The special series of events began in July 2019 around the Channel Islands in California. Mysterious drone swarms appeared around several U.S. military ships for several days at a time, followed by the highest degree of investigation. Exactly what happened on these July nights was tried to be tracked down by The War Zone and their own investigation into data requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (mainly logbooks) and the information in the area during that period. built on position data provided by the automatic identification system (AIS). Their (otherwise not yet closed) investigation is now briefly summarized.
The first of the warships involved was the Arleigh Burke-class USS Kidd destroyer, but events affected several other warships in the area: the USS Rafael Peralta, the USS Russell, the USS John Finn, and the USS Paul Hamilton destroyers. The chain of bizarre stories began on the evening of July 14, 2019, around 10 p.m., local time, when the USS Kidd spotted two drones. It is important to mention that per drone these devices are referred to in the logbook, but the term UAV (unidentified aerial vehicle) is also commonly used. The incident has alerted the destroyer to their own internal intelligence team (The Ship’s Nautical Or Otherwise Photographic Interpretation and Exploitation team / SNOOPIE), who are able to react quickly to any unexpected events and record events with simple cameras.
The SNOOPIE is needed anyway because although the Arleigh Burke class destroyers are equipped with the most advanced sensor systems in the world, the team can respond quickly and flexibly to a wide variety of unexpected situations. After the drones appeared, the USS Kidd essentially ordered a radio silence and alerted the USS Rafael Peralta within 10 minutes, which ship also activated its own SNOOPIE team. At that time, the USS John Finn also indicated some movement and possible UAV activity.
The USS Rafael Peralta’s logbook writes of the white light floating above the ship’s deck and that the drone was able to keep up with the destroyer, meaning it not only traveled at the vehicle’s 16 knot speed, but kept its floating position above the ship’s helicopter landing. This is accompanied by the fact that, in the meantime, the visibility was extremely poor, the line of sight was less than a nautical mile (1852 meters), and, as it was, it all happened at night. It is important to mention that when the USS Rafael Peralta maneuvered, the incident lasted more than 90 minutes, which is far more than the amount of time commercially available drones can spend in the air.
The next night, the USS Rafael Peralta was the first to spot the unknown objects at 8:39 p.m., and then around 9 p.m., the USS Kidd noticed the drones. The USS Kidd tried to make evasive maneuvers, but the drones seemed to be chasing the ship – an incident recorded in the ship’s log entry at 21:20 that “more UAVs around the ship” but the word “around” was already a repair, originally “ship above ”, only the word“ above ”was crossed out.
17 minutes later, an order was issued to occupy Mark 87 positions. According to the War Zone, the Mark 87 can refer to two devices: either the Mark 87 Electro-Optical Director, which is part of the Mk20 Electro-Optical Sighting System (EOSS) and is located above the bridge. The system helps to target the ship’s 127mm cannon, but is also a sensitive observation tool in itself. In addition, the command could also apply to 25mm / 87 Mk38 guns.
At the same time, the USS Russel also became aware of activity: according to the logbook, the drones descended lower, moving back and forth, right and left. Meanwhile, a call ran aboard the USS Rafael Peralta from an ocean liner called Carnival Imagination, indicating that they had also spotted the drones, but they were not operating them. The incident then lasted for hours, with Rafael Peralta first noticing two and then four drones near the ship, and although the UAVs flew around the ships for 3-4 hours, none of the warships could identify them in that time.
The investigation then began with the Coast Guard, followed by a special agent from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), but later the FBI also became involved. The information obtained ran directly to the Commander of the Pacific Fleet, as well as to the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), who is at the top of the Navy hierarchy. In other words, the highest-ranking military leaders have learned of the event, and it will be significant later. At the start of the investigation, a nearby catamaran with drones on board was ruled out, but they would not have been able to do the feat in the logbooks, and the catamaran was well away from the warships on the second night. The next option was that it might be the U.S. Army’s own drones, as San Clemente Island and the nearby FLETA HOT training area are nearby. However, the Navy only operates drones in designated locations. Either way, with self-drone theory, the following events were ugly accounted for. The e-mail exchange requested by the War Zone, which has so far involved several investigative bodies, was stopped on July 25, just as the incident was repeated. Between July 25 and 30 – when investigators had just begun investigating encrypted materials, the drones reappeared. The July 25 incident could last about half an hour, according to the USS Kidd’s logbook, while on July 30, the special equipment gave a one-hour show. As the required data is constantly flowing into the War Zone, it is not yet known whether these cases have affected other ships as well. What is certain is that, based on the data now available, this initial investigation could not clarify the origin of the drones.
There is also no doubt from the data that these devices are capable of much more than commercially available drones – as they have been flying for a long time, moreover, very fast, at a speed of about 70 km / h. Based on the data, these devices covered 100 nautical miles (approximately 185 kilometers) on the night of July 14th. In addition, the drones were able to spot and follow the destroyer under extremely poor visibility conditions, while their controllers simultaneously controlled at least 5-6 such devices simultaneously. Another important circumstance is that they know nothing about the operators, nor how they could have been near the ships, and if they were much further away, on what basis (and at all) they controlled the drones. And if it was really about the Navy’s own drones as part of some pilot program, why did the incident happen again after word of it reached the highest commanders?
If, on the other hand, another country operates these devices, why did they uncover them instead of silently observing them, and why did the almost “cheeky” mode chase the destroyers? It is also a rather disturbing question, where is the drones when it comes to foreign power? Finally, it is interesting to note that drones were monitored with the most advanced sensors in addition to human troops for hours, but still could not clarify their origin. Nor is it clear, therefore, that they are drones at all. In any case, the paper adds that “extremely strange” things have happened before in this corner of the Pacific.