Unconfirmed reports of “drone attack” on Engels Airbase, Saratov on 5 December 2022
Satellite imagery not yet available for 5 December 2022
4 December imagery available from Planet for potential comparison when 5 December becomes available
Various reports appeared on Social media regarding a potential Ukrainian forces strike on Engels Airbase, outside Saratov in Russia.
Engels is home to the 121st Guards Heavy Bomber Aviation Regiment flying Tu-95MS and Tu-160 strategic bombers. The base has been used extensively during the Ukrainian War campaign.
Whether this was an attack or not – the range to Engels from Ukraine is over 500km, probably closer to 600km for any of the Ukrainian positions – any damages to aircraft could be a hindrance to the Russian operations.
However, in 4 December 2022 imagery, there is a significant number of Tu-95s present – 18 in total. The reported damages (or loss?) to two Tu-95’s wouldn’t affect that much. With only 5 Tu-160’s present – out of a fleet of 17 – any loss to these airframes would be a little worse for Russia. But, there’s plenty of replacements available.
By comparing the image below, with that available on Jane’s from 17 October 2022, very little has changed. It is hard to assess Tu-95 and Tu-160 activity between the two dates. At least one Tu-160 (in the maintenance area) appears to have not moved.
Note: The imagery doesn’t take in the southern part of the taxiway system where aircraft have also been placed previously. I suspect there are some there but the numbers above do not take these into account as I won’t guess. The image is annotated with IL-76’s though these could also be IL-78’s.
I make no apologies for the watermarks after recent imagery theft.
Update – 5/12/22 1550 UTC
Looking at Sentinel imagery for 5 December, there does not appear to be any evidence of an explosion at the airfield. Certainly not of an aircraft. Sentinel is low resolution of course, so high resolution imagery is needed to confirm still.
The potential railhead source of the explosion still can’t be ruled out as there is a high glowing area there. This does appear to be here in earlier passes however, and could just be a consistent heat source or sun reflection.
The imagery also shows 5 aircraft parked on the southern taxiway/runway – possibly two IL-78’s and three Tu-95’s.
The attack on the Kerch bridge has been an interesting source of discussion as to what the true cause of the explosion was.
Experts in the field of explosives, forensics and analysis have come to different conclusions on the subject. Many have said it could be any of the options and they just can’t say which it is.
And, of course, it has brought out the amateur “experts”.
I place myself somewhere between the two. I’m certainly not an expert in explosives or forensics when it comes to finding the source of an explosion/IED, but I like to think I’m pretty good at analysis – though not infallible. No one is!
This report is a discussion of ideas and thoughts. It isn’t a “It was truck” or “it was a boat” – it is a showing of evidence that I have found. Others have done the same. I will say now – I am ruling out a SOF planted devices or missile strike, and I won’t even cover these here.
However, I have found through watching the videos of the explosion some possible evidence that doesn’t seem to have been picked up elsewhere. The challenge was to find further evidence – this shows some.
The most popular conclusion for the explosion is the truck bomb. Quite handily, the Russian government also stated this was the source. They came up with the driver’s name, a company involved, cargo – even the route he took for the days preceding the explosion, and the strange action of taking 6 hours to drive along a road that should have taken less than an hour.
We all believe everything Russia says don’t we? In this case, it seems we do!
The Russians failed to say that the 6 hour extension of the journey was probably because the driver was asleep in a rest area somewhere. Russian “investigators” came up with Makhir Yusubov from Kazan in Tatarstan – but living in Krasnodar, south Russia – as the driver, and a story of fake companies. The family are being investigated.
An x-ray of the truck has been produced that shows the “explosive cargo” in the trailer – a trailer that doesn’t match that of the type that was used! There’s an axle missing and the underside safety rails are different! Clearly a fake.
This x-ray imagery was then said to be of another truck and the “cargo” was exchanged between the trailers – interesting as really all that needed to be carried out here was an exchange of the trucks themselves, and a change of number plates on the trailer. Why take the risk of moving the cargo from one trailer to another?
Parts of the destroyed truck are available in photos taken at the bridge, whilst eight men have now been arrested – five Russians and three others (Armenian and Ukrainian) – connected with the bombing.
The FSB have carried out a very swift investigation that’s for sure. Too swift maybe?
Why a truck bomb?
