In December 2017, The New York Times broke the ice on the blockbuster story that in 2004, US Navy pilots and ship personnel onboard the USS Nimitz encountered UFOs over a period of two weeks off the coast of Southern California – unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) whose performances stunned seasoned pilots and eventually the world as videos taken by radar were made public. That major story opened a military UFO Pandora’s Box as more personnel came forward to report similar encounters in 2014 and 2015. However, no military-UAP encounters stirred political leaders in Washington DC more than the swarms of UFOs reported by and recorded by US Navy vessels, again off the coast of southern California, in 2019. These swarm reports were seen as national security threats – even though they were not identified as human enemy aircraft or extraterrestrial -- and helped drive the Pentagon to form the UAP task force which had its first Congressional hearing earlier this year. That hearing specifically mentioned the west coast swarms and revealed video of another unmanned aerial system (UAS) swarm event that occurred off the East Coast of the United States this year. Now, the intrepid investigators at The War Zone have uncovered new classified military documents which reveal never-before-seen photographs of the swarms and detail their probable origins.
The 2019 encounters were reported by the USS Kidd, USS Rafael Peralta, USS Russell, USS John Finn, and USS Paul Hamilton during weeks of maneuvers near California’s Channel Islands. The documents generated during the encounters include deck logs which record data about the ship’s course, speed, changes and unusual events. On June 14, 2019, these deck logs show UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle or drone) reports as well as notices of them passed between the Navy ships. The notices include references to the Ship Nautical Or Otherwise Photographic Interpretation and Exploitation (SNOOPIE) team which are onboard sailors taking tactical photographs. Those photographs, included in The War Zone’s exposé, show what look like the UAPs and a possible source of the swarm – the Hong Kong-flagged bulk carrier MV Bass Strait. What’s more:
“In several of the pictures, dark spots presumed to be drones can be seen operating around the vessel.”
That’s right … a Hong Kong ship was flying drones around US Navy warships! The USS Bunker Hill, also in the area, reported tracking the UASs on radar up to an altitude of 21,000 feet, and labeled the image of one as a “Quadcopter style UAS.” The War Zone also obtained briefing slides from the USS Ralph Johnson, another destroyer in the area, describing intermittent radar tracking of at least four and possibly as many 14 drones.
At this point, it already seems apparent that the initial reports of these swarming UAPs were overly vague and cautious … and those reports left out quite a bit of crucial ship data. For instance, a famous photo of what appeared to be a triangular UFO was determined to be “a result of light passing through the night vision goggles, and then being recorded by an SLR camera." The July 21st encounter by the USS Paul Hamilton was later identified as a “local fisherman operating personal quadcopters.” In fact, drones belonging to fisherman seems to be trending as the ‘most likely cause’ of these UAP encounters with Navy ships. The USS Gabrielle Giffords was orbited by four drones in the same area general vicinity, and responded by launching its own MQ-8B rotary-wing reconnaissance UAS, which helped identify three small boats, possibly fishing vessels, as the probable source.
At this point, the War Zone points out that previous documents it had obtained were heavily redacted, but the newly released logs tell what was under the black stripes. For example, deck logs from the USS Russell on an encounter with five UAPs were possibly from a nearby pleasure, which was notified but never responded. At about the same time, the USS Paul Hamilton reported observing and identifying drones and linked them to a UNK (unknown) vessel.
As the War Zone’s investigators dug through the new data, they discovered reports on more southern California UAP swarm encounters never before seen in other reports. On March 30, 2019, the USS Harpers Ferry, a small amphibious dock landing ship, reported as many as 8 unknown drones flying directly over the ship at an altitude of about 500 feet. A very revealing draft of a public affairs statement said the drones appeared to be “conducting collection operations” on the ship -- that’s a fancy term for ‘surveillance’. This is not to say these drones were only surveilling small ships -- the USS Zumwalt, the Navy's most advanced surface combatant, encountered six drones on April 24, 2019, which reported flew across the flight deck of the ship in a “consistent pattern” that did not alter “course, speed, or altitude.” Some blurry photos of this encounter were included.
Is it any wonder why the US Congress has raised the alert level of these encounters as national security concerns?
Drone incidents have been increasing for years around airports worldwide, and the War Zone contacted DroneSec, an Australian drone cybersecurity firm, which confirmed that “there has been a marked increase in activity related to swarms” since late 2019 – the same time swarm activity around US Navy ships increased. DroneSec believes the majority of these are operated by nefarious parties for criminal activities and warns that there is no one technical strategy to identify, track, engage with and possibly down these ever-more-sophisticated drones.
The Pentagon releases and mass media reporting on these drone swarm incidents has often been vague, which leads to wild speculations on extraterrestrial sourcing and conspiracy theories on possible government coverups. The War Zone gives the USS Russell as an example – its leaked footage of a triangular UFO took a year to finally identify as a camera anomaly – an explanation that often smells more like coverup than disclosure. And the War Zone reminds us of what we already know and fear – countries like China (remember the Hong Kong boat?) are investing heavily in drone swarm technology. Is it any wonder the recent Pentagon UAP hearing focused heavily on security and ignored extraterrestrial possibilities? It’s frustrating to the “I want to believe” general public, but that’s their job.
Someone needs to keep their eyes on both. Kudos to the fine folks at The War Zone for doing just that with their dogged investigations.