Witnesses from Southern California to the San Francisco Bay Area on Saturday evening said they saw an unexplained moving light in the night sky that was reportedly an unarmed missile test-fired by the U.S. Navy”
Light seen in OC sky was confirmed through JWA tower to be a Naval test fire off the coast,” the Orange County Sheriff’s Department said on Twitter, referring to John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana.
A Navy spokesman told the San Diego Union-Tribune that the luminous object was an unarmed Trident missile that was test-fired from a submarine off the coast of Southern California.
So, a couple days ago, the FAA issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) for LAX that closed the airspace off the western side of LAX airport. Normally, LAX likes traffic to approach from the west, over the ocean, to minimize noise over the city. Local news published a brief blurb about the closure, noting that it was in support of unspecified military operations.
In the comments, various nutjobs figured it was the start of the imposition of martial law and taking over the country by the military.
In fact, it was in support of a validation exercise of the Trident D-5 missile system of an Ohio class ballistic missile nuclear submarine, reportedly the USS Kentucky.
Test firings of missiles from regular fleet assets are somewhat interesting. They validate not only the stockpile of missiles, but are also a test of the crew and the ship.
The crew knows they’re tasked to fire a test shot. I mean, they take inventory of what exactly is being loaded in the missile tubes, and they know where they’re ordered to sail.
What they don’t know is exactly when they’ll take the shot.
The ship gets orders to patrol within a certain geographical box, in this case, a small box off the SoCal coast that is part of the Pacific Missile Test Range.
From there, they simply cruise around as if on patrol, and the orders to fire come in just as they would in the event of a nuclear war.
For the crew, it’s relatively straight forward. They practice firing procedures all the time.* But for the range, it is another story. The range team needs to ensure that both the surface and the airspace in the launch box is clear. Not only at the launch point, either. They also need to ensure the impact area (likely at Kawajelein atoll) is clear, and that monitoring aircraft and cameras are on station). Getting everyone on the same sheet of music is sometimes a challenge.
Watching half of SoCal on twitter thinking this launch was a UFO was amusing, as a few years ago, someone put a clip on YouTube. A jetliner heading west into the sunset off the California coast had people thinking it was an ICBM launch. But here we have a missile launch, and they didn’t recognize it.
*What is kind of funny is, when you tour an Ohio class sub, they’re happy to show off the missile firing control panel and the missile tubes. What you aren’t allowed to see is aft of the missile tubes where the reactor and engineering plant is.