SEATTLE (Tribune News Service) — A Navy employee spotted a drone earlier this month flying in prohibited airspace over Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, home to eight Trident nuclear-armed submarines.
The Feb. 8 sighting was confirmed by a Navy spokeswoman, who in a written statement said the incident is under investigation in coordination with civilian law enforcement.
That investigation has included deploying Navy security officials to question homeowners who live by Bangor, according to Alan Starcevich, a Kitsap County resident who says he was interviewed by two base agents.
The agents said there had been repeated flights over Bangor, and that they happened at night, according to Starcevich.
"That was the spooky thing. They were happening only at night," Starcevich said. " I really can't imagine any of the neighbors or neighbor's kids thinking it's OK to run drones over Bangor. Everyone here is very aware that this is one of the most lethal places on earth."
Silvia Klatman, a Naval Base Kitsap spokeswoman, would confirm only the Feb. 8 incident, and declined any further comment, including what time the drone flew over the base.
"The Navy is committed to the security of our infrastructure, personnel and equipment as well as that of our surrounding neighbors, Klatman said in her written statement.
Bangor puts a premium on security. A shoreline sign not far from Starcevich's house declares: "Warning — U.S. Navy Restricted Area. Keep Out. Use of Force Authorized."
The Feb. 8 sighting comes at a time when the U.S. military is scrambling to improve defenses to the rapidly evolving capabilities of remote-controlled drones, also known as unmanned aerial systems, or UAS.
With drones now increasingly available and affordable, plenty of hobbyists have flown drones near airports or other places where they are not supposed to go. There also is concern within the U.S. military that drones could be used as tools for espionage or hostile actions.
"The technology to counter UAS's has not kept up with their development and proliferation," said Fred Roggero, president of Resilient Solutions, a Virginia-based firm that consults on defense against drones.
Roggero said small drones can easily be outfitted with infrared cameras that can offer nighttime imagery and can be very difficult to track by radar. And even if drone flights can be monitored, there are more challenges trying to figure out how best or take down a small drone as it buzzes about.
No numbers are publicly available on how often drones are spotted over military installations. Roggero said there is no clearinghouse that tracks these incursions. A Defense Department spokesman referred a reporter to the U.S. Northern Command, where a spokesman said there was no information on drone sightings.
For years, however, the Department of Defense has held annual classified exercises to test counter-drone technology. Last summer, the event — known as Black Dart — was opened to the media and took place during two weeks at Naval Base Ventura County and Sea Range.
During the 2015 exercise, one successful countermeasure involved a Marine sniper who — while riding in helicopter — shot down a drone, according to Breaking Defense, a defense industry news site.
The emphasis, this past year, was on small drones that are "a problem for everyone," said Air Force Maj. Scott Gregg, Black Dart's press officer, in an online account of the exercise published by the Defense Department.
Gregg said drones are used by more than 70 countries for government or military applications.
"What we're trying to do at Black Dart is make sure that we are staying ahead of the game and that we have a good understanding of their capabilities before those capabilities outpace ours," he said.
" ... Our allies are using them, our coalition partners are using them, but our adversaries are using them too," Gregg said.
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