Project 677 Lada-class SSK Sankt Peterburg still in Kronstadt
Imagery proves early fake news prior to recent events around Ukraine borders
For what it’s worth….. indeed.
This imagery provided by Capella Space was supposed to have been in a Janes article last week, but the events surrounding Ukraine snowballed so quickly, it almost became old news before it had even really been put out there.
Anyway, rather than letting the imagery collection go to waste, Capella and I decided to include it here to add to the records of fake news put out by Russian media and pro-Russian supporters with regards to events in Ukraine, the Black Sea and Mediterranean.
To quickly recap, Russian news media outlet Izvestia claimed on 14 February 2022 that Russian navy Project 677 Lada-class SSK Sankt Peterburg had entered the Mediterranean Sea over the previous weekend “as part of large-scale exercises of the Russian Navy”. They quoted a source in the Russian defense department, stating “Together with a detachment of ships of the Northern Fleet, she will take part in manoeuvres in conditions “close to combat”[sic] “.
For this to have happened without being noticed is impossible. To have exited the Baltic Sea the SSK would have had to have transited via one of two routes between Sweden and Denmark – either via the Storebaelt bridge or the Oresund. It would also have had to have remained surfaced for the entirety of the transit. Had it done so it would have been seen either by the numerous ship enthusiasts that regularly take photographs of Russian – and other – warships; or by several webcams that operate on and in the vicinity of the Storebaelt bridge. There is no such evidence from these sources.
Many of us said the above at the time, both privately, and on Social Media. Covert Shores ran much the same story as here on the day without any satellite imagery – it was that quickly dismissed as fake news!
I requested an imagery collection from Capella Space almost immediately, and they were able to produce imagery at the next pass available, which was first thing in the morning UK time on 17 February.
The imagery provided clearly shows Sankt Peterburg still at its usual mooring position in Kronstadt, along with at least one Kilo-class SSK on the opposite side of the jetty. It’s highly likely another Kilo is tied up alongside the Lada-class.
Kronstadt has had near 100% cloud cover for well over a month making the collection of EO imagery from sources such as Sentinel impossible to use to verify the movements around the base.
This at least finalises the story as exactly what it was – a story.
Following on from my previous blog on the deployment of Russian K-300P “Bastion-P” mobile coastal defence missile unit to Matua Island, further satellite imagery from Sentinel and Maxar has been found showing the deployment taking place.
Moreover, the Maxar imagey has captured the actual moment the equipment exits the Pacific Fleet Project 775M Ropucha class Large landing ship – and in such detail you can clearly see the personnel filming the event.
The first thing ascertained is that the deployment took place on November 16th 2021, so the Russian MoD took two weeks to release the news. It is also now confirmed that all the support vehicles and personnel deployed at the same time rather than at an earlier date – which I suggested may have been the case in the previous blog.
If you watched the video from the Russian MoD in my last blog, at the beginning of it a Monolit-B mobile coastal surveillance radar vehicle exits the Ropucha class landing ship. The Maxar image clearly shows the Monolit-B on the beach having passed the “film crew”, and a K-300P just exited the ship and still in the breakwater.
The Ropucha can also be clearly identified as Admiral Nevelsky .
Imagery of the base for November 16th – the same as that from the ROLES article mentioned in my previous blog – shows little going on so it is likely that a small group of personnel were already there to set up the base, but very little else. However, it is good to get a high resolution of the image now.
Of interest is just how lucky a capture this was. Going through Sentinel-2 imagery, the weather before the 16th, up to today (December 9th), has been cloudy for the vast majority of the time. This is the drawback to normal EO imagery, and is why the SAR imagery capabilities of Capella is important to modern intelligence gathering using satellite imagery.
The Capella image from the 3rd December was collected during a period of 100% cloud cover over the island.
There is absolutely no doubt that both capabilities work in tandem with each other and will make it exceptionally difficult to hide deployments such as these in the future. Capella can provide continuous coverage of a target of interest, and should full EO imagery be required for confirmation of activity and/or actual identities of ships etc. then this can be tasked by the likes of Maxar when weather permits.
The Sentinel-2 imagery, though of low resolution, also revealed the other ships used in the deployment. These consisted of:
Project 141 Kashtan class tender KIL-168
Project 23470 salvage tug Andrey Stepanov
Project 19910 AGS Viktor Faleev
S-AIS data from FleetMon for Andrey Stepanov shows that she arrived at the island on the 14th November, staying for the deployment. She then left the region back to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky on the 17th, before returning at the end of the month and arriving on the 27th via Severo-Kurilsk at the island of Paramushir.
A quick hop back to and from Severo-Kurilsk took place over a couple of days, and she is now enroute back to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky as we speak.
With this activity from Andrey Stepanov and the timing of the Russian MoD news, can one presume that the deployment is now over and just lasted two weeks?
With the Capella imagery showing very little activity at the base on 3rd December, it may well be.
But, it could also be that Andrey Stepanov has been shuttling supplies back and forth to the island – though as a tug is more likely to be there in support of a further ship such as KIL-168. With no S-AIS data available for both KIL-168 and iktor Faleev it could be they were there also. The runway is operational and also capable of taking flights for supply purposes.
For the time being, some further monitoring of the island is required.
Russian Mod News outlet shows K-300P deployment to Matua Island
Capella Space imagery collection request submitted for next available pass
Imagery from just over 26 hours later collected and analysed
The Russian Ministry of Defence produced a small video on 2nd December 2021 of a K-300P “Bastion-P” mobile coastal defence missile unit deploying to Matau Island – part of the disputed Kuril Island chain in the Pacific.
Though only just over 1 minute and 10 seconds long, a few things can be taken from it and analysed.
