornet fighter aircraft had been recently equipped with.
The earliest sighting reportedly occurred in the summer of 2014. Only a short time before this sighting, VFA-11’s fighter aircraft had undergone upgrades where their previous systems, based on decades-old technology, were replaced with the Raytheon-built AN/APG-79 radar.¹⁰ These state-of-the-art active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar systems provided the U.S. Navy’s aircraft with significantly enhanced resolution, range, target discrimination, and other detection capabilities.¹¹
VFA-11 pilots initially ignored the objects once the newly-equipped AN/APG-79 systems began detecting them, having misinterpreted the UAP for being false radar tracks. This was mainly said to have been due to their unusual flight performance capabilities; the objects would reportedly appear at anywhere from sea level to 30,000 feet and could slow down quickly, then make sudden leaps to hypersonic speeds.¹²
Lieutenant Accoin told the Times in 2019 that he encountered the objects on two occasions. In the first instance, after detecting the UAP on his AN/APG-79 radar he “set his plane to merge with it,” placing the object an estimated 1000 feet above him. From this position, Accoin stated that he could not see the UAP with his helmet camera, despite the object’s constant appearance on his radar system. The second incident occurred days later, during which Accoin said he succeeded in locking on the object both with a training missile on his F/A-18, and the jet’s infrared camera. “I knew it was not a false hit,” Accoin told the Times. Like in his initial encounter, he remained unable to detect the object visually on this occasion.¹³
Infrared footage of the objects was obtained on at least two occasions by VFA-11 pilots using Raytheon's Advanced Targeting Forward Looking Infrared (ATFLIR) pod. The ATFLIR integrates advanced Electro-Optical (EO) and Infra-Red (IR) sensors with one of the most powerful lasers presently in use by the military. According to Raytheon, the ATFLIR pod “can locate and designate targets day or night at ranges exceeding 40 nautical miles and altitudes surpassing 50,000 feet, outperforming comparable targeting systems.” ¹⁴
According to the Times, the first of the two known UAP videos captured by Navy personnel with Theodore Roosevelt, often referred to as “Gimbal”, was filmed off the coast of Florida near Jacksonville on 20 January 2015. In April 2022, documents obtained by researcher John Greenewald Jr. of The Black Vault, the largest online collection of documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) on the Internet, included a summary of an unclassified F/A-18 pilot brief that appeared to provide additional details on events related to this footage.¹⁵
In the video, the UAP appears to tilt or rotate as one pilot can be overheard saying, “This is a [expletive] drone, bro.” Another responds, “There’s a whole fleet of them. Look on the S.A.” Although none of the other objects can be seen in the video, the first pilot can be heard responding, “My gosh. They are all going against the wind. The wind is 120 knots to the West. Look at that thing, dude.” At one point, the pilot can be heard commenting on the object’s apparent rotation as it flies.¹⁶
The pilot brief summarized in documents obtained by The Black Vault in 2022 note that the Weapons Systems Officer (WSO) who participated in the brief, along with his pilot, “detected an air contact” that appeared to be “coming from the east and heading towards the ship.” The pilot and WSO initially mistook the object for a simulated adversary aircraft related to the Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX) the USS Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group had been participating in at that time. Locking on to the target to investigate this possibility, “the two aircrew determined that it was not a ‘false hit’,” and thereafter gained a temporary lock on the object, which the briefing document refers to as a “vehicle”. No further information is provided about what transpired after footage of the object was obtained, although the document notes that “a portion of that video was aired by the press” in December 2017, after which “Congressional interest in these sightings began to grow.” ¹⁷
A few weeks later, a second video, often referred to as “Go Fast,” was obtained in which an object appears to be moving at high speed as several attempts to track it are made. Once the pilots succeed in locking onto the target, one can be heard asking the camera operator, “Did you box a moving target?” The primary pilot responds that he “used an auto track.” Seconds later, the excited observers can be overheard saying “Oh my gosh man. What is that, man? Look at it fly.”¹⁸
The Roosevelt UAP videos first came to public attention in late 2017, along with a third Navy video filmed in 2004 that had previously appeared online several years earlier, all of which were circulated by To The Stars, a company co-founded by musician and entrepreneur Tom DeLonge. In September 2019, Navy spokesman Joseph Gradisher confirmed to researcher John Greenewald Jr. of The Black Vault that the objects in the videos depicted “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena.” ¹⁹
A U.S. Department of Defense briefing card dated September 19, 2019, entitled “Navy Confirmation of ‘UFO’ videos”, was eventually released to John Greenewald in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in September 2021, as part of a collection of briefing cards related to the the U.S. Navy’s investigations into UAP. ²⁰
A portion of the briefing document attributed to the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) stated that at the time of the publication of the two 2015 Roosevelt videos in The New York Times in December 2017, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) “conducted an investigation, focusing on the classification of the information in the video.” The investigation concluded that the videos were not classified, but that this alone “does not automatically approve material for public release.” An internal review by the OSD thereafter found that “while a request had been submitted in August 2017 to the Defense Office of Prepublication and Security Review (DOPSR) for release of the videos to government and industry partners for research purposes,” final approval was not granted for public release of the videos at that time.²¹
On April 27, 2020, the Pentagon issued an official statement announcing the authorized release of the three videos. “DOD is releasing the videos in order to clear up any misconceptions by the public on whether or not the footage that has been circulating was real, or whether or not there is more to the videos,” the Pentagon statement read.²²
