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Pentagon Can't explain 'Missile' off California


This video frame grab provided by KCBS/KCAL shows what could be a missile launched off the California coast, Monday, Nov. 8, 2010.
This video frame grab provided by KCBS/KCAL
shows what could be a missile launched off the California coast,
Monday, Nov. 8, 2010.

Doppler Radar Map Showing Radar Return That May Have Been Plume From Craft.
Doppler Radar Map Showing Radar Return That May Have Been Plume From Craft.

Analysis of Doppler Radar Indicates That Plume Picked Up Was About 16,000 Feet Above Ocean.
Analysis of Doppler Radar Indicates That Plume Picked Up
Was About 16,000 Feet Above Ocean.

(This Suggests That Lower Part of Plume May Have Dissipated By 5:12 PM)

A Plot of Relative Humidity in the Atmosphere Shows That High Altitude Aircraft Contrails Wouldn't Persist. This Adds Evidence That the Contrail Seen Was Not Mistaken for a Jet Contrail.
A Plot of Relative Humidity in the Atmosphere Shows That High Altitude Aircraft Contrails Wouldn't Persist. This Adds Evidence That the Contrail Seen Was Not Mistaken for a Jet Contrail.

- Click Here to Read EPA Fact Sheet on Contrails (PDF)

New Information - Updated - March 27, 2011

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon said Tuesday it did not know what created a vapor trail that crossed the skies off the Southern California coast and resembled a missile launch.

Video posted on the CBS News website shows an object flying through the evening sky Monday that left a large contrail, or vapor trail. A news helicopter owned by KCBS, a CBS affiliate in Los Angeles, shot the video.

Pentagon officials were stumped by the event. "Nobody within the Department of Defense that we've reached out to has been able to explain what this contrail is, where it came from," Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan said.

While the vapor cloud captured on video resembled that created by a rocket in flight, military officials said they didn't know of any launches in the area.

Lapan said that "all indications" were that the Defense Department was not involved with the object.

One expert called it an optical illusion. "It's an airplane that is heading toward the camera and the contrail is illuminated by the setting sun," said John Pike, director of the U.S.-based security analyst group

The North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, issued a statement jointly with the U.S. Northern Command, or NORTHCOM, saying that the contrail was not the result of a foreign military launching a missile. It provided no details.

"We can confirm that there is no threat to our nation," the statement said. "We will provide more information as it becomes available."

NORTHCOM is the U.S. defense command and NORAD is a U.S.-Canadian organization charged with protecting the U.S. from the threat of missiles or hostile aircraft.

Pike said the object could not have been a rocket because it appeared to alter its course.

"The local station chopped up the video and so it's hard to watch it continuously," Pike said. "But at one place you can see it has changed course — rockets don't do that."

Pike said he didn't understand why the military had not recognized the contrail of an aircraft. "The Air Force must ... understand how contrails are formed," he said. "Why they can't get some major out to belabor the obvious, I don't know."


Associated Press writers Jeff Wilson and John Antczak in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

Brian Webb of Writes:

The following is being posted to my Launch Alert Newsletter and provided to people who are not newsletter subscribers:

Here are some additional thoughts regarding yesterday afternoon's mystery missile launch off of the southern California coast.

I have viewed the video and it indeed looks like the launch of a small to medium size solid fuel missile taken at fairly close range.

One thing I noticed was a helicopter in the foreground. I wonder if that was another news helicopter or a military helicopter securing the airspace around the launch site and photographing the launch.

One question I have is why was the news helicopter so conveniently placed to capture the video. A news tip perhaps.

Another thing I noticed is what appears to be land (perhaps an island) in the foreground. I wonder if the missile was launched from the U.S. Navy's San Nicolas island, a known launch site for small- and medium-sized missiles*.

According the media reports, there were No Notices to Airmen or Notices to Mariners telling aircraft and ships to stay away. In order the find a military issued Notice to Airmen (NOTAM), you have to know which web site to go to ( and how to perform a search. Furthermore, once an operation is finished, the applicable NOTAM (and airspace closure) is cancelled and it disappears off of the web site).

My understanding is that it is not that easy to locate cancelled or old NOTAMs. To do so takes some digging.

The ocean area west of Los Angeles and Ventura County is an established test range for military weapons and the area is equipped with radar tracking, telemetry collection, and other assets.

