“Multiple UAVs around the ship” - Investigating the USS Kidd UAV incident


“Multiples UAV around the ship” - Investigating the USS Kidd UAV Incident


In 2020 American researcher Dave Beaty was contacted by a US Navy veteran who claimed that the USS Kidd, a US Navy destroyer, encountered UFOs in the SOCAL OPAREA, a Navy at-sea operating area where training exercises and system qualification tests are conducted. The anonymous Navy veteran explained that in 2004, while stationed on the USS Chaffee, he was involved in the now famous Tic Tac incident. He then claimed that a former shipmate had a similar experience on the USS Kidd in 2019.

Dave Beaty posted parts of his conversation with the Navy vet on social media. This is what this anonymous source told him :

“Another buddy of mine that was on Chafee with me retired as an OSCS said they had the same kind of stuff happen last year in SOCAL ! It was in July of 2019 on USS Kidd During the USS Theodore Roosevelt SWATT in SOCAL.”

Dave Beaty warned readers to “not get too excited“, since this story was not from a direct witness of the 2019 events. Moreover this information came from a single source. Beaty decided to investigate the story and was able to obtain the full USS Kidd July 2019 deck log through the FOIA.

The USS Kidd deck log

What Dave Beaty found in the USS Kidd deck log was intriguing. Hidden among pages of prosaic entries about day-to-day operations of the ship, he found several mentions of UAVs, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or drones. Although those single-line reports of drones don’t really stand out in the middle of mundane navigation details, contextual information and details make the whole matter more puzzling. Those sightings happened at night and SNOOPIE teams were deployed each time UAVs were observed from the USS Kidd deck. I was not familiar with this specific type of US Navy units, so I did a little research and I stumbled upon this article :

“The ship’s nautical or otherwise photographic intelligence exploitation (SNOOPIE) team is a reaction team that records and photographs unknown contacts that approach the ship within visual range for both intelligence gathering and documentation. The team is comprised of Sailors from Intelligence and Media departments and acts as the eyes for the tactical action officer (TAO) and commanding officer (CO) by documenting and reporting every action a contact makes so that everyone involved has the information they need to make tactical decisions.

“The no-kidding truth and final positive confirmation of what that contact is can only be done via visual identification,” said Lt. Cmdr. Neal Agamaite, from Kaneohe, Hawaii, one of Stennis’ TAOs. “The SNOOPIE team, in conjunction with our lookouts, provides the TAO that positive identification.”

Due to the SNOOPIE team’s training in intelligence, collections and analysis of threats, it is able to quickly identify the contact and determine if a contact’s weapons are manned or uncovered and whether or not they are in a threatening posture.“ 

So whatever the USS Kidd sailors observed in July of 2019, it was serious enough to deploy the SNOOPIE team and document those sightings. From that point on I decided to look into the USS Kidd incident.


Multiple UAVs, “River City 2” and SNOOPIE Teams

Dave shared his findings and was kind enough to send me the full copy of the USS Kidd deck log. I examined this 462-page document and I found mentions of UAVs on 4 different occasions. Here is a list of all entries referring to UAVs. (Note : Several other SNOOPIE team deployments are logged but with no reference to drones)

July 14th 2019

21.56 - AWAY SNOOPIE TEAM FOR 2 UAVs
22.14 - SET RIVER CITY 2
00.42 - SECURE SNOOPIE TEAM


I had no idea what River City referred to. I found this US Navy slide that described the “River City“ condition and additional information in a Navy/Marine OPSEC manual :

River City is an OPSEC measure used to prevent the release of critical or sensitive information by controlling outgoing communications and network paths from a ship or location while allowing users to perform mission-essential duties. The operations cell of a command or activity makes the decision to set River City conditions. Communications personnel then limit access to all outgoing communications circuits and trunks such as Web traffic, e-mail, and phone lines. Any morale, welfare, and recreation networks must be shut down as well to prevent any communication outside the command. If implemented completely, only predesignated essential personnel have communication access in any form to the outside world.“



The activation of the “River City 2” protocol is contextual information, but the fact that it happened while the SNOOPIE team was on alert and while UAVs were flying around the USS Kidd is intriguing to say the least. What we do know from the deck log is that during or shortly after this event, the communications and the information flow between the USS Kidd and the outside world were strictly controlled and restricted. The timing strongly suggest that this was related to the UAV incident.

July 15th 2019

20.56 - AWAY THE SNOOPIE TEAM STBD SIDE
21.20 - MULTIPLE UAVs AROUND SHIP
21.37 - MAN MARK 87 STATIONS


The next day, as the deck log entry shows, multiple UAVs were observed by the crew. The cryptic entry “MAN MARK 87 STATIONS” was added to the deck log just below this entry. I googled Mark 87 and found out that it refers to Mark 87 shot line rifles, according to a Navy training manual.

“Larger ships may be outfitted with line throwing guns to assist when docking at large distances from the pier or another ship. The Mk 87, Mod 1 line throwing rifle adapter kit, SW350-A1-MMO-010, is used on M14, M16, and M16A1 rifles to propel a rubber projectile. The shot line is attached to the projectile. Line throwing gunners must be properly trained, must be given permission from the pilot or dockmaster, and must provide adequate warning to individuals pierside prior to using the gun. The NAVSEA approved projectile is a four and one half inch diameter fluorescent orange heaving ball made of soft vinyl latex.”

