Half the evidence – full scaremongering

It’s been a few months. I’ve been very busy with this and that – and carrying out paid analysis of various subjects to do with the Ukraine war.

I’m not a lover of Russia, and detest their actions in Ukraine. Recently working on Russian war crimes has increased this hate towards the maniac in charge of the country, and those that feel it is a good thing.

I’ve also decided to avoid Twitter as much as possible. It’s a changed place. I hate bad, incomplete analysis and bad journalism. Twitter is full of it – far more than the good stuff.

Too many OSINT scammers, begging for Kofi donations, and people that give them it thinking they’re actually experts when they’re not.

However, I received an email about a Tweet regarding a recent documentary that was shown on the Swedish TV channel, SVT. I had to take a look.

This was about the apparent use of Russian navy Project 852 Akademik Krylov class AGORH Admiral Vladimirskiy to collect data on offshore wind farms near the UK and in the North Sea.

I’d already seen the numerous press reports in November, and had already laughed out loud at the dramatisation of it all. Headlines such as Fleet of Russian spy ships has been gathering intelligence in Nordic waters, investigation finds by CNN – I mean, no shit Sherlock, they’ve only been doing it for about 70 years!! Long before offshore wind farms were even dreamt about!

However, the documentary takes the biscuit.

Filmed in a clandestine – very Stieg Larsson Girl with the Dragon Tattoo way – it centres on the Admiral Vladimirskiy routing out to the north of the UK and transiting around various wind farms.

The conclusion – and only conclusion – was the ship was mapping cables for a potential attack on the UK and other European countries.

According to two British experts – one of which, a “pensioned Royal navy officer” who wanted to remain anonymous but was given the name “James” – stated this was “the first foray, by Russia, into understanding how to disrupt Western electricity generation….[to be] used as an economic weapon”.

The only evidence provided – Admiral Vladimirskiy had gone near offshore wind farms!

Now, even in the documentary they state the North Sea is littered with wind farms. It totally is. In fact, it’s pretty hard to get around the North Sea without going close to a wind farm.

As the image below taken from AIS provider FleetMon shows, it is near impossible to get from the English Channel to the NE without going past a wind farm. Many of the little black antenna markers represent a wind farm and their navigational warning.

A close up of the Moray Firth area shows this in more detail and the second image shows the number of wind farms near Denmark.

The documentary, and “James” in particular, could not see any reason for Admiral Vladimirskiy being on the east coast of the UK. – “The only reason I could see was the wind farm”.

According to numerous articles, independent marine analyst H.I. Sutton estimates that “in particular, it likely mapped the exact location of the seabed power cables going to offshore wind farms”.

But did he look at the full picture? Does he even have the knowledge and experience to really be a spokesperson on these matters?

So let’s look at this in detail – something they didn’t appear to do. Why? It doesn’t make a good story and it doesn’t scare the shit out of the unsuspecting public!

Before we look at Admiral Vladimirskiy‘s route a quick look at how the offshore wind farms work. By coincidence, I have invested in a fund that co-owns one of the sites the ship apparently visited. I have studied how wind farms such as these operate and know a bit about them. Why would you invest your money without first looking into how they operate, their safety measures and suchlike?

Everyone knows how they work really. Basically, offshore turbines spin in the wind, electricity is generated, this is sent to a transformer platform at the site, the electricity goes by buried cabling to a land site, which then sends it all to a larger substation.

The most important thing to take from the sentence above is buried cabling.

You see, the biggest danger to these sites isn’t the Russian navy – no, it’s an unsuspecting fisherman in his trawler going along and taking out half of Britain by accidentally cutting a cable.

To stop this from happening, the clever people at the wind farm developments bury the cables – up to 2 metres below the sea bed. If it isn’t possible to dig down into the sea bed, the cables are buried under rocks instead. Something the documentary failed to mention.

