|In 1994, the Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF) policy of accepting and investigating UFO sightings, or “Unusual Aerial Sightings” (UAS) as they called them, was downgraded to virtually no policy at all. But, like all things in modern government, there had to be a paper trail. In September, 2015 I submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the Department of Defence (DOD) for any material that “went into” this policy downgrade, and I was recently provided with never-before-seen administrative records from that era. I have discussed some of these records in Part 1 of this series, which can be found here.|
In this Part 2 of the series, I aim to continue providing imagery and discussion regarding this important release of information. In Part 1, the main item I studied was Wing Commander (later Group Captain) Brett Biddington’s (ret) lengthy draft of background information and suggestions which would soon morph into the 1994 downgrade of their UAS policy. One surprise was the level of security classification on much of this material. I also emphasized that some of it remains classified, and has been redacted (blacked out) so it could be released to me.
So what of RAAF Biddington’s final draft for the Chief of Air Staff? At 7 pages long, it differs somewhat from the first draft that Biddington wrote. Firstly, it has a cover page as one may expect, and is somewhat more formal, as we shall see. Firstly, the front cover page has “COVERING SECRET” stamped squarely in place. The title states “BREIF FOR CAS” – “CAS” is the acronym for Chief of Air Staff. Below this is “UNUSUAL AERIAL SIGHTINGS POLICY”. And in the bottom left, is the all-important “Brief prepared by WGCDR B. Biddington.” I have imaged this above.
The next page is has SECRET stamped at the top, as well as “Page 1 of 7” directly underneath. Below that is “DEPARTMENT OF DEFENCE” and “(AIR FORCE OFFICE)”. A line of text referring to the existing UAS policy states “Ref: AF 84 3508 Pt l (14)” and is followed by a center-of-page heading “BRIEF FOR CAS” and “UNUSUAL AERIAL SIGHTINGS – POLICY” underneath. The first sub-section is headed here, not surprisingly titled “BACKGROUND,” along with the remaining pages below:
Now that I have presented the final copy of the massive policy change material that the Chief of Air Staff saw and approved, it is worth having a look at the differences between WGCDR Brett Biddington’s draft and the final product. The draft, which can be examined in my Part 1 of this series, is shorter in regards to page numbers. This is because the line spacing and text is more tightly packed. Also, the final product for the Chief of Air Staff came with a front cover. The level of detail that Biddington goes to in the two products is somewhat different, also. Most importantly for us is the text that discusses RAAF interest in Unusual Aerial Sightings, especially around what I believe to be discussion on re-entered space debris and new (at the time) long-range aerospace surveillance.
For example, in relation to an “extra-terrestrial threat” to Australia, the draft version states on Page 2:
I think that an extra-terrestrial threat to Australian security is not likely to develop without some foreknowledge from astronomical and other surveillance systems. X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X The means by which such searches might be conducted are numerous and will vary with particular circumstances.
Compare that to the same topic in the final version, on Page 6:
Should unambiguous extra-terrestrial contact with earth occur (which may or may not be associated with UAS), however remote that possibility might be, levels of organisation well beyond the RAAF will be interested and involved. Should the RAAF be required respond, how we do so will be defined not by extant UAS policy but by instructions from Government. It follows that there is no valid reason for the RAAF to retain a formal interest in UAS.
In the draft version the redacted text is, I believe, most likely discussing long-range radar systems (and possibly other aerospace monitoring technologies) that were being evaluated or in initial stages of operation back in the early 1990’s. In the final version, the “extra-terrestrial threat” isn’t mentioned until Page 6. Also in the final version, there is an extra segment in the “RAAF Interest” sub-section which is worth an extra look and comprises lightly of material in the draft, as well as new discussion:
The enormous improvements in surveillance technologies in the past 20 years make it possible to predict when large items of space junk are likely to fall to earth and where they are likely to fall; this occurred with SKYLAB in 1983. Civil and military aviation communications in Australia are highly developed and initial indications that an aircraft is in difficulty are increasingly likely to come from within the system and not be dependent on external observation of flaming wreckage and falling debris. Witness observations of such events remain important but not from the UAS perspective.
Another difference between the two versions of this policy change material, although small, is the reference to the vanishing of pilot Frederick Valentich and logistical concerns. Paragraph 5, Page 2, of the draft version reads:
At a more mundane level, the UAS mechanism has provided information about missing and crashed aircraft. The disappearance of the pilot Valentich into Bass Straight (flying a Cessna) is a case in point.
Paragraph 8, Page 3, of the final version reads:
At a more mundane level, the UAS mechanism has provided information about missing and crashed aircraft.
I can’t see any meaning to this variance in content. The audience (the Chief of Air Staff), one presumes, expects rapid-fire information with minimum distractions. However, it will be of mild interest to those who have studied the Valentich disappearance. Speaking of the Chief of Air, an additional sentence found in the final version, which may have been tailored especially for him, can be found on Page 2 within the “Community Interest” sub-section:
Neither accusation has caused the RAAF serious embarrassment or concern.
Another difference between draft and final versions, which could be easily missed, is within the mention of probable downed space junk. The draft says:
The most recent example known to me occurred in the late 1970s/early 80s when a RAAF SQDLDR was dispatched at short notice to central Queensland..
The final version says:
The most recent example is thought to have occurred in the late 1970s/early 80s when a RAAF SQDLDR was dispatched at short notice to central Queensland.
See that? The passage of text “…example known to me occurred…” and “example is thought to have occurred” is subtly dissimilar. What meaning this has, keeping in mind the audience who was to review this material, is unknown to me. There are many other variances between WGCDR Brett Biddington’s draft policy review and the final product. Significant work would go into detail every single one. Even then, so little meaning can be attributed to many of them that attempting to do so scarcely seems worth the effort some twenty-two years later. In my next, and final, part of this series, I will discuss some of the other pages in the 42 page PDF that makes up this significant release by our Department of Defence.