Category: Euro-Atlantic

Poland Signs Contract for Dozens of F-35A Stealth Fighters

The Polish government has signed a contract with Lockheed Martin to buy 32 F-35A stealth multirole fighter jets for the Polish Air Force, on January 31, 2020. The contract is…

The Polish government has signed a contract with Lockheed Martin to buy 32 F-35A stealth multirole fighter jets for the Polish Air Force, on January 31, 2020. The contract is estimated to be worth  $4.6 billion, making it the biggest military purchase in the country’s history. The first F-35As are expected to arrive in Poland in 2026. 

The groundbreaking purchase makes Poland the first Central and Eastern European country country to acquire the fifth generation aircraft. Warsaw joins the exclusive club of current or future F-35 operators, that includes six NATO members (United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark), Japan, Australia, Singapore and the Republic of Korea. 


REPLACING OLD SOVIET AIRCRAFT

The American defense contractor will deliver the latest configuration (Block 4) of the F-35’s Conventional Take-Off and Landing (CTOL) version. The Block 4 features an expanded missile capacity, from four to six internally carried missiles, improved sensors and data-link, and advanced computing power. The Polish Air Force (PoAF) will use the F-35s to replace the Soviet-era legacy Su-22 fighter-bombers  (NATO Reporting name: “Fitter”) and MiG-29 air superiority jets (“Fulcrum), and will serve alongside its existing fleet of 48 F-16s. 

ENHANCING POLISH AIR FORCE CAPABILITIES

With the F-35 in service, the PoAF will posses a top-of-the-line air defense capability and striking platform. Poland will enjoy unmatched interoperability in joint force and Coalition operations. In addition to national air policing, the F-35A will enable Poland to conduct Destruction/ Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (D/SEAD), Offensive Counter Air (OCA) and to prosecute targets defended by enemy anti-access/ area-denial (A2/AD) “bubbles.” 

STEALTH

The F-35 is known for its low-observability (or stealth), sensor fusion, increased situational awareness and integrated electronic warfare system, but also for its production delays and constant software patches. Born from the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program, the F-35 was designed as a jack-of-all-trade platform to satisfy the operational requirements of the three major U.S. military branches. As the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps have different needs and operational doctrines, the JSF’s initial requirements mutated in the compromise and more economical formula we have today. However, the one element that remained universally embraced was stealth. 

Contrary to widespread misperception, stealth is not invisibility. Rather, stealth gives the F-35 the ability to elude or greatly complicate an enemy’s ability to find and destroy an aircraft using a combination of tactics and technology. In general, stealth is the ability to evade detection by radar, infrared sensors or emission interception. Stealth provides greater survivability and access, allowing aircraft to operate in contested A2/AD environments, that legacy fighters simply cannot penetrate or evade. 



An integrated airframe design, advanced radar-absorbing materials, low-probability of intercept sensors and other features maximize the F-35’s stealth features. This allows the F-35 to defeat upper band radars (X- and Ku-bands) that are used by air defense systems for SAM engagement control. The aircraft performs less effective against early-warning and acquisition radars operating in the lower bands (UHV/ VHF), however these sensors are unable to provide engagement guidance , and can only “paint” a vague picture of threat. 

REAL TEST AFTER 2026

With the F-35 purchase, Poland sets an example for the other NATO militaries that are still struggling to transition from the defunct Warsaw Pact model. However, the real test begins after 2026 when the PoAF will have to undertake the exhausting task of absorbing the F-35 fleet into operational use and keep its combat readiness rate high. Another Herculean challenge will be to provide constant maintenance to the “needy” platform, in the form of software patches, logistical support infrastructure, weapons integration, LO coating maintenance and other aspects.

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Serbia to receive Russian-made Pantsir-S1 Air Defense Systems in late February

Russia’s delivery of Pantsir-S1 surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems (NATO Reporting name: SA-22 “Greyhound”) to Serbia will commence in late February this year. The first shipment is rumored to consist of…

Russia’s delivery of Pantsir-S1 surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems (NATO Reporting name: SA-22 “Greyhound”) to Serbia will commence in late February this year. The first shipment is rumored to consist of six Pantsir-S1 batteries.

The Pantsir-S1 is a road-mobile self-propelled SAM system designed to provide point air defense air defense against precision-guided attacks from short-to-medium range and low altitudes. The Pantsir’s main armament is the 57E6/E short-range SAM, which can engage targets at a range of 12 to 20 km and altitudes varying from 5 to 15 km. The Pantsir can carry a maximum of 12 SAMs. As a secondary capability, the battery is equipped with two 30mm twin-barrel cannons. The Pantsir’s sensor package consists of a target detection and designation radar, target and missile tracking radar, and electro-optical sensor systems.

