Category: Regions

This is How Iran Bombed Saudi Arabia [PRELIMINARY ASSESSMENT]

American and Saudi investigators have concluded that the air attack on the Abqaiq and Khurais petrochemical facilities originated directly from Iran – not Yemen or Iraq – sources say.  The…

American and Saudi investigators have concluded that the air attack on the Abqaiq and Khurais petrochemical facilities originated directly from Iran – not Yemen or Iraq – sources say

The cruise missile and/or drone attack was likely staged from Iran’s Khuzestan province. As unidentified flying objects (UFOs) were spotted in Kuwait just before the attack, the kinetic platforms likely avoided the Persian Gulf, which is heavily monitored by the US Navy, and exploited a gap in Saudi Arabia’s SAM deployments. As PATRIOT radars (MPQ-53/65) have a 120 degree coverage (not 360 degrees), they were likely pointed towards the southwest and east to cover threats from Yemen and the Persian Gulf, leaving the northern approach largely exposed. When the (presumed) low-flying, slow moving and small RCS (radar cross-section) kinetic platforms entered “denied airspace” at the envelope edge of Saudi air defense systems, it was too late for the PATRIOTs detect the threat and react. 

Hypothetical path of Iranian air attack on Saudi oil facilities, visualized by T-Intelligence.

Even if the MPQ-53/65 radars were pointed northwards, the PATRIOT is inadequate to intercept small drones and tactical missiles, as it is primarily an anti-aircraft and (secondary) ballistic missile defense system. Modern short-range air defense systems (V/SHORAD) are the adequate aerial defense assets for such threats, preferably aided by networked sensors and including airborne coverage from AWACS planes. While the Shahine and Skyguard SHORAD systems were guarding Abqaiq, they have a 20 km engagement range against normal sized aircraft. As the Iranian kinetic “package” consisted of low-observable munition, the engagement range was much less shorter. Alternatively, the “package’s” terrain-hugging flight profile could have masked it with the “ground clutter” or its slow speed would have filtered it out on the radar doppler. However, Saturday’s attack was as much an air defense error as it was an intelligence failure. 

As Washington and Ryad disagree on how to retaliate against Iran, an official joint announcement blaming the IRGC for the attack has been repeatedly postponed. President Donald Trump is engaged in a re-election campaign and knows that the US public would not support a new conflict or military action in the Middle East. Therefore the White House opposes the US military spearheading a kinetic retribution against Iran. This leaves Saudi Arabia to either form a coalition of the willing with other Gulf states, an exhaustive and unlikely endeavour, or to act alone, which is not an option for the monarchy.



With the critical 72-hour time window for retaliation closed, it is possible that Iran might walk away unsanctioned for the “war-opening” attack on Abqaiq and Khurais. Absent red-lines, Tehran will potentially feel emboldened to prosecute other strategic targets, such as Saudi desalination plants or US bases in the Middle East. 


UPDATE September 19, 2019 – Saudi officials have showcased the wreckage recovered from the Abqaiq and Khurais attacks, confirming that the air attack was conducted by Iranian Delta Wing drones and cruise missiles. US Intelligence sources also confirmed that the attack was mounted from Iran’s southwestern Khuzestan province and that the weapons were programmed to avoid the Persian Gulf. 

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[UPDATED] Saudis To Retaliate After Iranian-Backed Drone Attack

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has announced that it is devising retaliation plans for the drone attacks on its oil refineries, which have been claimed by the Iranian-backed Houthi militants…

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has announced that it is devising retaliation plans for the drone attacks on its oil refineries, which have been claimed by the Iranian-backed Houthi militants in Yemen. In a call with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman on Saturday, United States President Donald Trump offered support for Saudi self-defense. 

According to the Houthis, the dawn attack on Saturday was carried out by ten unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) launched from Yemen and targeted the Aramco oil facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais. The largescale attack caused major explosions and forced Aramco to cease production at the two facilities. With oil production suspended, Aramco lost halfof its crude output (5.7 million barrels per day), leading to a five percent reduction in global oil supply. 

As Saudi Arabia produces around 9.85 million barrels of oil per day, the supply reduction has caused concerns on the global energy markets. Energy experts warn that the recent attack could lead to a slight surge in oil prices. The Saudi Energy Ministry has nevertheless assured that the disruption will be offset by supplies from Saudi inventories. The attack represents a serious blow for Aramco, since the company is currently preparing its stock market debut and international listing.  

Abqaiq is pivotal for Saudi energy operations, as the facility processes crude oil from the world’s largest oil field (Ghawar) and redirects it to the world’s biggest offshore oil loading facility (Ras Tanura) and to export terminals on the Red Sea coast. Khurais, the other target, is Saudi Arabia’s second largest oil field, which is responsible for the production of over 1 million barrels of oil per day. 

