Freelance writer/photographer. Primarily my work is for IHS Jane's publications such as Fighting Ships, Intelligence Review, Defence Weekly, Navy International and International Defence Review - but there's also Warship International Fleet Review and radio magazines such as The Spectrum Monitor
Another imagery update of Sevastopol provided by Capella, this time dated 7 June 2022.
Not too many changes but there is one strange occurance.
Overall, most of the Russian navy ships remain the same. On the north side of the bay, a couple of civilian merchant vessels were collecting grain/wheat from the terminal. Project 02690 Floating crane SPK-54150 had been operational on the southern side but was back next to the grain terminal at the time of the collection.
The remaining ships are same as those in the 31 May 2022 update – except one Project 1239 Dergach class had departed on 5 June 2022.
On the south side in Pivdenna Bay, very little change. Project 02690 Floating crane SPK-46150 was present but had been operational – to then depart a few days later on 8 June 2022 (more on this later).
The submarine pen was open and one Kilo class SSK was no longer present. This was to be found in the maintenance bay 2 km northeast of Pivdenna, on the south side of Sevastopol Bay.
Even stranger was that, along with the Capella imagery here, others showed the Kilo balancing on the deck of a small floating crane. @GrangerE04117 on Twitter concluded it was Project 877V Alrosa – which I agree with.
The remaining Kilo in Pivdenna Bay was confirmed later on by @Capt_Navy
Alrosa balancing on the deck of the floating crane in such a way is something I haven’t seen before. There are floating docks available, but these are in use. Moreover, potentially this method is a faster way of carrying out the work they need to do on the Kilo. How they got it up on the deck is another question!
SPK-46150 left at 1205 UTC on 8 June 2022, probably for Snake Island. The Floating crane had two Tor-M on its deck. The last position on S-AIS came in at 1422 UTC, northwest of Sevastopol. It appears to be following the same route SPK-54150 took previously, so at 6 knots would take approximately 22 hours from that position to reach Snake Island. A rough ETA would be 1230 UTC on 9 June 2022 if it isn’t there already.
The use of the Floating cranes as a Tor-M delivery method to Snake Island is certainly a strange one. I said on a Twitter thread that it may be a “one ship fits all” reasoning, rather than using small landing craft or other vessels that may then need a crane to lift the SAM systems onto the jetty. I can’t see any other reason why they’d do it. Unless there are issues with using the Serna class ships at the ramp at the harbour?
It’s certainly a big risk. As I said on the thread. It’s just an idea as to why they might be using the floating cranes but “I’m not saying they’re correct in their methods“.
**Imagery amendment – The northern floating crane at the dock entrance is actually a fixed one on the wall. – Thanks to Capt(N) for posting an image that shows this**
A few more Capella Space collection passes were tasked after Admiral Kuznetsov was moved to the 35th Shipyard dry dock.
These were dated 26 and 27 May 2022.
They show that work has started again on the dry dock entrance. Here they will likely seal the mouth up with a temporary steel barrier that has been pile driven into the river bed. From that they can then empty the dry dock and construct the full gate system.
Why they didn’t do this at the time of construction is anyone’s guess, but it is likely they wanted Kuznetsov into the dock as soon as possible so that they can continue the work on the ship.
Three floating cranes appear to be back in attendance to help with the work. The image for 27 May looks like a barrier is already in place, but this is the northern crane.
They used this method to construct the dry dock in the first place, but had to destroy it so that Kuznetsov could be floated in.
In theory, they could use the dry dock as soon as it is empty for any work on the hull that would normally be below the waterline, but this could be dangerous. And with the luck Kuznetsov has had recently…. well, anything could happen!
But, the Russian Navy does appear to like risk and I think they’ll put the lower dock to work as soon as they can. Especially if Kuznetsov has been damaged below the waterline in the previous incidents.
