April 20, 2021

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Navy Still Has No Idea What Mysterious Drones That Stalked Its Ships for Days Were

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The USS Kidd, a Navy guided missile destroyer at the center of the drone incident in July 2019.
Photo: Gregory Bull (Getty Images)

The U.S. Navy still has no idea who sent a swarm of drones to buzz warships off the coast of California in July 2019, or really even what kind of drones they were or what they were doing, NBC News reported on Monday.

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News of the incident was first reported by the Drive, which wrote that deck logs obtained under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) shows warships near the “sensitive” military training range in the Channel Islands were regularly buzzed for days by drones. The unidentified aerial vehicles began their “prolonged” runs in the evening, often during low visibility conditions. The Drive also used “hundreds of gigabytes of automatic identification system (AIS) ship location data to forensically reconstruct” the occurrences. The AIS data showed that the drones focused on the Arleigh Burke class destroyer USS Kidd, but the USS Rafael Peralta, USS Russell, USS John Finn, and USS Paul Hamilton were nearby, some of which were involved.

The combination of ship logs and AIS data showed that the drones were in operation for well over 90 minutes, beyond the capabilities of typical commercial units, and that their existence was independently confirmed by sightings by the cruise liner Carnival Imagination. Naval investigators attempted to identify what the craft were or who was operating them to no avail (a nearby catamaran, the ORV Alguita, denied having drones capable of carrying out such an operation).

As the Drive noted, it’s curious that despite using their sophisticated sensor suites and deploying onboard intelligence teams to record the craft, the vessels involved weren’t able to produce a better picture of what happened, and the matter went unresolved despite reports reaching the “highest level of the Navy hierarchy.” The FBI was also involved in the investigation, according to NBC. It’s possible the drones in question were something else entirely.

Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Gilday addressed the issue at a Defense Writers Group event in DC on Monday, NBC reported. The Navy has acknowledged a number of bizarre incidents involving sightings of unidentified phenomena, including instances where fighter pilots encountered ostensible objects that were moving in ways seemingly beyond any known human technical capability. At the same time, various reports have documented Pentagon efforts seeking to shed light on a number of incidents involving unidentified aircraft, such as the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (which itself engaged in some questionable spending). Gilday referenced the Navy’s ongoing efforts to streamline the reporting process around those types of incidents, as well as a forthcoming report the Senate Intelligence Committee requested the Defense Department and Director of National Intelligence finish by June.

Asked if the Navy had identified the drones, Gilday responded, “No, we have not. I am aware of those sightings, and as it’s been reported, there have been other sightings by aviators in the air and by other ships not only of the United States, but other nations—and of course other elements within the U.S. joint force.”

“Those findings have been collected and they still are being analyzed,” Gilday added, saying there is “a well-established process in place across the joint force to collect that data and to get it to a separate repository for analysis.”

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Asked whether the craft were “extraterrestrial,” NBC News wrote, Gilday didn’t take the opportunity to deny the possibility entirely but said he had “no indications at all of that.” So that settles that, right?

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