CONTROVERSIAL COMBAT PERFORMANCE

Russia advertises the Pantsir as being a highly resilient air defense system against enemy anti-radiation missiles and drones, however, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) has repeatedly overwhelmed and destroyed Pantsir batteries operated by the Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) in the past years. A Russian report also revealed that the Pantsir performed poorly in its role to defend the Russian 555th Khmeimim Air Base (Syra) against small consumer drones launched by the Syrian armed opposition groups. This forced Russia to deploy additional assets such as the Tor-M2 to reinforce its defenses after a drone attack damaged multiple aircraft in January, 2018. 

SLAVIC SHIELD 2019

Serbian President Alexandar Vucic first announced that Belgrad had ordered the Pantsir SAM systems during a visit at “Slavic Shield 2019,” on October 24, 2019. As the first exercise between the Serbian Air Defense Units and the Russian Aerospace Forces, Slavic Shield 2019 deepened joint force interoperability and served as a technology demonstrator for Belgrade. During the event, Russia airlifted a multi-layered and diverse package of SAM systems to Milenko Pavlović Air Base in Batajnica (Serbia), including a S-400 SAM system (SA-21 “Growler) and several Pantsir-S1 batteries. This allowed Serbian military officials to inspect the equipment and simulate integration into Belgrad’s air defense network. In addition to the Pantsir, President Vucinic expressed interest in the S-400, but clarified that Serbia cannot afford the system.

Serbia President Vucic at “Slavic Shield 2019” Photo: Damirir Banda, MC Odbrana

Although Belgrad has repeatedly named Russia as it main defense partner and source of military donations, an official booklet of the Serbian Ministry of Defense shows that Serbia’s main military donor is the United States. Serbia received $10 million in military assistance from the U.S. in equipment and money between 2014 and 2018. Second on the donor list is China, which has donated around € 5.2 million, followed by Norway with € 586,000, Denmark with € 494,860 and the UK with £ 169,000, respectively.

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The Drone-Type that Killed Gen. Soleimani, Now in Romania

The United States Air Force (USAF) will deploy MQ-9 Reaper drones to the 71st Air Base in Campia Turzii (Cluj county), Romania. The mission, starting in January 2020, has been…

The United States Air Force (USAF) will deploy MQ-9 Reaper drones to the 71st Air Base in Campia Turzii (Cluj county), Romania. The mission, starting in January 2020, has been fully coordinated with the Romanian government. Directed by the U.S. European Command’s air component, the deployment serves to promote stability and security within the region, and to strengthen relationships with NATO allies and other European partners. The MQ-9 Reapers have been previously deployed to the 71st AB in July 2019, when they were temporarily re-positioned from their traditional staging area in Poland.

The U.S. Air Force built this hangar, which could house manned or unmanned aircraft, at Campia Turzii from October 2017 to May 2018. Documents obtained by Defense News show plans to build a hangar to accommodate medium-altitude, long-endurance drones like the MQ-9. (Valerie Insinna/ Defense News)

The U.S. Department of Defense has invested over $3 million in the modernisation of Romania’s 71st AB in the past two years. Part of the infrastructure upgrade package was the construction of a $950,000 hangar that is able to house medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) drones such as the MQ-9 and support drone operations. 

The MQ-9 Reaper is one of the most advanced unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) ever built. As a multi-role platform, the MQ-9 can perform a variety of missions, including intelligence, reconnaissance, target-aquisition and surveillance (ISTAR), ground attack, close air support (CAS), and combat search and rescue. 

While the Reaper is most known for its kinetic strikes against terrorist leaders (including IRGC-QF Gen. Soleimani on January 3) and other high-value targets, the drone is a very effective ISR/ ISTAR asset. The MQ-9’s endurance is 30 hours when conducting ISR sorties, with decreases to 14 to 23 hours (depending on the loadout) when carrying weapons. The Reaper has a 1,850 km range (1,000 nmi; 1,150 mi) and an operational ceiling of 15,000 meters (50,000 ft). It’s sensor suite includes a syntethic aperture radar and infrared forward-looking infrared, which can stream live footage at views ranging from 19mm to 560mm. 

During its stay in Romania, the MQ-9 will likely be tasked with gathering intelligence on enemy intentions and capabilities in the region. The Black Sea will be a main focus of its ISR mission, where the UAV will monitor the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet (BSF) for nefarious activity, force buildup and forward deployments. The collection of Imagery Intelligence (IMINT) on Russia’s BSF activities is not only important for NATO’s Eastern flank, but also for monitoring Moscow’s force deployment to Syria. The ports of Sevastopol and Novorossysk are Russia’s main logistics bases supporting expeditionary operations in Syria, and are periodically sealifting capabilities to Tartus (Syria). 