Moreover, it is far easier to take out the cables at source rather than try and locate them along a rough route, buried 2 metres under the seabed. Nope, just take out the transformer platform, or the cables as they leave it under the sea and save all the hassle of locating and digging up a cable, cutting it – blah blah blah.

And quite handily, these platforms can be located from space! No need to get up close to them for an inspection. Below is one of these platforms.

Regardless, it doesn’t take a genius or a “ex navy expert” to find the routes of all the cables are actually published online. It certainly doesn’t need a Russian navy “spy ship” to go and try to find them.

It took me around five minutes to locate all the information on three of the wind farms “visited and mapped” by Admiral Vladimirskiy.

To save you time, here’s a few screen shots:

Let’s move on to Admiral Vladimirskiy and its route as shown in the screenshot below from the documentary. The white areas are wind farms.

The main purpose of the Admiral Vladimirskiy is research. It is classed as a Ocean/Sea research vessel, although we know for sure this isn’t her only role – more on that later. Many maritime countries have some sort of Hydrographic fleet – or are in the process of creating one.

These ships travel around the world mapping the sea bed and taking BATHY surveys. I have personally heard Admiral Vladimirskiy send a weather and position report on HF radio when it was located in Antarctica. That is the extent of its travels. It goes everywhere.

There’s different equipment onboard these ships that carry out different tasks. Some of the equipment is designed to penetrate the sea bed (not physically) but this is to try and ascertain what the bed consists of – not what might be buried there. Other equipment take salinity readings and suchlike – important for military operations, in particular sub surface.

This equipment can include small submersible drones. Larger ships can carry manned submersibles. Admiral Vladimirskiy doesn’t.

One of the common parts of the survey is to measure the sea depth in a specific area for Russian maritime maps. This is useful for any future hostilities.

A good example of a survey report carried out for one of the Danish wind farms in the documentary can be found here.

As you’ll see – if you go through the whole report – it takes a considerable amount of time to map just a small area. The Admiral Vladimirskiy was apparently able to map all the cabling around the Moray Firth in a few passes, and in not much time. Er, no.

So what else could the Admiral Vladimirskiy be doing in the Moray Firth?

Taken from the documentary was a position report – apparently from AIS. As far as I’m aware, Admiral Vladimirskiy doesn’t utilise AIS. I may be wrong, but I’ve followed this ship for years and not known it to use AIS. I’ve not had much time lately to get into the radios so things may have changed, but I have access to a years worth of AIS data – including that covering this period – and can’t find any reference. Other Russian navy ships do use AIS occasionally so it isn’t impossible that Admiral Vladimirskiy does too now.

Maybe someone involved in the documentary can tell me otherwise?

However, as I mentioned earlier, there’s other ways of tracking her. And sure enough it was in the Moray Firth area for a few days.

The position plotted above in the image is roughly in line with where the wind farm cables run to the shore. What the documentary fails to mention is that it is also roughly 20 nautical miles out from the threshold to runway 23 at RAF Lossiemouth. In a near straight line down the runway. Aircraft, especially larger ones, quite often establish for an ILS approach at 15 to 20 miles from the threshold of the runway.

RAF Lossiemouth is home to the northern Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) Typhoon fighters which, as one of their roles, are used to intercept Russian aviation assets as they approach the UK. It is also home to the UK’s P-8 Poseidon Maritime Patrol Aircraft. Their primary role?? To locate and track enemy submarines. In particular – Russian submarines.

This airbase is of primary interest to Russia. And it isn’t the first time Russian ships have located themselves here.

In fact they have been doing it for decades.

Long before wind farms existed.

In November 2020 – in fact almost to the day Admiral Vladimirskiy was there – two Russian navy Project 864 Vishnya class AGI’s sat in approximately the same position. A week earlier Project 1155 Udaloy class DDGHM Severomorsk was there.

The area has even been graced with the Russian navy’s only aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov on several occasions.

The Vishnya class are full blown Intelligence gathering ships. RAF Lossiemouth is a goodie bag of data for them.

