Video shows swarm of six unidentified drones fly over US Navy’s most advanced destroyer ship off the coast of California, while vessel was in international waters

  • A new video shows the moment six mysterious drones circled around the USS Zumwalt, the US Navy’s most advanced warship
  • The video shows a drone with multicolored lights buzzing above the ship flying in ‘consistent patterns,’
  • Drone swarm events have become more common in recent years, and the US military has devoted more resources to combatting and understanding them
  • The incident happened just 17 miles off the coast of Southern California, near major Marine base Camp Pendleton

    The US Navy has released a new video showing the moment a sailor filmed six mysterious drones swarming around its most advanced warship in April 2019.

    In this incident, drones were captured floating around the USS Zumlwalt, though six other vessels were involved, and all incidents happened between March and July of 2019.

    It happened 19 miles off the coast of California, in international waters, while the Zumwalt was stationed at Camp Pendleton.

    In the video, a sailor can heard narrating the strange event and says the aircraft are operating at an altitude of 300 to 1000 feet and made multiple flyovers and circle patterns around the ship. 

    While the video is unclear, it shows a drone with multicolored lights buzzing above the ship flying in ‘consistent patterns,’ and the sailor also says they appear to be unarmed.

    At one point, one of the drones passed over the deck of the ship, and no contact with the vessel itself was made.  

    Drone swarm events have become more common in recent years, and in some incidents less capable drones are even used as ‘canaries’ to distract security systems or probe defenses.

The USS Paul Hamilton (left) recorded multiple encounters with drone swarms throughout 2019. On July 15, they were followed by drones believed to be operated by a Hong Kong-based cargo ship. On July 21, and again on July 30, they reported drones overhead. Fourteen drones surrounded the USS Ralph Johnson (pictured, right) on July 15, 2019

The drones have been documented by the navy’s SNOOPIE team – Ship Nautical Or Otherwise Photographic Interpretation and Exploitation team – to monitor the sightings. 

SNOOPIE is comprised of sailors who are trained to take photos to document unusual sightings.

Dave Kovar, CEO of URSA Inc. that specializes in drone security issues, said that while he is ‘unable to determine much of the configuration of the aircraft,’ it appears to have ‘four navigation lights.’

Kovar told The Drive the flying object could be a ‘multi-rotor, likely a quad, UAV (unidentified aerial vehicle) with running lights.’

Another analyst noted the drone is sophisticated and said ‘while the video isn’t of the best quality, I don’t see anything on the drone that would make me think it’s something that couldn’t be purchased off the shelf from a current commercial drone manufacturer.’

But the pattern of the flights and the consistent altitude also made the analyst note ‘the drones were either programmed to fly a certain route or controlled from a distance while possibly on altitude hold, which to me isn’t the hallmark of any advanced technology.’

The incident happened just 17 miles off the coast of Southern California, near major Marine base Camp Pendleton. 

Because it was so close to mainland US, the analyst concluded it was likely a ‘planned mission because no one has six drones on a boat for recreational purposes.’ 

Furthermore, the newly released video is ‘really the only way a forensic assessment can be made to determine the origin and capabilities associated with an unidentified drone,’ they said. 

The apparent surveillance of the USS Zumwalt is unique as it is the most technologically capable stealth warship the US Navy has at its disposal. 

The ship’s stealth technology allows it to be more durable than other destroyers as it can go undetected, and is also able to operate closer to enemy territory.

Director of Naval Intelligence Scott W. Bray appears before a House Intelligence Committee hearing on 'unidentified aerial phenomena'

Because it was so close to mainland US, an analyst concluded it was likely a ‘planned mission because no one has six drones on a boat for recreational purposes’

It was originally thought that these swarms of ‘tic tac’ shaped drones only affected the Navy for a few days in mid-July, but new documents reveal that Navy officials were still dealing with these encounters throughout the month. 

In one incident in July of 2019, the USS Russell fired five shots at the drones, which could fly at speeds of up to 45 miles an hour and traveled at least 100 nautical miles.

Two days later, the USS Russell sent out a ‘ghostbusters’ team around 10.30am on July 23. The team ‘completed’ their mission around 11am. 

The Drive defined a ‘ghostbuster’ as a rifle-shaped lower-end counter UAS device that jams radio frequencies between the drone and its operator.  

It is unknown if the USS Russell already had ‘ghostbusters’ on board the ship or if it was bought in specifically to combat the increase in drone presence. 

The Drive reported that the drones linked to the Hong Kong ship were not the only encounters of concern.

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