At this point this is all I can add.

I apologize for yet another e-mail on this topic. I have been on deadline this week and have been replying to inquiries on this subject in a rather disorganized fashion.

Anyway, the event shown in the news helicopter video is one of two things:

1. The launch of a small- or medium-sized solid fuel missile from the Point Mugu Sea Range, an established military test and training area close to Los Angeles used for live-fire tests of various types of missiles from San Nicolas Island, surface ships, submarines, etc.

2. A jet contrail. This is a real possibility. Jet aircraft passing through the "contrail zone" produce vapor trails. The area off of the California coast is one of the busiest air traffic areas in the U.S. During the cooler months of the year, the contrail zone drops down in altitude and often falls into the same altitude range as that used by many jet aircraft. Each year, between October and April, I get asked if Vandenberg AFB had launched something. These are almost always contrails. Depending on your perspective, a distant jet contrail can look like a climbing missile or launch aftermath.

The video "looked" like a missile launch. However, I would need to know if the news helicopter camera used normal magnification or zoomed-in to capture the event. A telephoto view of a distant jet could look like a missile.

The other important piece of information I would need to know is whether a Notice to Airmen or Notice to Mariners was in effect yesterday afternoon. A bit of caution here: In the past, the Coast Guard has had more or less permanent warnings on the books about some areas possibly being closed due to missile firings. This is not what I would need to see. I would want to know if there was a unique NOTAM or Notice to Mariners issued for that area for yesterday.

Once I obtained a NOTAM, I would look at the header to see which organization issued the notice (you often get a specific military base or unit).


Brian Webb

Update - March 27, 2011: Comments From Witness in Dana Point, California (See Map Below):

Witness At Dana Point, California Saw Rocket Launch A Couple of Miles West of Catalina Island.
Witness At Dana Point, California Saw Rocket Launch
A Couple of Miles West of Catalina Island.

On March 26, 2011 we received a phone call from a witness in Dana Point, California. He heard UFOs Northwest discuss the incident recently on the Jeff Rense Show and wanted to offer some new information. The witness was convinced that the object was a missile and felt strongly that it was launched from a Navy Ship. He saw ships in the area. He also stated that the missile was launched at a steep angle (about 70 degrees to the horizon) and that the missile was launched on a westward trajectory. He said that the propulsion was interrupted at one point and thought that an attempt was made to "abort the flight" of the missile. He said that prior to the launch "spear like" objects with purple vapor trails were moving inland. He thought possibly that the missile may have been launched to destroy these "spears." He said that he has seen these same "unknown" objects before. The spears were moving inland towards Palm Springs. He also stated that F15 (or F16) jets were in pursuit of the spears. He saw the "fighter jet" activity right after the missile launch.

December 6, 2010 Update: A witness from Menifee, California stated that she saw the "missile" around 5 PM PST on November 8, 2010. She said that she was facing east and that she saw the missile to her northeast and it was moving east. She plainly stated that the missile was descending and moving towards the Palm Springs area. This is new information as it was assumed that missile was launched towards the west.

Updated November 19, 2010 - Article From Herald Sun (Australia):

Pentagon calls mystery missile 'unexplained,' cannot rule out threat

  • From: NewsCore
  • November 10, 2010 3:42 AM

THE Pentagon said a missile launch off the southern coast of California remained "unexplained" and that its mysterious origins meant that it was not possible to rule out any threat to the homeland.

Earlier yesterday, NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) and NORTHCOM (United States Northern Command) officials told Fox there was no threat.

However, Pentagon Spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan would not confirm that because the military does not know what the missile was or where it came from.

Col Lapan added that the incident did not appear to be a regularly scheduled test, as no warnings to mariners or airmen appeared to be issued ahead of its launch.

The contrail was caught on camera by a KCBS news helicopter at around sunset Monday evening, approximately 50km out to sea and west of Los Angeles.

The missile appeared to be launched from the water, and not from US soil, Col Lapan added.

The military was trying to solve the mystery using the video from KCBS as there was no indication that NORAD and NORTHCOM were able to detect it independently.

According to Fox News, NORAD and NORTHCOM would only say they were aware of the launch.

However one unnamed senior defense official added: "There was no threat to the homeland."

A navy spokesperson previously told KCBS that no navy activity was reported in the region.

A sergeant at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County said a Delta II rocket was launched from the base last Friday, but insisted there were no launches since then.

On viewing the footage, former deputy defense secretary Robert Ellsworth speculated on KCBS that the launch could be a show of military muscle.

"It could be a test-firing of an intercontinental ballistic missile from a submarine ... to demonstrate, mainly to Asia, that we can do that," Mr Ellsworth said.


Update November 18, 2010 - Comments From Retired General:

Here is a studied response to the Washington D.C. response by a Retired USAF Brig. General. His resume listing is at the end of his response.
 Sliding silently under the mud, muck and fog of national politics, is a  current event that makes Bill Clinton's excursion into the world of elderly sex look  tame in comparison. This time the nation's national security is truly  threatened in my opinion, and it involves not only a weak President with
 limited problem-solving ability, but leadership at the highest levels in the  Pentagon as well. The American people would do well to demand a full  investigation by an unbiased group, and let the chips fall where they may.  I am referring to the "missile shot" taken of California coast recently, and
 the lame response by NORAD, the Pentagon and the White House itself.   First, in hope of adding some creditability to my assessment of what really  happened just off the coast of Los Angeles let me convey a bit of my  background which can be checked easily by going to Google and typing in my name. An  Air Force biography will appear.
 During the late eighties I was assigned to NORAD, as a Command Director  initially and later as the assistant Director of Operations for NORAD. The  NORAD operation was located inside the Cheyenne Mountain complex just outside Colorado Springs, Colorado. Twenty four hours a day a team of approximately  150 highly trained individuals, lead by a Brigadier General, monitored one  of the most sophisticated computer systems in the world. This system was fed data from many different sensors that were able to detect missile shots from any point on the globe. All this data was taken into consideration when making the "assessment" as whether or not North America and/or Canada were
 threatened by such a launch. If the launch was assessed as a true threat, the President was contacted immediately by NORAD through a military individual always close to the President who carried what we called, "the football", a black brief case with release codes for our nuclear forces. I know the system well, as for near three years I led one of those teams.
 In addition, for over 25 years, I flew US Air Force fighters to include the  F- 106, F-4, F-15, F-16, and commanded an F-15 Squadron and an F-16 Wing. The  sole purpose of the F-106 assignment was to maintain an ability to become  airborne in minutes to intercept inbound bombers posing a threat to the US mainland. Untold hours were spent studying and being tested on visually identifying an air-to-air threat to include its type and threat potential.  I understand the difference in an aircraft contrail and a missile launch contrail.
 In my opinion there is absolutely no doubt that what was captured on video off the coast of California was a missile launch, was clearly observed by NORAD,  assessed by a four-star General in minutes, and passed to the President  immediately. That is the way the system works, and heads fall if there is a failure. This is one of the most important tenets of National Defense and its sole purpose of protecting the American people. Even the smallest failure in this system gets intense scrutiny at the highest level.
 Now, the question that still must be answered is why NORAD's muted response was simply that North America was not threatened, and later our government approved the lame excuse that the picture recorded was simply an aircraft leaving a contrail. This decision was made far above the four-star level, and because the system in place demands it, was made by the President himself.
 There are many possible answers to the question why. Normally, when a situation of this nature occurs the decision makers in Washington feel it would create panic among the mere mortals who go to work every day. To avoid shocking the population the truth is shaded, or sometimes just kept quite in hope it will just go away. I would say to our government officials who disregard the intelligence of the American people, be careful. The people are awakening, and their trust in our government is fading. This level of  decision making will hasten that process.
 In my opinion we must question the timing of this shot across our bow. The President was abroad being diplomatic, which means trying to placate China which is becoming overly concerned with our handling a totally out of control deficient in spending. They do not want our debt to them be paid in cheapened US dollars, and it appears that our current plan is to do just that. China is devoting a major portion of their GDP to defense spending, and what better time to show the US that they can slip a missile equipped submarine through the South Pacific undetected right up to one of our largest cities, than right  now. And, the Chinese have the guts to do it.
 Important in my opinion is that once again the leader of this nation chose to disguise the truth and keep the American people in the dark on an issue that constitutes a major threat to the entire population of the United States of America. This is no longer a threat to only our military thousands of miles from the homeland. This is a show of force sending a signal that downtown USA is now capably of being hit by an undetected submarine and at any time. It may very well be the beginning of the real power struggle between the United States and China. If so, I predict the next phase will be China's demand for the  US to cease support of Taiwan, and so it goes.
 President Obama is getting in over his head once again on this one. Hiding the severity of issues we face with China to include this possible signal of strength is a terrible mistake. It is happening at a time that our Secretary of Defense, under the guidance of the President, is literally gutting our military forces. We have seen it already when the F-22 buy was cut from over 600 aircraft to 187, and research and development for follow on systems severely reduced. This is but one of hundreds of examples of military reductions. I fear that this could be another reason for this cover-up. If the American people fully realized the severity of the threat they might demand restoring our military to face the growing threat from China and Russia, as opposed to the massive domestic spending that we have witnessed over the past two years.
 So, where does this leave us? Again, the people must decide and place pressure on the government to insure that our National Security remains intact. Military strength prevents war. Military weakness invites not only war, but also a lack of deterrence for intervention and bullying on many fronts.  If there was ever a time for the people to look closely at the national leadership and demand honesty and integrity, it is now. This is not a Democrat or Republican issue. At issue is electing those who have the ability to make proper decisions for our country, and will do so with no regard to their own personal gain. It is time to elect a President and a Congress who will put country above self, and defend this great nation against all enemies, foreign or domestic, and above all be honest with the people who honored them with election to high office.
Brig. Gen., USAF, Ret.

