To get the support infrastructure in place at Pankovo on Yuhzny Island has taken a lot of effort – and a lot of standard ISO ship containers.
These have been taken by several ships, mainly over the summer months, over two years. Due to weather and icing conditions during the winter period it is pretty impossible to do anything outside of the summer.
Recently the ships in use have been captured on satellite imagery – particularly on Sentinel. Over at Covert Shores, H I Sutton has just published a blog on the likely ships in use for this task. The activity around the islands has been tracked for quite some time however and this blog really just fully confirms the IDs of the ships Covert Shores had chosen as possibilities.
First of all, it can be confirmed it is Teriberka that is operating at the island harbour bay area – visible in a nice Sentinel graphic produced at Covert Shores. This ship has been to and from Arkhangelsk on at least three occasions since early August 2022.
Geolog Pechkurov can also be confirmed as the ship operating with Teriberka at the moment. She had been operating along with a research ship at the western end of the Matochkin Shar Strait between Severny and YuzhnyIslands early to mid-August, but returned with Teriberka mid September.
Both ships have their own cranes and lifting gear.
Probably the more unsual ship is Sevmorput – a nuclear powered container/cargo ship. It is large at 260 metres in length, with its own cranes and lifting gear. A considerable number of containers can be held on board.
Sevmorput has been in the area before and is likely to be the main carrier for most of the equipment and containers. Like the other two ships, operations here have been going on since at least mid-August with returns to Murmansk rather than Arkhangelsk.
Smaller barges are used to transport the containers from all the ships to the small jetty in the harbour bay area.
There’s not much more to say on this apart from that the amount of work that is needed to get operations running at Novaya Zemlya is considerable – and needs to be completed in a short time period due to weather conditions over the winter.
This means that time is running short for this period of activity – and also means should there be a test of Burevestnik, it can’t be too far away.
Pankovo test facility DOES have retractable shelter
Burevestnik missile canister captured in imagery on test ramp
Test could be imminent
I never was happy with the Airbus imagery I received for the previous blogs. I felt the that some of the areas had been overexposed and had been blown out, into a white blob.
One of these areas was at the test ramp at Pankovo.
This was confirmed to me not too long after the update blog where I had presumed some sort of cover had been used at the test ramp as part of the construction process.
I was sent imagery (that I can’t publish here) that showed that the ramp DID have a retractable shelter. What I thought was a small door in the shelter was in fact a difference in the concrete ramp tied together with shadows creating that effect. The shelter is appears to be open at all times.
After complaining about the imagery I did get a small refund but decided to keep an eye out on Planet imagery for the same area. This is normally better quality than Airbus.
However, whenever Planet’s SkySat imagery was collected, it was always cloud covered at Pankovo.
I finally tried again with Airbus on 16 September 2022 having given up on Planet. The imagery was better – though nowhere near as good as that I’d been sent privately. This is despite the resolution being the same – 50 cm!
But it was good enough to prove that Burevestnik is present at Pankovo and appears to be close to being tested. The shelter was pushed back and a Burevestnik container was in position.
The canister is located between two raised walkways positioned either side. It appears to be on its trolley or loader system as shown below taken from Defense Updates YouTube video. The canister extends to just inside the entrance of the shelter.
Pretty much everything else described in the previous blogs is as stated.
At the first set of buildings south of the test area – the “gate house” as I called it – nothing has changed. There is definitely a frame there which could be for another building or shelter. Or, another thought I’ve has is that it is an antenna tower laying on its side waiting to be raised. Time will tell on this.
Further south, along the gravel road, the area containing the two white shelters with access ramps showed little change. However, the better quality does now highlight a trailer parked at the northern shelter. This is 13 metres in length and could possibly be a transporter for the missiles or a fuel truck for the booster section of the missile
The theory is that the shelters are readiness shelters for preparing Burevestnik for testing before moving them up to the test area.
Little has changed at the southernmost building, and is missed from this analysis. Looking at this area in closer detail, rather than being a power or generator building for the facilities, it could equally be a small area for holding the nuclear systems used in Burevestnik. Again, further assessment is required here.
With this new update it is worth keeping an eye out for navigational warnings for the Novaya Zemlya region. As it appears a missile is in the retractable shelter a test could be very imminent.
Whilst the imagery showed some major changes to the Pankovo site, it didn’t provide any real evidence that a test was going to be carried out soon.
The reason for looking at Pankovo in the first place was down to Russian maritime warnings (PRIPs) and NOTAMs that covered the area on and surrounding Novaya Zemlya. Between them, the warnings covered dates up until 9 September 2022. One day does remain for some of the warnings – the NOTAMs having expired on 5 September. Up until that time there had been no news from Russian sources that claimed any testing from the islands had taken place. This I would have expected had they done so.
