Statement Issues After Drone Incident

Langley Air Force Base, situated in southeastern Virginia, has recently become the epicenter of mysterious drone incursions that have prompted significant concern throughout the U.S. military and beyond. The War Zone, a news outlet specializing in military and defense topics, has been investigating these incidents for several months and can now confirm their occurrence. According to a spokesperson for Langley Air Force Base, the first uncrewed aerial system (UAS) activities were observed on the evening of December 6, 2023, and continued to occur throughout the month, with varying sizes and configurations of drones involved.

The base, which is home to a select number of advanced F-22 Raptor stealth fighters, plays a crucial role in supporting NORAD and NORTHCOM's missions to defend the U.S. homeland. Its strategic location, across the Chesapeake Bay from the vast Naval Station Norfolk and the open Atlantic, also adds to its importance. Therefore, the recent spate of drone incursions has put the base and the surrounding area on high alert, with multiple agencies, including NASA, getting involved.

NASA's involvement in this matter is particularly intriguing, as it is not common for a civilian agency to assist with military operations. However, one of NASA's high-flying research planes, the WB-57F, was spotted flying circular orbits over Langley with the U.S. civil registration number N927NA. This aircraft, specially modified to carry advanced imaging and other sensors, was tasked with "Imagery Support" on December 18 and 19, but no further information was provided.

The U.S. Air Force has confirmed the existence of these drone incursions and has also stated that they went beyond Langley Air Force Base. However, it did not disclose any details on potential impacts on its operations or the specific force protection measures being taken. The base continues to monitor its airspace and work with other law enforcement and federal agencies to ensure the safety of its personnel, facilities, and assets. Additionally, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has also been made aware of these incursions.

At a hearing for the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday, U.S. Air Force Gen. Gregory Guillot, who took the reins of NORAD and NORTHCOM in February, gave the first public acknowledgment of these incidents. He stated that his first month in command has been dominated by assessing the counter-UAS mission, and one of the areas of focus is the incidents that occurred at Langley Air Force Base in December. He added that the number of incursions surprised him, considering his previous experience dealing with this threat in another combatant command.

This situation has shed light on how the U.S. military and other agencies are struggling to effectively respond to potential UAS threats. The drone incursions have become increasingly common in recent years, with drones being spotted around military bases, critical civilian infrastructure, and even nuclear power plants. The ease of weaponizing small commercial drones, or building larger ones capable of autonomously striking targets, raises serious national security and aviation safety concerns.

In response to queries from The War Zone, a spokesperson from NASA's Langley Research Center stated that the WB-57 aircraft have flown at least 30 times in the past two months, with N927NA being on the East Coast to fly in support of NASA's SpaceX CRS-29 mission. This added another dimension to the incidents and further highlighted the need for increased collaboration and coordination between different agencies to effectively address this growing threat.

This is not the first time that the U.S. military has dealt with mysterious drone incursions, but the incidents at Langley Air Force Base have highlighted the need for urgent action. As Gen. Guillot stated, the current operational framework is not equipped to handle this emerging capability, and steps need to be taken to address this gap. The 90-day assessment he is conducting will provide valuable insights into how NORAD and NORTHCOM can better execute their noble mission of homeland defense. Meanwhile, the situation at Langley Air Force Base continues to be monitored, and further measures may be taken to ensure the safety and security of the base and its personnel.

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