Update November 18, 2010 (Brian Webb of Writes):

As of this morning, I would like to end any further discussion of the mystery "launch" reported on the evening of November 8th. I have determined that what was seen that evening is not a mystery and it was not a launch.

Also, please do not send me any further e-mails on this subject.

There has been speculation on the Internet that the event was a missile launch from a Chinese submarine.

If a foreign power covertly entered the waters adjacent to the U.S. mainland and launched a missile, it wouldn't necessarily be an act of war, but it would be a major provocation. A provocation of that type could actually backfire by increasing U.S. fears over Chinese naval power in the Pacific. That could lead to a build up of the U.S. Navy's anti-submarine warfare capability.

During the Cold War, the U.S. Navy was able to locate, track, and if necessary, kill Soviet ballistic missile submarines at sea. As a matter of fact, U.S. attack submarines (subs designed to hunt and kill other subs) reportedly would lurk submerged and meet up with Soviet subs shortly after they left port and follow the Soviet subs undetected for extended periods of time. Furthermore, land-based and carrier-based U.S. Navy anti-submarine warfare aircraft such as the P-3 and S-3 could also detect, track, and kill Soviet submarines.

It is reasonable to assume that the U.S. Navy has at least a partial ability track the movements of Chinese submarines. Furthermore, U.S. early warning satellites and radars (such as PAVE PAWS radar at Beale AFB in northern California) provide the U.S. military with the ability to immediately detect, pinpoint, and track missile launches at sea. The Navy probably also still has a formidable anti-submarine warfare capability that would allow it to quickly locate and kill hostile submarines.

Therefore, I think the assertion that the event of last week was a Chinese weapons test to be highly unlikely.

Again, please do not send me any further e-mails about the supposed mystery launch.

Brian Webb

Update November 13, 2010 - Comments From Ex Air Force Scientist:
Most likely a new type of aircraft about which the Pentagon doesn't want the public to be aware.  The spiraling "contrail" with highly defined edges (obviously not a conventional aircraft) makes that the most likely among all of my "unlikely" prognostications.  It might defeat radar ... and it may not be one of OURS.  The other possibility, either a rocket or missile fired from that particular location is beyond even the military's lack of concern for safety ... I think.  They could conduct such a test (if it was a test) at more suitable locations; i.e., more than 200 miles from a major city and international airport.  Definitely, an enigma.

Update November 13, 2010 (Brian Webb Writes):

Mystery Missile Launch Probably Not a Mystery

by Brian Webb

2010 November 13


A mysterious trail seen in the sky west of Los Angeles around sunset last Monday may not be so mysterious after all.

When the I first heard of the trail, it was clear that the trail was caused by a missile launch from the Point Mugu sea range or a high flying jet.