M14 rifle with Mk 87 line kit attachment - Credit : US Navy

Those line-throwing adaptators for M14 or M16 rifles are usually used to attach two ships together before docking during replenishment at sea (RAS) operations. However there is no mention any docking or RAS operations in the following deck log pages. Were they trying to shoot the drones with rubber projectiles in order to try and recover them ?

July 25th 2019

01.23 - AWAY SNOOPIE TEAM FOR UAV
01.35 - CO [author’s note : Commanding Officer] ON THE BRIDGE
01.49 - CO OFF THE BRIDGE




July 30th 2019

02.16 - AWAY SNOOPIE TEAM FOR UAVS
02.24 - CO ON THE BRIDGE
03.25 - CO OFF THE BRIDGE
03.27 - STAND DOWN SNOOPIE TEAM



Those deck log entries suggest that the USS Kidd was on high alert each time those UAVs were spotted :  SNOOPIE teams were deployed, the “River City 2” protocol was activated on July 14th and M-14 Mark 87-equipped rifle stations were manned on July 15th. At that point, and based on what we can read in those logs, there is no way to tell exactly what happened : was it some kind of UAV attack training exercise or a real-life UAV incursion and flyby of a US Navy warship ? 

According to Dave Beaty’s source, those objects were not drones and the crew “was freaking out”.

The FOIA and the ORV Alguita

When I first heard about this incident on June 6th 2020 I filed several FOIA requests with the Navy and the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) to obtain additional records about this event. At the time of writing this article the ONI is still processing my request. But on January 14th 2021 the US Navy Third Fleet FOIA Office replied that they had located responsive records. They released a 3-page document about the USS Kidd UAV sightings and informed me that the release of approximately 8 additional pages containing classified information was denied because it could “jeopardize our national security“.


Those documents offer a new insight into the event. It should be noted that this incident was deemed serious enough to classify parts of the records. The 3-page document contains a series of e.mails between different components of the Third Fleet, the Pacific Fleet and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). Those e.mails were exchanged between July 23rd and July 25th 2019. The only redacted portions are US Navy personnel names.

The first e.mail, which was written by a NCIS Special Agent, says :

“Regarding the 14-15 Jul UAS’ incident IVO [in the vicinity of] USS KIDD and M/V BASS STRAIT. On Friday 19 Jul, USCG contacted the master of the ORV ALGUITA who subsequently provided the following information: ALGUITA has the Phantom IV UAS aboard. Their UAS's can only operate a very short distance from the ship (5-10 ft.) and they've been having difficulty operating them. It is unknown whether they were flying on the days in question. The master also related they didn’t see a US warship during the time period in question.. The SUPPLOT team is verifying the ALGUITA track, but a quick look does put them in the area. 

According to unclas sources, the ALGUITA has been contracted to document the Pacific Gyre. According to Phantom IV (drone) homepage, it has a 4.3 mile range and has a max speed of 45 mph (that could explain the UAS reporting as passing our ships at “40 kts.” 

Our USCG staff officer LCDR XXX reached out to his counterparts yesterday; they are tracking the ALGUITA and will provide track info. Where would you like updates to be sent (BWC/FIWO/other)? Are we going to designate ALGUITA a contact of interest? 

Standing by for rudder orders.“

Two other vessels are mentioned in this report :
-The M/V Bass Strait, a bulk carrier registered in Hong Kong, was somehow involved in this incident and from what we can read in this e.mail, the crew likely reported seeing UAVs.
-The ORV Alguita, an ocean research vessel from California, was considered to be a possible suspect in the July 14th/15th UAV situation because of its proximity to the Kidd at the time. Furthermore the Alguita crew had a Phantom 4 commercial drone onboard.

I reached out to the Alguita organization, and asked them if they were somehow involved in this event, and if they saw something. They replied I checked in with Captain Moore and he said they were too far to see anything.

The ORV Alguita - Credit : Captain Charles Moore

What doesn’t add up is that the July 14th entry reads “2 UAVs” and that “multiple UAVs” were reported on the 15th. This is not consistent with the only commercial drone that was aboard the Alguita.

We can’t rule out foul play by some average drone operator, but flying multiple commercial drones such as Phantom 4s at night, without visual contact, around a cruising military ship is, from experience, close to impossible. Blaming the Alguita, with a single drone onboard, doesn’t make sense.

Another ship, the M/V Bass Strait is also mentioned, and from what we can read in this e.mail, the crew likely reported seeing UAVs. I tried to contact the Bass Strait operator, but I haven’t received any reply yet.

The next e.mail is a reply by a Third Fleet officer.

“Roger all and had already captured most of the below. Thanks! We need to get to the “what is the intent” of all this, once we do, the determination to make ALGUITA a COI [Contact of Interest] can be made. 

