There was plenty of Russian Navy radio activity in September, obviously most was due to the crisis in Syria and the build up of Naval Fleets in the Mediterranean, but there are couple of others that I’m going to concentrate on
The first one I’m going to look at will hopefully show how easy it is to work out which callsigns belong to which ship or base sometimes.
Callsign RJP99 had been picked up once before in July calling RIT which is the Northern Fleet Comms centre at Severomorsk. It then wasn’t heard until the 4th September when again it called RIT with a weather and position report:
1825z RJP99 547 18 4 2214 547 = FOR RJH74 RJH45 =
04181 99700 10365 22211
This equates to a position of 70.0N 36.5E heading NE @ 1-5kts
These are standard messages sent out with basic weather information and so unless there is some other type of message or clue there is no way of telling which ship it is making the call. There’s a brief explanation to these messages in my blog previously. So when, 11 minutes later, RJP99 contacted RIT again but this time with a message type I’d not seen before, I got a little interested in this ship
1836z RJP99 911 28 4 2216 911 = FOR RJH74 RJH45 =
KKXX 04093 1545/ 17000 03601 88870
20000 31149 20010 31110 20020 31096
20030 30876 20050 30402 22075 30344
30100 30344 20?43 30288 00000 55555
10144 04025 = + RJP99
I sent the message I’d received out to a few people and it wasn’t long before I was informed that this message was a specialist one, known as a TESAC, that contains information on sea temperature, salinity and current at different depths; and within the Russian Navy only Hydrographic Ships are able to do this. A decode of TESAC reports is available here
Because of this new information, should there be any news about a Hydrographic Ship leaving the Severomorsk area over the previous few days then it would be an easy tie-up. And as luck would have it the next day, on the 5th, the Russian Navy announced that very information:
Hydrographic ship of the Northern Fleet , ” Gorizont” and seagoing tug MB -56 left the port of Murmansk and headed to the archipelago of Franz Josef Land , said in Wednesday’s press service WEST along the Northern Fleet.
“Expedition Specialists Hydrographic Service of the Northern Fleet is dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the campaign Georgy Sedov and the establishment of state sovereignty over the archipelago of Franz Josef Land ,” – said the head of the press department of information management services for the Northern Fleet WEST Vadim Serga , whose words are quoted in the report .
The aim of the expedition is to collect information on changes in navigational and hydrographic conditions , proof of maps and nautical sailing directions, meteorological observations , geodetic survey points in the archipelago and the verification of their bindings , as well as exploring opportunities neledokolnogo sailing vessel in the high-latitude ice conditions favorable for the period . “It is planned a few landings on the islands of the archipelago , carrying memories of stocks? 100th anniversary campaign Georgy Sedov , and measures to improve the environmental situation in the archipelago ,” – said in a statement
This is the great thing about the Russian Navy. Despite the force being in quite a bad way shall we say, with rotting decommissioned ships in many Naval ports, they are still very proud. Because of this they announce everything, in particular movements of ships. A good source of this information is Flot.com or Russian Navy News as it’s also called. It helps to have a basic understanding of Russian but there’s always Google Translate which makes it very easy to read and disseminate the required information
Gorizont is a Project 862/II Survey Ship (NATO – Yug class) and was commissioned in May 1983, being the 15th built in Gdansk, Poland. Originally 18 were built with 12 still in service. Gorizont is one of five in the Northern Fleet, with a crew of 46 plus up to 20 scientists. It has a range of approximately 9000nm at a speed of 12kts, top speed being 15kts. It can go for 40 days without any resupplies. There are provisions for 3 twin 25mm guns but these are not fitted
The interesting thing about the news from the Russian Navy was that it also mentions an escort Seagoing Tug, MB-56. This class of ship also tends to send basic weather reports so it was just a case of listening out for another unknown callsign that gave a Lat/Long position close to Gorizont.
When I was going through my recordings of the early hours of the 5th an unknown callsign, RJQ88, sent its weather. This was followed by RJP99 which had almost the same position. RJQ88 had to be Seagoing Tug MB-56
MB-56 is a Project 745 Sorum Class Tug, with 13 in service with the Russian Navy. Up to about 43 have been built in total, operating also with the Russian Border Patrol force
As you can see there wasn’t much between the positions
0036z RJQ88 515 18 5 0403 515 = FOR RJH74 RJH45 =
05001 99712 10360 22212
(71.2N 36.0E heading NE @ 6-10kts)
0051z RJP99 314 17 5 0405 314 = FOR RJH74 RJH45 =
05001 99704 10360 22272
(70.4N 36.0E heading NW @ 6-10kts)
RJP99 then sent out another TESAC message and hour later
0152z RJP99 545 30 5 0545 545 = FOR RJH74 RJH45 =
KKXX 05093 0040/ 17030 03559
88870 20000 31167 20010 31029
20020 31029 20030 31029 20050
30618 20075 30483 20100 30448
20150 30351 20178 30295 00000
55555 10180 05027 = + RJP99
Gorizont and MB-56 continued to send basic weather reports until the 18th of September. MB-56 went to a bay in the North Western Islands of the Franz Josef Land archipelago and stayed there for most of the time, whilst Gorizont went to various areas for survey purposes
I’ve added a Google Earth KMZ file if you want to look in closer detail to RJP99s positions over the 15 days
They both disappeared on the 19th of September with a final status message from Gorizont. MB-56 turned up on the 28th and by the 30th was entering the Kola Bay area heading for Severomorsk. On the 23rd of September the Russian Navy announced news that the survey had discovered a new island in the archipelago. Again, the ships were named.