This is the first question I asked myself when I heard about it. The truck bomb certainly looks to be the cause of the explosion from the current evidence. Here’s my list of oddities I noted in my hypothetical blog on the day:
1 – There is quite good security for vehicles to get through to pass across the bridge. The lorry in question doesn’t appear to have been that well searched but it was stopped.
2 – If it was the lorry, why didn’t it drive slower, or even stop?
3 – If it had stopped, there is no security in that area. The driver could have bailed out of the vehicle and set it off remotely, or by a short timer – therefore surviving the attack.
4 – Why was it in the “slow” lane? For best results it would have been on the outer lane, nearer the southbound side; and the rail bridge. Stopping would’ve been even more effective.
These still stand. Point 1 was risky. It could have failed before the truck even got to the bridge.
Moreover, there’s now more to add to that list.
5 – Why detonate the bomb at that location? Surely the arch area was a better target than at the beginning of the up slope to it.
6 – How did the bomb detonate?
If it was by the driver who had instructions, then point 5 surely counts here. As does points 2, 3 and 4.
Maybe it was a timed detonation? See point 9.
If it was by remote GPS triggering then – as the Lat/Long of the bridge can be obtained from Google Earth very easily – either the accuracy of the GPS was very poor, or the position was entered incorrectly! Most GPS devices available are accurate to a couple of metres so this does look to be either an incorrect entry or – more likely – not the trigger source.
7 – Leading from point 6 then, was there a following vehicle that remote controlled the detonation from afar and the driver didn’t know what he was carrying?
Again, this needs Point 1 to be bypassed. And by two vehicles. There was no way of telling how long it would take the two vehicles to get through security – and whether it would all happen in time for the following vehicle to be in the right place. It is extremely risky.
One caveat here though – if the Russians were involved and knew the following vehicle would get through security – or they used the bridge CCTV to see where the truck was.
8 – Was the train a planned part of the attack?
This could have been a lucky break. Why? Because the driver took a 6 hour break. According to the paperwork Russia provided, he should have crossed the bridge earlier than this. If it was part of the plan then timing needed to be perfect. It was certainly another risk that may not have worked out – it still might not have.
9 – This leads to – was the bridge the actual target?
Going back to point 6 and the timed trigger along with the fact that the driver rested for 6 hours – if it was a timer then the truck should have been elsewhere at the time of the explosion and not on the bridge. A new can of worms.
10 – The truck and driver originated their journey in Russia. This needed to be a very well planned and executed job to carry out to success. With the arrest of the eight men, five of them being identified as Russian could have made this easier.
It will be interesting to hear what their backgrounds are. It’s certainly a mixed bunch, with in theory, only the Ukrainians being the “enemy of Russia”. If all this is a fake story to try and conceal something else, then I wonder whether the Russians are prisoners and refused to fight or whatever. There’s plenty of poor fodder the Russians could use for this.
So, the truck bomb theory certainly throws up a lot of problems with the actual mission, a lot of uncertainties – and a lot of luck.
One amateur analyst, Oliver Alexander, has carried out near continual watch on this and insists that it was a truck bomb and has provided “conclusive evidence” for this.
All current evidence points to the most likely and obvious cause, with nothing currently pointing against it. For some reason everyone has to make up a million more complicated theories with a large amount of holes solely because they want something else to have happened – he said to me in a Tweet.
To be a true analyst in this game you need to look at all theories – no matter how complicated they may appear. Every theory needs to be eliminated.
He has carried out some great work, but most of it has been on the truck theory.
He asked for other evidence to point otherwise. So here’s some to look at.
This has taken a couple of days to go through. You see, despite being an “old man” – as he called me (51 btw) – my experience in working in this field has taught me to take my time and go through things systematically. This is the benefit of being “old” and having had years of experience – unlike those with the absolute desperate need to get thousands of followers and likes on Twitter, some kofi cash and their name in a newspaper!
Whilst much evidence does point to it being a truck bomb there are still things that don’t quite add up. It’s not just me saying this – there’s plenty of far more qualified people than me that can’t decide.
So let’s talk about the “boat under the bridge” theory. After the early video footage came out I created my previous blog based on this. It was a hypothetical “story” based on the very early comments of a boat being visible.
However, it was reasonably clear that it wasn’t a boat that was visible under the bridge, but a wave. What causes the wave is the question.
All we really have to use is the footage from this CCTV video to see the water flow of the strait. I couldn’t find any others. The image above highlights “the wave”. As you can see, under the rail bridge there is another wave passing through.
