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Tic Tac-Shaped Drones Swarmed Navy Destroyers. No One Knows Where They Came From.

Popular Mechanics logo Popular Mechanics 3/25/2021 Kyle Mizokami
a large ship in a body of water: Two years ago, mysterious Tic Tac-shaped drones swarmed multiple U.S. Navy destroyers. The Navy still can't explain the bizarre encounters. © U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jacob Estes/DVIDS Two years ago, mysterious Tic Tac-shaped drones swarmed multiple U.S. Navy destroyers. The Navy still can't explain the bizarre encounters.

  • Over the course of four nights in 2019, several unidentified drones visited U.S. Navy destroyers off the coast of California.
  • The drones, although seemingly harmless, displayed an obvious interest in the destroyers.
  • The Tic Tac-shaped objects were reportedly similar to the UFOs that Navy pilots observed in 2004.

Several U.S. Navy guided missile destroyers sailing off the coast of southern California reportedly encountered a mysterious fleet of drones in 2019. The Navy investigated the bizarre incident, which filmmaker David Beatty and The War Zone both reported, but came away without a satisfactory explanation.

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On the night of July 14, 2019, the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers USS Kidd, USS Rafael Peralta, and USS John Finn were sailing approximately 100 miles off the coast of Los Angeles when crew members sighted the strange craft.

a person holding a gun: A SNOOPIE team operating aboard USS Peleliu, April 2014. © Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Dustin Knight A SNOOPIE team operating aboard USS Peleliu, April 2014.

Ship logs indicate the USS Kidd spotted two“UAVs,” or unmanned aerial vehicles, and called out the ship’s Ship Nautical Or Otherwise Photographic Interpretation and Exploitation (SNOOPIE) team to investigate. SNOOPIE teams are typically made up of sailors equipped with commercially available, consumer-grade cameras that take pictures of objects of interest and possible threats to the ship.

Accord to Kidd’s log, Peralta and Finn also called out their SNOOPIE teams, with Finn explicitly announcing it had spotted two UAVs. Kidd saw a red light and observed another visible white light above its helicopter flight deck.

On the next night, Peralta and another Burke-class destroyer, USS Russell, spotted the UAVs again. Two other destroyers, USS Pinckney and USS Paul Hamilton, were also in the area, but the ships didn’t observe the drones.

a large ship in a body of water: A photo of the guided missile destroyers USS Kidd and USS Pinckney dated July 25, 2019. According to records, Kidd recorded a third set of sightings early that morning. © U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Olympia O. McCoy/DVIDS A photo of the guided missile destroyers USS Kidd and USS Pinckney dated July 25, 2019. According to records, Kidd recorded a third set of sightings early that morning.

Kidd recorded more sightings of the mysterious drones on July 25 and July 30.

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Although the crews of multiple warships saw the drones, their source remains unknown. The drones weren’t identified as civilian drone models, and despite a nearby cruise ship flying drones on the days of the encounter, the ship’s drones didn’t match the description of the mystery UAVs and weren’t airborne at the exact time of the sightings. In fact, the cruise ship, Carnival Imagination, called the Navy to report the sightings and declare the drones weren’t theirs.

Intriguingly, the sightings took place roughly near the location of the USS Nimitz’s now-infamous 2004 encounter with Navy-confirmed UFOs. Crew members who saw the 2019 drones described them as“Tic Tac-shaped,” which is exactly how the Nimitz fighter pilots described their own perplexing UAVs in 2004.

The drones are still a complete mystery. They reportedly demonstrated capabilities far exceeding commercial drones, including flight time. The destroyers also encountered the drones 100 miles from the California coastline—far beyond the reach of most commonly available drones—and there were no vessels in the vicinity that could have controlled them.

In one case, a drone paced a destroyer as it sailed at 16 knots, so the drone operator was clearly capable of observing the drone’s surroundings.

a small boat in a body of water: A sailor manning a watch station on the destroyer USS Gridley. © U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Bryan Jackson A sailor manning a watch station on the destroyer USS Gridley.

The bigger question: Who operates the drones, and why they would choose to interact with a large group of Navy destroyers? At one point, according to Beatty, the drones were“almost eye level with the bridge, hovering.” Whoever was operating the drones was clearly trying to ensure they caught the crews’ attention—and they certainly did.

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The Navy’s 2019 drone sightings were not isolated incidents. That September, observers spotted five to six drones in and around the Palo Verde nuclear power plant. And in January 2020, a wave of mystery drone sightings took place over Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming.

But the Burke-class destroyers’ sightings are simply baffling. Who do the drones belong to? And why would someone operating advanced drones off the coast of California intentionally seek out—and intentionally reveal themselves to—U.S. Navy destroyers?

One thing is for sure: If the Navy doesn’t know the answer to these questions, neither will we.

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