Analysing the analysis – a closer look at the Saki air base attack satellite imagery


Yesterday – or rather, in the early hours of today – I posted my last blog, Novofedorivka – Saki Air base attack satellite imagery – The aftermath.

In that blog I made a typo. For every word that I meant to say Su-24, I said Su-23. This included in the satellite imagery labelling. So how could this possibly happen as I knew fully that they were Su-24s? I’d called them this correctly in the blog before that and regardless – I know what a Su-24 is.

To add salt to the wound of the error, on my desk next to me at the time of doing the analysis, I had the excellent books by Yefim Gordon & D Komissarov Sukhoi Su-24 and Sukhoi Su-27 & 30/33/34/35. They were still on my desk in the morning when I got up. I’d had the idea on going into a little detail about the aircraft themselves, but changed my mind.

The books still on my desk in the morning.

Looking back at the creation of the blog, I’m pretty sure I know what happened. When I started working on the imagery, when I typed in the first Su-24 label, I inadvertently typed Su-23. This could have been in error by hitting the 3 key instead of the 4, or by just stupidly typing it incorrectly.

From there, the rest is history. I copy/pasted the label for the others in the imagery, and this is where the brain takes over. I subconsciously took in Su-23 as being correct – regardless of knowing what they were, and having pointers near me to correct the mistake (including checking back on the other imagery and blog looking for changes).

Moreover, when it came to proof reading the whole thing, it still slipped through the net again. I even found other mistakes that I rectified.

In other words I totally believed what I was typing and had typed was correct, even though subconsciously I knew it was wrong. And I let it pass – I was seeing what I wanted to see

In my daytime Air Traffic Control world we use the well known term confirmation bias for this.

What is interesting about the whole thing is that just two hours before, in a busy radar session, I was calling a couple of aircraft by the wrong callsign. This is extremely common for us, and for pilots too.

To explain. We have radar screens with data-blocks that show the aircraft callsign, altitude/level, selected level in the flight management system on the aircraft (via ADS-B) and the exit code from UK airspace or last two letters of the destination airfield. We have plenty of other things available to us via Mode-S, but these are selectable.

We also have electronic flight progress strips (eFPS) which has plenty more info on, but the callsign is the obvious one and what I want to look at here.

I can’t remember the exact callsigns, but take an example of EZY12QC – “Easy one two quebec charlie“. I called this one “Easy one two quebec golf” on its first contact, and despite having a eFPS and radar that i was fully interacting with, I continued to do so. It didn’t matter what was in front of me, it was “quebec golf”, not “quebec charlie”. There was at least another flight like that. All was safe as it was checked by the aircrew that the instructions were for them, but it adds extra workload and time to radio transmissions and getting the traffic moving.

An example of aircrew error is taking the wrong calls for other flights with similar callsigns – normally with the same airline, though inter-airline errors do occur. On one occasion, a flight I was working kept taking the call of another that was with the same airline. Eventually, after the fourth or fifth time, he apologised and said he’d been doing that flight the day before and couldn’t get it out of his head – despite coming from Spain and using the correct callsign up until then.

In ATC we use a combination of long term memory, and short term memory. The long term stuff is for things like procedures, sector frequencies etc. Airline callsigns come into this too – their actual airline callsign such as “Easy” for EasyJet, “Speedbird” for British Airways.

The short term stuff is things like co-ordinated agreements with other sectors, the actual traffic picture, flights on frequency etc.

Short term stuff we remove from our brains, once we have no use for it, but we keep the other stuff forever. I still remember things from RAF Lyneham when I was there in 1989!

And, of course, this isn’t an aviation thing. It is present in everything humans do in their lives.

So, how does this affect analysing imagery etc.?

With the last blog, it was probably a combination of being up since 7am, doing an afternoon shift finishing at 2200 UK time that included confirmation bias in the last hour – and then an hours drive home. In other words, a long, tiring day with a fuddled up brain already in place.

Going back to saying that we see what we want to see – analysing imagery has plenty of this.

Not everything of course, but occasionally it creeps in. And it happens to everyone.