While the Houthis have been conducting attacks on Saudi energy infrastructure for months and have made extensive use of Iranian supplied missiles and UAVs, their claim to the recent attack is disputed by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as well as many open-source intelligence analysts, who point towards Iraq instead. Photos on social media allegedly show the remains of an Iranian-made Quds-1 or Soumar cruise missile on Saudi soil. Analysts believe the missile was launched from southern Iraq due to its proximity to the two Saudi installations. Other sources claim that a UAV violated Kuwaiti airspace on Saturday and loitered around 250 meters above the Dar Salwa presidential palace.

The Iraqi government was quick to deny that its territory was used to attack the Saudi installations. However, this would not be the first attack on the Kingdom that was launched from Iraq. US intelligence has, for example, found that a UAV raid on a Saudi pipeline on May 14, 2019 was launched from Iraq instead of Yemen. Iraq hosts a myriad of Shiite militias, which are trained, sponsored, and coordinated by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Force (IRGC).

Regardless where the attack originated, Iran remains the shadow culprit. The attack on the Aramco oil facilities will likely set the peace negotiations between the Arab Coalition and the Houthis back and further escalate the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran. While the US remains committed to Saudi security, the Trump administration does not seem willing to retaliate on behalf of Riyadh. Instead, the White House has provided strong political support and military aid to Saudi forces to take matters into their own hands.

The Saudis could either re-intensify the air campaign against Houthi targets in Yemen, conduct covert operations against IRGC-backed elements in Iraq, or directly prosecute Iranian offshore oil facilities in the Persian Gulf.


Read our update on the developing situation

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Released Iranian Oil Tanker Spotted in Syria

The Iranian very large crude carrier (VLCC) M/T Adrian Darya-1 was spotted anchoring off the Syrian coast. The oil tanker, previously known as “Grace-1,” was seized by British Royal Marines…

The Iranian very large crude carrier (VLCC) M/T Adrian Darya-1 was spotted anchoring off the Syrian coast. The oil tanker, previously known as “Grace-1,” was seized by British Royal Marines in July, as it was suspected of breaching EU sanctions by transporting oil to the Syrian regime. Panama, the Grace-1’s flag country, deleted the tanker from its shipping registry and banned the vessel from using the Panamese flag. 

Gibraltar released the Iranian vessel on August 15, after receiving written guarantees from the Iranian government that the ship would not discharge its 2.1 million barrels of oil in Syria. The tanker was renamed “Adrian Darya” and took the flag of its real patron, Iran. While the Adrian Darya did not conduct a port call in Tartus, the vessel’s close proximity to the coast suggests that it unloaded or will unload oil via a ship-to-ship transfers. The Adrian-Darya deactivated its AIS on September 2. The United States has warned that any group assisting the Iranian Guard Corps’ oil smuggling operations will be prosecuted. 

Iran has yet to release the British oil tanker that it captured in retaliation for the seizure of the Grace-1 in July. 


Photo credits Maxar Technologies 2019/ Handout via Reuters

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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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US Bombs Al-Qaida meeting in Idlib, Dozens Killed

Open-source reports claim that the United States conducted an airstrike in Idlib province (Syria) on August 31, 2019. The operation targeted a building near Kafarya village (south of Ma’arrat Misrin),…

Open-source reports claim that the United States conducted an airstrike in Idlib province (Syria) on August 31, 2019. The operation targeted a building near Kafarya village (south of Ma’arrat Misrin), in which the leadership of an al-Qai’da (AQ) affiliated group conducted a meeting. Images and videos shared on social media confirm the attack. It is believed that more than 40 militants were killed in the attack. 


The United States Central Command confirmed the rumors and issued the following statement:

“U.S. Forces conducted a strike against al-Qaida in Syria (AQ-S) leadership at a facility north of Idlib, Syria, Aug. 31, 2019. This operation targeted AQ-S leaders responsible for attacks threatening U.S. citizens, our partners, and innocent civilians. Additionally, the removal of this facility will further degrade their ability to conduct future attacks and destabilize the region. Northwest Syria remains a safe haven where AQ-S leaders actively coordinate terrorist activities throughout the region and in the West. With our allies and partners, we will continue to target violent extremists to prevent them from using Syria as a safe haven.”

