To get the support infrastructure in place at Pankovo on Yuhzny Island has taken a lot of effort – and a lot of standard ISO ship containers.
These have been taken by several ships, mainly over the summer months, over two years. Due to weather and icing conditions during the winter period it is pretty impossible to do anything outside of the summer.
Recently the ships in use have been captured on satellite imagery – particularly on Sentinel. Over at Covert Shores, H I Sutton has just published a blog on the likely ships in use for this task. The activity around the islands has been tracked for quite some time however and this blog really just fully confirms the IDs of the ships Covert Shores had chosen as possibilities.
First of all, it can be confirmed it is Teriberka that is operating at the island harbour bay area – visible in a nice Sentinel graphic produced at Covert Shores. This ship has been to and from Arkhangelsk on at least three occasions since early August 2022.
Geolog Pechkurov can also be confirmed as the ship operating with Teriberka at the moment. She had been operating along with a research ship at the western end of the Matochkin Shar Strait between Severny and YuzhnyIslands early to mid-August, but returned with Teriberka mid September.
Both ships have their own cranes and lifting gear.
Probably the more unsual ship is Sevmorput – a nuclear powered container/cargo ship. It is large at 260 metres in length, with its own cranes and lifting gear. A considerable number of containers can be held on board.
Sevmorput has been in the area before and is likely to be the main carrier for most of the equipment and containers. Like the other two ships, operations here have been going on since at least mid-August with returns to Murmansk rather than Arkhangelsk.
Smaller barges are used to transport the containers from all the ships to the small jetty in the harbour bay area.
There’s not much more to say on this apart from that the amount of work that is needed to get operations running at Novaya Zemlya is considerable – and needs to be completed in a short time period due to weather conditions over the winter.
This means that time is running short for this period of activity – and also means should there be a test of Burevestnik, it can’t be too far away.
Pankovo test facility DOES have retractable shelter
Burevestnik missile canister captured in imagery on test ramp
Test could be imminent
I never was happy with the Airbus imagery I received for the previous blogs. I felt the that some of the areas had been overexposed and had been blown out, into a white blob.
One of these areas was at the test ramp at Pankovo.
This was confirmed to me not too long after the update blog where I had presumed some sort of cover had been used at the test ramp as part of the construction process.
I was sent imagery (that I can’t publish here) that showed that the ramp DID have a retractable shelter. What I thought was a small door in the shelter was in fact a difference in the concrete ramp tied together with shadows creating that effect. The shelter is appears to be open at all times.
After complaining about the imagery I did get a small refund but decided to keep an eye out on Planet imagery for the same area. This is normally better quality than Airbus.
However, whenever Planet’s SkySat imagery was collected, it was always cloud covered at Pankovo.
I finally tried again with Airbus on 16 September 2022 having given up on Planet. The imagery was better – though nowhere near as good as that I’d been sent privately. This is despite the resolution being the same – 50 cm!
But it was good enough to prove that Burevestnik is present at Pankovo and appears to be close to being tested. The shelter was pushed back and a Burevestnik container was in position.
The canister is located between two raised walkways positioned either side. It appears to be on its trolley or loader system as shown below taken from Defense Updates YouTube video. The canister extends to just inside the entrance of the shelter.
Pretty much everything else described in the previous blogs is as stated.
At the first set of buildings south of the test area – the “gate house” as I called it – nothing has changed. There is definitely a frame there which could be for another building or shelter. Or, another thought I’ve has is that it is an antenna tower laying on its side waiting to be raised. Time will tell on this.
Further south, along the gravel road, the area containing the two white shelters with access ramps showed little change. However, the better quality does now highlight a trailer parked at the northern shelter. This is 13 metres in length and could possibly be a transporter for the missiles or a fuel truck for the booster section of the missile
The theory is that the shelters are readiness shelters for preparing Burevestnik for testing before moving them up to the test area.
Little has changed at the southernmost building, and is missed from this analysis. Looking at this area in closer detail, rather than being a power or generator building for the facilities, it could equally be a small area for holding the nuclear systems used in Burevestnik. Again, further assessment is required here.