An early morning collection by Capella Space of Sevastopol on 31 May 2022 showed that Project 02690 Floating crane SPK-54150 was possibly back at the base. It had recently been spotted at Snake Island in imagery from Maxar and Planet.
It can be confirmed that the crane is certainly not SPK-46150 as this has been operational all day on the south side of Sevastopol bay according to AIS data from FleetMon.
Also present was a single Project 11356M Admiral Grigorovich class FFGH, two Project 1135 Krivak class FFMs and several Project 775 Ropucha class LSTMs.
Two Kilo class SSKs are in the submarine pen, whilst two Project 1239 Dergach class PGGJMs are north side – these are Bora (615) and Samum (616) though identifying which is which is not possible. SPK-46150 was still at its mooring at the time of the pass.
One of the Dergach class was captured on video in the last few days, though again, with no pennant/hull number, it can not be identified.
With rumours filtering through that Project 1143.5 CVGM Admiral Kuznetsov was due to move sometime between 17 and 19 May 2022 from its “temporary” mooring position in Murmansk to a purpose built dry dock just a little further south, I set up at collection task with Capella Space to catch before and after imagery of the event.
Kuznetsovhad ended up at its mooring position after floating dock PD-50, of the 85th shipyard, sank on 30 October 2018 whilst the CVGM was being floated out after a month of works. During the accident, a crane that was part of the dock fell onto the flight deck causing considerable damage.
That wasn’t the end of the woes for the already delayed refit Kuznetsov was undertaking – originally planned to start in 2017 and already a year late. On 12 December 2019 the ship suffered from a major fire that the United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC) estimated would cost 350 million roubles ($4.7 million/£3.7 million at the time) to repair.
An agreement was made with the Russian MoD that two dry docks of the 35th shipyard in Murmansk would be redesigned and knocked through into one large dry dock that could take Kuznetsov and other large Russian navy ships and submarines.
Work commenced on the new dry dock mid to late 2019 and was due to be completed in early 2021 for Kuznetsov to enter and complete the overhaul. Currently, the 35th Shipyard are restricted to works that can take place alongside.
However, the dry dock is still under construction due to several delays in the construction process. This hasn’t deterred the Russian navy from getting Kuznetsov into the dock.
On 20 May 2022, Kuznetsov made the 1.5 km journey with the assistance of tugs rather than under its own power.
The collection request was made to Capella to cover 17 – 20 May. Typically there wasn’t a collection slot available on the 20th, but the request was extended to the next available on the 22nd.
Low resolution EO imagery on Sentinel was only available for 15 May. After this, the region was 100% cloud covered, making further collections of EO imagery impossible. This is where SAR collections from Capella excel – being able to see, no matter the weather.
FleetMon S-AIS data
The move used at least four tugs according to S-AIS data from FleetMon. These were – Bizon, Grumant, Helius and Kapitan Shebalkin.
A couple of the images are interesting as they show potential changes to the weapons systems. Below, it can be seen that the RBU-12000 ASW rocket launchers (designed specifically for Kuznetsov) have been retained (central, far left of image) but the AK-630M on the deck balcony below has been removed.
The same has taken place on the starboard side of the ship.
A further image on RIA Novosti credited to Pavel Lvov, taken from above also shows the removal of the AK-630Ms along with the eight Kortik/Kashtan CADS-N-1A each fitted with twin AO-18K (6K30GM) 30 mm rotary cannon and eight SA‐N‐11 (9M311) ‘Grison’ missiles.
The Kashtan is likely to be replaced by Pantsir‐M/Pantsir‐SM CIWS hence their removal.
The image above also shows a lot of surface oil. Whether it is from Kuznetsov or the tugs is anyone’s guess – but I have a feeling I know which one it is
According to satellite imagery made available by Planet, Project 02690 class floating crane SPK-54150 – based at Sevastopol for the Russian Black Sea Fleet – has returned to Snake Island on, or before, 15 May 2022.