The targeted militant group targeted is likely Tanzim Huraas al-Din (Arabic for “Guardians of the Religion”). The group of die-hard salafi-jihadists separated from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), after the latter publically broke ties with AQ’s central leadership. Alternatively, the operation may have targeted Huraas al-Din’s allies of the “Ghurfat Eamaliat wa-Harid al-Mu’minin” coalition (Arabic for “Rouse the Believers”). The United States has prosecuted Huraas al-Din before. Two month ago, a United States missile strike broke up a senior leadership gathering in Western Aleppo.

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Iranian Space Launch Fails Again and the CIA Was Watching

On August 29, 2019, Iran failed to launch a satellite, as the “Safir” space launch vehicle (SLV) exploded at Semnan Launch Site One. Commercial satellite imagery published by Planet and…

On August 29, 2019, Iran failed to launch a satellite, as the “Safir” space launch vehicle (SLV) exploded at Semnan Launch Site One. Commercial satellite imagery published by Planet and Maxar Technologies confirms an explosion on the launch pad. The Iranian government only admits to the “loss of a satellite” and has not addressed the explosion. 

The August 29 incident marks the third launch failure of the Iranian Space Agency this year. During a launch attempt in January, Iran lost a “Simorgh” rocket, followed by the explosion of another “Safir” SLV in February. Earlier this month, satellite images confirmed that the Imam Khomeini Space Port (part of the Semnan Launch Site) received a fresh paint job, leading analysts to believe that a new launch is imminent. 

President Donald J. Trump mocked the Iranian failure on Twitter and shared declassified geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) of the wreckage site. Critics claim that Trump’s tweet may have leaked a previously unknown deep-look capability of US spatial assets or revealed a clandestine flyover by a US aircraft. 

As Iran has significantly improved its air sensor network and aerial defense capabilities, it is unlikely that the US would risk losing another unmanned aerial vehicle. Recently, Iran unveiled a new foreign-inspired long-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) system (“Bavar 373”), which was tested near the Semnan Launch Site. The Bavar 373 was likely deployed to provide area air defense for the formerly undefended space facility. The US’ very high resolution GEOINT was therefore likely collected by either a low-Earth orbit satellite or the U-2 spy plane “Dragon Lady”. Defense journalist Babak Taghvaee has pointed towards the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) KH-12 Block IV as Trump’s “eye in the sky.” 

Why is the US Intelligence community interested in Iran’s space program? 

As SLV technology is interchangeable with ballistic missiles, there are concerns that Iran’s space program is intended to increase the range of Iran’s ballistic missiles. Classified sources indicate that the first stage of the ill-fated “Safir” SLV is based on Iran’s “Shahab 3” medium range ballistic missile (MRBM). The same sources suggest that the SLV’s second stage is inspired by a North Korean variation of the Soviet-made R-27 (NATO Reporting name SS-N-6), which Iran acquired from Pyongyang.

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Analysis of Iran’s Bavar 373 SAM: Indigenous Design or S-300 Copycat?

On August 21, 2019, the Iranian Defense Ministry revealed the “Bavar 373” long-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) system, claiming that both design and production are completely indigenous. Iranian President Rouhani and…

On August 21, 2019, the Iranian Defense Ministry revealed the “Bavar 373” long-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) system, claiming that both design and production are completely indigenous. Iranian President Rouhani and Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Commander Hossein Salami were present at the unveiling.  


The Bavar 373 solves two problems for Iran, one military and one of political nature. On the one hand, the Bavar will augment Iran’s small inventory of long-range SAMs, providing much needed coverage for the undefended sections of Iran’s airspace. Tehran hopes that the Bavar 373 will have a deterrent effect, raising the costs of foreign military attacks. On the other hand, the indigenous system renders Iran independent from foreign technology, a lesson that Tehran learned the hard away when Russia stalled the sale of the S-300PMU2 (NATO Reporting name SA-20B Gargoyle) from 2007 to 2011 due to US sanctions. 

Bavar 373 Battalion Set: 

  • 6 x tractor erector launchers (TEL). Each TEL consists of four SAM canisters towed by a 10×10  “Zoljanah” truck. 
  • Undesignated active electronically scanned array (AESA) engagement radar, likely operating in X-band frequencies. 
  • Undesignated AESA acquisition radar, likely operating in S-band frequencies. The 8×8 “Zafar” truck serves as the radars’ transportable electronics tower (TET). 
  • Command & control unit, towed by an 8×8 “Zafar” truck. 