In addition to the Black Sea, the MQ-9 will likely also fly over Eastern Ukraine. American UAVs were frequently spotted on ADS-B receivers loitering over the frontline in Donbas and Luhansk, monitoring for enemy activity (e.g. ceasefire violations, Russian supplies, tactical movements). 



When used as a striking platform, the Reaper can field a “cocktail” of weapons systems such as the GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bomb, AIM-9 “Sidewinder” air-to-air missile, GBU-38 with JDAM, and the more famous AGM-114 “Hellfire” air-to-surface missile. Due to its armament, the UAV can target and destroy light infantry, surface vessels and armored tanks. 

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CIA Declassifies Records About the Collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has released samples from over 100 National Intelligence Daily (NID) articles about the Collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe (CCEE) between February 1989 and March…

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has released samples from over 100 National Intelligence Daily (NID) articles about the Collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe (CCEE) between February 1989 and March 1990. The collection represents much of the Agency’s short-term analysis of events unfolding in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), as popular opposition to Soviet misrule erupted and quickly surpassed anything the Communist regimes were prepared to understand or to which they could respond. The material also represents a major source of information and insight for US policymakers into what was happening in these countries, where they were heading, and which implications the collapse of Communist rule in Europe and the beginnings of the breakup of the Soviet Union had for Europe and the United States.

The CCEE refers to a series of demonstrations and revolutions that ended the Soviet-imposed Communist rule in Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Yugoslavia, Poland, and Romania, and paved the way for the disintegration of Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union. The CCEE also marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War between the Western liberal democracies and the Soviet Union and its satellites (Warsaw Pact). 

The newly declassified intelligence demonstrates the accuracy of the Agency’s collection and analysis of the events unfolding in the padlocked CEE states. Despite the large volume of materials released, this is only a fraction of the CIA’s reporting on the CCEE. 

After going through the more than 100 documents, we can draw the following conclusions: 

  • Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) collected by the CIA’s Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) was the backbone of the NDIs. 
  • The developments in East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania drew extra attention from Washington due to their specific geopolitical importance.
  • East Germany was the main “frontline” between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, and a particular issue of concern for West Germany, a key US ally in the region. If the Communist regime in Berlin was to fall, the Agency was confident that re-unification with Bonn was a strong possibility.

Germans stand on top of the Wall in front of Brandenburg Gate in the days before it was torn down.

  • In Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland, which experienced the mildest revolutions, over 135,000 Soviet Army troops were stationed. The withdrawal of Soviet forces from CEE would have significantly altered the balance of power in Europe in NATO’s favor. The three countries were also the fastest to enact unprecedented constitutional amendments and legislation in support of economic reform. 
  • Despite being affected by the domino effect of anti-Communist uprisings, Romania was seen as the Bloc’s last holdout due to the Ceausescu regime’s violent crackdown on protests. Not only was the Ceausescu regime strongly entrenched, but it also sought external support from other rogue regimes – particularly North Korea, Iran and Libya – to escape international isolation. Romania was the only Eastern Bloc country whose citizens overthrew the Communist regime violently. 
  • The CIA did not only extensively cover the Romanian revolution, but it also issued periodic situation reports and net estimates. One of the many valid assessments of the Agency analysts was that sustained violence against demonstrators would result in an alliance between the Romanian Armed Forces and disgruntled Communist officials (such as Ceausescu’s successor, Ion Iliescu, who was identified as a potential supporter in the CIA analyses) against Ceausescu and his family. 

December 1989: Thousands of Romanians rallied in front the the Communist Party’s politburo in Bucharest.

  • The Western Balkans were sparsely featured in the NDI dump. However, the risk of prolonged conflict as an effect of the CCEE was judged to be the highest in this region. The CIA feared that Albania would become a “second Romania” due to the regime’s opposition to change, while Yugoslavia was believed to be on the brink of collapse, leaving behind a mosaic of inter-ethnic armored conflicts. 
  • The CIA was confident that the Kremlin, paralized and weak, would not risk everything by launching punitive actions to suppress the revolutions that were overthrowing its “satellite” regimes in the Warsaw Pact. One analysis even observed how Lithuanian and Baltic nationalists were capitalizing on the Kremlin’s weakness by “pushing towards de facto independence, as a prelude for outright separation”.
  • The CIA was concerned that expectations among CEE populations were dangerously high. In the Special Analysis “Long Road Ahead to Economic Well-Being”, the Agency argued that the benefits of economic transition from a command economy to a free market system was a long-term game with few immediate positive effects. The Agency certainly remained open to the possibility that disenfranchised workers could stage counter-revolutions. 
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Turkey to Send UAVs to Northern Cyprus Base, Expanding ‘Mediterranean Ops’

Amid Ankara’s continued hydrocarbon exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) will allow the Turkish Air Force (TAF) to fly unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from…

Amid Ankara’s continued hydrocarbon exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) will allow the Turkish Air Force (TAF) to fly unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from Gecitkale airport, Turkish Cypriot officials announced on Friday. 