I’ll take the Saki attack “aftermath” as a prime example of this as I think there’s several places this has happened. And I’m just going to say this now – this is not a direct dig at anyone in particular.

In fact, I’ll start with one of mine – or a possible one. I’ve been watching Saki since 2014 so know it pretty well I think. I also have access to some fantastic data on the base.

The two buildings destroyed at the revetments are known “workshops” used by the Russians for quick repairs to aircraft. Often this has entailed taking parts from one aircraft to put onto another to keep the fleet “airworthy”. This is likely why there was a Su-24 at the eastern building. Parts are stored in one of the revetments west of the building.

The two concrete parking areas also targeted were for vehicles, equipment and spare parts – often kept in boxes or crates. One has been referenced as a building in some analysis and on social media. This is completely wrong. You only have to look back through Google Earth history to see that often there are Su-24s parked there. But people are seeing what they want to see – and to be honest, being a little lazy and not checking themselves. It doesn’t take much to go back through GE history.

I have all this information stored in my head as long term memory and that is what I believe these areas are used for. At some stage over the last few months, and in particular over the last few days, these buildings and parking areas have become weapons storage areas according to reports and social media. Where this came from I have no idea, but certainly, since the attack they have been known as “ammo storage buildings”.

Likely, the main reason for this is because the number of boxes and crates has increased since the beginning of the war – and they’re green. My confirmation bias says these are all sorts of equipment, whereas others say they are ammo boxes because this is what they’ve read/been told; and their confirmation bias won’t say otherwise. Ammo boxes are being seen because they are green – and well, so are ammo boxes.

One of the concrete areas has white torpedo like objects. These are Su-24 3,000 litre external fuel tanks that they carry on the inner pylons, under the wings. In the aftermath imagery you can see they have been shifted by the power of the nearby explosion. These have been referenced to missiles in storage. They’re not.

In reality, we don’t actually know what was in these green boxes and crates. Logic tells me it isn’t all munitions as they have hardened areas specifically for this. But, the Russian forces do have open munitions storage areas located at bases all over the country so who is to say? More than likely, it will be a mix of things.

The real confirmation bias from this incident comes it at the main apron. The Planet imagery I provided for the morning before the attack showed three Su-24’s and three Su-30’s parked on the main flight line.

There are a number of things to note – referencing the first image below. Firstly, the aircraft follow white taxiway lines to a white square to stop and shut down. These squares are clearly visible where aircraft aren’t parked.

Secondly, next to each parking spot there is equipment used with the aircraft. Starter generators, wheel chocks, ladders and other things needed for the aircraft. These can be seen in between the parked aircraft in the imagery.

The last thing to note is that there isn’t an aircraft parked on the far west spot – this is the spot that in the post attack imagery there is supposedly a destroyed Su-24. As there’s no wreckage present, this can’t be confirmed 100%, but photos and video have been produced that do show a destroyed Su-24. Actually, in the post attack imagery the burnt area centres on the equipment between the parking spots.

Looking at the second image below you can clearly see all the equipment still in place. But many saw these as destroyed aircraft – and Hey, Presto! six more aircraft that are actually over to the east of the base have been destroyed!

Total confirmation bias – you are seeing what you want to see. Because we all want to see Russia fail (well not everyone, obviously).

And yet all the clues are there. At the probable destroyed Su-24 area, there’s a completely burnt out patch covering the parking squares – yet for the “other six” there isn’t. The obvious equipment – seen in imagery just 24 hours before – is ignored and declared as wrecks.

Whilst the aircraft that were on the flightline probably didn’t escape some damage, from confirmation bias we have claims that the whole fleet of aircraft were totally destroyed – and whilst it was a very successful attack – it wasn’t as successful as is claimed.

This leads to misinformation – and what I call ” Bad OSINT”.

Novofedorivka – Saki Air base attack satellite imagery – The aftermath


It took a long time in coming, but imagery is available of the destruction caused at Saki (Saky) air base in Crimea.

Unfortunately, being at real work has delayed this analysis, but it’s worth putting out there anyway. Plus the imagery shows the majority of the airfield rather than just the main parking area. This alone provides some interesting information.