Bavar 373 Performance and Specifications (according to the Iranian Defense Ministry):

  • Maximum search range: 320km
  • Maximum tracking range: 260km
  • Maximum Interception range: +200km
  • Maximum Interception altitude: 27km
  • Number of tracking and engagement targets: 300 and 6 targets

TECHNICAL EVALUATION:

Contrary to critics, who have labelled the Bavar 373 an S-300 copycat, Tehran claims that the system is an original design. All officials speaking at the August 21 unveiling emphasized this fact and claimed that the Bavar 373 is superior to the S-300. While the Bavar 373 does indeed feature original elements and was produced by Iranian defence contractors, the system’s development would have been impossible without foreign technology. The Bavar 373’s dual-band sensor suite seems to be the system’s most valuable asset. The originality of the Bavar’s TEL and the claimed operational performance of the Sayyad-4 SAM are nevertheless disputable. 

HOT VERTICAL LAUNCH/SQUARE CANISTERS. While the Bavar is widely believed to be a S-300PMU2-inspired design, the system’s rectangular launch tubes more closely resemble the M901 launcher unit of the Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC)-2 configuration. Like the Patriot, the Bavar 373 uses a hot launch technique instead of the cold ejection typical for Russian SAM launchers.

CLOSE UP: PAC-2 M901 launching station vs. Bavar 373

The S-300PMU2 uses gas to eject the SAM from a round cylinder, before the missile fires its thrusters. As the demonstration on August 21 showed, the Bavar’s Sayyad-4 powers its rocket engine inside the tube. The Bavar does, however, bear similarity with the S-300 when it comes to the full vertical launch position. In contrast, the American M901 fires from a 70 degree angle, a design feature copied by another Iran air defence system (Talash). 

COMPARISON: S-300PMU2 TEL vs. Bavar 373 vs. PAC-2 M901 Launching station

SENSOR SUITE. For the public demonstration, the Bavar 373 was augmented by two AESA radars, one engagement and one acquisition radar. This configuration is similar to the Russian S-300. The MIM-140 Patriot uses only one radar. Both of the Iranian radars are unique in their design and show little to no similarity with their American or Russian counterparts. it is possible that Iran’s decade-long effort to develop AESA radars has finally paid off. Due to the AESA’s frequency-agility and low-probability of intercept, the Bavar’s radars are – at least in theory – highly resilient to jamming and anti-radiation missiles.  

The Iranian defense company Iran Electronics Industries has previously listed the Meraj-4 sensor as part of the Bavar 373. In the public demonstration of the Bavar, the Meraj-4 did however not feature. The Meraj-4 is a road-mobile S-band early warning 3D AESA radar. The manufacturer claims that is has a 400-500 km detection envelope, a 200 km tracking range, and a 360-degree azimuth. The Meraj-4 design shows undeniable resemblance to the Chinese-made JYL-1, a long-range S-band 3D air surveillance radar that has nearly identical specifications.  While the Meraj-4 was spotted as a road-mobile version, it is likely an element of Iran’s integrated air defence network rather than a permanent subsystem of the Bavar 373. 

COMPARISON: Meraj 4 (Iran) vs. JYL-1 (China)

MULTI-MISSION. The Bavar’s diverse sensor and kinetic solutions will enable the Iranian air defence units to conduct both anti-aircraft and missile defence missions. The Sayyad-4, in particular, was developed to intercept large radar-cross section targets at the engagement envelope edge, e.g. ballistic missiles in lower endo-atmospheric space. However, doubts remain whether the Sayyad-4 has the manoeuvring capability to prosecute evasive ballistic missiles in their terminal phase. The Sayyad-4’s demonstrated thrust vectoring control is only used for initial trajectory alignment. 

Bavar 373 live test compilation based on official footage.

Iran’s Sayyad SAM series is based on the US-made Standard Missile 1 (RIM-66) naval SAM acquired by the Imperial Iranian Navy prior to the 1979 Revolution. However, the Sayyad-4 is double in size compared to its predecessor and bears resemblance with the Russian long-range Fakel 48N6E/E2 SAM. 

COMPARISON: Sayyad 4 vs. Sayyad 2 and 3 vs. SM-1

VALIDATION AND SUSTAINABILITY. The recent downing of a RQ-4 Global Hawk drone by the Iranian Khordad the 3rdSystem (similar to the Russian Buk-M2) has validated Iran’s research and development efforts in air defence technology. Building a dual-band long-range SAM system based on multiple foreign sources is nevertheless significantly more complex than replicating short- and mid-range legacy systems. The Bavar 373 still has to prove its performance in actual engagements and deployments. 

Remote sensing operations using geospatial imagery will reveal in time how confident the Iranian Armed Forces are of the system’s performance. If the confidence level is high, the Bavar will likely be deployed as a solo long-range air defense asset for the poorly defended airspace in the east and south (protected by Khordad the 3rd or Talash mid-range SAMs for point air defence). If the system is deemed unreliable, it will likely supplement existing S-200 and S-300 deployments.   