Satellite imagery doesn’t really show that much either as the bridge is new and there’s not much historical imagery to analyse. Mainly though, it looks not that rough in the historic satellite imagery that is available. However, this can’t be used in evidence to show normal water conditions. Living in an area that is much the same, I can tell you it differs every day.
There is likely to be turbulent waters as the two sea areas meet, along with the addition of those caused by the bridge support pillars. An image later in this report shows the choppiness of the area a few days after the attack.
This surge wave could have been caused by a number of things.
1 – A boat. Yep, it could have been. Either ramming into the bridge off screen, or manoeuvring/stopping adjacent to the bridge – especially so if it was coming in at speed.
2 – Just a random, choppy, wave.
3 – Caused by the extra circular bridge extension that is located in this gap that comes off the side of the bridge.
None of these can be proven without seeing more everyday footage – especially for point 3 which is the only permanent item there.
Therefore, the boat could be a possibility, but less so than the truck – according to evidence so far shown.
Let’s check the other CCTV footage to see what we can spot.
Taken from the CCTV camera behind the explosion you can see plenty of debris raining down. I’ve circled a few to highlight specific points.
To the left, this is debris hitting the rail support pillar. This pillar is nearer to the camera than the truck just visible going away from us, which was approximately 170 metres in trail of the truck that “exploded”. The rail support pillar is about another five metres further away.
What’s interesting here is the way the glowing debris travels. The bottom left circled is a large piece hitting the base and behind the pillar. This means the debris has travelled 175 metres in a straight line to get to this point. Plus the vertical movement.
The wind looks to be at about 60 to 80 degrees, speed unknown. In the image above you can clearly see that the wind is blowing in this direction – right to left.
The image below shows the rough direction the debris has travelled to ignite the train with the red arrows, whilst the blue arrow shows the approximate direction of the wind later on in the day. There is damage to the rail bridge to the south of the train but this is very little in comparison to that caused by the burning fuel cars.
Weather information from Kerch airfield approximately 11 kilometres away has been provided as an example of the wind at the time of the explosion at the bridge. Whether any time zone conversions was put in to this is unknown as for example if I look at the same data for Kerch airfield right now I get a 1200 time when it is 1400 at Kerch. Regardless of this, it was pretty much the same at the airfield for the time periods before.
However, as the day progresses the wind shifts around, as the wind does. At one stage it is 080 degrees – a twenty degree difference to a couple of hours earlier. And this is an interesting aspect that needs to be looked at.
The wind at the bridge could have been completely different to the airfield despite the relatively closeness of the two points. This can be proven at airports where two that are close to each other with nearly the same runway direction configurations can be on completely different ends for arrivals and departures because the wind is completely different at the two locations.
However, from the under rail bridge CCTV, the steam and smoke is clearly at right angles to the bridge so it looks like it was roughly the same here.
Back to the explosion image, the highlighted area to the right of the breaking truck is in front of the circular extension to the side of the bridge. Debris is coming down around the car and truck in that area too. All of this debris is coming from quite a distance to the right. We know that the truck and car didn’t go past the circular area or they’d have fallen down at the split in the road 15 metres before.
For this debris to arrive at this point, from the right, from the approximate position of the truck, it needed to have travelled at least 220 metres. Not only that, it needed to have gone vertical and fought against the wind to get to the point to start coming back down again.
This takes quite some effort, even for this size of explosion, for what has been stated to be AN/FO (ammonium nitrate/fuel oil) with powdered aluminium added as the used explosives. All of this is very lightweight. Bits of the truck would have gone that way for sure and I expected larger pieces to have been seen coming from the truck area rather than all this “glitter”. Despite the wind I would have expected to see debris coming towards the CCTV camera, directly over the vehicles and down the road. This doesn’t appear to happen.
I would also have expected the greater amount of debris and “glitter” to be directly behind the truck and more concentrated to the left. It is denser to the right of the truck.
From what I can ascertain, the CCTV camera is on the overhead gantry at Tuzla Island, about 1.2 km away and heavily zoomed in. It is possibly over the southbound lane, but could equally be over the central reservation.
Playing the video in slow motion, frame by frame shows much of the smoke and debris coming from right to left. This is more obvious if you play it backwards. In fact, a lot of it comes from off screen!