With this new update it is worth keeping an eye out for navigational warnings for the Novaya Zemlya region. As it appears a missile is in the retractable shelter a test could be very imminent.
Whilst the imagery showed some major changes to the Pankovo site, it didn’t provide any real evidence that a test was going to be carried out soon.
The reason for looking at Pankovo in the first place was down to Russian maritime warnings (PRIPs) and NOTAMs that covered the area on and surrounding Novaya Zemlya. Between them, the warnings covered dates up until 9 September 2022. One day does remain for some of the warnings – the NOTAMs having expired on 5 September. Up until that time there had been no news from Russian sources that claimed any testing from the islands had taken place. This I would have expected had they done so.
I obtained imagery of Pankovo for 6 September 2022, extending the search further south of the test site.
Between here and the beach/harbour area, several group of buildings have been in the construction process from early 2020 – certainly the first real signs of construction show on Sentinel from July 2020. Moreover, foundation work and ground clearing had started in 2019.
At the test site there is one thing of note that changes the previous analysis in the last blog. What I thought was a raised platform or ramp in the 28 August imagery – and then an additional structure in the 2 September imagery – were in fact one and the same. The structure was always there, it is possibly under a white cover that stretched its entirety. In the latest imagery you can see that if it is a cover it has been partially pulled off the structure to reveal it underneath.
However, most of the new roads and test area are still raised. New equipment has arrived at the southern part of the test area since the last imagery.
The potential retractable shelter looks more permanent than first assessed and has a clear entranceway to the south. This structure could be an environmental entrance linking to the other blue areas. There does not appear to be any rails for retractable shelters, however these may be being placed under the blue north-eastern structure. Time will tell.
At the building 1.5 km south of the test site there is little to show what it’s purpose is. For now I’m calling it the “guard house/access gate” but I highly suspect this isn’t correct. There is a communications mast with what looks like microwave antennas installed, pointing north/south going by the shadows. It is approximately 50 metres in length, a little less in width./
A significant number of tracks lead cross-country from this site out to the NE. When following these, they appear to lead to nowhere, splitting off further on the routes.
There is also what looks like a white framed structure here, possibly for a further building not yet completed.
Where things get more interesting is further down the road, heading south to the old harbour bay and beach.
Another 1.8 km south from the “gate house” is a construction site with two white structures – each approximately 30 metres in length. These are placed to the west of the road with each having two vehicle access ramps – one at each end of the building. Whilst possibly drive through shelters, the ramps are offset from each other.
At least one helicopter pad is present with what looks like a MIL Mi-8 helicopter parked there at the time if the collection. There’s possibly another to the east of the road, but it could equally be the foundations of another building.
Drive about another 1 km south and you get to another new group of buildings, joined together by a corridor. As a whole, the buildings measure approximately 130 x 40 metres. This complex has the feel of a generator building though it can’t be fully determined at this time. The southern side of it does appear to have five or six blue fuel tanks in place. It certainly looks like a utilities building of some kind.
Proceed 1.5 km south and you arrive at the beach and “harbour” area. This has had long-abandoned buildings on the beach for some considerable time, though the area has been used in the summer months for gaining access to the test site and some of the better buildings used for short-term accommodation.
The imagery shows a considerable upgrade is taking place here. The old jetty, which was in ruins to be honest, has been replaced with a new one – be it with the same small footprint of the old one. The causeway to the jetty has been upgraded and potentially a new building footprint has been carved out at the old village. This could equally be a small quarry for sourcing hardcore for the tracks. Again, time will tell on this.
A large helicopter parking area has been established, with a MIL Mi-26 located here at the time of the collection. There’s a further helicopter pad at the northern group of buildings away from the beach. Communication masts are located at the village next to the helicopter parking area.
Overall, a considerable amount of work is going on at Novaya Zemlya. However, at this time, I don’t think the area is ready for any missile tests – and it could well be another few years before it is ready.
The weather here gives them about 5 real months of construction time a year – and this could be pushing it. Once winter sets in, it will be impossible for any work to take place.