Geckitale Airport was opened in 1986 and is located 25 km inland from the TRNC capital and coast city of Famagusta/ Gazimagusa. Turkey developed Geckitale Airport as both an alternative to the TRNC’s main airport (Ercan) and as major, NATO-standardized air base. While Geckitale served only briefly as a commercial airport, it saw intense military activity. During the renewed tensions with Greece in the 1990s, Turkey forward-deployed F-16s to Geckitale. Following privatisation in 2012, Geckitale is only opened to VIP, charter and military flights. 

AN ENERGY SECURITY DISPUTE

The move to open Geckitale to Turkish UAVs comes at a time of rising tensions between Turkey, on the side, and Greece, Cyprus, Israel and Egypt, on the other, over the demarcation of exclusive economic zones (EEZs) in the Eastern Medtierranean. Over recent years, Greece, Cyprus and Israel have discovered offshore gas fields in their EEZs. The trio, supported by the United States, signed an intergovernmental agreement to pursue a common pipeline project, in March 2019. Known as the “EastMed,” the project envisions an undersea pipeline that would deliver Israeli and Cypriote natural gas to the European Union via Greece. The European Commission has designated the EastMed pipeline as a “Project of Interest.”



Turkey, who hasn’t found any hydrocarbons in indisputably Turkish waters, sees the EastMed project as a threat to its status as an energy transit country and to the TRNC’s maritime rights. Turkey is the only member of the United Nations that does not recognize Cyprus, and is not a signatory of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. As a result, the Turkish view on maritime disputes is that no island, including Cyprus, can have a full EEZ. Ankara therefore either claims parts of the Cypriote offshore hydrocarbons or demands that the internationally-recognized Government in Nicosia shares its exclusive resources with the TRNC. 

Turkish efforts to contest and redraw the map of the Eastern Mediterranean are far more advanced. On November 28, Ankara signed an agreement with Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA), outlining their maritime boundaries. In accordance to the Turkish view on maritime boundaries, the agreement deprives the Greek islands of Kastellorizo, Karpathos, Kasos and Crete of an EEZ. This surged tensions with Greece but also with Israel and Egypt, which are spearheading a diplomatic offensive against Ankara. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the agreement would also allow Turkey to carry out drilling on Libya’s continental shelf with Tripoli’s approval.



UNILATERAL TURKISH DRILLINGS TO SPARK MILITARY TENSIONS

The Turkish Government ignored international criticism and authorized Turkish Petroleum to conduct drillings off Cyprus’ east and west coasts. Two Turkish drilling vessels – “Fatih” and “Yavus” – alongside “Oruc Reis” and “Barbaros Hayrettin Pasa” seismic vessels have been searching for oil and gas in the past five months. UAVs deployed from Dalaman Airport in southwestern Turkey have previously provided overwatch for the surface group. Turkish Navy and Coast Guard vessels – including Barbados- and G-class frigates – have also escorted Fatih and Yavus throughout their explorations. 


The Turkish Navy intercepted “Bat Galim”, an Israeli research ship belonging to the Oceanographic and Limnological Research Institute, in Cypriote waters two weeks ago. The Bat Galim was conducting research in coordination with the Cypriote government when the Turkish warships forced it to leave. In response, the Israeli Air Force and Navy staged a major military exercise in the Eastern Mediterranean involving F-15I “Ra’am”, F-16I “Sufa” and F-35I “Adir” fighter jets, two days ago. 

GECIKTALE AIRPORT: FASTER ISR DEPLOYMENTS, LONGER LOITER TIME

Tensions are expected to rise as Turkey will enforce its maritime claims and safeguard its commercial drilling operations, while Israel, Greece and Egypt will attempt to contest the Turkish and Libyan (GNA) objectives. With the permission to use Geciktale in effect, the Turkish UAVs – likely Bayraktar 2-TB – will have a shorter flight-path to its objective and enjoy a longer loiter time. This translates into increased situational awareness over the drilling operations and better response time to Greek or Israeli actions.

