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.
I was keen to know the location of two Russian navy ships that were operating in the vicinity of Sevastopol and the Black Sea region.
The first was Project 1164 Slava-class CGHM Moskva. From satellite imagery available on Sentinel, it was known she had arrived on or around 9 March 2022. She was still present in imagery available from 14 March 2022.
Moskva almost always ties up at the same location so is easy to locate when at the base. In Sentinel SAR imagery (and EO for that matter) you can also measure the length to help assist with the ID.
With the events taking place in the Black Sea, I thought 5 days was quite a long time to be at the base, so it was worth seeing if she was still there on the 15th – Sentinel imagery for that day wasn’t available at the time.
My second target was Project 22160 Bykov-class Corvette Vasily Bykov. If you’ve read my previous blogs, I didn’t believe she had been sunk, and even thought she was elsewhere in the the theatre of operations – possibly the Sea of Azov which I had been monitoring since the alleged “sinking”. This operating area is just a guess though. I’m sure we’ll never really find out.
Moreover, there had been rumours that Vasily Bykov was to always work with Moskva so if one was definitely in Sevastopol, based on the “rumours”, they both should be.
I also had a hunch, that if my guess about being elsewhere was correct, then maybe Vasily Bykov could have arrived anyway, regardless of being with Moskva or not. Having been out the same length of time, she must have needed resupplying as much as Moskva did.
I requested an image collection from Capella on the morning of 15 March 2022, and was lucky enough to get a pass that evening at 1826z, about seven hours after the request had gone in.
This revealed that both Moskva had departed, and that Vasily Bykov was not in.
Whilst this might be looked upon as negative, it isn’t. Intel is Intel. It was now known that Moskva was on her way somewhere and had been stocked up – as it turns out in imagery available later in Sentinel, to take part in operations east of Odessa.
It also showed that Vasily Bykov wasn’t operating with Moskva as per the rumours.
And, low and behold on 16 March 2022, Vasily Bykovdid turn up at Sevastopol. A miracle one would say, bearing in mind it was supposed to have been sunk a few weeks earlier.
It wasn’t a bad guess she’d turn up – just 24 hours later than my hunch.
The Capella imagery also showed that there wasn’t much else in the bay. The southern area was empty bar one Kilo-class SSK.
The area next to Moskva‘s normal home was also pretty empty. Just one possible Project 1135M Krivak II-class FFM was present. The imagery for this is a little blurred due to the angle of the collection (44 degrees) and the sweep of the SAR itself. This places the ship almost on its side, but the profile does look like a Krivak-II.
If not, it is a Project 11356M Grigorovich-class FFGH – they are the same length, though the profile is slightly different due to the heli-deck.
This doesn’t appear to have the heli-deck and looks to be stepped down to the stern for accommodate the two AK-100 guns.
Regardless, the imagery from Capella was well timed. Whilst the areas out at sea were clear, over Sevastopol itself it was cloudy so EO wasn’t usable – Sentinel didn’t have any EO passes there anyway – and the Sentinel SAR is nowhere near as good as Capella’s.
Unfortunately, I have no collections available to me over Sevastopol today (16 March 2022) so I can’t see Vasily Bykov, and it looks like other ships are also returning – with Project 775 Ropucha-class LST Kondopoga reported to have arrived too.
I’m not going to beat around the bush on this one.
It was totally obvious in the first place – Vasily Bykov has turned up in Sevastopol on 16 March 2022 without a scratch!
I’m just going to say one thing.
Don’t bother with OSINT – or any other type of reporting/Intelligence – if you don’t have a clue about what you’re doing!
You can be wrong if it’s a tight thing to work out – as I was with the ID of the actual ship on fire – but the bloody evidence was there! It wasn’t a warship of any type on fire – it was a merchant ship.
Update on likely ship on fire wrongly identified as Vasily Bykov
Location of Vasily Bykov still not confirmed
Whilst the location of Russian Navy Project 22160 Corvette Vasily Bykov is still not known, further analysis of imagery and video shows that my first assessment of the ship on fire being old imagery of Estonian flagged merchant ship Helt is likely incorrect too.
With Moldavian flagged chemical tanker Millennial Spirit somehow still being afloat since it was hit by a Russian missile on 25 February 2022, this is more likely to be the ship wrongly ID’d as Vasily Bykov.
By comparing the image below with that shown in social media, one can clearly see the structures at the bow of Millennial Spirit match exactly. You can also clearly see the red colour of the ship in the video.
Vasily Bykov definitely isn’t red in colour!
Satellite imagery from Sentinel collected on 13 March 2022 shows that Millennial Spirit is still smouldering from fires. She is currently located at 46.36707 31.11753.
FleetMon AIS data below shows the last 12 days of Millennial Spirit before the transmissions ceased. You’ll see that they are not far from those last reported by Helt.
The hunt for Vasily Bykov continues. I even wonder if the ship is still in this area. Time will tell.
It has been reported in social media that Russian Navy Project 22160 Corvette Vasily Bykov has been sunk by Ukrainian Forces using Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS), having lured it into an area using other ships.
Whilst I’d like this to be the truth, unfortunately, if the images and video used are correct, it is in fact a merchant ship that has been sunk.
The probability of MLRS hitting a ship in this manner is extremely low. Other reports suggest it hit a mine, which is probably more likely.
Looking at AIS data on FleetMon, it looks like it is Estonian flagged Helt that has sunk and it is old imagery of this event on March 2nd 2022 that is now doing the circuit on Twitter.
Helt was operated by Estonian company VISTA Shipping Agency who reported that the ship had possibly hit a mine.
Ukrainian forces had previously reported the ship had been taken over by the Russian navy and was being used as a decoy.
Regardless of the actual events, the chances that it is Vasily Bykov in the imagery and video are remote. Whether the corvette has actually been sunk is another matter, and time will tell.
The data below from FleetMon shows that at 0504z on 2nd March 2022, Helt started moving to the NE. At 0540z the ship stopped moving, a brief at anchor message was sent, and then the ship started drifting at anchorage.
AIS data ceased at 0640z on 3rd March 2022. VISTA Shipping later reported that day that the ship had sunk with all crew rescued.
Further evidence is needed before any confirmation of the sinking of Vasily Bykov.