The whereabouts of SPK-54150 between today and when it departed the area on 12 May 2022 is unknown, but imagery from Sentinel dated 14 May 2022 shows it returning to the island.
Located at 45.224993 30.744780, the shape, colour and size of the floating crane can be clearly seen. The wake behind also shows the very slow speed it is travelling at – the class averages a speed of 6 knots generally.
Collected at 0857z, the floating crane is approximately 42 kilometres away from Snake Island – or 23 nautical miles.
Based on the average speed of 6 knots, it is actually more likely that SPK-54150 arrived around 1230z on the 14th. Obviously, this if it went direct from the spot located. Imagery is not available of Snake Island on 14 May 2022 later than this as far as I’m aware.
The resolution of the imagery available to me doesn’t show whether the floating crane has any cargo. No doubt further high resolution imagery will appear soon.
On 12 May 2022, reports starting coming in on Twitter about yet another attack on a Russian ship in the Black sea.
This time it was Project 23120 logistics support vessel Vsevolod Bobrov that was making the news.
Commissioned to the Black Sea fleet on 6 August 2021, Bobrov is one of the most capable and modern supply ships in the Russian Navy. To lose a ship like this would be quite a blow.
The ship has a displacement of 9,700 tonnes, measures 95 m in length and has a maximum speed of 18 kts. It has a range of 5,000 nautical miles or an endurance of 60 days. Ordinarily it has crew of 55.
The 700 m2 cargo deck can carry approximately 3,000 tonnes of cargo and is equipped with two 50 tonne electro-hydraulic cranes. Moreover, main and auxiliary towing winches are capable of a pulling capacity of 120 tonnes and 25 tonnes.
The reports of an attack, of course, was yet more fake news emanating from “Ukrainian Sources”.
Whilst I understand the need for propaganda in this war, stories such as these do not help with the Russian’s denial of any sort of atrocities etc. They can just prove stories such as these are fake, and therefore say all the others are too. Moreover, there is no real need to do it – the Ukrainians are causing enough damage as it is, there’s no need to make any up.
Regardless, it was another “story” I didn’t believe in the first place.
Whilst Bobrov is operational in the Black Sea, the “Ukrainian sources” provided even less information than normal – there wasn’t even an attempt at a fake video.
Therefore, it was just a case of sitting back and waiting for the ship to arrive in Sevastopol. And sure enough, it did!
Images of Bobrov alongside at Sevastopol on 14 May 2022 were made available on Twitter the same day. The images themselves were taken from a Telegram account, Black Sea Fleet, and clearly show no damage whatsoever to Bobrov.
If anything it is near mint condition.
On closer inspection, it can be seen that a Pantsir-S (NATO SA-22 Greyhound) self-propelled surface to air gun and missile system is located between the two cranes. One of the access hatches is open, and a Z can been seen drawn on the side.
Whether the AD system is there for the ship’s own protection or was part of a cargo is not known. However, satellite imagery shown to me which I cannot show here has the system moved to the stern of the ship. This does make it look like the system is there to protect the ship – it doesn’t have any in normal circumstances.
How useful the AD system would be is anyone’s guess and is probably more for show than anything else – or at least to make the crew feel safe. The height of the cranes to the side, and the main structure of the ship forward, would make it extremely hard to defend any attacks from these directions – unless they were directly, or near directly, above.
This is possibly a trend though. The Project 02690 class floating crane that was at Snake Island on 12 May 2022 – now departed the area – also had an AD unit on its deck. It is not known though whether this was later offloaded to the island or not.
I’m sure further evidence will be made available on whether the use of mobile AD systems is a thing or not with Russian navy ships not equipped with built-in systems..
Despite heavy losses at Snake Island, Russian forces continue to operate at the island.
Imagery made available by Maxar shows a Project 02690 class floating crane operating at the island’s harbour – along with a Project 11770 Serna class landing craft.
The theory on social media is that the floating crane is there to recover the sunk Serna class landing craft. This is probably unlikely as in theory the weight of the ship and its cargo (likely one of the 9K331M Tor-M2 family of SAM systems) combined with the sea would take the lifting weight outside of that capable by the crane – **See below for update**
Two options are more likely. Either to recover the 9K331M Tor-M2; or to be used to transfer cargo from other ships to – or from – the island.
It is a risky operation. The floating cranes are not very maneuverable or fast. Their average speed is 6 kts.
Further imagery of the area shows another Serna class operating close to the island. Some thought “clouds” near the ship were smoke trails from Ukrainian missiles attacking the ship. This isn’t the case and it is possible the ship is dispensing smoke to try and cover/protect the operations taking place at the island.
This is clearly failing.
Getting back to the crane and the image of it operating off the harbour jetty.
There is a possibly a 9K331M Tor-M2 is on the deck. More of these have been located on the island so it does appear the crane has either assisted in, or transported, these. How long they last is another question?
Through analysis of satellite imagery from Capella Space and Sentinel, and in conjunction with historic AIS data from FleetMon, it is likely the floating crane is SPK-54150.
Capella SAR imagery dated 11 May 2022 shows a floating crane in the Pivdenna Bay area of Sevastopol.
A colour, low resolution image from sentinel for the same day shows the floating crane – the yellow colour of the crane is clearly visible.
A search of AIS data in FleetMon for the two known floating cranes operating for the Black Sea Fleet – SPK-54150 and SPK-46150 – produced an outcome for both.
SPK-54150 was last “heard” on 10 May 2022 tracking Northwest at 6 kts, not far from Karadzhyns’ka bay. I have access to S-AIS from FleetMon so this last heard means the ship switched off its AIS at this time – the data list confirms it was transmitting via Satellite.
On the other hand, the AIS for SPK-46150 was last heard on 26 March 2022. It does appear to have stayed here since then – or been operational but not used its AIS and returned to the same spot each time.
From this data then, we can conclude the floating crane is likely to be SPK-54150.
As previously mentioned, the use of the floating cranes shows a certain desperation with the Russian forces to maintain a presence on Snake Island.
It really does appear they want to stay there, no matter the risks and potential costs.
Eventually, the floating crane did recover the Serna class from the harbour. A pretty good job too as this – as I stated above – would have been at the edges of the cranes capabilities. Not known is wether it recovered the “cargo” first.
In my last blog, I tried to highlight the issues with analysing imagery and videos with only half a story.
I also tried to draw the attention to how fake videos can make one look at others with a lot of doubt as to whether they are real or not.
I concluded that more evidence was needed – in particular high resolution imagery from Maxar or Planet.
The good news is, that not long after the blog was posted, I was anonymously sent an image dated 7th May 2022 taken from either Maxar or Planet – the source didn’t say.
This clearly showed the wreck of the Project 11770 Serna class landing craft in the Snake Island harbour. It also showed the concrete blocks I wanted to see. This was useful as had the image been collected from before the attack, and there been no wreck, then at least the location was pretty much confirmed.
Even the blocks would have been enough then to conclude that the video was legitimate.
It wasn’t long after I received the image that it was published by AP, and shown on Twitter.
For those that don’t have Twitter access – Jon’s account is locked – here’s the image.
I also received a notification from a friend, Scott Tilley – well worth following on Twitter if you don’t. His satellite tracking capabilities and knowledge is fantastic.
His notification pointed me to a website that contained photographs of Snake Island – some of which depicted the concrete blocks used as the sea defences. A great find – and one that had slipped through my rushed searches.
So, hopefully this shows how information can take it’s time to get through to carry out a full analysis.
There’s reasons why the Intelligence services take their time over gathering data on incidents such as this.
Now, as further videos are coming through thick and fast of attacks on Snake Island, more confidence can be had over their legitimacy.
The wingman in this attack is probably very lucky not to have been taken out by the explosion created by the flight leader.
