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.

Project 02690 class floating crane SPK-54150 returns to Snake Island

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.

Low resolution imagery from Planet shows Project 02690 class floating crane at Snake Island Harbour on 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.

Vsevolod Bobrov – More fake news

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.

Pantsir-S highlighted in image provided by Telegram account – Black Sea Fleet

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..

Snake Island – further activity

**Updated**

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.

Maxar imagery showing Project 02690 class floating crane operating at Snake Island harbour. The wreck of the Project 11770 Serna class landing craft can be clearly seen, still carrying its cargo. A further Serna class is at the landing slipway, with its ramp lowered.

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.

Data from FleetMon shows SPK-54150 was using S-AIS from the symbol at the end of each line

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.

**Update**

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.

The Snake Island attacks – Part Two

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.

The thread can be read here.

The Snake Island attacks – Part One

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.

Say of that, what you want.

The sinking of Moskva


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 on social 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.

Saratov at Berdyansk

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.

HMS Coventry during the Falklands War
HMS Sheffield damage during Falklands war

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.