So, what of the navigational warnings if the islands aren’t being used for Burevestnik?
A little more investigation did find the likely reason for the first set of warnings.
Project 1144.2 Kirov class CGHMN Pyotr Velikiy carried out a test launch of a P‐700 3K-45/3M-45 Granit (SS‐N‐19 “Shipwreck”) SLCM at a target located off the coast of Novaya Zemlya on 24 August 2022 – the day the navigational warnings started. The ship also carried out general weapons handling in the area with anti-aircraft missiles and artillery firing at airborne targets. It is possible it also used its 2 AK-130 130 mm guns for targeting land targets. This would explain the warnings that covered the island.
It also worked with another ship in the area – likely to have been Project 956A Sovremenny class DDGHM Admiral Ushakov.
The Russian MoD stated that airspace around Novaya Zemlya was closed for this activity. They also stated the Granit test was a success, hitting the target located 200 km away.
Also operating in the area at the time were Project 1155 Udaloy class DDGHM Admiral Levchenko and Project 775 Ropucha class LSTM Alexander Otrakovskiy – along with support ships Project 1559V Boris Chilikin class replenishment ship Sergei Osipov and Project 1452 Ingul class salvage tug Pamir.
These were further north than Novaya Zemlya, operating off Franz Josef Land, for some of this time period. They then carried out a southbound transit west of Novaya Zemlya to the Gazpromneft’shel’f to carry out a security exercise at the Prirazlomnaya marine ice-resistant station located at 68.83523259654382, 58.14904110488897. The exercise simulated a terrorist attack at the station, with Levchenko sending a Ka-27 helicopter with special forces on board to resolve the situation.
The transit from Franz Josef took place exactly during the navigational warnings which means they too could have carried out weapons exercises during this period. They have now gone further east into the Kara Sea and and have carried out various combat exercises.
Two new NOTAMs that expire at 2100 UTC on 9 September 2022 now cover the area to the west of Novaya Zemlya.
The shape, length and altitudes of these two warnings point to a missile test, but sea- launched at a target over or on the sea surface – rather than on Novaya Zemlya.
According to the latest information, Pyotr Velikiy is still operating in the area.
This latest imagery, for me, concludes that Novaya Zemlya is not ready for testing Burevestnik – and won’t be for the foreseeable future – but the area continues to be one that is used for a multitude of different weapons tests as it has been for decades.
Another imagery update of Sevastopol provided by Capella, this time dated 7 June 2022.
Not too many changes but there is one strange occurance.
Overall, most of the Russian navy ships remain the same. On the north side of the bay, a couple of civilian merchant vessels were collecting grain/wheat from the terminal. Project 02690 Floating crane SPK-54150 had been operational on the southern side but was back next to the grain terminal at the time of the collection.
The remaining ships are same as those in the 31 May 2022 update – except one Project 1239 Dergach class had departed on 5 June 2022.
On the south side in Pivdenna Bay, very little change. Project 02690 Floating crane SPK-46150 was present but had been operational – to then depart a few days later on 8 June 2022 (more on this later).
The submarine pen was open and one Kilo class SSK was no longer present. This was to be found in the maintenance bay 2 km northeast of Pivdenna, on the south side of Sevastopol Bay.
Even stranger was that, along with the Capella imagery here, others showed the Kilo balancing on the deck of a small floating crane. @GrangerE04117 on Twitter concluded it was Project 877V Alrosa – which I agree with.
The remaining Kilo in Pivdenna Bay was confirmed later on by @Capt_Navy
Alrosa balancing on the deck of the floating crane in such a way is something I haven’t seen before. There are floating docks available, but these are in use. Moreover, potentially this method is a faster way of carrying out the work they need to do on the Kilo. How they got it up on the deck is another question!
SPK-46150 left at 1205 UTC on 8 June 2022, probably for Snake Island. The Floating crane had two Tor-M on its deck. The last position on S-AIS came in at 1422 UTC, northwest of Sevastopol. It appears to be following the same route SPK-54150 took previously, so at 6 knots would take approximately 22 hours from that position to reach Snake Island. A rough ETA would be 1230 UTC on 9 June 2022 if it isn’t there already.