One has to question why the Russian forces are intent in staying at Snake Island. Their losses, I’d say, are greater than those taken by Ukraine.
My friend Capt(N) provided some information on the island in a recent Twitter thread. I’ve taken screenshots here as, again, not everyone uses Twitter.
Whilst there is no doubt there have been several attacks on Russian equipment on Snake Island, in the last few days, some dubious video footage has been “leaked” on Twitter showing Russian ships under attack.
These videos do put into question those that do appear to be genuine.
For example, yesterdays – 6/5/22 – “news” that Project 11356M Admiral Grigorovich class FFGH Admiral Makarov was struck by multiple Neptune missiles immediately reminded me of the same claim against Project 22160 Corvette Vasily Bykov at the beginning of March, be it with MLRS weapons rather than the Neptune missiles.
I personally wasn’t convinced about the Makarov attack, and once further ridiculous Tweets materialised using ADSB data from FlightRadar24 (FR24) showing NATO aircraft “monitoring the situation” as proof that “something was going on” – well, I definitely didn’t believe it.
This is just poor “analysis” by people who haven’t got a clue what they’re talking about and should just not bother saying anything. Two examples below.
Unfortunately, the Ukraine war has brought out a substantial number of idiots that are suddenly “experts” in warfare, aircraft tracking, ship tracking and satellite imagery analysis. In reality, they are just plain fools.
And as Ben Kenobi says in Star Wars – “Who’s the more foolish? The fool or the fool that follows him?”
This is the problem with social media. These people have a “show” that they’re experts, and then they get thousands of followers that believe everything they come up with.
Personally, I don’t trust anyone with OSINT in the username.
This idiocy was highlighted when a video appeared, apparently from a TB2, showing Admiral Makarov on fire. This was clearly fake and taken from a video game – later identified as ARMA 3. One account on Twitter was able to recreate pretty much the same “video” in a matter of minutes.
So, whilst evidence of attacks are a good thing to have to assess whether losses have been taken or not – fake videos tend to sway people in the other direction.
Going back a few days, I believed the Project 03160 Raptor fast patrol boat attacks video from the 2nd of May – but the above now has me thinking otherwise. I did find it a little strange that the second Raptor hung around the area for so long, and didn’t really make much attempt to evade a potential strike. This highlights the problems with creating fake videos for propaganda – once one fake video appears, it makes others seem fake too – whether they are not.
Todays video of the Project 11770 Serna class landing craft being attacked at the Snake Island harbour area certainly got my “fake video” senses twitching when I saw it. Mainly because, by sheer coincidence, I’d obtained imagery of Snake Island from Capella Space, collected on the 4th May, and I’d taken a good look at the harbour area to search for any evidence of ship activity there.
Coupled with the potential fake videos from previous “attacks” one can start to see inconsistencies in this video.
One thing – I always say this regarding my analysis work – I can’t always be right. I like to be, and I take my time on it, but errors will creep in every now and again.
So let’s look at what I see in the imagery versus the video and I can lay my cards on the table with my thoughts – and as always, I’m open to any comments.
First of all, one link to the video on Twitter. It is also available on YouTube I believe.
A number things immediately grabbed my attention. It is visible even in the Twitter image above. All those blocks of squares and rectangles. They look like CGI – too perfect. That area gets pummelled by the sea most of the time. Granted, they could be containers just dumped into the sea, but I’m not convinced at this.
Also, the ramp to the sea looks too perfect – very straight lines, no sea lapping over it. The wall that runs along it, into the sea, is new.
Let’s look at some close-ups from the video.
This one above shows yet more blocks east of the ramp, and strange grooves, much like seating areas. No sea lapping over them.
The next two shows the same area from nearly directly above. Note the near perfect lines of the walls, and more importantly, these blocks again. What are they? Not containers. Maybe concrete block sea defences??