The area where the supposed launch took place is within an established military weapons test and training range controlled by the U.S. Navy. Over the years, a variety of rockets and missiles have been launched within the range from San Nicolas Island, the coast at Point Mugu, ships, and aircraft. Some of these missiles have been fairly large and capable of producing a thick smoke trail.

The Defense Department denied any knowledge of a missile launch from the range on Monday. The U.S. military takes safety and security very seriously and always issues the appropriate Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) or Notice to Mariners (NOTMAR) in advance. This is done for the specific date and time and time of the planned operation - even for classified operations.

Although NOTAMs and NOTMARs were in effect on Monday for the general area in question, they appeared to involve activities other than a land- or sea-based missile launch or were a permanent warning about offshore missile firings that has been in effect for years.

The other possibility is that the trail in question is a jet contrail. The area west of Los Angeles is one of the busiest air traffic areas in the U.S. High altitude aircraft flying in this area often produce contrails, especially during the cooler months of the year. Depending on your perspective, a distant jet contrail can look like a climbing missile or launch aftermath.

Over the years, people in southern California and beyond have been treated to impressive displays from rockets and missiles launched during dawn or dusk from Vandenberg AFB. Jet contrails present at dawn or dusk sometimes resemble rocket or missile launches. One such contrail seen in late 2009 caught the attention of the news media (refer to "Mystery deepens with video of 'launch' off O.C. at

It is important to note what is lacking with regards to this event. The ocean west of Los Angeles is used every day by numerous pleasure craft, fishing boats, and other vessels. Yet, I cannot recall hearing of an observation of this potential launch from an observer at sea. In addition, there appears to be few reports of a missile launch from observers along the coast. It is quite possible that many people saw the trail, but did not think it was a missile because from their location it resembled a jet contrail.

Also lacking were descriptions of the trail consistent with those produced by a missile. A dense trail such as that seen Monday could be produced by a solid fuel missile. There were no reports of the trail abruptly stopping, an event marking cutoff off the rocket motor. There was also no mention of the trail suddenly disappearing or reappearing, which is often seen during staging.

In addition, there were no reports after the supposed launch of the trail being twisted and contorted by high altitude winds. And finally, the trail was seen around sunset. Had the supposed missile trail reached the upper atmosphere, one would expect to hear reports of a luminous cloud in the sky during twilight like those produced by solid fuel missile launches that occur around dawn or dusk.

Sunlit missile exhaust paints the dawn sky following from an aborted missile defense test at White Sands, New Mexico in 2006.

Sunlit missile exhaust paints the dawn sky following from an aborted missile defense test at White Sands, New Mexico in 2006. The test was halted when the Hera target missile had to be destroyed by range safety. Chris Wagner took this image from Queen Creek, Arizona, some 300 miles away. Copyright 2006 Chris Wagner.

Although no single piece of available evidence can clearly prove the trail was from a missile or an aircraft, the total sum of the available information leads the me to conclude that the trail was from a high flying jet.

Update November 11, 2010 (Brian Webb Writes):

The Defense Department may not know what Monday evening's event was because if a launch took place, it may not have been a military launch.

As I mentioned before, San Nicolas Island, which is very close to Los Angeles, is a known missile and rocket launch site. My understanding is that NASA scientific rockets have been launched on non-orbital flights from there in the past.

The NASA scientific rocket program (sounding rocket program) is run from NASA's Wallops Island, Virginia facility. The launches are conducted from Wallops Island, VA; White Sands, NM; Poker Flats, AK; and apparently San Nicolas Island, CA.

If NASA performed a launch from San Nicolas Island, it's entirely possible that only a handful of Navy personnel on the island knew about the event and it wasn't common knowledge throughout the Navy or Defense Department (or NASA for that matter).

The key is to do a thorough search for Notice To Airmen for the area in question for Monday. The military NOTAMs apparently are on one web site and the non-military NOTAMs are on other sites. If you do not search correctly, you may not find what you are looking for.

If you find a NOTAM, the organization conducting the operation and requesting the airspace closure is in the header.

At this point we have to many people speculating or opining based on incomplete information.

Brian Webb

UFOS Northwest Comment: According to NBC News the object (aircraft/missile) was not detected by radar. I wonder why not? This area should be well covered by FAA and Military radar.


EPA Fact Sheet on Contrails (PDF)