by Adam Kehoe and Marc Cecotti at The War Zone
In July of 2019, a truly bizarre series of events unfolded around California’s Channel Islands. Over a number of days, groups of unidentified aircraft, which the U.S. Navy simply refers to as ‘drones’ or ‘UAVs,’ pursued that service’s vessels, prompting a high-level investigation.
During the evening encounters, as many as six aircraft were reported swarming around the ships at once. The drones were described as flying for prolonged periods in low-visibility conditions, and performing brazen maneuvers over the Navy warships near a sensitive military training range less than 100 miles off Los Angeles. The ensuing investigation included elements of the Navy, Coast Guard, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The incidents received major attention, including from the Chief of Naval Operations—the apex of the Navy’s chain of command.
The following is our own investigation into these events, during which we discovered these events were far more extensive in scale than previously understood.
A Strange Story Emerges
Last year, documentary filmmaker Dave Beaty uncovered initial details about the events, centering on the Arleigh Burke class destroyer USS Kidd (DDG-100). That initial account described a tense encounter, culminating in the deployment of onboard intelligence teams.
New documents significantly expand the public’s knowledge of the scope and severity of that incident and reveal others that occurred around the same time. These details come largely from our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, which resulted in the disclosure of deck logs from the ships involved. Additionally, our investigation utilized hundreds of gigabytes of automatic identification system (AIS) ship location data to forensically reconstruct the position of both military and civilian ships in the area during this strange series of events.