A year ago I published an article for Jane’s Intelligence Review magazine on upgrades to Russian Strategic Rocket Forces (Raketnye voyska strategicheskogo naznacheniya: RVSN) intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) complexes located southwest of Uzhur in the Krasnoyarsk Krai Oblast.
The silos near Uzhur are operated by the 62nd Missile Division (MD) of the 33rd Guards Missile Army/302nd Missile Regiment (MR) and are armed with RS-20V/R-36M2 (SS-18 ‘Satan’) ICBMs. They are scheduled to be upgraded to RS-28 Sarmat ICBMs with Russian President Vladimir Putin saying in April 2021 that “the first regiment armed with Sarmat super-heavy ICBMs is scheduled to go on combat duty in late 2022”.
Work at the silo and command centre sites is continuing and seems to be progressing well, though whether they will be activated by the end of 2022 is another matter.
Whilst GE has recent imagery for the Uzhur silo sites, they haven’t been so good at updating imagery of the Plesetsk Sarmat test silo – known as Yubileynaya.
Up until recently, the GE imagery of Yubileynaya dated back to 2014. However, they have just updated this to imagery from January 2021 – but still over a year and a half old. Moreover, as it is January the site is covered in snow, which makes it difficult to work out the upgrades that have taken place there.
The last test of Sarmat took place in April 2022, but new navigation warnings put out by Russia points to another test taking place this week.
I’ve been sitting on Planet imagery from Yubileynaya dated 10 May 2022 for just over two months now. This blog was supposed to have been written back then, but other developments took over and it has been delayed until now.
I have seen further imagery from 28 September 2022, but this can’t be shared here. This imagery does show activity around the silo that could be associated with an upcoming test. It must be noted that the silo was shut, and there is no missile present – neither is a silo loader.
Whilst later imagery is available for me to share, the imagery here shows the silo being worked on. The hatch is open, with the inner hatch visible. The recent imagery possibly won’t show much more than this as it is over a month old. I’m happy to go with it, but if further imagery of around now does become available, I’ll look into getting it.
So what has changed? Pretty much all of it.
The site has been cleared of the trees within the fence line – with a possible new fence-line put in place. The access gates are new, as is a defensive position/gate house.
New roads have been laid, new anti-static/lightning arrestor masts have been installed. And a new operations/control building is present. The test pad itself has been made larger, and a missile loading cage is alongside the hatch – used to hold a missile that is removed from the transporter vehicle, before being put onto the silo loader.
The GE image from below is dated 7 June 2014.
The 10 May 2022 imagery for comparison.
I am 100% not sorry for the watermarks after the thieving Sun newspaper stole other imagery without permission. I have also removed the capability to open the full image, meaning you can’t enjoy the imagery at its fullest quality. Again, you came blame the thieving scumbags at The Sun for this.
Screenshots taken from a Russian forces video of a previous Sarmat test allows you to see the various features of the test site.
Now we just wait and see it new imagery is made available prior to the test; and that a test actually takes place.
I always keep an eye on Plesetsk anyway; and expect some more imagery from other areas of the complex in future blogs.
In that blog I made a typo. For every word where 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.
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”.
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.
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’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.
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.
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?
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.
Russian navy Project 09852 auxiliary submarine-nuclear (SSAN) Belgorod was commissioned – likely to the Northern Fleet – on 8 July 2022 at Severodvinsk.
Commander of the Russian navy, Admiral Nikolay Yevmenov, was in attendance for the ceremony at the south pier of the navy base.
Whilst the time of the ceremony isn’t known, at 0927 UTC one of the Airbus Pléiades imaging satellites was able to capture the SSAN either before or after the event.
The temporary parade ground, made up of wooden planking/decking is clearly visible in the imagery on the quayside.
During the ceremony, Yevmenov stated that “Belgorod opens up new opportunities for Russia in conducting various research, allows diverse scientific expeditions and rescue operations in the most remote areas of the World Oceans”.
A Sevmash shipyards press release stated “The ship is designed to solve diverse scientific tasks, conduct search and rescue operations, and can also be used as a carrier for deep-sea rescue and autonomous uninhabited underwater vehicles”
178 metre long, Belgorod will be the mothership for unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV) and small research submarines including Project 1910 Kashalot class nuclear-powered SSAN. It is also reported to be able to be armed with nuclear-armed 2M39 Poseidon “torpedo’s/UUVs”.
It is interesting that Belgorod has been officially called a research and rescue submarine, when Poseidon gives it a potential nuclear weapon strike capability. Quite how the double role mission will be tasked or carried out is unknown.
Belgorod will probably join the other Northern Fleet special purpose submarines at Olen’ya Guba naval base in the Kola Peninsula operating for the Directorate of Deep-Sea Research (GUGI). These are Project 09787 Delta IV Stretch SSAN Podmoskovye and Project 667 Delta III Stretch SSAN Orienburg – themselves both motherships for the smaller special purpose submarines.