Criticism and Possible Explanations
Several commentators have raised questions about the videos and the nature of the objects they depict. Skeptical UFO researcher Robert Sheaffer asked why “if unknown objects were supposedly seen ‘almost daily’ for nearly a year, and hung around ‘all day,’ we don’t have overwhelming video, photographic, and instrumental evidence of them, removing all doubt about their appearance and behavior?”²³
Some have also argued that explanations for videos might exist that do not involve anomalous aerial vehicles, or which may not even involve physical objects. In an April 2020 post at the website of the SETI institute, astronomer Seth Shostak noted, “One thing that strikes me as significant is that the videos were made from one type of fighter aircraft – F/A-18 Super Hornets – and with one type of wing camera, a so-called FLIR (Forward Looking InfraRed).” Shostak went on to ask if “there’s something about those FLIR cameras, or their deployment on the Hornets.”²⁴
Former Area 51 Special Projects engineer T.D. Barnes has expressed skepticism that the objects in the Roosevelt videos were entirely unrecognized by the pilots who filmed them. “The videos I’ve seen, the pilots were whooping it up. I think they knew,” Barnes told The Warzone in 2019.²⁵
Skeptical commentator and former video game programmer Mick West has argued that the speed of the object in the Go Fast video may represent an illusion created by the camera’s tight zoom while being locked onto the object. West similarly believes the January 2015 Gimbal footage is best explained by an illusion, noting that the object in the video is “consistent with two jet engines next to each other,” and that the indistinct shape present in the video resulted from the glare produced by the jet engines.²⁶
Former U.S. Department of State Bureau of International Security analyst Marik von Rennenkampff has characterized West’s arguments as stemming from “a semi-religious belief that the government’s UFO analysis is fatally flawed,” and that “he remains unconvinced that the government possesses data showing objects accelerating, changing direction and submerging in extraordinary ways,” despite official documentation that may support such conclusions.²⁷
Aviation journalist Tyler Rogoway has proposed that images with a U.S. patent filed in 1945 for a radar reflecting balloon are “alarmingly similar” to the description of a cube within a spherical shape as described by pilots who reported a near midair collision with one of the unidentified objects.²⁸ Rogoway has similarly argued that incidents involving military encounters with UAP “are actually the manifestation of foreign adversaries” employing drones, balloons, and other lower-end technologies “to gather intelligence of extreme fidelity on some of America’s most sensitive warfighting capabilities.” While Rogoway acknowledges that “there are certainly well-documented cases of seemingly unexplainable events,” speaking in reference to a widely discussed 2004 UAP incident involving the USS Nimitz and the U.S. Navy’s Carrier Strike Group 11, he adds that “At least when it comes to the 'Go Fast' and 'Gimbal' videos, while the exact origin of the craft shown may not be known, they certainly are not unexplainable.”²⁹
Vice president of Technology Development and Execution at Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems Dr. Steve Cummings said of the Navy UAP videos in 2017 that “To really be sure, we would need the raw data,” and “at least two sensors, like radar and [electro-optical/infrared], to search the skies... One way to actually verify these and be absolutely certain that this is not an anomaly is to get the same target, behaving the same way on multiple sensors.”³⁰
“It’s difficult, if not impossible, to say what these actually are,” wrote Ravi Kopparapu and Jacob Haqq-Misra in Scientific American, further asking “What happened before and after these video snippets? Were there any simultaneous observations from other instruments, or sightings by pilots?” Kopparapu and Haqq-Misra say that “Judging the nature of these objects… needs a coherent explanation that should accommodate and connect all the facts of the events. And this is where interdisciplinary scientific investigation is needed.”³¹
Impact and Official Response
Graves, Accoin, and other pilots who spoke with the Times in 2019 said they initially believed the UAP they observed were related to a classified drone program. However, this view changed after the incident involving a pilot who reported nearly having a midair collision with one of the objects. The incident aroused enough concern among the squadron that a flight safety report was filed. None of the pilots that spoke with the Times in 2019 drew any conclusions at that time about the origins or identity of the UAP they observed.
Navy spokesman Joseph Gradisher was quoted in the Times acknowledging that while some of the UAP incidents might indeed have involved objects like drones, there were several others that remained unexplained. According to Gradisher, “we don’t know who’s doing this, we don’t have enough data to track this.” The UAP incidents reported by personnel aboard the Roosevelt were among “a number of different reports” cited by Gradisher that led the Navy to revise its guidelines for pilots and others who encountered UAP.³²
In April 2019, Politico reported that the Navy was “updating and formalizing the process by which reports of any such suspected incursions can be made to the cognizant authorities,” and that “A new message to the fleet that will detail the steps for reporting is in draft.”³³ This new formal process of collecting reports from military personnel, in apparent response to incidents like those depicted in the Roosevelt videos, was later cited in a June 2021 report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The report, entitled “Preliminary Assessment: Unidentified Aerial Phenomena”, stated that the Navy’s UAP Task Force “concentrated its review on reports that occurred between 2004 and 2021, the majority of which are a result of this new tailored process to better capture UAP events through formalized reporting.”³⁴
In the April 2020 U.S. Department of Defense statement accompanying the authorized release of the Navy’s UAP videos, the Pentagon noted that “The aerial phenomena observed in the videos remain characterized as ‘unidentified’.”³⁵ To date, no explanation that definitively accounts for the objects detected and filmed by personnel aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt in 2014-2015 has surfaced.