Missile Firing off LA

A missile was, allegedly, fired off the California coast, near Los Angeles monday night, to some consternation.
It was most likely a US Navy launch of a realistic target missile for an Anti-Ballistic Missile test underway over the last few days with the Japanese Navy.

It was, most certainly, despite any denials and claims from the Navy, a US Navy missile, probably being fired as part of an interesting ongoing exercise.

NBC video with video from CBS traffic helicopter.

Notice to Mariners, 45/2010 has a clear warning:

434/10(18). EASTERN NORTH PACIFIC. CALIFORNIA. MISSILES. 1. INTERMITTENT MISSILE FIRING OPERATIONS 0001Z TO 2359Z
DAILY MONDAY THRU SUNDAY IN THE NAVAL AIR WARFARE CENTER SEA RANGE. THE MAJORITY OF MISSILE FIRINGS TAKE PLACE 1400Z TO 2359Z AND 0001Z TO 0200Z DAILY MONDAY THRU FRIDAY IN AREA BOUND BY
34-02N 119-04W, 33-52N 119-06W, 33-29N 118-37W, 33-20N 118-37W, 32-11N 120-16W, 31-54N 121-35W, 35-09N 123-39W, 35-29N 123-00W, 35-57N 121-32W, 34-04N 119-04W.
2. VESSELS MAY BE REQUESTED TO ALTER COURSE WITHIN THE ABOVE AREA DUE TO FIRING OPERATIONS AND ARE REQUESTED TO CONTACT PLEAD CONTROL ON 5081.5 MHZ (5080 KHZ) OR 3238.5 KHZ (3237 KHZ) SECONDARY OR 156.8 MHZ (CH 16) OR 127.55 MHZ BEFORE ENTERING THE ABOVE BOUNDARIES AND MAINTAIN CONTINUOUS GUARD WHILE WITHIN THE RANGE.
3. VESSELS INBOUND AND OUTBOUND FOR SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA PORTS WILL CREATE THE LEAST INTERFERENCE TO FIRING OPERATIONS DURING THE SPECIFIC PERIODS, AS WELL AS ENHANCE THE VESSEL’S
SAFETY WHEN PASSING THROUGH THE VICINITY OF THE SEA RANGE IF THEY WILL TRANSIT VIA THE SANTA BARBARA CHANNEL AND WITHIN NINE MILES OFFSHORE VICINITY OF POINT MUGU OR CROSS THE AREA SOUTHWEST OF SAN NICOLAS ISLAND BETWEEN SUNSET AND SUNRISE.
4. CANCEL NAVAREA XII 427/10.

warning is repeated in 46/2010, and they note missile firing activity off Kauai also.


View Larger Map

Approximate location of “Intermittent missile firing zone”.

This is almost certainly part of an exercise underway with the Japanese Navy.
Last week a missile fired from Kauai was intercepted by a Japanese ABM ship,
successfully, according to reports.

The exercise probably followed through with more challenging targets.
A Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile from further away would be suitable, so someone fired one from a Navy Firing Range, which had a warning already out on it.

By design, the livefire exercise is a “surprise” – they don’t cheat by telling the target when the missile is arriving, or from where, so therefore no notice to locals.

PS: contrail science (currently down from overload) has a nice article on how aircraft contrails can look like missile launches when the sun is low and there is perspective foreshortening

this may well be the explanation, but I am a little bit skeptical, for a couple of reasons:
on the video, when they zoom in, you see a bright spot at the tip of the contrail which looks more like rocket exhaust than specular reflection, to my amateur eye;
and, the track looks more like videos of solid fuel exhaust than condensation contrails, again to my untrained eye

– the low speed, quoted as evidence against it being a missile is consistent if it is a solid fuel rocket in boost phase and going sharply away from the viewer rather than towards as with a contrail.

anyway – the Navy may not have fired any missiles that night, but they did warn in advance that they might do so – there is also, in the same NotMa, a warning of gunnery exerises in Sea of Japan – which would be consistent with a target area with a Japanese ABM destroyer looking to shoot it down

Or not.

Comments

  1. #1 KF6IIU
    November 9, 2010

    Thanks for tracking down the detail. Yes, I recalled seeing that NtoM on NAVTEX while I was messing around with my radios last week (along with the NtoM about the Vandenberg Delta-2 launch last Friday.)

  2. #2 Dave
    November 9, 2010

    John Pike and Jonathan McDowell argue that it is an airplane contrail. It is very low on the horizon, and it is moving very slowly. Plus, the low clouds visible in the pictures are not illuminated by the Sun, while the contrail seems to be illuminated by the Sun as far as you can see it. This is probably because the contrail is never lower than 30,000 ft.

  3. #3 Steinn Sigurdsson
    November 9, 2010

    Yeah, that sounds plausible, and they may well be right, but…

    Look at this video:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=plaENJLgG-w

    16-19 seconds in, they zoom in on it, and that looks like rocket exhaust rather than reflection to me.

    Then there is the fact that there is a firing range there, and a warning of possible missile firing in the zone, and a known missile exercise underway.
    ‘course they issue way more warnings than they do launches.

