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Navy releases videos of mysterious drones that swarmed US warships

A pair of drones flying off the coast of California, as seen by the crew of the destroyer USS Russell (DDG 59) on July 17, 2019 (screenshot).
June 17, 2022

The U.S. Navy has released several videos this week of the mysterious drones that swarmed around several of their warships in the spring and summer 2019 as they operated off the coast of California.

The Drive, which has reported extensively on the mysterious drone encounters, obtained five new videos of the encounters through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. While recent document disclosures indicate the U.S. military believes these drones were likely piloted by nearby fishing vessels or as part of intelligence “collection operations” against the ships, investigators are still unsure exactly who is behind these drone encounters.

One video, taken by the Ship Nautical Or Otherwise Photographic Interpretation and Exploitation (SNOOPIE) team on the guided-missile destroyer USS Russell (DDG-59) on July 17, 2019, shows at least two triangle-shaped objects through a night-vision lens.

A second video from the USS Russel showed another encounter with another triangular flying object, which the videographer identified as a “possible UAS,” referring to an unmanned aircraft system (UAS).

In the second USS Russel video, dated July 30, the videographer said he could see flashing red, blue and solid white lights on the object, though those details were not visible through the night vision lens. During a congressional hearing on unidentified flying objects (UFOs) last month, Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence Scott Bray said government investigators had determined the triangular objects seen in this and other similar encounters were human-made UAS. Bray said the triangular appearance of the drones in these videos is not what they truly look like, but rather is “a result of light passing through the night vision goggles, and then being recorded by an SLR camera.” 

In another video, taken from the destroyer USS Paul Hamilton (DDG-60) on July 30, a crew member describes multiple UASs flying around the U.S. warship, with some approaching at an altitude of around 100 feet just off the bow of the ship.

The video from the USS Paul Hamilton appears to have been taken with a FLIR camera and the footage more clearly shows a quadcopter-style drone in flight.

As different warship crews encountered drones while operating off the coast of California, they began to suspect the Hong Kong-flagged bulk-carrier cargo ship known MV Bass Strait as a possible culprit.

An unclear July 15 video of the Bass Strait, taken by the USS Paul Hamilton shows what may be a drone flying near the cargo vessel.

One more video, taken by the destroyer USS Ralph Johnson (DDG-114) on July 15, provides another unclear view of a drone operating near the ship. In the video, a crew member described the drone’s movement around the ship as “safe and professional” up to that point.