The use of the Floating cranes as a Tor-M delivery method to Snake Island is certainly a strange one. I said on a Twitter thread that it may be a “one ship fits all” reasoning, rather than using small landing craft or other vessels that may then need a crane to lift the SAM systems onto the jetty. I can’t see any other reason why they’d do it. Unless there are issues with using the Serna class ships at the ramp at the harbour?
It’s certainly a big risk. As I said on the thread. It’s just an idea as to why they might be using the floating cranes but “I’m not saying they’re correct in their methods“.
An early morning collection by Capella Space of Sevastopol on 31 May 2022 showed that Project 02690 Floating crane SPK-54150 was possibly back at the base. It had recently been spotted at Snake Island in imagery from Maxar and Planet.
It can be confirmed that the crane is certainly not SPK-46150 as this has been operational all day on the south side of Sevastopol bay according to AIS data from FleetMon.
Also present was a single Project 11356M Admiral Grigorovich class FFGH, two Project 1135 Krivak class FFMs and several Project 775 Ropucha class LSTMs.
Two Kilo class SSKs are in the submarine pen, whilst two Project 1239 Dergach class PGGJMs are north side – these are Bora (615) and Samum (616) though identifying which is which is not possible. SPK-46150 was still at its mooring at the time of the pass.
One of the Dergach class was captured on video in the last few days, though again, with no pennant/hull number, it can not be identified.
According to satellite imagery made available by Planet, Project 02690 class floating crane SPK-54150 – based at Sevastopol for the Russian Black Sea Fleet – has returned to Snake Island on, or before, 15 May 2022.
The whereabouts of SPK-54150 between today and when it departed the area on 12 May 2022 is unknown, but imagery from Sentinel dated 14 May 2022 shows it returning to the island.
Located at 45.224993 30.744780, the shape, colour and size of the floating crane can be clearly seen. The wake behind also shows the very slow speed it is travelling at – the class averages a speed of 6 knots generally.
Collected at 0857z, the floating crane is approximately 42 kilometres away from Snake Island – or 23 nautical miles.
Based on the average speed of 6 knots, it is actually more likely that SPK-54150 arrived around 1230z on the 14th. Obviously, this if it went direct from the spot located. Imagery is not available of Snake Island on 14 May 2022 later than this as far as I’m aware.
The resolution of the imagery available to me doesn’t show whether the floating crane has any cargo. No doubt further high resolution imagery will appear soon.
On 12 May 2022, reports starting coming in on Twitter about yet another attack on a Russian ship in the Black sea.
This time it was Project 23120 logistics support vessel Vsevolod Bobrov that was making the news.
Commissioned to the Black Sea fleet on 6 August 2021, Bobrov is one of the most capable and modern supply ships in the Russian Navy. To lose a ship like this would be quite a blow.
The ship has a displacement of 9,700 tonnes, measures 95 m in length and has a maximum speed of 18 kts. It has a range of 5,000 nautical miles or an endurance of 60 days. Ordinarily it has crew of 55.
The 700 m2 cargo deck can carry approximately 3,000 tonnes of cargo and is equipped with two 50 tonne electro-hydraulic cranes. Moreover, main and auxiliary towing winches are capable of a pulling capacity of 120 tonnes and 25 tonnes.
The reports of an attack, of course, was yet more fake news emanating from “Ukrainian Sources”.
Whilst I understand the need for propaganda in this war, stories such as these do not help with the Russian’s denial of any sort of atrocities etc. They can just prove stories such as these are fake, and therefore say all the others are too. Moreover, there is no real need to do it – the Ukrainians are causing enough damage as it is, there’s no need to make any up.
Regardless, it was another “story” I didn’t believe in the first place.
Whilst Bobrov is operational in the Black Sea, the “Ukrainian sources” provided even less information than normal – there wasn’t even an attempt at a fake video.