Explosions tend to go up, unless they’re directed, and around in a circular direction. Yet this doesn’t appear to happen if the position of the truck is taken into account at the time of the explosion. As the initial flare clears there is no residual debris above the trucks position, hardly any to the left – but most is to the right, travelling left. This would imply that the explosion happened to the right of the bridge.
We’ve all seen enough “tank turrets into space” videos to see that things go up from an explosion.
In the footage from the CCTV from under the rail bridge a lot of the debris comes from high right and reasonably close to the camera itself.
Below is just over one second after the explosion. Even taking into account some zooming and the debris is falling halfway between the camera and the next pillar, this is 120 metres behind the position of the truck. The majority should be coming straight at the camera, not right to left – or there’d at least be a mix of debris – at the camera first and then right to left as the debris thrown south then starts travelling west. Nothing ever appears to come at the camera as would be expected.
About four seconds later and it is dying off, but debris is still falling right to left between the next two pillars. Note the amount of debris falling onto the road from far off to the right. These embers will be hot enough to melt the tarmac creating little pits.
A few seconds later, the southbound road catches fire for a brief period. This is one of the biggest causes for the blackened area that is left here. The white smoke under the bridge is in fact steam from the hot road section that has collapsed suddenly being super-cooled by the water.
Shortly after, the water gets extremely turbulent as shown below. Many people have highlighted this but it has been dismissed as just the normal conditions. It isn’t, it is caused by the blast and collapsing bridge – it is much rougher than before the blast.
Moreover, commentary says that this can be dismissed as the rough water is “is also under the wrong part of the bridge.” It’s under the wrong part of the bridge why? Because it isn’t only under the arch that took the blast from above?
This is confirmation bias because the belief is that the truck was the source of the explosion – and nothing else.
The end of the clip gives us a good close up of the damage. This in itself hopefully clears the myth that everything will get bent away from a blast. This doesn’t happen, as the nearest upright light pole shows – it would be bent towards the camera.
The retaliatory attacks on Kiev highlighted that things above an explosion can be damaged on the top.
The glass bridge example has shrapnel and burnt areas caused from debris landing from an explosion below and blackening the path. There was no real fireball here however, so it wasn’t as bad as at the Kerch bridge.
One can see the weirdness of explosions though. Below is the glass bridge taken from a video. The explosion took place about 30 metres directly below this point. The glass panel to the right is damaged by debris but didn’t shatter – the one in the middle has been destroyed – but the one to the left is intact but has been warped by the heat and twisting of the metal frame to bend towards the explosion.
Despite all this, up until below, going through the evidence I was still of the mind that it was likely to be the truck – despite what some people may think because I questioned the way they said things on Twitter.
Back to the gantry CCTV at Kerch and we see some evidence that I think has been missed elsewhere.
For the next sequence of images I’ve marked the position of the truck (red dot) and circular extension (blue dot) just before the explosion. I’ve also created a pseudo crash barrier that extends past the circular extension point. There is slight movement in the positions due to camera shake, but for the examples below it is marginal and makes no difference to the analysis.
This video is good because it hasn’t been cropped in close, therefore more of the area above and around the truck is visible.
Because many reTweeters etc. have zoomed into the truck they’ve missed things happening elsewhere. Below I have highlighted an area that has solid debris going vertical, right to left. Had it come from the truck area it would be going left to right or straight up from the red dot.
By moving the video frame by frame I was able to plot a couple of them. The first is below. The debris travels up and right to left. If you imagine this line extended down it has come from a long way right of the circular extension – in other words from the river.
Here’s another. Again, the imaginary line would take it down to the river. There’s several of these that all show the same trajectory. One thing is for sure – these bits of large debris have not come from the truck! That is unless it has miraculously gone sideways and down, before propelling itself back up and in the opposite direction!
Play the video yourself and look in this area. Stop it and control the playback yourself. Play it backwards and forwards. You’ll see this debris.
So where has it come from?
The boat theory has always been that it was positioned under the bridge.
This created the “It can’t be a boat, there’s no damage under the bridge” and “it is definitely damage caused from an explosion above the surface” comments.
Confirmation bias has kicked in. The belief that a boat was under the bridge made people look for the damage under the bridge rather than looking wider – and at the full picture. They have seen what they wanted to see to confirm their beliefs.
Now, their beliefs may still be correct, but there’s evidence in those pictures above – taken from the very same video they say PROVES it was an explosion from the truck – that could show otherwise.