The next image gives an overall view of the harbour area. Note the blocks again, and the coastline itself.
Now let’s look at the Capella imagery.
Whilst not perfect – typically the worst part of the imagery is the harbour – the blocks in theory would stand out. There doesn’t appear to be any. The quality is enough to show the jaggedness of the rocks along the coast, but not much else. There does not appear to be a wall out to sea along the ramp – but this is inconclusive in this imagery.
We can move onto some hi-res imagery from Maxar, though I’m afraid to say I have no contract with them and so I have had to use images from elsewhere. Ideally, we could do with someone that does have a Maxar account – or Maxar themselves – to provide us with the high-res imagery.
The first is taken from a CNN article dated 14th March 2022 and states the image was collected on the 13th. I’ve had to zoom in a little for the screen grab.
Not ideal quality, but does it look like there’s been much of an upgrade to the harbour area? It doesn’t look like there has been. It’s hard to determine whether there are any blocks there.
The following image is reportedly from Planet, collected in the last few days, and published by Associated Press – AP. Whilst I couldn’t find a direct link, there’s plenty out there – for instance.
Moreover, searching in the Maxar archive, there has been a collection on 7th May 2022 which shows smoke coming from the building as shown above, just on the left edge. Note also the ship activity to the west of the island.
With these two images nearly aligning, we can conclude that the top image is very recent.
In my view, whilst there are small buildings near the harbour, one of which in the area east of the ramp – there appears to be no large blocks present. The wall into the sea by the ramp does appear to be present, but hard to determine whether it matches that in the video. It is still too hard to conclude from the imagery currently available whether the blocks are there or not.
Ideally now, then, we need that hi-res imagery that Maxar clearly has (note they’ve redacted the archive imagery of the island). Then we can put this one to bed once and for all.
Analysis isn’t just about seeing what is immediately in front of you. It is much, much deeper than that. Below sums it up nicely.
Just because it looks like Snake Island harbour in the video, doesn’t necessarily mean it is. You have to look at more than just the shape and the jetty.
Ironically, one proven event – the sinking of Moskva – is still to produce any video evidence that a missile attack led to its demise.
At the time of writing there is still only one confirmed outcome in the story of the sinking of the Russian navy Project 1164 Slava-class cruiser Moskva – that the near 40-year-old flagship of the Black Sea Fleet sank on 14th April 2022.
And it is a story. There are so many different accounts of what may have happened it has become fictional in places.
What is known, apart from the actual sinking, is that Moskva suffered a severe fire that – according to the Russian MoD – led to the crew abandoning ship.
To counter this story, the Ukrainian forces declared they had attacked the ship with Anti-ship missiles (AShM). The type of missile was never stated but analysts presume RK-360MC Neptune coastal defence AShM’s.
There is still little confirmation on the 500+ crew condition or their whereabouts. Initially, the Russian MoD state that all survived, whilst other reports said this number was between 54 to 60, having been rescued by Turkish ships in the area. Then a few names of the killed were released – including the captain, Anton Kuprin.
The first question is, what were Turkish ships doing so far north in the Black Sea? More so in an area that has already seen civilian ships damaged and sunk. More than likely, this is untrue. One self-proclaimed Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) “expert” produced imagery on Twitter taken from online AIS that showed ships rescuing Moskva crew members. One of the ships shown was Turkish. However, the AIS data was from an area 145 nautical miles south of the incident. To date, no confirmation from any official Turkish sources of a rescue of Russian navy sailors. Nor are there any photos or videos of this onsocial media – something extremely rare in the current climate.
The same OSINT “expert” also produced radio intercepts on High Frequency (HF) bands of morse code distress and SOS messages from Mosvka – including ones that stated the ship was sinking. This again was incorrect and were very quickly proven to be amateur radio operators. The morse code procedures didn’t even match those normally used by the Russian navy.