Therefore, it was just a case of sitting back and waiting for the ship to arrive in Sevastopol. And sure enough, it did!
Images of Bobrov alongside at Sevastopol on 14 May 2022 were made available on Twitter the same day. The images themselves were taken from a Telegram account, Black Sea Fleet, and clearly show no damage whatsoever to Bobrov.
If anything it is near mint condition.
On closer inspection, it can be seen that a Pantsir-S (NATO SA-22 Greyhound) self-propelled surface to air gun and missile system is located between the two cranes. One of the access hatches is open, and a Z can been seen drawn on the side.
Whether the AD system is there for the ship’s own protection or was part of a cargo is not known. However, satellite imagery shown to me which I cannot show here has the system moved to the stern of the ship. This does make it look like the system is there to protect the ship – it doesn’t have any in normal circumstances.
How useful the AD system would be is anyone’s guess and is probably more for show than anything else – or at least to make the crew feel safe. The height of the cranes to the side, and the main structure of the ship forward, would make it extremely hard to defend any attacks from these directions – unless they were directly, or near directly, above.
This is possibly a trend though. The Project 02690 class floating crane that was at Snake Island on 12 May 2022 – now departed the area – also had an AD unit on its deck. It is not known though whether this was later offloaded to the island or not.
I’m sure further evidence will be made available on whether the use of mobile AD systems is a thing or not with Russian navy ships not equipped with built-in systems..
Despite heavy losses at Snake Island, Russian forces continue to operate at the island.
Imagery made available by Maxar shows a Project 02690 class floating crane operating at the island’s harbour – along with a Project 11770 Serna class landing craft.
The theory on social media is that the floating crane is there to recover the sunk Serna class landing craft. This is probably unlikely as in theory the weight of the ship and its cargo (likely one of the 9K331M Tor-M2 family of SAM systems) combined with the sea would take the lifting weight outside of that capable by the crane – **See below for update**
Two options are more likely. Either to recover the 9K331M Tor-M2; or to be used to transfer cargo from other ships to – or from – the island.
It is a risky operation. The floating cranes are not very maneuverable or fast. Their average speed is 6 kts.
Further imagery of the area shows another Serna class operating close to the island. Some thought “clouds” near the ship were smoke trails from Ukrainian missiles attacking the ship. This isn’t the case and it is possible the ship is dispensing smoke to try and cover/protect the operations taking place at the island.
This is clearly failing.
Getting back to the crane and the image of it operating off the harbour jetty.
There is a possibly a 9K331M Tor-M2 is on the deck. More of these have been located on the island so it does appear the crane has either assisted in, or transported, these. How long they last is another question?
Through analysis of satellite imagery from Capella Space and Sentinel, and in conjunction with historic AIS data from FleetMon, it is likely the floating crane is SPK-54150.
Capella SAR imagery dated 11 May 2022 shows a floating crane in the Pivdenna Bay area of Sevastopol.
A colour, low resolution image from sentinel for the same day shows the floating crane – the yellow colour of the crane is clearly visible.
A search of AIS data in FleetMon for the two known floating cranes operating for the Black Sea Fleet – SPK-54150 and SPK-46150 – produced an outcome for both.
SPK-54150 was last “heard” on 10 May 2022 tracking Northwest at 6 kts, not far from Karadzhyns’ka bay. I have access to S-AIS from FleetMon so this last heard means the ship switched off its AIS at this time – the data list confirms it was transmitting via Satellite.
On the other hand, the AIS for SPK-46150 was last heard on 26 March 2022. It does appear to have stayed here since then – or been operational but not used its AIS and returned to the same spot each time.
From this data then, we can conclude the floating crane is likely to be SPK-54150.
As previously mentioned, the use of the floating cranes shows a certain desperation with the Russian forces to maintain a presence on Snake Island.
It really does appear they want to stay there, no matter the risks and potential costs.
Eventually, the floating crane did recover the Serna class from the harbour. A pretty good job too as this – as I stated above – would have been at the edges of the cranes capabilities. Not known is wether it recovered the “cargo” first.