  4. #4 Dave
    November 9, 2010

    The whole image seems to change at 16-19 seconds as the automatic exposure control is adjusting to the zoom, but I don’t see any evidence of rocket exhaust. Also, the only witness sees it very low in the sky from a helicopter. This is a heavily populated area with quite a bit of land in the foreground of the picture. If it is missile, why didn’t anyone else see it at a higher apparent altitude?

  5. #5 travc
    November 10, 2010

    I have no clue about this specific event, but missiles launched out over the pacific have been visible from LA in the past. Quite a while back, there was an early evening launch which left a very pretty (and confusing to many) glowing contrail in the sky. So there is precedent at least.

  6. #6 Peter Erwin
    November 10, 2010

    Dave @4:
    There’s a flickering bright spot at the tip of the smoke trail/contrail visible in the zoom-in; I think that’s what Steinn is talking about.

    Also, the news report refers to “a slew[?] of calls to the Navy and Air Force”, and this LA Times article makes it pretty clear that it was seen by more than just the helicopter crew. There’s a quote from a professor of astronautics at USC to the effect that it looks more like a missile than an aircraft contrail, but the video resolution is too low resolution to be certain.

  7. #7 Nomen Clature
    November 10, 2010

    The mariner warnings have had the same coordinates for years. Look at the previous one from last year:

    http://www.nga.mil/NGAPortal/MSI.portal;jsessionid=JbZ1LT6ZhJ46Qy8pmNXPyD07FJK40jNpM4Q1czyVHvnfD5Q8228K!-598230238!NONE?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=msi_ntm_pubview_page&CCD_itemID=200944

    Look at the ones before that, too. It’s all the same. It’s only coincidence that a new one came out this week. The last one was 10/31/2009, and it had the same info with respect to missiles in that area.

    You mentioned Contrail Science but didn’t give the link:

    http://contrailscience.com/a-problem-of-perspective-in-the-oc-new-years-eve-contrail/

    This is a solid case, down to pinpointing it as US Airways flight 808 and with a webcam showing the same contrail on a different day.

    Regarding “you see a bright spot at the tip of the contrail”, reflections of the sun off aircraft are common; in fact that’s a major contributor to UFO sightings.

  8. #8 Steinn Sigurdsson
    November 10, 2010

    I couldn’t give the link because the site was inaccessible when I was writing – they hadn’t singled out a particular flight when I read it – it was mostly on the Dec 31st contrail.

    Of course there are previous NotMa for the same are – as I noted it is the US Navy livefire range off San Clemente!
    It is exactly where the US Navy fires off stuff.
    The reason I thought, and still think it just might be a missile, is because there is an ongoing ABM exercise with the Japanese navy, requiring unannounced ballistic missile shots at target ships – presumably in the Gunnery Exercise area in the Sea of Japan with concomitant NotMa warning.
    Press reports of previous test week of oct 31st, with missile launch from Kauai (which also has a NotMa) that time.

    Doesn’t prove that this was a missile, nor one part of the exercise, just provides the possibility of why there might be an unannounced launch there and then.
    Maybe the exercise is over, maybe everything is being fired from Kauai, maybe this was just a contrail for USAir 808

    I just checked Contrail Science and USAir 808 doesn’t quite add up – the track shows it over Catalina, not to the North, and he takes a picture of it at 5:05 whereas CBS says they were at 5:15

    The light at the tip could be reflections, as I noted, thought I am not sure the geometry works – the model requires the plane be foreshortened and high above at that point, and the sun is low, so specular reflections should be mostly past.

  9. #9 ryano
    November 10, 2010

    I think one way to determine if it is a contrail or a plume is from the shadows (see 0:18 – 0:21 on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=plaENJLgG-w ) . It appears to be casting a long shadow on the diffuse clouds in the area. I don’t think this is consistent with it traveling vertically or away from the coast.

    In any case, all of these guesses are far from the truth: http://www.boingboing.net/2010/11/09/pleideans-shot-down.html

  10. #10 Greg
    November 10, 2010

    “The FAA ran radar replays of a large area west of Los Angeles based on media reports of the location of a possible missile launch around 5pm Monday. The radar replayed did not reveal any fast moving unidentified targets in that area. The FAA also did not receive reports of any unusual sightings from pilots who were flying in the area Monday afternoon. Finally the FAA did not approve any commercial space launches around the area Monday.”

    Yet DOD is saying, “there is nothing at this time that leads the Department of Defense to believe this is a missile launch.”

    Good work locating that Notice to Mariners. You’re aware that drills have a funny way of coinciding with the real deal, such as on 911 and 7/7.

    It will be interesting to see how this develops.

  11. #11 rob
    November 11, 2010

    is there any more footage of the rocket/plane?

    if the video went for another twenty minutes, it would be easy to see if it came back down or just kept going and going and going. a missle would come back down and a plane would keep going.

  12. #12 Alan
    November 12, 2010

    This story just demonstrates that people rarely look at the sky even at sunset when it’s at it’s most delightfull. I’ve been seeing contrails that look like rockets for years. For christ sake, even Fox news was able to figure out it was a plane!

  13. #13 coolstar
    December 21, 2010

    This is yet another example of people very often being wrong when they try to solve tough problems outside their field. It would be virtually impossible to launch an ICBM from the location given without getting LOTS of good confirming evidence from LOTS of separate sources. Interesting problem, and I understand the temptation……