From here it is probable the GUGI operations will start from, with Poseidon likely to be loaded at the Gadzhiyevo weapons loading pier further north at the base there.
For a cutaway drawing of the possible layout and potential loadouts of Belgorod, head over to Covert Shores.
**Imagery amendment – The northern floating crane at the dock entrance is actually a fixed one on the wall. – Thanks to Capt(N) for posting an image that shows this**
A few more Capella Space collection passes were tasked after Admiral Kuznetsov was moved to the 35th Shipyard dry dock.
These were dated 26 and 27 May 2022.
They show that work has started again on the dry dock entrance. Here they will likely seal the mouth up with a temporary steel barrier that has been pile driven into the river bed. From that they can then empty the dry dock and construct the full gate system.
Why they didn’t do this at the time of construction is anyone’s guess, but it is likely they wanted Kuznetsov into the dock as soon as possible so that they can continue the work on the ship.
Three floating cranes appear to be back in attendance to help with the work. The image for 27 May looks like a barrier is already in place, but this is the northern crane.
They used this method to construct the dry dock in the first place, but had to destroy it so that Kuznetsov could be floated in.
In theory, they could use the dry dock as soon as it is empty for any work on the hull that would normally be below the waterline, but this could be dangerous. And with the luck Kuznetsov has had recently…. well, anything could happen!
But, the Russian Navy does appear to like risk and I think they’ll put the lower dock to work as soon as they can. Especially if Kuznetsov has been damaged below the waterline in the previous incidents.
With rumours filtering through that Project 1143.5 CVGM Admiral Kuznetsov was due to move sometime between 17 and 19 May 2022 from its “temporary” mooring position in Murmansk to a purpose built dry dock just a little further south, I set up at collection task with Capella Space to catch before and after imagery of the event.
Kuznetsovhad ended up at its mooring position after floating dock PD-50, of the 85th shipyard, sank on 30 October 2018 whilst the CVGM was being floated out after a month of works. During the accident, a crane that was part of the dock fell onto the flight deck causing considerable damage.
That wasn’t the end of the woes for the already delayed refit Kuznetsov was undertaking – originally planned to start in 2017 and already a year late. On 12 December 2019 the ship suffered from a major fire that the United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC) estimated would cost 350 million roubles ($4.7 million/£3.7 million at the time) to repair.
An agreement was made with the Russian MoD that two dry docks of the 35th shipyard in Murmansk would be redesigned and knocked through into one large dry dock that could take Kuznetsov and other large Russian navy ships and submarines.
Work commenced on the new dry dock mid to late 2019 and was due to be completed in early 2021 for Kuznetsov to enter and complete the overhaul. Currently, the 35th Shipyard are restricted to works that can take place alongside.
However, the dry dock is still under construction due to several delays in the construction process. This hasn’t deterred the Russian navy from getting Kuznetsov into the dock.
On 20 May 2022, Kuznetsov made the 1.5 km journey with the assistance of tugs rather than under its own power.
The collection request was made to Capella to cover 17 – 20 May. Typically there wasn’t a collection slot available on the 20th, but the request was extended to the next available on the 22nd.
Low resolution EO imagery on Sentinel was only available for 15 May. After this, the region was 100% cloud covered, making further collections of EO imagery impossible. This is where SAR collections from Capella excel – being able to see, no matter the weather.
FleetMon S-AIS data
The move used at least four tugs according to S-AIS data from FleetMon. These were – Bizon, Grumant, Helius and Kapitan Shebalkin.
A couple of the images are interesting as they show potential changes to the weapons systems. Below, it can be seen that the RBU-12000 ASW rocket launchers (designed specifically for Kuznetsov) have been retained (central, far left of image) but the AK-630M on the deck balcony below has been removed.
The same has taken place on the starboard side of the ship.
A further image on RIA Novosti credited to Pavel Lvov, taken from above also shows the removal of the AK-630Ms along with the eight Kortik/Kashtan CADS-N-1A each fitted with twin AO-18K (6K30GM) 30 mm rotary cannon and eight SA‐N‐11 (9M311) ‘Grison’ missiles.
The Kashtan is likely to be replaced by Pantsir‐M/Pantsir‐SM CIWS hence their removal.
The image above also shows a lot of surface oil. Whether it is from Kuznetsov or the tugs is anyone’s guess – but I have a feeling I know which one it is
If you follow me on Twitter you’ll see that in the last month or so I’ve been sending out images of classification and decoder software go2MONITOR working with a number of my SDR’s.
go2MONITOR is part of the go2SIGNALS range of software solutions created by PROCITEC GmbH operating from Pforzheim in Germany, themselves part of the PLATH group. PLATH Group is the leading European-based solution provider for communication intelligence and electronic warfare (EW) with worldwide government customers. The group covers all aspects of signal interception and analysis split between a number of companies such as PROCITEC. EW, COMINT/SIGINT, Jamming and Decoding are just a small part of what the group specialises in.
go2MONITOR is advanced high-performance, automatic HF, VHF and UHF monitoring software capable of recording, SDR control, wideband and narrowband classification and multichannel signal decoding.