So as you can see, with the help of the Russian Navy itself, it is possible to tie-up callsigns with specific ships within their fleet. And it is possible to do this with not just the Auxiliary fleet, but with their Fighting Ships also, with only Submarines seeming to not use this system
Another callsign that cropped up at the same time was RAL48. This had shown in November 2012 when it met up with RMC99 off the NW coast of Norway but remained unidentified. The way the “meeting” took place at that time it looked like a handover of an escort of another ship or submarine
This time RAL48, still unidentified, was caught by other monitors operating near Lerwick at the end of August for nearly a week. I received a message on 8345kHz on the 29th of August, with the position it gave tracking SW down the east coast of Scotland near Wick until it finally moored of the coast near Lossiemouth that lunchtime. My log from the 4th of September shows it still Hove to:
1805z RAL48 757 21 4 2202 757 = SML FOR RJH45 RJH74 =
04181 99581 70027 22200
58.1N 02.7W Hove to http://goo.gl/maps/gBZAB
On the 29th of August a quick check of MarineTraffic.com showed that approximately where RAL48 had reported its position there was a Russian Navy Rescue Tug, the Nikolay Chiker. RAL48 had to be the Nikolay Chiker
With a crew of up to 71, the Nikolay Chiker was the lead build of two in its class and commissioned in April 1989 under Project R-5757. It has a range of 11,000nm at a speed of 16kts and can work autonomously for up to 50 days. It is able to pull any ship in the Russian Navy on its own, including the Aircraft Carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, and has a helipad able to take a Ka-27 helicopter
It remained moored off the coast of Scotland for over a week until on the evening of the 7th of September it went steaming off to the NW. I’d noticed that another callsign, RAL46, was heading towards the same position from the coast of Norway and wondered if they were meeting up. RAL46 had already been identified previously as Tanker Vyazma, and sure enough on the 8th at lunchtime they met up south of the Faroe Islands
By Wednesday the 11th they both arrived south of Cork in Ireland and hove to, shown here with A = Nikolay Chiker and B = Vyazma
For a lot of this journey Nikolay Chiker was able to be tracked using MarineTraffic, except for the times it was out of range of AIS feeders. But, there were still a few position reports via CW that confirmed the routing
Over the next four days Chiker did some very strange things. On the Thursday it tracked off towards Lands End, but never infringed UK waters. It was during the time that the FOST “Thursday war” normally takes place. Was it on observation duties? On Sunday the 15th, it then tracked north through the Celtic Sea towards St. Georges Channel before again turning back to it’s hove to position south of Cork. All during this time there had been a few SF exercises in the area, so again was Chiker on an observation mission? As far as I’m aware it has so special antenna fits and is purely a Rescue Tug, but you can never tell with Russian Navy ships totally
All of this was tracked using MarineTraffic. Even though most frequencies were being covered, RAL48 (Chiker) didn’t send any more message after Friday the 13th.
On the 18th, Chiker headed north, into the St. Georges Channel, then between Ireland and the Isle of Man before passing south of the Mull of Kintyre and disappearing from any AIS feeders. Here is the last report on ShipAis. No CW message was received again. RAL46 (Vyazma) had also disappeared on the 13th from CW, and as it didn’t show on MarineTraffic it’s not known whether it followed the same route with Chiker. It did however reappear on the 28th about 100km east of Severomorsk sending a weather report and position on 8345kHz
And all of a sudden, on the 2nd of October, Nikolay Chiker appeared again on MarineTraffic, dockside at Severomorsk
So, what had these two Russian Navy ships been up to? A friend has actually sent a letter to Whitehall requesting information. He is yet to receive any reply. Were they there as a “show”? At the same time NATO forces were building up off Syria. Was this a “look what we can do” message to the UK?
Or was it just a prelim trip to Cork for the current visit there by the Steregushchiy Class Frigate “Soobrazitelny”? Personally, I don’t think it does have anything to do with the Soobrazitelny visit to Cork. I doubt we’ll ever find out for sure what they were up to, but you never know, Whitehall might reply to my friend
I hope this shows how easy it is to track the Russian Navy ships whether it be using High Frequency Morse Code messages or with the use of AIS trackers.
It isn’t just the Russians that can be tracked using AIS by the way. There’s plenty of Naval Forces around the world slowly introducing the systems to their ships