I obtained imagery of Pankovo for 6 September 2022, extending the search further south of the test site.
Between here and the beach/harbour area, several group of buildings have been in the construction process from early 2020 – certainly the first real signs of construction show on Sentinel from July 2020. Moreover, foundation work and ground clearing had started in 2019.
At the test site there is one thing of note that changes the previous analysis in the last blog. What I thought was a raised platform or ramp in the 28 August imagery – and then an additional structure in the 2 September imagery – were in fact one and the same. The structure was always there, it is possibly under a white cover that stretched its entirety. In the latest imagery you can see that if it is a cover it has been partially pulled off the structure to reveal it underneath.
However, most of the new roads and test area are still raised. New equipment has arrived at the southern part of the test area since the last imagery.
The potential retractable shelter looks more permanent than first assessed and has a clear entranceway to the south. This structure could be an environmental entrance linking to the other blue areas. There does not appear to be any rails for retractable shelters, however these may be being placed under the blue north-eastern structure. Time will tell.
At the building 1.5 km south of the test site there is little to show what it’s purpose is. For now I’m calling it the “guard house/access gate” but I highly suspect this isn’t correct. There is a communications mast with what looks like microwave antennas installed, pointing north/south going by the shadows. It is approximately 50 metres in length, a little less in width./
A significant number of tracks lead cross-country from this site out to the NE. When following these, they appear to lead to nowhere, splitting off further on the routes.
There is also what looks like a white framed structure here, possibly for a further building not yet completed.
Where things get more interesting is further down the road, heading south to the old harbour bay and beach.
Another 1.8 km south from the “gate house” is a construction site with two white structures – each approximately 30 metres in length. These are placed to the west of the road with each having two vehicle access ramps – one at each end of the building. Whilst possibly drive through shelters, the ramps are offset from each other.
At least one helicopter pad is present with what looks like a MIL Mi-8 helicopter parked there at the time if the collection. There’s possibly another to the east of the road, but it could equally be the foundations of another building.
Drive about another 1 km south and you get to another new group of buildings, joined together by a corridor. As a whole, the buildings measure approximately 130 x 40 metres. This complex has the feel of a generator building though it can’t be fully determined at this time. The southern side of it does appear to have five or six blue fuel tanks in place. It certainly looks like a utilities building of some kind.
Proceed 1.5 km south and you arrive at the beach and “harbour” area. This has had long-abandoned buildings on the beach for some considerable time, though the area has been used in the summer months for gaining access to the test site and some of the better buildings used for short-term accommodation.
The imagery shows a considerable upgrade is taking place here. The old jetty, which was in ruins to be honest, has been replaced with a new one – be it with the same small footprint of the old one. The causeway to the jetty has been upgraded and potentially a new building footprint has been carved out at the old village. This could equally be a small quarry for sourcing hardcore for the tracks. Again, time will tell on this.
A large helicopter parking area has been established, with a MIL Mi-26 located here at the time of the collection. There’s a further helicopter pad at the northern group of buildings away from the beach. Communication masts are located at the village next to the helicopter parking area.
Overall, a considerable amount of work is going on at Novaya Zemlya. However, at this time, I don’t think the area is ready for any missile tests – and it could well be another few years before it is ready.
The weather here gives them about 5 real months of construction time a year – and this could be pushing it. Once winter sets in, it will be impossible for any work to take place.
So, what of the navigational warnings if the islands aren’t being used for Burevestnik?
A little more investigation did find the likely reason for the first set of warnings.
Project 1144.2 Kirov class CGHMN Pyotr Velikiy carried out a test launch of a P‐700 3K-45/3M-45 Granit (SS‐N‐19 “Shipwreck”) SLCM at a target located off the coast of Novaya Zemlya on 24 August 2022 – the day the navigational warnings started. The ship also carried out general weapons handling in the area with anti-aircraft missiles and artillery firing at airborne targets. It is possible it also used its 2 AK-130 130 mm guns for targeting land targets. This would explain the warnings that covered the island.
It also worked with another ship in the area – likely to have been Project 956A Sovremenny class DDGHM Admiral Ushakov.
The Russian MoD stated that airspace around Novaya Zemlya was closed for this activity. They also stated the Granit test was a success, hitting the target located 200 km away.
Also operating in the area at the time were Project 1155 Udaloy class DDGHM Admiral Levchenko and Project 775 Ropucha class LSTM Alexander Otrakovskiy – along with support ships Project 1559V Boris Chilikin class replenishment ship Sergei Osipov and Project 1452 Ingul class salvage tug Pamir.