Finally, with images emerging of Moskva after the rescue and fire-fighting attempts were started, Russian rescue ships are present and that most of the life rafts appear to have been deployed. This suggests that most of the crew did survive.
A video released by the Russian MoD showed a parade in Sevastopol on 17 April which was reportedly some of the crew. The parade included the Captain, previously reported killed!
This has caused doubt in what happened – or in the story released by the Russian MoD. Firstly, the Captain is there – secondly, none of the crew appear injured, though it could be that they only selected those that were uninjured as less than half the crew are present. Thirdly, part of the video, the crew appear to be laughing and joking, which is not what one would expect in a parade such as this. Was this video from before the incident?
The source of the fire has also been heavily discussed on social media. A fire onboard – as stated by the Russian MoD – is feasible. After all, the Russian navy has a terrible record for this. Just a few weeks before, Project 1171 Alligator-class LSTM Saratov sank at Berdyansk port following an explosion on 24 March 2022. This was caused by an accident whilst loading two Project 775 Ropucha-class LSTMs with ammunition. The two Ropuchas sustained enough damage that they had to return to Sevastopol for repairs.
Other fires have occurred in the last 10 years on Russian ships. In 2012 Soobrazitelny, in 2015 Steregushchiy – both Steregushchiy I class frigates – and Admiral Gorshkov also in 2015 during the first of class sea trials.
It is the story of a Ukrainian missile strike that appears to be the most believed theory. Yet, there is still no official proof of such an attack. The belief is it must be true as the Ukrainians reported the fire before the Russians did. But there could be more to this than meets the eye.
It is presumed by many that the Ukrainian forces are receiving live intelligence from other countries. Proof that Moskva was being followed by the US was produced when the Pentagons Press Secretary John Kirby confirmed the damage to Moskva.
“We’re not in a position to officially confirm, independently, what exactly led to the ship’s now sinking, but we’re also not in any position to refute the Ukrainian side of this. It’s certainly plausible and possible that they did in fact hit this with a Neptune missile or maybe more.”
He also said the Moskva was operating roughly 60 miles south of Odessa at the time of the blast. “We know she suffered an explosion. It looks like — from the images that we have been able to look at — it looks like it was a pretty sizable explosion, too. We don’t know what caused that explosion.”
With this in mind, it is plausible that US Intelligence was sharing information on Moskva, including the fact that the ship was on fire. With this information, in theory the Ukrainian forces could have produced a statement saying they had attacked the ship with AShMs. The Russian MoD were then forced to provide their own statement regarding a fire.
What then further confused the story, was that the US then stated a few days later that the ship was struck by two Neptune AShMs. Why not say so in the first place?
If a missile strike did occur, then what happened regarding the Moskva anti-missile defences? Again, many stories have become presumed truth – old ship, old equipment, old radars.
One thing is for sure. The ships fire protection system was old and inadequate for the task. It was supposed to have been upgraded during Moskvas modernisation programme between 2018 and 2021 – but was decided against doing so for cost savings. Even a small fire could have quickly gotten out of control. One involving ammunition even quicker.
Bad weather was also given as a reason for missiles to have made it through the defences – choppy sea causing interference returns on the defence radars.
Distraction from a Ukrainian Baykar Bayraktar TB2 unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAV) whilst the missiles sneaked in from another angle was also a possible cause muted – this theory likely stemming, ironically, from a video produced by the Russian MoD a few days earlier showing a Project 11356M Admiral Grigorovich-class frigate Admiral Essen shooting down a Ukrainian TB2 with its Shtil-1 air defence system. This video, however, does appear to be made up of several events from a test firing and fake.
Whilst the opinion is – if missiles were involved – that they broke through the Moskva defences this may not be correct either. Moskva was armed with six AK-630M CIWS capable of firing up to 5,000 30mm rounds per minute, designed specifically as a last resort defence against low flying missiles.