The Moray Firth is a pretty sheltered area and it is a well known spot for Russian navy ships to avoid any bad weather in the North sea – and it used for refuelling and replenishing at sea too.

As well as being a Hydrographic vessel with all the equipment for under the sea analysis, Admiral Vladimirskiy has a plethora of equipment to deal with above the surface. It is littered with radio antenna for not only communicating with home, but to listen in and collect radio transmissions and data from other entities. COMINT/SIGINT and ELINT in other words.

Some of the equipment includes HF, VHF, UHF, Direction Finding and potentially SHF capabilities.

None of this is mentioned in the documentary.

So whilst Admiral Vladimirskiy could well have been mapping the sea bed for wind farm cables, it could equally have been collecting intelligence from RAF Lossiemouth. It certainly could have been doing both.

One cannot say either way – and therefore the conclusion from the documentary that “…the only reason I could see was the wind farm” is inaccurate.

Moreover, she could have just been loitering for a bigger task that was about to start.

But I’m jumping ahead a little because she moved off from the Moray Firth, around the corner and down to another position near the Seagreen Offshore Wind Farm that is located 27km off the coast of Angus in Scotland.

I provided the information on Seagreen earlier on. All the cables are buried here. And they come out of the western side of the field not the North East where Admiral Vladimirskiy loitered.

However, there’s something else of interest in that area.

Approximately 50 nautical miles away is RAF Leuchars. This used to be home to the RAF QRA before they relocated to Lossiemouth. Whilst closed, it is still a standby airfield and can be reactivated. It is still sometimes used.

And the position above is almost directly in line with the runways there. It was a regular position for Russian “fishing trawlers” to hang out. In fact they used to go a lot closer.

One other aspect of this position is that it is in a direct line with a UK air defence radar station and one of the worlds largest Air Combat Manoeuvring Instrumentation (ACMI) range – the D323’s. It is also nearly slap bang underneath a LOBE area – or an area where AWACS aircraft go when providing information to combat aircraft.

Most of the control for the 323’s come from the air defence site. Plonk an intelligence ship in between and you can get quite a lot of radio and data comms from anything taking place here.

During the Cold War, and the 323’s where just known as the ACMI range, there were normally a handful of Russian “fishing boats” in the area – day in, day out. The range was extremely busy – it still is sometimes, I’ve counted near 50 aircraft in there recently – and the data the “fishing boats” collected must have been priceless to the Soviet Union.

It still is a gold mine for the Russians.

From this location, the ship moved further south on the 15/11/22 arriving at the English Channel on the morning of 17/11/22, by passing a considerable number of wind farms along the way. Why miss these ones out if they were so important?

The ship then makes a transit up the North Sea to the midpoint, before heading NW towards the Newcastle area. The image below from the documentary shows the ships positions, and I have checked these as being correct.

The speed the ship was doing to move between all these locations in the time shown was too great to be mapping wind farm cables. It was doing something else in my opinion.

Let’s backpedal over a week to the 10th November 2022 and to the Royal Navy base at Portsmouth.

Royal Navy aircraft carrier and flagship HMS Queen Elizabeth (QNLZ) departs the naval base for a deployment to the North Sea for exercises as part of Operation Achillean. After this she would travel to Oslo arriving on the 22nd November. Other ships included HMS Kent, HMS Richmond, HMS Diamond and RFA Tidesurge.

According to the Royal Navy press release at the time:

The Carrier Strike Group will work closely with NATO and Joint Expeditionary Force allies as the UK underscores its commitment to safeguarding European security. 

The Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) is a coalition of ten like-minded nations, which are dedicated to maintaining the security of northern Europe.

This latest deployment builds on a range of operations and exercises with JEF allies this year for the Royal Navy, including maritime patrols in the Baltic Sea.

HMS Queen Elizabeth will be at the centre of the Carrier Strike Group, with the Commander UK Carrier Strike Group, Commodore Angus Essenhigh, and his staff commanding from the aircraft carrier. 