What if the boat was actually to the side of the bridge rather than under it? What if it went off early? What if it was GPS triggered and something went wrong with that? What if the person controlling the boat activated it early to get the train too?
Sound familiar?? All possibilities that have been given to the truck theory, but completely overlooked for others.
A boat gives a further option the truck doesn’t. What if the boat was being controlled remotely and something failed with that, or the steering went – anything that could go wrong with it that meant it was detonated early or in the wrong position.
Yes, there’s bits of truck being found, but if the explosion was close enough it would have probably been practically destroyed in the process anyway. It certainly would have been pushed to the side, into crash barriers making them collapse and break up – a theory used to prove the bomb went off next to the barrier – before disappearing into the water. Bits of it would have turned up in more places than one location – regardless.
One final set of pictures.
This first one is supposed to prove a 2000 kg bomb in a truck detonated at this position due to the slight dip in the southbound road. If that had happened I’m pretty sure it would have been in a substantially worse condition than this (ignore the the barriers – they’re new). It is bending down, granted, but superheated metal will warp a little possibly? – not an expert so don’t know.
The same goes for the image below. I would expect there to be far more damage than this. There’s only a minimum amount of shrapnel pits – tiny at that, they’d be bigger if a bomb this size had gone off a few feet above this area and that close the hole that is there. And the missing tarmac is likely due to it being superheated and then supercooled by the water and sliding off. It is clearly only about an inch or two thick and wouldn’t have taken much.
Also note the twisted crash barrier and the fact that the uprights are going 90 degrees to the road, not away from the blast as has been used as evidence for an above the road explosion.
And one also has to think about the length of the truck – probably 20 to 22 metres, or about a third of the distance between spans. The hole caused is small in comparison, especially when you remember the truck was supposedly near full of explosives and the explosion itself was able to throw debris hundreds of metres away!
Below is the damage a 1500 kg truck bomb causes.
Whilst the environments are different – hard road vs soft bridge – enclosed area vs open area – the blast damage is huge. I’d expect a greater amount of damage at the bridge than there is.
I still can’t say 100% it was a truck bomb – I also can’t say it wasn’t either. However, the evidence provided until now has always been towards a pro truck bomb theory rather than any other and I can’t argue with that – in fact I never have. I have always agued with the “conclusive proof” theories when it appears not everything has been looked at.
The large amounts of debris in the CCTV video coming from the side and below the bridge needs to be analysed by experts – not by amateurs such as myself.
It may have already been spotted by those very people – and not brought to light. Why should they if there’s something to protect – such as a method of attack that can be used again.
In fact, it has been a dilemma of mine whether I should have come out with this report but I felt that due to the “challenge of finding further evidence” it was something that needed to be highlighted.
Finally, the fact that the majority of the people involved appear to be Russian (the driver and those arrested), throws in another question. Who carried out the attack? If it were a “terrorist group” then surely they would have come clean about it by now – someone always says it was them.
Unless you are scapegoats, made up by the Russian FSB, to cover a complete mess in the defensive network around the bridge.
At the end of the day, this isn’t a “I’m right, you’re wrong” report – which is most definitely being thrown around elsewhere. I hope it is an open report that people can look at and go “shit, I hadn’t spotted that” – and start looking at the event with a wider view.
Delfin’s AIS is pretty good. It has been on at all times as shown below – this is the last 30 days activity. What a better disguise than to be a fishing boat operating in the area – fishing.
This is all hypothetical, but it could have been waiting for the train to pass and then been steered towards the bridge and detonated as it passes under. A means of escape could’ve been a dinghy. If it had a good GPS system then it could’ve been pretty accurately steered for a gap, but just as simple is jumping off near to the time.
As I say – hypothetical at the moment. But I feel the boat is the better method than the lorry.
The final potential possibility are charges set on the bridge. However, I’d have though that the rail bridge would also have been targeted with this method. Particularly if the train was the real target.
It will be interesting to see if Delfin appears on AIS again later.
Just to confirm that Delfin has reappeared on AIS off the Crimean coast and was in a T-AIS -receiver “black hole” – though it has been picked up on S-AIS before too.
As I said above, just an idea about how this could have played out. I’m still happy with the analysis that it wasn’t a lorry bomb that caused the damage and destruction at the Kerch bridge.
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”.
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.
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.