Primarily, the 43rd Independent Naval Attack Aviation Regiment of the Black Sea fleet has taken a bit of a hit. Definitely, three Su-30SM’s have been destroyed with one probably damaged. Moreover, four Su-24’s are destroyed in the revetment area – with the possibility of another on the main apron.

The Su-24 on the apron is inconclusive. There’s definitely an area that has been cleared – there’s vehicles around it etc. – but the imagery from earlier in the day doesn’t show an aircraft in that actual spot.

Most certainly, no other aircraft were destroyed where they parked on the main flightline. This is obvious from the ability to see all the “parking squares” and lack of burnt areas. If a Su-24 (or other aircraft) was destroyed at the scorched area then they have removed the wreckage pretty quickly – possibly to hide what happened, but the rest of the airfield gives it all away.

Most of the aircraft destruction is in the revetments – ironically used to protect aircraft from events like this. If only the Russian’s used HAS’s (Hardened Air Shelters) – they may not be feeling the pain. The good news is, they are.

The revetments have given up three Su-24’s and three Su-30’s. A further Su-24 is destroyed at the eastern maintenance minor workshop shed.

And this is where it all gets interesting.

The actual targets.

Two minor workshop sheds have been totally targeted and destroyed. Moreover, two other areas that were targeted – or appeared to have been – were general parking areas used for vehicles and equipment.

It is strange that the two large munitions areas and the fuel depots were also not targeted. And to be honest, if an aircraft has been destroyed on the main flightline, I suspect this is from secondary explosions and fire rather than a direct strike as there is no crater present. Why wasn’t this area targeted?

The area around the parking revetments is dotted with small craters, possibly from debris. But they do look more like explosive craters rather than that caused by falling debris.

A vast majority of the airfield grass areas has been burnt. This could have potentially spread to the burnt out cars that have been seen in videos – though one has certainly been destroyed by debris from explosions. @wammezz on Twitter produced a false-colour image of the whole base which clearly shows the extent of the burnt ground.

There’s been a number of aircraft movements since the event. A Su-30SM is now in the main maintenance area – possibly the one from the revetment nearby that is now missing. And whilst the number of Su-24’s in this area remain the same, either one has been removed/moved, or there’s been a change around.

Obviously, the main flightline has been emptied, as has the eastern secondary line, except for a single Su-30SM. A Su-23 has been relocated to just south of this area.

Three helicopters have departed, whilst the three remaining have been rotated to point east.

Due to costs I couldn’t get a full airfield view from Planet so it is possible some of the aircraft have been moved to the eastern airfield revetments.

There is still no conclusive evidence as to what was used in this attack.

I’ve always thought a Ukrainian SF mission – which I didn’t want to say in the other blog as it was still a recent event and there was a slight OPSEC concern with me to be honest. The Ukrainian armed forces have stated it was a SF mission also.

However, the craters visible do point to a missile strike, with a good friend betting a ATACMS strike.

I’m still torn.

Maybe the maintenance sheds held more than scrap parts of aircraft to keep the main line going from day to day. I’d like to say the Russians aren’t that stupid – but since March, they’ve clearly shown they are.

Whilst it is good to see the evidence of destruction in Crimea – finally – the event has almost created more questions than answers.

Novofedorivka – Saki Air base attack satellite imagery


Videos and photographs of an attack on the Novofedorivka – Saky air base in Crimea on 9 August 2022 starting appearing on social media just around lunchtime, UK time.

Early indications point to multiple areas being attacked on the air base. It is yet to be ascertained as to what has been targeted – and how exactly the attacks have taken place. Or if it was yet another accident that the Russian forces seem to be very good at having.

The explosions shown – possibly up to 12 of them – look to come from the area of munition storage facilities, and/or the fuel depot on the base.

The number of explosions does point more to an attack than an accident, but weapons “cooking off” and hitting other areas causing further explosions can’t be counted out – regardless of the initial cause of the explosions.

Saky is home to the 43rd Independent Naval Attack Aviation Regiment of the Black Sea fleet, operating Su-30SM, Su-24M and Su-24MR fighter aircraft.