It isn’t for the faint hearted, but once you get used to using it, it really does make gathering information on networks extremely easy. And it decodes many modes other software can’t.
In a series of blogs I’m going to show you the capabilities of this amazing software, though I must stress now, it is aimed at Professional SIGINT gathering and it comes with a Professional price tag.
Saying that, it doesn’t mean it isn’t available to the non-professional. It is open to all and to cover this it comes in various versions starting with the Standard package progressing to a full Military package – which gives you the full range of HF, VHF and UHF classification and modem recognition decoders available, including PMR and SAT (Inmarsat AERO). The Standard version isn’t to be sniffed at, it still gives you an amazing range of decoders, though you could easily argue that many of these are available in other free – or near to free – decoding software like MultiPSK or Sorcerer. A full list of decoders available can be found here. Note, this list is broken down into the various packages and not all are available with the Standard option. Confirm what belongs to what if you’re thinking of purchasing.
So what’s the difference in what go2MONITOR can do with other software available? That’s the idea of these blogs, to answer just that question. It will take quite a few blogs – mainly because there isn’t just one answer.
Here then, is a brief overview of what can be done, what SDR’s it works with – in fact, not just SDR’s but all receivers that can produce a recording – and any other things I can think of.
As, I’ve said then, it can decode pretty much any data signal out there. Obviously, some signals are encrypted so it wouldn’t fully decode unless you had the key, but you can get the encrypted messages. It can also classify voice signals, not just data. So, if you wanted to hunt out various voice networks, go2MONITOR can assist you in doing this.
Here is where it excels. Classification – and doing it very quickly.
Imagine being on your SDR (SDR1) and you can see a whole load of data signals on the waterfall/spectrum and you quickly want to know what they all are. With go2MONITOR operating another SDR (SDR2) you can dial in the centre frequency of the bandwidth shown on SDR1 into the go2MONITOR/SDR2 combo, click one button – Find Emissions – and within seconds the whole bandwidth has been analysed and every signal classified.
I’ll go back a step though here. You don’t need two SDR’s. One will do. SDR1 – as long as it is a compatible SDR – can be controlled through a GUI by go2MONITOR. The software includes a waterfall/spectrum display. Like all SDR software, these displays are fully adaptable to how you like to see the signals.
Either way, you now have a list of every emission that go2MONITOR has received within that bandwidth. This list includes Modulation type, Frequency, Bandwidth, Symbol (Baud) rate and SNR. It also shows which SDR you have used for interception (useful if you’re using go2MONITOR with more than SDR at the same time, but also with other advanced features such as network control), and it also shows if the frequency is already stored within the frequency database – yes, you can create this too; or import ready made databases in a CSV format.
Already then, you have built up a picture of what these signals are. One thing to note. If the signal type is not one of those included within the package you have, it will be classed as unknown. Example – a STANAG 4285 will show as unknown in the Standard and PMR/SAT package, but will be classified correctly in the MIL package.
OK, those of us that are looking at SDR’s all the time can pretty much tell what the signals are just by looking at them, so there’s no great advantage here is there? Except, now go2MONITOR has logged these in its database which can be searched through at a later date – handy if you’re looking for potential schedules for example.
However, the next step is where things get interesting. By putting one of these emissions into a “Channel” you can carry out an advanced classification, recognition and decode. You have multiple choices here, but I generally start off with a Classification. Whilst the software has already decided what the emission type is, by doing this it double checks just this one channel and produces a choice of decoders that it is likely to be.
By using STANAG 4285 as an example, it will put this into the list of choices, but it may put other PSK signals there too. By clicking on another button, this puts the channel into Recognition mode and it reduces the hundreds of decoders down to just those in the classification list produced. The software then calculates which is the best decoder and starts to decode the signal.
If you think about STANAG 4285 in other software, you generally have to try all the various potential Baud rates – is it Long Interleaving? is it Short? etc etc. Well go2MONITOR does this automatically. It checks the alphabet and protocol and will decode it if known. More often than not it can’t calculate the alphabet, but every now and again it does and it will produce encrypted data – don’t forget, if it’s encrypted it won’t decrypt it without the correct key.
This further Recognition and Decoding is also stored in the database for later analysis, along with a recorded wav file for playback and deeper signal analysis.
Seriously, it is harder describing it in text than it is doing it so I’ve created a video that’s at the end of this blog.