It took Iran more than 10 years of design flops, development limbo, and dire financial conditions to produce the Bavar 373. There is no information on how many systems exist and will be produced. It is also unknown whether Iran is even able to mass-produce the system and maintain it. As the country remains under though political and economic pressure from the international community, Tehran frequently exaggerates its military capabilities for foreign policy and deterrence reasons.


by HARM and Gecko

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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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Haftar Goes After Tripoli, US AFRICOM evacs forces

On April 7, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) partially evacuated its military forces from Tripoli due do the deteriorating security situation in Libya. The AFRICOM personnel, tasked with supporting the U.S….

On April 7, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) partially evacuated its military forces from Tripoli due do the deteriorating security situation in Libya.

  • The AFRICOM personnel, tasked with supporting the U.S. diplomatic mission and counterterrorism efforts, was extracted by a U.S. Navy Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) hovercraft from the beach of Janzour (15 km west of Tripoli). The LCAC dispatched from one of the U.S. Navy assets operating in AFRICOM’s area of responsibility – likely the San Antonio-class USS Arlington amphibious transport dock, which was last reported near Carthage on March 24. The evacuated personnel was transported to Catania, Italy.

  • The drawdown of U.S. forces also seems to include special operations units and intelligence personnel based in covert facilities throughout Libya. CIA-affiliated private airlines such as Tepper Aviation – likely tasked with extracting personnel – conducted several flights to Libya in the past 36 hours. On April 7, a Special Operations Command (SOCOM) Beech B300 King Air was tracked on ADS-B exchange while conducting sorties over Misrata, likely providing ISR for an ongoing evacuation. Misrata airfield is the main covert facility used by the U.S. and allies in Libya and the largest air base of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accords (GNA). The evacuation of U.S. personnel from Misrata has become necessary, as the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) under Haftar has recently announced plans to capture the city and establish a no-fly zone over western Libya.  

RECENT ESCALATION

After capturing the former Tripoli Airport on Sunday, the LNA is advancing towards Tripoli’s southern outskirts. Tripoli is currently controlled by the U.N.-recognized GNA which encompasses a myriad of militias, including Islamists. Haftar is in close contact with Russia and receives covert military support from Egypt, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and potentially the United Arab Emirates. As the LNA and GNA are preparing for a head-on confrontation over Tripoli and potentially Misrata, both sides are mobilizing their anti-surface and counter-air assets to support operations.

HAFTAR’S NO FLY ZONE

Despite their threats of a no-fly zone, Haftar’s forces are unable to conduct air interdiction operations (neither airborne nor ground-based) against advanced adversaries such as the U.S., the U.K., Italy or France. However, the LNA’s air capabilities are slightly superior to the GNA. Haftar’s small aviation is able to conduct tactical air strikes at a higher pace than its Tripoli-foe and has the potential to engage in interceptions. Overall, both sides suffer from a severe lack of trained personnel, spare parts and logistical support, limiting their anti-surface an anti-air assets to low-intensity engagements.

  • The LNA’s air inventory consists of two Mirage F-1, twelve MiG-21MF (NATO reporting name: Fishbed-J), three MiG-23ML (Flogger), and one Su-22 fighter bomber (Fitter). It is believed that the vast majority of the LNA’s aircraft are serviceable due to repair and maintenance support provided by Egypt and the UAE. The LNA also fields several ZPU-2 and ZU-33-2 anti-aircraft artillery and Soviet-made shoulder-mounted man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS).
  • In contrast, the GNA operates two MiG-23ML (Flogger), one MiG-25 (Foxbat), five G-2 Galeb, thirteen L-39ZO Albatros fighter jets, eight Mi-24 and three Mi-35 attack helicopters (Hind and Hind-D). The Czechoslovak-made L-39ZO Albatros light aircraft serve as the GNA’s main attack aircraft, as the fleet has been repaired by Ukrainian specialists and undergone trainer-to-fighter conversion. Despite these limitations, the GNA is still able to neutralized “easy” targets (e.g. vehicle columns and exposed infantry units) of the “Islamic State” and LNA. In terms of anti-air systems, the GNA has one 2K12 Kub (NATO reporting name: SA-6 Gainful), which was recently declared operational and is believed to still house a few S-125 (SA-3) surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems.

  • Anti-surface operations are already underway. Recently, the GNA reportedly struck an LNA convoy near Garyan (90 km south of Tripoli). On April 8, an LNA MiG-21 bombed the runway of Mitiga Airport, near Tripoli. Furthermore, both sides have mobilized their SA-6 SAMs. However, there is no indication to whether those systems are operational. 

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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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