The base also has an area for training for operations on Project 1143.5 CVGM Admiral Kuznetsov and has replica flight deck & ski ramp used to practice taking off from, and landing on, the carrier.

Satellite imagery captured by Planet at 0810z on 9 August 2022 – approximately 4 hours before the attack – shows based aircraft on the main apron and parking areas, as well as helicopters parked at the Southwestern part of the base at the replica Kuznetsov deck/landing area.

The size of explosions shown in videos does point to there likely being heavy damage and a large number of casualties.

The next question is – what was used in the attack? If, indeed, it was one.

As far as is known, the Ukrainian forces do not have a missile strike capability of the range needed from the frontline to the base location.

I’m sure more news will be coming forthwith.

Kherson Bridges – radar, analysis and imagery


I’ve been following the developments around Kherson, Ukraine, with interest over the last week or so. Particularly the attempts by the Russian forces to protect two bridges from attack after both were targeted and damaged by Ukrainian forces.

The two bridges across the Dnipro River are just short of 6 kilometres apart from each other with the western Antonivskyi bridge used for road traffic, and the one to the east for rail.

The Antonivskyi road bridge was attacked on 20 July 2022, and then further on the 27th. The second attack effectively took the bridge out of commission and a temporary – and somewhat dangerous with the equipment being used – pontoon ferry system was put in place by the Russians.

The attacks were carried out using M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) with each GMLRS GPS/IMU guided rocket (six per five-tonne Family of Medium Tactical vehicles (FMTV) 6×6 truck chassis) fitted out with a with a 90 kg warhead. CEP accuracy is between two and ten metres depending on the warhead variant being used.

The rail bridge was attacked on 28 July, again using HIMARS.

There’s been plenty of coverage on the internet regarding the attacks – The War Zone for instance – so I’m not going to repeat anything here.

I’m more into looking at the corner radar reflectors the Russians have put in place next to the bridges, and whether they’re really any use in protecting the bridges.

The first reports of the reflectors came out not long after the attacks, and to be honest at first I thought they were old navigation aids – which these reflectors can be used for. But it turns out they have been installed by the Russians. I am slightly confused as to why they have done this.

These reflectors can be used to “draw” enemy radar guided missiles to them rather than a potential target – i.e a building or ship. To be effective you need a certain number of them to encourage the missile to the reflectors rather than this target. There is a mathematical equation that calculates their design and number needed. It is easier for you to go to Radartutorial that explains this in great detail, rather than me repeat it here.

Corner reflector composed of three triangular surfacesRadartutorial

As well as the number needed to encourage the missile, they ideally need to be grouped together and, more importantly, as high up as possible.

On missile target barges used by many navies there are a considerable number of these corner reflectors of various styles, in very close proximity to each other – and generally all on masts. This is as well as being on the very solid metal barge. These create a huge radar return for missile tests.

What the Russians have done at the bridges is almost the complete opposite of this. They have put them at near water level, not on masts, not grouped them, nor put that many out – and they aren’t really that well constructed. By this I mean, whilst they have created reflectors with four “sides”, they don’t appear to have a bottom plate – which, with this missing, greatly reduces the reflection!

As you can see in the image above from Radartutorial, the three sides are needed for a good radar reflection. What the Russians have done is create a pyramid out of four of the above – without the base. And, with their placement, half the pyramid is pointing in the wrong direction to be effective anyway. Moreover, the direction of flight from a missile also determines the reflection created, which is why you need a large number of reflectors pointing in various directions (if the proposed attack angle is not known – which it isn’t here).

The target barge above has 22 reflectors on it, along with wire mesh and likely some emitting antennas as an extra attraction. This is on something about 30 metres in length.

The Kherson bridges, on the other hand, are about 950 metres long for the road bridge and 500 metres for the rail bridge. This is just the river crossing lengths. You could add extra length to this if you include the parts over land. From satellite imagery, the rail bridge has just 6 reflectors in place!

There’s plenty more I could say about this to show the potential missile defence attempt made here by the Russians is pretty well pointless. More so because all of the attacks carried out by HIMARS don’t even involve a radar and the Ukrainians don’t have a missile capability as such anyway!

