2021-03-25 21:02:59 UTC
Mystery drones hovered over Navy destroyers off California, report says
The drones were many miles from the mainland and were able to stay aloft
more than 90 minutes, longer than commercially available drones.
Image: USS Kidd
The USS Kidd, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, in the
Pacific Ocean on July 30, 2019.Anthony J. Rivera / US Navy via AFP -
Getty Images file
March 24, 2021, 2:11 PM PDT
By Dan De Luce
WASHINGTON — Several drones repeatedly swarmed Navy destroyers off the
California coast in July 2019, and it remains unclear who was behind the
brazen nighttime flights, according to a report on the website The
Drive, quoting ship logs.
As many as six drones flew around the warships at a time in often
low-visibility conditions near Southern California's Channel Islands
over a number of days, with the drones flashing lights and prompting
security precautions onboard, according to the report.
The report was based mainly on Navy ship logs The Drive obtained through
a Freedom of Information Act request, as well as publicly available ship
tracking data. A documentary filmmaker, Dave Beaty, first uncovered some
details about drone flights around the USS Kidd, a Navy destroyer, the
The Navy did not respond to a request for comment.
The episode raised the possibility of a serious security breach.
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The drone flights took place near San Clemente Island, which is home to
sensitive military facilities, including a Navy SEAL training site, the
Navy's only ship-to-shore live firing range and an airfield.
The mysterious drone flights prompted immediate inquiries from
investigators and intelligence officers in the Navy and the FBI,
including a special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service,
the FBI field office in Los Angeles and the director of the Maritime
Intelligence Operations Center within the Navy's 3rd Fleet, according to
emails obtained by The Drive. The emails made it clear that the issue
was getting high-level attention, all the way to the office of the chief
of naval operations.
Military authorities explored whether the Navy could have launched the
drones without the knowledge of the destroyers' crews. It was unclear
whether that was the case, according to the emails cited by the report.
Another jetpack reported thousands of feet above Los Angeles
The drones were able to stay aloft for 90 minutes or more, surpassing
the capability of commercially available drones, and covered at least
100 nautical miles in one case, the report said, citing the locations of
ships that reported spotting the aircraft.
According to ship logs, the drones were also able to fly at the same
speed as a destroyer traveling at 16 knots in low-visibility conditions,
which is defined as less than 1 nautical mile of visibility.
The first sighting of the unidentified drones came on the evening of
July 14, 2019, with sailors on the Kidd reporting two UAVs, or unmanned
aerial vehicles, in the ship's log.
According to the handwritten deck log, the ship deployed an onboard
intelligence unit, known as a "SNOOPIE" team, or Ship Nautical Or
Otherwise Photographic Interpretation and Exploitation team, to document
the robotic aircraft.
After the two drones were spotted, the Kidd took security precautions,
restricting communications in a mode referred to in the ship's log as
"River City 1," according to the report.
Two other Arleigh Burke-class destroyers then reported drones overheard.
The crew of the USS Rafael Peralta observed a "white light identified
hovering over" the ship's flight deck, according to the ship's log.
The next night, July 15, drones showed up again late in the evening. The
USS Russell documented a flurry of drone activity, with unmanned
aircraft dropping in elevation and moving forward and backward and left
A passing cruise ship, the Carnival Imagination, made a radio call to
the Rafael Peralta to tell the crew that the drones did not belong to
the cruise ship. The crew told the Navy vessel that they had seen as
many as five or six drones operating nearby, according to the Peralta's log.
Even as military officers tried to gather information about the July
14-15 incidents, more drones were spotted flying near warships in the
early morning on July 25 and July 30, the report said.
Dan De Luce
Dan De Luce is a reporter for the NBC News Investigative Unit.
Andrew Blankstein contributed.