F-35B Lightning jets from 617 Squadron will carry out flying operations, while helicopters from 820, 845, 815 and 825 Naval Air Squadrons will be undertaking sorties from a bustling flight deck.

During this exercise the aviation assets would utilise the D323’s as well as lower airspace around the fleet. Other non aviation tasks would also be carried out. Navy Lookout ran an article at the end of the exercise

The Russian navy would be extremely interested in this.

QNLZ and the fleet had arrived off the coast of Newcastle by 11/11/22 and commenced their exercising. AIS data for QNLZ dropped off at this time but I believe she stayed in this general area until the end of the exercise.

Admiral Vladimirskiy was still loitering at the Moray Firth on 11/11/22 but by 13/11/22 was just 65 nm from where the fleet were last seen on AIS and between the air defence radar site, QNLZ and the D323’s.

The question here is did Admiral Vladimirskiy tag along as the fleet moved?

We know that Admiral Vladimirskiy moved south to the English Channel and was there by 17/11/22. It then moved north again. We don’t know where QNLZ went at this time and going all the way back down there would be strange but maybe Admiral Vladimirskiy followed another asset? I’m not sure this is the case though as there’s more to be known about QNLZ ops than anything else.

However, Admiral Vladimirskiy was not in the area of the English Channel wind farms long enough to do any mapping and on the morning of 17/11/22 Russian Navy Project 304 Amur class repair ship PM-82 exited the eastern side of the English Channel. It had departed from its deployment to Tartus in Syria in early August.

Moreover, on 17/11/22 the two ships locations were near identical at the same time. It looks like they travelled Northeast together before splitting on 18/11/22. Admiral Vladimirskiy took the route back towards the Newcastle coast area whilst PM-82 headed for the Baltic Sea, passing under the Great Belt Bridge linking Danish islands Zealand and Funen on 20/11/22.

The QNLZ exercise ended sometime around the 19 or 20th of November and she headed for Oslo, arriving after lunch on 21/11/22

Admiral Vladimirskiy also departed the area though a bit behind. Only HMS Richmond escorted QNLZ to Oslo, with the rest remaining in the area for a few days carrying out other tasks.

Through the night of 21/11/22 and 22/11/22, Admiral Vladimirskiy entered the Skagerrak and sailed south.

So what is there to conclude about all this?

Personally, I don’t think Admiral Vladimirskiy was mapping wind farms. Not fully anyway. It had multiple tasks, the priority being to keep an eye on the QNLZ exercise from a distance.

It is too much of a coincidence that Admiral Vladimirskiy is in the same areas at the same time. The ship is more than capable of gathering data from the exercising ships and aircraft.

However, I can’t say it wasn’t mapping wind farms because I just don’t know.

It could have just been taking salinity and depth measurements. Quick and easy to do.

But, the creators of this documentary, with the experts they gathered in – cherry picked by the editors to give them the answers they wanted – can not say with 100% accuracy that mapping wind farms was the sole purpose of the voyage of Admiral Vladimirskiy.

But they have.

Whilst the documentary does include active members of the various navies and other experts, they are there more to explain the dangers should Russia (or any other country because we can all do it by the way) tamper with these networks.

By saying Admiral Vladimirskiy is definately mapping wind farms they have stirred up a lot of bad reporting. News outlets such as the BBC, Sky News, CNN etc. have all jumped on the bandwagon, spewing out crap mainly because they don’t have a clue about what they’re talking about or just copy and pasting someone else’s already inaccurate reporting.

Had SVT come to me I’d have given them a completely different outlook on what Admiral Vladimirskiy could be doing.

I’ve shown Admiral Vladimirskiy could have been doing any number of different tasks.

I doubt they’d have used my information though.

It wouldn’t have given them want they wanted.


1 thought on “Half the evidence – full scaremongering

  1. Thanks for your in-depth analysis. Your example of how to fully research an issue and avoid knee-jerk reactions should be required reading in all journalism courses! Nicely done!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.