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Turkey’s S-400 “Growler” Goes Operational Near Ankara

Turkey’s newly acquired S-400 air defense system (NATO Reporting name SA-21 Growler) is now operational at Mürted Akinci airfield, an Israeli geospatial company claims.  Satellite imagery, which was shared by…

Turkey’s newly acquired S-400 air defense system (NATO Reporting name SA-21 Growler) is now operational at Mürted Akinci airfield, an Israeli geospatial company claims. 

Satellite imagery, which was shared by ImageSatIntel (iSi) on Twitter, shows the S-400 battery components in an operational configuration on the airfield tarmac. According to iSi’s analysis, three tractor erector launchers (TELs) are deployed erected, but unarmed, near the S-400’s 92N63 “Gravestone” engagement radar. The 96L6E “Cheese board” early warning and acquisition radar is located less than 100 meters south near an auxiliary vehicle parking area. The S-400’s second 91N6E “Big Bird” acquisition radar was spotted further south. 

The first S-400 battalion set was delivered to Turkey on Friday, July 12, 2019. Russian heavy lifters transported the air defense components directly to Mürted Akinci, an airfield 35 km northwest of Ankara. The rest of Ankara’s 2.5 billion order will be shipped in three installments until the end of the year. The S-400 will likely be permanently stationed near Ankara to provide long-range area air defense for Turkey’s capital. 

Engagement range of Turkey’s first S-400 deployment (T-Intelligence)

What’s the deal with the S-400?

Despite harsh criticism on the part of NATO, Turkey went through with the controversial S-400 purchase from Russia. In response, the United States removed Turkish defense companies from the Joint Strike Fighter program and halted the sale of the F-35 to Ankara. The NATO allies fear that the S-400’s radars may register the F-35’s very low observable (VLO) radar cross section, if Turkey is allowed to field both systems. Russia could then collect this critical intelligence through clandestine means such as malware.

At the moment, Turkey is seriously considering Russian fighter jets as an alternative to the F-35. Last weekend, Turkish President Erdogan met his Russian counterpart at MAKS, an aerospace technology exhibition near Moscow. The two presidents inspected Sukhoi’s recent export-version of the Su-57 stealth multirole fighter (Su-57E). 

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Let the Skyfall: Radioactive Explosion in Russia Likely Connected to SSC-X-9 Missile Test

Russia’s secretive radioactive explosion is linked to the testing of a nuclear-powered unlimited-range cruise missile. 1. On August 8, 2019, around 9 AM local time, an explosion occurred on an…

Russia’s secretive radioactive explosion is linked to the testing of a nuclear-powered unlimited-range cruise missile.


1. On August 8, 2019, around 9 AM local time, an explosion occurred on an offshore platform (vessel or berch) near Nyonoska (Russia), which killed seven people (two servicemen and five Rosatom personnel) and released radiation in the region. As the explosion was caused by an isotope-powered liquid fuel engine, it is virtually certain that a nuclear-powered missile, likely a cruise missile, was being tested or prepared for testing. 

2. We believe that the missile in question is the 9M730 Burevestnik (NATO Reporting name: SSC-X-9 Skyfall). The SSC-X-9 is a nuclear-powered unlimited-range cruise missile that was announced by President Vladimir Putin as one of Russia’s six upcoming strategic weapons on March 1, 2018.

Production line of the SSC-X-9 Skyfall missile via Defence Blog

3. While a revolutionary concept, it is highly unlikely that the Russiann Ministry of Defence and the Russian defence industry possess the funds, technology, and know-how to successfully produce such a system. Given the engineering challenges and safety concerns, no other country has commissioned a kinetic solution with a nuclear-reactor on board. The United States was close to fielding such a design in the early 1960s. Known as Project Pluto, the United States developed a nuclear ramjet engine (Tory) to power a supersonic low-altitude missile (SLAM) capable of carrying multiple warheads. The project was canceled in 1964. However, as the SSC-X-9 was officially announced by President Putin, there is an enormous pressure on the Russian military to produce results. 

4. As nuclear-powered cruise missiles require a liquid fuel booster to bring them to ramjet speed before enabling the reactor, there is a high likelihood of booster failure during the launch phase due to heat exchange and critical mass constraints. This is what likely happened on the morning of August 8, 2019. 

5. According to sources in the U.S. Defence Intelligence Agency, only two of the 13 known SSC-X-9 tests were successful. A partially successfully test took place in Pankovo (Novaya Zemlya) in Russia’s far north island archipelago in November 2017. The test saw the missile flying for a few miles (rumors suggest 35 miles), before crashing into the sea. The SSC-X-9 likely failed to reach ramjet speed and crashed or self-destructed when going off course. Since then, the Russian military has abandoned the Novaya Zemlya testing ground and replicated the SSC-X-9 testing infrastructure in Nyonoksa. Another moderately successful test was conducted on January 29, 2019 in Kapustin Yar. 

