February 06, 2019

2019-01-26: NORAD intercepted two RuAF long range aviation Tu-160 bombers over the Arctic.

Two Tu-160 "Blackjacks" Photo Credit: Unknown
(2019-02-08 edit added at the bottom)
On January 26th 2019 Russian Air Force Tu-160 bombers took a spin around the Arctic and drew out a welcoming party of two F-22s and two CF-188s; NORAD announced the incursion into their self-assigned "Air Defence Identification Zone" or ADIZ for short. The ADIZ is international airspace, but serves as a buffer where unidentified or suspect planes are intercepted, to make sure they don't get too close to Canada or the United States in case they have hostile intentions. While too close is subjective and the ADIZ arbitrary, potential hostile aircraft should be intercepted before they are within sovereign airspace, which only extends 12 nautical miles out to sea.

These intercepts happen routinely, anywhere from none, to fifteen times in a year
(per official NORAD numbers between 2007 and 2016 (incl.))

Here is NORAD's initial tweet from Saturday January 26th, 2019:

Subsequently, on Monday, January 28th 2019, NORAD issued this longer statement:
An E-3 Airborne Early Warning and Control System, two F-22 and two CF-18 fighter jets from the North American Aerospace Defense Command positively identified two Russian Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bombers entering the Canadian Air Defense Identification Zone on January 26, 2019.
NORAD employs a layered defense network of radars, satellites, and fighter aircraft to identify aircraft and determine the appropriate response. The identification and monitoring of aircraft entering a US or Canadian ADIZ demonstrates how NORAD executes its aerospace warning and aerospace control missions for the United States and Canada.
“NORAD’s top priority is defending Canada and the United States. Our ability to protect our nations starts with successfully detecting, tracking, and positively identifying aircraft of interest approaching U.S. and Canadian airspace,” said General Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, the NORAD Commander. “NORAD is on alert 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.”
Operation NOBLE EAGLE is the name given to the military response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and applies to all air sovereignty and air defense missions in North America. NORAD is a binational command focused on the defense of both the U.S. and Canada, the response to potential aerospace threats does not distinguish between the two nations, and draws on forces from both countries. -NORAD Public Affairs (source)

FACTS


Here is a summary of the facts, derived from the original text displayed above, which you won't see on Fox, VOA, or Axios. These are the facts conveyed by NORAD themselves. Anything beyond the above details you just read came from somewhere other than two public official NORAD statements; one Saturday (Twitter), and one Monday posted to the NORAD web site. Did the journalists speak with NORAD? Did they say so? Did they cite their source? If not, they may have made it up, or maybe their editor made it up. Call them out for it.
  • The Russian planes were in the ADIZ
  • (at least) 5 NORAD planes were involved
    • 2x USAF F-22 Raptors 
    • 2x RCAF CF-188 Hornets, and 
    • 1x E-3 Sentry (aka AWACS)
  • 2 RuAF planes were "Positively identified" by NORAD; which suggests they intercepted, then flew alongside the RuAF Tu-160s, which were always in international airspace, for a period of time, until they were satisfied they were not a threat. However, I'm extrapolating my understanding from what little they said.

To Recap:
  • 2 RuAF Tu-160s were "positively identified" in the ADIZ by 4 NORAD fighters.
That is the whole story.

SPECULATION

  • Additional USAF refuelling aircraft were likely providing gas to NORAD thirsty travellers, but that is unconfirmed. 
  • It is unlikely all four planes were escorting the Tu-160s the entire time. There would likely have been a "hand off" from one pair to the other at some point.

FALSEHOODS

  • "Russian bombers buzz North American coastline" was coined by Lucas Tomlinson (@LucasFoxNews) and Fox News producers. I can't say that a NORAD person never said those words to Lucas and his editor/producer, nor does Lucas claim they did, or quote them - someone editorialized what NORAD said. However, the statement is unlike anything I've ever heard from anyone at NORAD I've ever spoken to. "Buzzed" would imply proximity to the shore or "coast". NORAD's statement specifically said they had not entered sovereign airspace, which extends 12 Nautical Miles from shore; so factually, citing NORAD, I can tell you they were not "Buzzing" the coast, and that Fox has deliberately mis-characterized the flight for the sake of sensationalist reporting; for propaganda even.
    https://www.foxnews.com/world/russian-bombers-buzz-north-american-coastline
  • Unfortunately, other media outlets and bloggers jumped on this "coast" narrative and made it the news of the day, regardless of the facts. I hope journalists and editors realize they were used by partisan politics in propagandizing the routine flight in international airspace and will be more wary next time, but have little hope that will be the case.

RUSSIAN VS NORAD STRATEGIC COMMUNICATION:


~4 hours before NORAD tweeted about the intercept, the Russian Military TV Channel "Star" broadcast the Tu-160 story, from their point of view.