XXX – Yes, please have any updated info on ALGUITA sent me, LT XXX and LCDR XXX. Unfortunately, the I&W watch does not have a group account.“

The third e.mail contains an exchange between the Third Fleet Intelligence Operations Lead and the US Coast Guard Liaison Officer, mentioning a briefing about UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems ) given to an Admiral.

One thing is certain : the USS Kidd was buzzed by multiple unmanned and/or unidentified aerial vehicles on five different nights and the whole crew was on high alert. In addition SNOOPIE teams documented the encounters. The fact that the NCIS launched an investigation confirms that this event was not a training exercise, but likely a range incursion.

Exploiting the Automatic Identification System (AIS) data

According to Wikipedia, the AIS is “a system that transmits a ship’s position so that other ships are aware of its position, to avoid collision. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) mandates the use of AIS in vessels larger than 300 gross tonnes that travel internationally. Many national governments have mandated vessels that fall outside the IMO regulation to use AIS. 

Each year, more than 300,000 unique AIS devices broadcast the location of a vessel along with other information, including identity, course and speed. Ground stations and satellites pick up this information, meaning a ship’s movements can be followed even in the most remote parts of the ocean.”

Basically AIS is a system used to track the position of all transponder-equipped vessels. I was able to retrieve the entire US AIS dataset for July 2019, and this is a huge dataset. I couldn’t exploit those data myself, so I turned to Adam Kehoe, whose skills and talent were of invaluable help. He reconstructed the track of the USS Kidd and other ships of interest.

What I had in mind was to check the position and the track of the USS Kidd, and to try and get a “situation awareness”. Was the ship close to some island ? Which vessels were around the Kidd when it was being buzzed by drones ? The main problem was that obviously the use of AIS is not compulsory for warships, but due recent hazardous situations and near-collisions, the Navy recommends the use of this system in areas with heavy maritime traffic. The USS Kidd AIS transponder was on for 3 out of 4 UAV sightings.

Credit : Adam Kehoe


This is the track of the USS Kidd in July 2019. As one can see on this map the Kidd AIS signal was lost on some occasions. The purple track is the M/V Bass Strait. Unfortunately, the Kidd transponder was off during the 14-15 July event, but we know precisely where the Bass Strait was, so we assumed that the Kidd was in the same area.

The next step was to find out which other vessels were in the vicinity of the Bass Strait and the USS Kidd at the time of the first event on July 14th.

Credit : Adam Kehoe


Three other US Navy ship, the USS Mobile Bay, the USS John Finn and the USS Paul Hamilton were in close proximity to the Bass Strait and the estimated location of the Kidd. I have requested the deck logs of those ship through FOIA. Whoever was operating drones so close to military ships was taking a lot of risks. But if this operator was collecting intelligence and data about US Navy ships and technology, it would make of lot of sense to fly in this area. The closest land is the U.S. Navy-controlled San Nicolas Island, about 25 nautical miles (40 kilometers) away. Commercial drones can’t fly a round-trip of 80 kilometers and fly in speeds in excess of 40 knots for tens of minutes around a ship, as mentioned in the released Navy e.mails. In addition it is unlikely someone would illegally operate a drone from an island under military control.


Adam managed to create lists of ships that were in the vicinity of the USS Kidd known position when UAV sightings occurred the next days, based on the AIS dataset. I compared those lists and tried to find a suspicious vessel that could have been lurking in the USS Kidd trail but unfortunately, no ship appears twice except the above-mentioned US Navy destroyers. Once again, it should be noted that those lists are not exhaustive since small vessels such as fishing boats are not required to activate AIS transponders when sailing. That's why the ORV Alguita doesn't appear anywhere.

Conclusion

This story contains numerous odd elements : repeated sightings around a warship, always at night ; unusual UAVs behavior ; the inability by the U.S. Navy to identify and locate the origin of those UAVs despite electronic countermeasures and countless detection systems. The released e.mails seem to confirm that the Navy was genuinely concerned by those sightings and launched an investigation to identify what really happened. This incident and the drone performance are very similar to the mysterious drone incursions over Guam, that were reported by The Drive’s journalists Tyler Rogoway and Joseph Trevithick in September 2020. The final paragraph of their great article seem to fit perfectly here :

”So what is happening here? How does this all play into a rash of other troubling drone sightings, including highly similar ones that have occurred over American nuclear facilities and in other highly restricted airspace, as well as the ongoing buzz about unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP)? […] In the meantime, the events on Guam in 2019 serve as maybe the most outstanding reminder of how the Pentagon's fixation on high-end threats, and the huge gold plated weapons programs that are put into play to counter them, have left even those very capabilities remarkably vulnerable to far less advanced attacks.”

Feel free to send any comment or suggestion to uapparallax(at)outlook.com

Special thanks to Dave Beaty and Adam Kehoe for their help and assistance. 


Reference

4. Mk 87 procedure - S9086-TW-STM-010/CH-582R2 - Naval Ship’s Technical Manual - Chapter 582 - Mooring and Towing : https://towmasters.files.wordpress.com/2009/05/nstm-chapter-582-mooring-towing.pdf

Comments

  1. Great article. Saw my fair share of UAP and USOs while sailing from Newport Beach, CA to various islands off the coast. Whales would surface on some occassions in excitement with their babies.

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