GEOINT comparison of Nyonoska vs. Kapustin Yar test sites by T-Intelligence

6. As accurately documented by Jeffrey Lewis and his team from the Middlebury Institute, the Nyonoksa Missile Test Center now hosts a testing pad that contains the same blue “environmental shelter” and launch rail system seen in Novaya Zemlya and Kapustin Yar, the two other locations that hosted SSC-X-9 launches. Operations security, and the objective of denying adversarial MASINT collection in particular, is likely the main reason why the Russians moved the SSC-X-9 testing further inland. 

GEOINT analysis by @@ArmsControlWonk shows layout similarity between the Pank’ovo (Novaya Zemlya) and the Nyonoska test sites.

7. In addition to the identical ground test layout, there is another factor linking the recent explosion near Nyonoksa to the SSC-X-9 project. AIS data shows the presence of a Russian military tug in the White Sea during the August 8 incident. Further research identified the tug as the nuclear-fuel carrier SEREBRYANKA. This radiological service vessel was previously spotted off the Novaya Zemlya coast during the SSC-X-9 test of 2017. The SEREBRYANKA’s task is to collect submerged radioactive material from the sea. 

GEOINT findings and analysis of the August 8 incident by T-Intelligence.

8. Days before the accident, the Russian authorities closed the area to maritime traffic and issued a notice to airmen (NOTAM), concerning a 27,000 square kilometer area between Nyonoksa and Novaya Zemlya. The distance from Nynoksa to the edge of the northern NOTAM area is 1,200 km (650 nautical miles). The NOTAM was in effect from 8 to 11 August, 2019. While NOTAM’s in the area are not a rare occurrence, many defence specialists have argued that the parameters of this airspace closure indicate the testing of a maneuvering missile (i.e. cruise missile) and not a ballistic missile. 

The NOTAMs and maritime traffic ban issued by Russian authorities in connection to the August 8 test and subsequent accident. (source: @ain92ru)

RADIOACTIVE HAZARD

9. Why the Russians ultimately decided to test-fire the SSC-X-9 from an offshore platform, instead of using the purpose-built testing ground in Nyonoksa, is unknown. We believe that safety concerns were among the principle reasons. However, while human loss and infrastructure damage has been minimized, the accident likely polluted the White Sea with radioactive material. Following the explosion, Russian port authorities have issued a no-sail notice covering a 250 square kilometer area off the Nyonoksa coast. The ban on maritime traffic is in effect until September 10, 2019.   

10. Severodvinsk, a city located just 45 km west of Nyonoska, registered a radiation spike of 2 µSv/h (microsievert per minute) between 11:50 AM and 12:30 PM local time on 8 August. This gamma radiation value is nearly 20 times higher than the normal value of 0,11 µSv/h. While such a radiation exposure is still considered safe for the population, inhabitants of Severodvinsk were quick to stock up on iodide tablets, creating a shortage in local pharmacies. The sensors in Severodvinsk reported a gradual decrease in radioactivity around 16:00 PM and a normalization shortly afterwards.

11. The 2 µSv/h value registered in Severodvinsk indicates that the radiation level around Nyonoska was double, if not higher. As Rashid Alimov from Russia’s Green Peace branch stated in the Barents Observer, the high radiation value means that beta and alpha radionuclides were released into the atmosphere. 

12. Radionuclides are radioactive atoms such as uranium, radium and radon, which are particularly hazardous in drinking water. Radionuclide-contaminated drinking water can cause or facilitate life-threatening conditions such as cancer, kidney disease, liver disease, and impairments of the immune system. As radionuclides decay, they emit alpha, beta and gamma particles, which have further harmful effects on humans.   

13. A number of photos that emerged on Twitter and Telegram show chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CRBN) defence units, suited in HAZMAT equipment, securing the accident site and evacuating the wounded. However, the Russian government and local authorities were quick to downplay the incident and claim that there was no danger for the population. 

14. The latest setback is unlikely to halt the SSC-X-9 ‘Skyfall’. While the prospect of an all-reaching, non-stop cruise missile would render existing missile defence technology obsolete, there is no reason to expect the fielding of the SSC-X-9 in the next decade. However, continued work on the program will provide the Kremlin with valuable psychological operations material for both domestic and foreign audiences. 


by HARM

The ‘X’ in the missile’s NATO reporting name stands for ‘experimental’.

