New Reporting Details How Naval Ships Were Repeatedly Swarmed by “Mystery Drones” Off the Coast of California

BY Zacc Dukowitz
1 April 2021

Back in July of 2019, U.S. naval ships off the coast of southern California were repeatedly swarmed at night by UAVs. Despite extensive investigations, the Navy still doesn’t know who they belong to or what the intentions were of those flying them.

The first cluster of these drone incursions took place over two days in mid-July of 2019, with up to six drones at a time flying over and around the ships.

The first hint that these incidents had taken place came from Dave Beaty, a documentary filmmaker, who mentioned a navy ship’s encounter with a possible UAV in a tweet last year:

The tweet got the attention of reporters at The Drive, who began submitting Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the U.S. government to learn more about what had taken place.

Those requests have resulted in a huge release of documents, including deck logs and “hundreds of gigabytes” of locational data revealing where the ships were when the flyovers took place.

What We Know

In many ways, the information obtained by The Drive raises more questions than it answers.

In broad strokes, we know:

  • Multiple incidents. There were multiple incidents in the summer of 2019 of unknown UAVs flying over naval ships off the coast of California.
  • No leads. The Navy still doesn’t know who was flying the drones or why they were doing it despite close scrutiny and an in-depth investigation that included the Navy, Coast Guard, and the FBI.
  • Advanced technology. The technology used by the drones seems advanced.

To elaborate on the last point, the UAVs seen by naval personnel were flying at night, in low visibility conditions, for up to three hours at a time. Further, they were flying at distances far from land (about 100 miles off the coast of California) or other possible suspect ships that could have served as takeoff/landing locations.

All of these factors—the technology, the lack of motive, and the lack of possible suspects—have led to the UAVs used in these incidents being dubbed “mystery drones” in popular reporting.

[Related read: Questions Linger as Search for Mysterious Drones in Colorado Ramps Down]

The First Two Nights

In total there were at least five U.S. Navy destroyers involved in these incidents: the USS Kidd, the USS Rafael Peralta, the USS Russel, the USS John Finn, and the USS Paul Hamilton.

A picture of a U.S. Navy destroyer (image source)

Here is an overview of what took place on the first and second nights when UAVs were seen flying around or over these ships (times are approximate):

First Night—July 14, 2019

  • 10 P.M.—USS Kidd reports seeing 2 UAVs, goes into restricted communication mode and activates SNOOPIE team.*
  • 10:10 P.M.—USS John Finn reports possible UAV activity, turns off its locational transponder system in response.
  • 10:10 P.M.—USS Rafael Peralta reports sighting a red flashing light in the sky, goes into restricted communication mode and activates SNOOPIE team.*
  • 11:00 P.M.—USS Rafael Peralta reports a “white light hovering over the ship’s flight deck.”

Photo credit: The Drive

The picture above is a shot of the deck log from the USS Kidd reporting the first UAV sighting at around 10 that night.

Note that SNOOPIE—an acronym that appears in the timeline above and in the second highlighted line from the log—stands for Ship Nautical Or Otherwise Photographic Interpretation and Exploitation. This is a team onboard every naval ship that is tasked with identifying foreign vessels, and documenting interesting events and “unknown contacts.”

It’s worth noting that calling in the SNOOPIE teams in U.S. waters is unusual.

And doing so at night is even more unusual, since the main purpose of the team is to ID a vessel spotted on the water—that is, to provide further information about something that is already basically recognized as a known object (i.e., another ship).

Second Night—July 15, 2019

The next night another series of incursions took place around the same ships:

  • 8:40 P.M.—USS Rafael Peralta reports a UAV flying overhead and activates its SNOOPIE team.
  • 9:00 P.M.—USS Kidd reports seeing the UAV and deploys its own SNOOPIE team.
  • 9:20 P.M.—USS Kidd reports “multiple UAVs around ship.”
  • 9:40 P.M.—Several ships ordered to “man Mark 87 stations”—due to security restrictions, it’s unclear if this phrase refers to manning the ship’s 5-inch gun or to using sophisticated surveillance equipment, but we do know that it is an action taken in response to the presence of the mystery UAVs.
  • SAME TIME—At the same time as ships are manning “Mark 87 stations” the USS Russell reports multiple drone sightings over a period of about 30 minutes, logged back to back.
  • SAME TIME—Also at this time the Carnival Imagination, a cruise ship in the area, notifies the naval ships that it sees 5-6 drones in the area and confirms that the drones are not theirs.
  • 9:40 – 12 P.M. Sightings of single and multiple UAVs continued for the next several hours, with the final sighting logged at 11:51 P.M.

Photo credit: The Drive

In one of these incidents, the UAV was matching the destroyer’s speed as it moved through the water at 16 knots (18.4 mph), hovering exactly over the ship’s helicopter landing pad—despite the challenges of low visibility and night flying.

In the last incident, the drones stayed in the air for almost three hours.

More Incidents

Further FOIA requests from the The Drive revealed that these two nights were just the first times these incursions took place.

There were also unknown UAV sightings on July 25 and 30.

More information has been sought via FOIA requests, and it could be that further incidents will be revealed as those requests lead to the release of yet more documents.

Could It Be UFOs?

You may have noticed an unusual acronym in the tweet from Dave Beaty, the documentary filmmaker—UAP.

UAP stands for Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon, and it is used in UFO circles.

According to information shared by Beaty in the same thread, a witness to one of the flyovers said the flying objects were “tic-tac shaped.”

This is significant to UFO researchers because a tic-tac shaped craft was seen in the same area off the coast of California by naval pilots in 2004. This craft moved faster and more quickly than any known aircraft ever made.

In 2019, after withholding the footage for 15 years, the Pentagon finally released a video of the craft captured by a naval pilot.

Secretive program tracked UFOs for 5 years

So could these UAVs actually be UFOs?

The UFO theory is certainly titillating, but it may not stand up to Occam’s Razor. Couldn’t there be a simpler solution to explain these lights in the sky? After all, the ship’s logs refer to them as UAVs and drones, not UAPs.

That being said, the alien angle seems to have had a big role in driving Beaty’s interest in the encounters, and it certainly contributed to The Drive learning about these incidents and seeking out more information.

Who do you think might be behind these mysterious drones, and what are their goals? Share your thoughts in this thread on the UAV Coach community forum.

Join a global community of


drone enthusiasts.