I mentioned previously that the software works with receivers that aren’t SDR’s. That’s because, as long as you can create a wav file recording – Narrowband as it’s known in go2MONITOR – it can be analysed. There are things missing, the actual frequency for instance (though this can be typed into a text box so that you can then have the right information – this i’ll show in a later blog). Time stamps aren’t naturally there but again you can add these by telling the software to use the time the recording was started.
I’ve used recordings made on my Icom IC-R8500 as an example of this but it is literally the bandwidth of the mode used by the receiver that is shown on the go2MONITOR spectrogram.
You don’t actually need to own a receiver of your own. Use an online SDR such as a KiwiSDR, record the IQ as a wav file and play it back through go2MONITOR for analysis. I’m doing just that for a Jane’s Intelligence Review magazine article.
If you use SDRConsole, then you may have also tried the File Analyser function that I blogged about in August last year. The File Analyser in SDRC is excellent, there’s no doubt about it, but it has one drawback. Once you’ve carried out your recording you have to create a run through of the recording, making an XML file that effectively joins all the wav files up. If you’ve made a wide and long IQ recording this can take quite some time. With most of my overnight recordings – normally 7 hours long, with a 768 kHz bandwidth – this takes around 45 minutes to complete.
With go2MONITOR you can also record the bandwidth IQ data. With this you can do two things. Firstly you can run it through as a normal playback, classifying and decoding as you go. Secondly though, you can open the Results window which gives you a time based view of the whole recording allowing you to immediately see any transmissions. Unlike SDRC Analyser, the signals have already been classified, and more importantly, this is done straight away without any need to create an XML file first. The Results window will be covered in greater detail in a blog of its own.
However, there are no decodings here. With just an IQ recording you need to play it back and run an emission search etc. There are some basic automation tasks available, such as setting up an emissions search every 10 seconds.
But, if you have the Automated Monitoring and Tasking package, you can also have the software automatically record, recognise and decode a single emission type – or all emissions types within the bandwidth, a set frequency, between two frequencies or any other parameters you may wish to set up.
The list of SDR’s that can be used with go2MONITOR is pretty good, though due to the target audience, many of them are high end, “government/military” receivers. But, it does work with Perseus, SDRplay RSP1 & RSP2, RFSpace NetSDR and SDR-14, and of course AirSpy R2 – and now the AirSpy HF+ and AirSpy HF+ Discovery.
Supported receiver list:
Max. Rx bandwidth
Grintek GRX Lan
IZT R3xxx series
Up to 3 channels spectrum
IZT R4000 (SignalSuite)
1 channel only
Limited USB 3.0 compatibility
narda® NRA-3000 RX
narda® NRA-6000 RX
narda® IDA 2
VITA 49 support. Only 1 MHz and no receiver control at LINUX
PLATH SIR 2110
LINUX recommended. External receiver control only
PLATH SIR 2115
External receiver control only
PLATH SIR 5110
16×768 kHz subbands External receiver control only
PLATH SIR 5115
40×768 kHz subbands External receiver control only
No gain control available
R&S EM100 / PR100
External receiver control only
Experimental support. Continuous signal up to 2.4 MHz
SDRplay RSP1 & RSP2
Up to 2 channels + spectrum
Generic VITA 49 receiver support
Max. receiver bandwidth
Can be configured in a wide range for different receiver types
Other generic “Winrad ExtIO” supported receivers
Max. receiver bandwidth
As you can see, there is a huge difference in bandwidth capabilities for each receiver. I use my WinRadio G31DDC quite often with go2MONITOR, but the AirSpy HF+ Discovery (not listed as i’ve only just got it working) isn’t much worse with it’s full 610 kHz bandwidth.
When you think that the G31 has a much better operational bandwidth than 800 kHz when you use it on its own, it’s obvious which is better value if you were buying an SDR solely for using it with go2MONITOR. It is this kind of thing that many Government agencies are looking at when it comes to funding operations aimed at large scale monitoring.
That then is a very basic overview of go2MONITOR. The quick video and images have hopefully shown you a little of what is possible.
Outside of a Professional SIGINT operation, why would an amateur radio monitor need something like go2MONITOR? And would they pay the price?
I think they would. After all, most of us have spent a fair amount on radio monitoring over the years, so why not on software that would make their monitoring not only quicker and easier, but potentially open up new areas of monitoring.
Many of us specialise in certain monitoring areas – Russian military, particular the Navy and Strategic aviation for me for example. With go2MONITOR I have already used it to hunt out potential Russian Northern Fleet frequencies by running an automated 10 second CW emission scan overnight within a bandwidth block. By doing this, and then analysing data found in the results window, I was able to target certain frequencies to see what activity there was on subsequent nights.
Whilst there are other decoders available – some of which are plugins in software such as SDR#; some of which are free – it is the quickness and ease with which it can be done that makes go2MONITOR attractive. The big question is, would you pay for this?