However, all CIWS systems have a drawback in that if they destroy the incoming threat too close to the ship, the debris will continue – due to the momentum of travelling at Mach 1.5+ – and cause severe damage to the ship. The resulting debris easily penetrates the hull in small pieces and causes fires and injury to crew members.
An example of this took place in February 1983 when US Navy Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate USS Antrim destroyed a target drone with its Phalanx CIWS during an exercise. The debris bounced off the sea surface, hitting the ship and caused significant damage. The fuel from the drone also ignited which set the frigate alight. A civilian instructor onboard was killed.
Here then, is another option as to why the Moskva was on fire. A similar scenario could have taken place, and with two reported missiles involved would have been far worse than the Antrim incident.
The imagery of Moskva on fire clearly shows the worst damage near the location of the AK-630Ms. Is this what happened then with debris striking the ship in that area?
Ironically, this area of the ship contains one of the most vital stations for the survival of the ship – damage control. It is also the area where propulsion and electrical systems etc. are monitored. These being destroyed would almost certainly lead to the demise of the ship.
There is also an ethos amongst the Russian navy during exercises that could have been the cause for missiles to break the defence. Whilst NATO and western exercises are an “all sides could win” affair, the Russian navy always leans to the main player winning – regardless. So, in the case of Moskva, during a simulated missile attack the crew would know at what time and what direction the threat would be coming from to ensure a success. In other words, it was fixed to confirm the system and crew works efficiently. This doesn’t help much in a real-world situation, and the Moskva radar defence crew could have been overwhelmed and confused by the fact that what they were facing hadn’t been notified to them in advance.
There is one fly in the ointment to the missile attack that doesn’t seem to fit in with how the war in Ukraine is being portrayed – and that is the total lack of any pictorial evidence of the missile attack. The “Russian warship, go f**k yourself” incident – ironically the warship being Moskva – was filmed with the event, though somewhat enhanced by social media and the Ukrainian forces, making it to every corner of the world. A Ukrainian commemorative postage stamp of the incident was even created just a few days before Moskva sank.
There are hundreds of videos of Russian tanks getting destroyed by missiles and drones – and yet the Ukrainians have not produced any such evidence of what was their biggest target to date being fired upon.
Even a successful attack on a Project 03160 Raptor small patrol boat was filmed, so with the history of the previous Moskva incident still fresh, it was a huge propaganda moment, and it seems strange that no-one thought to point a camera or mobile phone at the TEL launching the missiles.
Moreover, the Ukrainians have a history of claiming they fired upon Russian ships and hitting them – Vasily Bykov, Saratov and Admiral Essen – which turned out to be fake. Combined with a lack of evidence this doesn’t help with the story of Moskva.
There is clearly smoke and fire damage taking place internally from open portholes along the side of the ship pointing to an internal fire. There is a possibility there are two holes on the hull caused by missile strikes – one at the stern under the hanger (though this is extremely round rather than jagged) and the other with the damage near the AK-630Ms. These could easily have been caused by explosions internally though. The hull skin doesn’t appear to buckle in as one would expect.
It does appear that the defence radar systems were not in operational use at the time of the incident. Granted this could have been due to a surprise attack – but it doesn’t match with the TB2 distraction story.
Overall, it is still inconclusive as to what happened. To me, the damage doesn’t concur with a missile strike, though it is substantial. Compared with damage to HMS Sheffield and HMS Coventry during the Falklands, holes from the missiles are clearly visible. However, whilst the initial damage from the outside didn’t look that bad – they were devastating in nature internally, leading to many deaths and injuries and finally the sinking of the ships.
As to the effect the loss has on the Russian navy, and particularly the Black Sea fleet – it is doubtful it will be noticed much. There are plenty of smaller, modern, ships in the fleet available that have modern systems and weapons. Moskva was due to serve for about five more years and replacements were already planned.
It is, however, an embarrassment to the Russian navy and for the Kremlin, that the flagship of the Black Sea fleet has been destroyed – regardless of how it happened.