These were further north than Novaya Zemlya, operating off Franz Josef Land, for some of this time period. They then carried out a southbound transit west of Novaya Zemlya to the Gazpromneft’shel’f to carry out a security exercise at the Prirazlomnaya marine ice-resistant station located at 68.83523259654382, 58.14904110488897. The exercise simulated a terrorist attack at the station, with Levchenko sending a Ka-27 helicopter with special forces on board to resolve the situation.
The transit from Franz Josef took place exactly during the navigational warnings which means they too could have carried out weapons exercises during this period. They have now gone further east into the Kara Sea and and have carried out various combat exercises.
Two new NOTAMs that expire at 2100 UTC on 9 September 2022 now cover the area to the west of Novaya Zemlya.
The shape, length and altitudes of these two warnings point to a missile test, but sea- launched at a target over or on the sea surface – rather than on Novaya Zemlya.
According to the latest information, Pyotr Velikiy is still operating in the area.
This latest imagery, for me, concludes that Novaya Zemlya is not ready for testing Burevestnik – and won’t be for the foreseeable future – but the area continues to be one that is used for a multitude of different weapons tests as it has been for decades.
Satellite imagery shows changes at Pankovo test site
Possible Burevestnik test
On 20 August 2022, the Russian navy posted a PRIP/Navigation warning for the area surrounding Novaya Zemlya. These warnings are always of interest as they normally highlight some sort of weapons firing or testing from the island into the Barents Sea.
The warning extended from 24 August until 9 September.
@The_Lookout_N on Twitter kindly posted the PRIP and plotted the positions. This showed most of the islands covered by the warning.
Normally a NOTAM follows these warnings should there be any kind of weapons firing and sure enough, on 27 August, a NOTAM did appear. This only covered the period up to 30 August however.
The PRIP had already got me searching for imagery for the Pankovo test site – located at 73° 6’52.60″N 53°16’28.38″E – and one of the areas I check fairly regularly for new imagery on Google Earth (not much luck there to be honest!).
Novaya Zemlya has been used for several tests in the past. Most notably, during Soviet times, for nuclear weapons testing – including the RDS-202, the most powerful thermonuclear weapon ever tested.
Pankovo is associated with the 9M730 Burevestnik (SSC-X-9 “Skyfall”) nuclear-powered cruise missile. Tests began at Pankovo in 2017, with two reported. Both are thought to have failed, though a video does exist of the November 2017 test that depicts the missile being launched and flying along the Novaya Zemlya coastline.
In August 2019, a test at the Nenoksa test facility on the White Sea resulted in an explosion that killed five Rosatom technicians. A release of radiation from this hints at the test of Burevestnik. The facility at Nenoksa has similarities to those from the 2017 tests in Pankovo.
I covered the Nenoksa site in a Janes Intelligence Review (JIR) article in October 2020.
Following the 2017 tests of Burevestnik at Pankovo, in July 2018, most of the site was dismantled, with just the old buildings used for accommodation remaining. The test area had consisted of several temporary support shelters and a retractable shelter to cover the missile. This shelter was placed on rails approximately 50 metres in length which were, themselves, placed on a concrete pad.
The dismantling of Pankovo, and the subsequent new site at Nenoksa, looked as if the tests were to continue at the White Sea site rather than at the remoter Novaya Zemlya location. The 2019 incident, however, may have made the Russians change their mind on this.
With the PRIP and NOTAM in place, I decided to download several images that covered the times in the warnings.
These currently cover 22 August 2022 to 2 September 2022.
The first NOTAM expired on 30 August, as previously stated, however new ones were published that covered 31 August to 5 September.
The imagery highlights several things.
Firstly, the test area has been changed. In 22 August imagery, the concrete launch area and rails have been removed and realigned – turning approximately 10 degrees to point further southwest. The pad also appears to have been raised. It cannot be determined whether any rails are in place.
The temporary support buildings/shelters are in place again – as is a possible retractable shelter for the missile itself. This is smaller than both the previous shelter here in 2017, and the one at Nenoksa.
Very little had changed a week later, on 28 August.
However, on 2 September 2022, a new support structure or container was located at the far end of the new concrete pad. Whether this contains a Burevestnik or other missile under test cannot be established.
With a day to go until the PRIP and NOTAM expire, it is now a case of waiting to see what transpires.
Interestingly, NATO are also about to carry out an exercise themselves – off the coast of the UK. This “SINKEX” involves several ships, though it will be run by the US Navy as the main aim of the exercise will be to test a new US targeting satellite. It is reported that several Harpoon missiles will be fired at ex Oliver Hazard Perry-class FFG USS Boone. One ship slated to fire is Royal Navy Duke (Type 23) class FFGHM HMS Westminster.
US Navy Arleigh Burke class USS Arleigh Burke paid a quick one day visit to HMNB Clyde (Faslane) on the 2nd and 3rd of September 2022 – also associated with the SINKEX.