It just isn’t worth the effort. The bridges will always create a bigger radar return than the reflectors.

When SAR imagery from Sentinel showed the rail bridge with a “ghost” bridge alongside it, I wasn’t convinced this was what the Russians were trying to achieve either. Though they do have it as an option as @The_Lookout_N pointed out.

This is pretty old school though and in modern warfare where near immediate satellite imagery is available – pretty pointless. You will notice though, that image three in his tweet shows the very same reflectors used at the bridges. You’ll also notice that they are grouped together. The main task here is to imitate a pontoon bridge rather than a large rail or road bridge.

Below is a sequence of Sentinel SAR imagery from 25 July, 29 July and 5 August respectively.

You can see that the reflectors have made very little impact. It is obvious there are bridges there, and that they emit a huge radar reflection, especially the rail bridge due to its construction design.

The second image from 29 July was the one that many thought was a “ghost” bridge to confuse SAR. Taking a look at the 25 July imagery you can see a small reflection west of the bridge. This measures between 30 and 40 metres in length – the same as the barges being used further down river. A return approximately the same size is in the 29 July imagery around the reflectors. I think this is a barge being used to install the reflectors.

In the later imagery this return has gone and is actually a little back down river at the point where a new barge crossing has been put in place.

Sentinel SAR is ok, and it has its basic uses, but when you step into full High resolution satellite imagery you can see the “ghost bridge” attempt is pointless.

First I’ll start with Capella Space 50 cm resolution SAR.

Here I’ve made a collage of several images taken over the week. As new ones have appeared I’ve updated them, but I had to call it quits eventually, so here are 5 images put together into one. They are dated from 25 July 2022 to 3 August 2022. The bridges are covered by the 3rd August and was right along the edge of the collection, hence a little bit of interference.

The actual file is huge – over 480MB – therefore I can’t put it up here, so I had to shrink it down to 10% of the actual image I created to get it to fit. It is still good enough to show the reflectors, the barge crossings etc.

Close ups of the bridges on 3 August clearly show the reflectors, potential pontoon ferries and also likely damage caused by the HIMARS attacks.

When we look at 28 July 2022 EO imagery of the rail bridge from Planet – again at 50 cm resolution – you can clearly see the reflectors and damage to the railway just south of the bridge.

One round has certainly hit the rail line, whilst a couple of others just missed.

Zooming in to the image gives us a better look at the damage.

The interesting aspect of the damage is the target area. As discussed above, the bridge is large, with a large radar reflection cross-section. But we also stated that the Ukrainian forces don’t have a missile strike capability for targets such as this.

So why target this area of the bridge?

Two reasons.

Firstly, the bridge provides its own defence against weapons such as HIMARS thanks to its design. The metal frame structure would likely stop a GMLRS round from hitting the rails – statistically it would have to be an amazingly good shot to get through the gaps in the frame.

Of course, the metal structure would likely be damaged, but it may not make the bridge unusable.

Secondly – and this is more important than point one – they have targeted the concrete upright rather than the rail itself. Why is this important?

In the image below from 1 August 2022, it does appear that the damage to the rails has been repaired. However, it may not have been finished, or good enough to use, as just outside the image a pontoon ferry system has been set up to either cross the river directly, or to move equipment up and down river.

Typically, my selected area just cut off the pontoon ferry operations, but we know they are taking place from other EO imagery available – and it can be seen in the Capella imagery above.

However, had the HIMARS strike hit the concrete upright, this would have brought the whole rail line down in that area, would have been near impossible to repair – certainly quickly – and would have made the bridge totally unusable.

The craters that are left are just a couple of metres away from the upright. The hit to the line was near directly on top of it. HIMARS has a two metre CEP – it is that close an unlucky miss.

All this proves, though, that a radar guided weapon is not needed to strike these bridges.

The road bridge is totally out of action. The rail bridge is within a couple of metres of being the same.

All in all – very strange defensive measures have been put in place for these bridges – especially so as the Russian forces have much better anti-missile defence equipment available to them.

They still don’t seem to have any answer to HIMARS however.