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Here’s Where Russia Will Deploy Nuclear-Capable Tu-22M3 Bombers in Crimea (IMINT)

Russia continues the wholesale militarization of the Crimea peninsula with the upcoming deployment of nuclear-capable long-range Tu-22M3 bombers (NATO reporting name: Backfire-C) to Hvardiyske/Gvardeyskoye air base. The airfield’s large aircraft…

Russia continues the wholesale militarization of the Crimea peninsula with the upcoming deployment of nuclear-capable long-range Tu-22M3 bombers (NATO reporting name: Backfire-C) to Hvardiyske/Gvardeyskoye air base. The airfield’s large aircraft revetments and logistics facilities can host at least 20 Backfires. With the Backfire eyed as a future launching platform for the Kinzhal hypersonic aero-ballistic missile, Russia intends to increase pressure on the U.S. Aegis Missile Defense systems (Ashore and Afloat) in Europe.

Hvardiyske/ Gvardeyskoye Air Base IMINT via T-Intelligence based on Digital Globe and Planet Labs imagery


On March 18, Viktor Bondarev, the chairman of the defense and security committee of Russia’s upper parliament house, announced that Moscow will deploy nuclear-capable Tu-22M3/Backfire-C bombers to Crimea in response to the U.S. missile defense systems in Romania.

Over the past years, NATO Enhanced Air Policing fighter jets have intercepted several Backfires over the Black Sea, which simulated mock bombing runs in Romania’s flight information region. Recently, the aircraft also served in Syria as a frontline bomber against unsophisticated ground targets. The Backfire was originally developed for the Soviet Air Force and Navy to prosecute targets – particularly maritime targets like U.S. carrier strike groups – in peripheral-range missions. The internal weapons bay and external pylons can carry up to 24,000 kg of ordnance, including nuclear which makes the Backfire ideal for saturation strikes.

Russia plans to upgrade 30 of the 63 Backfires that are still in service to the advanced M3M variant. The M3M variant will be compatible with new generation ammunition such as the standoff/extreme-range Kh-32 cruise missile, the Kinzhal hypersonic aeroballistic missile, and potentially the 3M22 Zircon (NATO reporting name: SS-N-33) anti-ship hypersonic missile. Live trails of the first M3M commenced in mid 2018.

The Backfire deployment in Crimea will likely take the form a small-scale forward deployment from their home bases in Belaya (Irkutsk) and  Shaykovka (Kaluga). However, our IMINT analysis concludes that – if needed – Hvardiyske/Gvardeyskoye air base could host 20-30 bombers on high-readiness and up to 50 aircraft for storage and maintenance.   

Hvardiyske/Gvardeyskoye is the home base of the 37th Composite Aviation Regiment (CAR), which currently operates the Su-24M and Su-25 (NATO reporting names: Fencer and Frogfoot). 37th CAR Frogfoots were airborne during Russia’s blockade of the Kerch strait in October 2018 and Fencers have harassed U.S. and NATO vessels in the Baltic and Black Seas in the past. The 37th CAR was established as part of the 27th Compose Aviation Division (CAD) in 2014. The 27th CAD also commands the 38th Fighter Aviation Regiment in Belbek, which operates two Su-27P/SM (NATO reporting name: Flanker) squadrons. Like all forces deployed in Crimea, the units are subordinated to Russian’s 4th Air and Air Defense Army (Southern Military District) in Rostov-on-Don.

In response to the Russian plans, Washington deployed six B-52H Stratofortress strategic bombers from the 2nd Bomber Wing to the Royal Air Force base in Fairford on March 14, 2019. During their first major European exercise since 2003, the B-52s conducted theater familiarization flights and enhanced interoperability with NATO partners.


by HARM and Gecko

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Russia Simulates Air Attack on Norwegian Radar

1. Eleven Russian Su-24 tactical bombers (NATO reporting name: “Fencer”) conducted a simulated air attack on a Globus II radar station in Vardø (Norway) on February 14, 2018. The information…

1. Eleven Russian Su-24 tactical bombers (NATO reporting name: “Fencer”) conducted a simulated air attack on a Globus II radar station in Vardø (Norway) on February 14, 2018. The information was released yesterday by Lieutenant General Morten Haga Lunde, the Director of the Norwegian Intelligence Services (NIS). It is unclear whether the Norwegian Royal Air Force (NRAF) scrambled fighter jet interceptors to escort the Russian Fencers out of Norway’s flight information region.

2. The eleven Fencers launched from Monchegorsk Air Base, which hosts the 7000th Air Force Brigade of the Russian Aerospace Forces (RuAF). They egressed the Kola Peninsula and maneuvered towards the northern Norwegian coastline. The Fencers conducted multiple approaches towards the target (Globus II radar station) before returning home.

