A video obtained and first published by The Drive last week reveals a mysterious drone swarm following an advanced Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyer in 2019.
The video was taken by the Ship Nautical Or Otherwise Photographic Interpretation and Exploitation (SNOOPIE) team for the USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) during an encounter on April 24th, 2019. The Drive obtained the footage through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and first published it Aug. 30.
The encounter with the mysterious drone began around 8:30 PM Pacific Time on April 24th, 2019 off the coast of Camp Pendleton, Calif.
As a videographer for the USS Zumwalt’s SNOOPIE team films the drone, someone is heard narrating their observations, stating they were “conducting routine operation 17 nautical miles off the coast of Camp Pendleton in international waters” and said at least six unknown unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) “made multiple flyovers” of the ship.
Much about the drone that flew over the USS Zumwalt remains a mystery.
David Kovar, CEO of the drone security firm URSA Inc. told The Drive. “I’m unable to determine much of the configuration of the aircraft.” Kovar noted the drone looks to be a multi-rotor configuration like the popular quad-copter designs of many off-the-shelf drones.
While the spacing of the drone’s lights might suggest it is a quad-copter, other designs exist that allow drones to make vertical takeoffs and landings but that can take on more efficient forward flight. The Drive noted the Chinese Navy has a drone that uses a quadcopter-style propeller arrangement for takeoffs but has wings and a pusher-prop on its fuselage for forward flight.
A former drone industry analyst who spoke to The Drive anonymously said, “the fact that the narrator said that there was a pattern of flight where there were no changes in altitude tells me that 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 former industry insider did say the video narrator’s comments about seeing six of these drones was intriguing. He said the drones were likely launched from a boat and that fact that there were six of these drones suggests to him “that this was likely a planned ‘mission’ because no one has 6 drones on a boat for recreational purposes.”
The April 24, 2019 encounter is just one of several mysterious drone encounters with U.S. warships in the spring and summer of 2019. The Drive has been particularly active in trying to find more information about these encounters.
USS Zumwalt is one of just three warships in the Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyer series. The other two ships in the class are the USS Michael Monsoor (DDG-1001) and the USS Lyndon B. Johnson (DDG-1002). The Zumwalt destroyers are an advanced but controversial design.
According to Business Insider, it cost the Navy $22.4 billion in research and development for the three Zumwalt-class destroyers. The USS Zumwalt alone cost $4.4 billion to build, making it the most expensive U.S. Navy destroyer at the time.
The Navy originally planned to build 32 of the ships, but shrunk down that goal to 24, and then seven, and finally to three.
According to the Navy, the Zumwalt design is intended to be a stealthy ship. The ships have two 30mm cannons and 80 advanced Peripheral Vertical Launch missile cells (PVLS). The ship is designed for a land attack role but is also equipped for anti-air warfare (AAW), anti-submarine warfare (ASW), and anti-surface warfare (ASuW) roles.