Russia Reportedly Conducting "Rocket Firings" Off San Diego Coastline, According To Since-Removed Notice Filed With Federal Aviation Administration

May 16, 2024

According to a since-removed notice filed with the Federal Aviation Administration, Russia is conducting "rocket firings" off the coast of San Diego.

Several Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) have been issued for the coast of southern California and flights between North America and Hawaii, alerting pilots of Russian Federation rocket launches beginning on Thursday, May 16 and continuing through Sunday, May 26. The impact area is set to occur less than 300 nautical miles from shore in international waters off the coast of Southern California and Northern Baja California, Mexico. 
NOTAMs have been issued to alert pilots of the rocket launches. This is standard procedure for any military activity that could potentially affect civilian airspace. NOTAMs serve to ensure the safety of civilian air traffic by providing timely information about potential hazards.

The Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln is also conducting integrated exercises to bolster strike group readiness and capability off the coast of San Diego. The presence of the USS Abraham Lincoln, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, conducting integrated exercises in the same area, adds another layer of complexity to the situation. These exercises likely serve as a response to or a preparation for potential threats posed by the Russian military exercises.

"Abraham Lincoln, flagship of Carrier Strike Group Three, is underway conducting integrated exercises to bolster strike group readiness and capability in the U.S. 3rd Fleet area of operations," the Navy said on a Pentagon image sharing website.

While such exercises are common among nations with advanced military capabilities and are often conducted to maintain readiness, test equipment, and showcase strength, there have not been any confirmed instances of Russia conducting live-fire rocket tests directly off the coast of the United States. In August 2023, a Russian and Chinese naval formation made up of 11 ships conducted joint naval drills off the coast of Alaska, resulting in U.S. government shadowing the fleet with its own military equipment. Although Russia has conducted military exercises and tests in various locations around the world, including close to the coastlines of other countries, such as European nations, the United States and its territories have not been typical locations for such activities.
The exercise taking place off the coast of San Diego is notable as it is relatively close to the United States mainland, making it a provocative choice for Russia. It's worth noting that these exercises are occurring in international waters, beyond the territorial jurisdiction of any single nation. This proximity could be seen as a deliberate message or a show of force by Russia, especially given the historical context of tensions between Russia and the United States.

We contacted the Oakland ARTCC Military Operations Specialist, as directed in one of the associated NOTAMs, and were told to reach out to Federal Aviation Administration Public Relations Office. The FAA subsequently directed us to contact the U.S. Department of Defense, which we did. The Duty Officer of Defense Press Operations for the Office of the Secretary of Defense initially responded: "Refer you to the FAA for further comment." 
Since the publication of this article, the above referenced NOTAMs have since been removed from the Defense Internet NOTAM Service on the system. The Department of Defense then sent us the below statement via email on the morning of May 17 following several messages between a SanDiegoVille staffer and the DoD:

"The NOTAM is for the reentry of a Russian space launch booster. It is not for a launch or military exercise. The NOTAM is the responsible, normal way for nations to support safe air and maritime activities. NORAD and USNORTHCOM are aware of the NOTAM."

Following this report, The War Zone website also published an article quoting a U.S. defense official: "It is not for a launch or a military exercise," the officials said.

According to The War Zone, the U.S. defense official did not know which Russian rocket booster was involved. However, the Russian Defense Ministry on Friday reported a "Soyuz 2.1b launch vehicle with spacecraft on board was launched in the interests of the Russian Defense Ministry from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome (the Arkhangelsk Region) on May 17, 2024," according to Russian media outlets

It remains unclear whether this latest rocket launch is what caused the NOTAM or why the NOTAMs have since been removed from the FAA system. Apparently, it is not uncommon for such notices to be removed if there is no longer a threat.

This is a developing story and will be updated as we learn more.