The video commences with a Monolit-B mobile coastal surveillance radar vehicle (mounted on a MZKT-7930 chassis) exiting a Pacific Fleet Project 775M Ropucha class Large landing ship onto one of the beaches of the island.
This is easily identifiable in Google Earth, located at 48° 2’49.30″N 153°13’13.19″E
The complete K-300P battery – consisting of 4 launcher vehicles (TELs) and two Monolit-B radar vehicles – are seen transiting south along the beach, probably to an access track at the far end that allows vehicles to proceed up onto the mainland.
From here the battery heads east to the airfield, along the northern edge of the runway, before heading north to what was an old scientific research base located at 48° 3’59.89″N 153°15’37.12″E
Google Earth imagery from September 2019 shows that the base had been modified from the previous 2016 imagery. This was the same as the runway and was carried out during research expeditions in 2016 and 2017.
Interestingly, the battery convoy doesn’t show any support vehicles, and it is highly likely these had already arrived prior to this part of the filming. Moreover, the video shows that the research area has been fully converted into a small military base made up of trailer buildings for accommodation and operations along with a separately fenced off communications area containing at least Satcom.
On the 22nd November 2021, the Japanese Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology (ROLES) produced a report saying the research base had been recently upgraded. Imagery in the report, from Maxar, showed that the base was still in the 2019 Google Earth configuration in September 2021, but by October it was well underway to becoming the new base.
By November 16th it appeared to be complete, including two hangers that ROLES had measured at 30 metres in length. This is sufficient to take two K-300P TEL vehicles each – though it would be a tight squeeze.
A short sequence shows inside what is probably one of the command vehicles though nothing of note is discernible. A keypad to the right of the screen states “INTERNAL COMMUNICATION” (ВНУТРЕННЯЯ СВЯЗЬ) used for secure coms between all the vehicles of the battery.
The remainder of the video shows two of the K-300P TELs (TEL 211 and TEL 214) taking a small tour of the South-eastern part of the island before deploying into two revetments back at the airfield.
Capella Space Imagery
Whilst the news from the Russian MoD was interesting, it didn’t actually state any dates for when this deployment took place and whether it is still in operation. It had to be after October 23rd as the Maxar imagery in the ROLES report showed the base still under construction.
The Zvezda article had quotes from the Pacific Fleet: “On this remote island in the central part of the Kuril ridge, the Pacific Fleet’s missilemen will be on a 24-hour watch to monitor the adjacent water area and straits,” and “For the operation and maintenance of equipment, the equipment of technical posts has been installed, storage facilities for equipment and materiel have been deployed, entrances to the launch sites have been equipped,”
It also stated that work has been completed on the improvement of premises intended for year-round service and residence of personnel.
I wanted to check whether this was the case and so I put in an image collection request with Capella Space on the 2nd December 2021 at 1000 GMT.
From this request they were able to create a collection task for the 3rd December at 1236 GMT when the next pass took place – just 26 and a half hours later.
From comparing the video to revetment locations, it was a simple task to find where TEL 211 and 214 positioned themselves. This can also be easily done using Google Earth despite the age of the imagery available at this time. Very little has changed here except for the base.
However, the ability to task specific collection areas for future satellite passes meant an up-to-date 50cm resolution image was available for closer inspection.
Firstly, looking at the positions taken up by the TELs in the video these are now empty, though as a mobile system this is to be expected.
TEL 211 position
TEL 214 position
The main base does still show some sort of presence, though it is impossible to ascertain whether it is actually manned or not.
Whilst vehicles are present to the northeast of the hangers this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are being used. The Russian military store vehicles at locations for ease of a quick deployment should they decide to man them.
Though not shown here, the image available to me was for the complete southeastern area of the island and therefore all the areas commonly used when a deployment takes place. Again, there is little evidence to show any activity. There are no vehicles located at any of the revetments – likewise at the various locations to the north and south that could be used for not only the K-300Ps TELs but also any of the support vehicles carrying out any other tasks.
The concrete pad area is likely for supply storage, and this does appear to be empty.
However, with an +11 hour time difference between GMT and the region, this would mean that the local time when the collection took place was 2336 and therefore everything would probably be closed down for the night and little activity would be taking place anyway.
The fact that it was 2336, and therefore night time, highlights how useful the Capella SAR capability is. I was able to put in a request, and they were able to set up an image collection at the next available pass – despite it being dark. It could have been days before the next EO pass could be available from other providers.
This region is one of those that I regularly check so it will be interesting to keep an eye on it through imagery from Capella from time to time.
K-300P “Bastion-P” basic information
Anti-surface mobile coastal defence system
Consists of four TELs, each with two P-800 Oniks missiles, two Monolit-B mobile coastal surveillance radar vehicles, up to four loader vehicles, command and support vehicles.
Monolit-B has an approx range of 250 km in active mode, 240 km in passive mode
Can track up to 50 targets in passive mode, 30 in active
P-800: 6.9m in length; can cruise up to 2700 km/h at altitude; range between 120 km and 300 km depending on flight profile used; High cruise 46,000 ft, Low cruise 22 ft; 200 kg warhead
Command vehicle crew: 5
TEL crew: 3
Further information on Matua Island
The island itself is steeped in history, particularly for World War 2. All the trenches shown in the imagery are from that era. There’s a whole network of Japanese tunnels and bunkers located throughout the island; and reports that it was a potential test area for their nuclear weapons program that was being carried out at the end of the war.
A Zvezda video from 2017 on YouTube is well worth a watch – although it is obviously in Russian.
There’s also plenty of blogs and articles online that describe some of the research trips that have taken place there. To list a few: