Why Is the Navy Building a Shiny Drone Base in Sunny Malibu?

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Sorry, Sushi/Massage Guru at Google: you no longer have the coolest tech job in America. That honor will belong to the future staff at the planned Point Mugu UAV installation in paradisiacal California. Surfing, sunrays, and constant sensor surveillance. And it's only the beginning.

The Point Mugu base is technically just outside of Malibu—barely—but we're going to go with it because Malibu Drone Base has a ring to it like nothing else in the history of drones nor bases. Don't you think of red Corvettes, sunglasses, coconut oil, and Hellfire missiles? It's perfect, right? The Navy is inclined to agree, and just issued an "environmental impact" report for the proposed base, which would demolish and rebuild a large part of the existing military presence at Point Mugu, a popular surfing haunt.

Oh but brah, there's way more than surfing: the Navy itself bills the area as a sailor and/or remote UAV operator's dream:

At Naval Base Ventura County [which houses Point Mugu], there is a wealth of fitness and recreation options. Choose from aerobic classes, state-of-the-art fitness centers, or league and intramural play. Swimming lessons, aquatic activities, bowling, athletic fields and courts, youth activities or golf at the 18-hole Seabee Golf Course, are also available. Duke's Place and The Point will tempt your palate for lunch and dinner and you will enjoy pay per view events and tournaments at the Sports Bar. For an outdoor approach spend a day or two on the beach at the Point Mugu Beach Motel. If going to the city is more your idea of a great destination, visit the local discount ticket offices for money saving ideas.


All that, and you get to fly drones. But not just any drones—state-of-the-art drones. The Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton is at the fore of robotic surveillance, and the Navy wants their 131-foot wings and spiffy 360-degree sensors cruising around the Pacific Ocean in the name of American supremacy.


I talked to the U.S. Fleet Forces Command, which had plenty to say about the upcoming drone playground, which is just one of "several bases throughout the world" the Navy wants. Each will host Tritons, with Point Mugu boasting four, conducting around five missions every single day. That's over 1,800 takeoffs or landings every year, from the Malibu spot alone. The goal is 24/7 surveillance—an American eye over the water at all times, during wartime, during peacetime, and all the time.


With bases like Drone Zone Malibu, the Navy will be able to remotely "fly out over the open ocean, find and track ships, targets of interest. That could be potential adversaries, terrorists, whatever the [Navy] needs [to find]." So: an omnipresent maritime eye could spot potential threats—or anything, really—over the waters, and then beam back electronic signatures and video streams to the mainland, where the next step will be made. The Triton isn't an armed drone, but if it spotted something spooky, it could call in some death from above—whether that be a warplane or just another drone.


The Navy was a little vague on what exactly these bad guys could be, since "adversaries" and "terrorists" covers about anything imaginable on a boat. Indeed, we were told that "There are times when [the Navy will] pay attention to commercial shipping" off the Californian coast, boats that don't bear any indication of belligerence at all.

The Triton has a completely panoramic view of the ocean below it from nearly 60,000 feet in the air, which means any of the jetskiing, sailing, doggy-paddling Californians below are within its range. Maybe that will be you! Maybe it will be a friend of yours, floating on her back, eyes half-closed in a greasy fog of sun lotion and melatonin, thinking of her beer and tenuous friendships on the sand. Maybe it'll just be strangers. But they'll all be under the Triton eye, ostensibly up there to Track The Enemy (China?) and Provide Intelligence (pictures of boats?) in the name of national security. Maybe it'll work. It's certainly cheaper than putting out our own boats and airplanes with people in them. When I asked where this data will end up, both Navy reps paused and said they "weren't sure" if it'd be stored permanently.


Drones in vacation spots are an inevitability. The idea of a beachside xanadu conducting unceasing, expensive, militarized robot flights might sound strange, but it isn't. There will be more bases like that at Point Mugu, spreading around the world like sunburn. There will be drones in California, drones in Texas, drones in Paris, all part of the Pentagon's vision of reshaping its military omnipresence around "lily pads"—light, decentralized bases that house specialized forces and, of course, drones. Ready to buzz and strike whenever, capable of spying for trouble always. All the loveliest spots will have drones, humming and looking, and the fact that "Malibu drone base" sounded odd and sort of silly will sound silliest of all. Bffzzzzzzzzz.