The RuAF Fencers’ flight path of the simulated air strike on February 14, 2018 based on NIS graph via T-Intelligence

3. The Globus II radar station (previously AN/FPS 129 FARE EYES) was developed by the United States in Vandenberg Air Base (California) and later moved to Norway, where is it operated by the NIS. The radar serves as part of a 29-sensor Space Surveillance Network (SSN) of the United States Strategic Command. The Globus II is an X-band radar, which is able to monitor, catalogue and track objects in the geosynchronous orbit. Russia claims that the Globus II radar is also capable of providing key telemetry for the U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) program, including targeting data for Aegis-capable destroyers.

4. Russia has simulated airborne kinetic strikes on the Globus II site in the past and has positioned the 9k720 Iskander-M (NATO reporting name: SS-26 “Stone”) short-range ballistic missile system 20 kilometers from Vardø in 2017. In 2018, Russia launched a massive electronic attack (EA) that disrupted Norway’s GPS signal during the NATO Trident Juncture exercise. Russia has also threatened strikes against other alleged and actual ballistic missiles defense radars in Europe, most recently on the U.S.-operated Aegis Ashore in Deveselu, Romania.


By HARM and Gecko

The cover photo is an original rendering 

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Russian “Kinzhal” Hypersonic Missile and MiG31Ks still at Flight Test Center (IMINT)

1. Satellite imagery shows several Kh-47 “Kinzhal” hypersonic aeroballistic missiles (NATO reporting name unavailable) next to Russian Aerospace Forces (RuAF) MiG-31K fighter jets (NATO reporting name: “Foxhound”) on the apron…

1. Satellite imagery shows several Kh-47 “Kinzhal” hypersonic aeroballistic missiles (NATO reporting name unavailable) next to Russian Aerospace Forces (RuAF) MiG-31K fighter jets (NATO reporting name: “Foxhound”) on the apron of the RuAF’s 929th State Flight Test Center (STFTC) in Akhtubinsk, Astrakhan oblast (Russia). The Kinzhals appear on Digital Globe images dating from September 3, September 6, September 22, October 16, and November 1, 2018. The discovery was made by Twitter user @reutersanders on February 10, 2019.

IMINT compiled by T-Intelligence showing Kinzhal near MiG-31Ks via Digital Globe

2. The Kh-47 Kinzhal is a modified version of the notorious 9K720 “Iskander” short-range ballistic missile (NATO reporting name: SS-26 “Stone”). With a claimed operational range of 2,000 km and Mach 10 speed, the Kinzhal is a very-long range standoff weapon, built to engage surface and maritime targets without entering adversarial airspace.  

Digital Globe image analysis via T-Intelligence

3. The MiG-31K (“Foxhound”) is Russia’s only fighter aircraft that is modified to carry and launch the Kinzhal. However, only a limited number (10-16 aircraft) are currently Kinzhal-capable. Russia claims that the Kinzhal has been successfully tested several times, since experimental combat duty commenced in the Southern Military District in December 2017. A squadron of 12 to 16 MiG-31Ks armed with Kinzhal missiles reportedly entered combat duty in April 2018. In addition, Russia is also modernizing the Tupolev Tu-22M3M bombers (NATO reporting name: “Backfire”) to carry up to four Kinzhal missiles. Tu-22M3M-launched Kinzhals could potentially have an extended range of 3,000 km.

4. According to official statements, the special purpose MiG-31Ks have conducted more than 89 Kinhzal-armed patrols over the Caspian and Black Seas. Media reports and Digital Globe’s satellite imagery confirm that the squadron is based at the RuAF’s 929th State Flight Test Center (STFTC) in Akhtubinsk. The Digital Forensic Research Lab has geolocated a MiG-31K Kinzhal test, which tool place on March 10, 2018 at the 929th STFTC.

5. Recent satellite imagery suggests that the MiG-31Ks are still at the 929th STFTC in February 2019. The fact that the aircrafts are still located at a test center and not deployed to an operational air base, almost one year after the Russian government announced the operationalization of the Kinzhal-capable MiG-31K squadron, could indicate that the development of Russia’s aeroballistic hypersonic missile project is moving slower than Moscow tries to suggest.

6. Overall, Russia’s new hypersonic kinetic capabilities should be taken with a grain of salt. Due to budgetary constraints, the Kinzhal will likely not enter into serial production anytime soon.


By HARM and Gecko

DISCLAIMER: Image analysis shows a very high similarity between the missiles at the 929th STFTC and the Kinzhal aeroballistic missile. There is however a remote chance that the missiles are dummies (inflatable structures or non-functional missiles) that were placed on the apron deliberately in order to deceive adversarial intelligence efforts.

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