Saturday
(2019-01-26 16:48 Moscow (13:48Z)
"Два стратегических ракетоносца Ту-160 выполнили плановый полет в воздушном пространстве над нейтральными водами акваторий Северного Ледовитого океана, Баренцева, Лаптевых и Карского морей.
Продолжительность полета составила более 15 часов. В ходе полета экипажи Ту-160 отработали дозаправку топливом в воздухе."
or, Google Translated...
"Two strategic missile carriers Tu-160 performed a planned flight in airspace over the neutral waters of the Arctic Ocean, the Barents, Laptev and Kara seas.
The flight duration was more than 15 hours. During the flight, the crews of the Tu-160 worked refueling in the air."
https://tvzvezda.ru/news/forces/content/201901261648-gd93.htm

2019-01-26 19:40 Moscow (16:40Z)
"Плановый полет прошел над нейтральными водами акваторий Северного Ледовитого океана, моря Лаптевых, а также Баренцева и Карского морей."
or
"The scheduled flight took place over the neutral waters of the Arctic Ocean, Laptev Sea, and the Barents and Kara Seas."
https://tvzvezda.ru/news/forces/content/201901261936-by3o.htm

2019-01-26 12:40 EST (17:40Z) NORAD releases statement via Twitter
"An E-3 AWACS, 2x F-22, 2x CF-18 fighter jets from NORAD positively identified 2x Russian Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bombers entering the Canadian Air Defense Identification Zone on January 26, 2019. Bombers remained in international airspace and did not enter sovereign territory"

2019-01-26 23:59 Moscow (20:59Z)
«Полет был для нас более обычным и привычным. 16 часов – это не максимум, который мы летали»
or
“The flight was more ordinary and familiar to us. 16 hours is not the maximum that (we've flown)” -Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Zheludkov, RuAF
https://tvzvezda.ru/news/forces/content/201901270001-dnlk.htm

Sunday
2019-01-27 03:59 Moscow (00:59Z)
"Опубликованы кадры ночной дозаправки Ту-160 над водами Арктики"
or
"(Zvezda) Published footage (of) night refueling of the Tu-160 over the waters of the Arctic"
https://tvzvezda.ru/news/forces/content/201901270401-u447.htm

2019-01-27 04:44 Moscow (01:44Z)
"Пять военных самолетов США и Канады подняли по тревоге из-за Ту-160"
or
"Five military aircraft of the United States and Canada raised the alarm because of the Tu-160"
https://tvzvezda.ru/news/vstrane_i_mire/content/201901270444-ly6v.htm

Whereas TV Zvezda is the Russian military TV network, and usually provides original Russian-sourced information, Sputnik usually mirrors what is being broadcast in the United States with an alternative view from a Russian angle (mileage may vary); take this post which could have referred to Russian sources, but instead reported on American sources in English, and added what sort of weapons loadout they could have (not what weapons they *did* have, because all indicators point to the plane being empty).

2019-01-27 11:07 Moscow (08:07Z)
US, Canadian Jets ‘Identified’ Russian Bombers in Airspace Near Canada - NORAD
https://sputniknews.com/world/201901271071857898-us-canada-tu-160/

Monday
2019-01-28 Zulu
"An E-3 Airborne Early Warning and Control System, two F-22 and two CF-18 fighter jets from the North American Aerospace Defense Command positively identified two Russian Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bombers entering the Canadian Air Defense Identification Zone on January 26, 2019."
http://www.norad.mil/Newsroom/Press-Releases/Article/1741730/norad-identified-russian-aircraft-entering-canadian-air-defense-identification/


I think it's quite possible they intentionally schedule the flight when they expected the least response from NORAD Public Affairs and he public; my impression is these get more coverage on weekdays rather than weekends. I could be wrong.

WHAT? NO MAP?

Unfortunately, unlike the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces who post a summary of Russian air movements in their air-defence zone, NORAD does not give us any context where the flights took place. This obfuscation is said to be for "Operational Security" reasons, but I don't quite understand that, since we're referring to Russian planes who know they were intercepted.

Japanese Joint Chiefs of Staff Press Release (via Twitter) including map of Russian operations near Japan; you've never seen anything like this issued by NORAD because they've never done so.



I can't see why NORAD would seem to feel releasing the above Japanese-style map would compromise national security, but it would greatly improve the understanding of NORAD operations for the public at large, and neuter any attempts at disinformation efforts that would portray the event as something more than it was.

FINE, HERE'S AN UGLY MAP

This is a screenshot of OpenStreetMaps which shows you the 12 nautical mile limit as a thin purple line. Please note that between the coast of Russia, and the line; that's Russian airspace. Between the Alaskan coast and the purple line; that's American airspace. That's all of it; 12 Nautical Miles. It's not very far at all, especially by plane.

Here we have an FAA-data driven Google Earth image showing the ADIZ. If a Russian Air Force plane flies through the green zone shown below, NORAD may send an interceptor to say Hi. They might not. The idea is to keep the Russians guessing regarding when and where they are detected by coastal radar or other national technical means. Did they, or didn't they see them flying by? You'll notice that the ADIZ is mostly over international waters, which is where you'd need to be to intercept a Russian bomber, before it unloads ALCMs at CONUS; that's the idea anyway.

Most of the time people do not see the earth from the top, and do not appreciate that Russia is just on the other side of the pole. I believe people know they are there, on the other side, but just never see what that means, like this, over the top - withe the ADIZ in green:



Exactly where the Tu-160 took off from and landed was not published, but they did say they travelled over the Arctic, Laptev, Barents, and Kara Sea - and always in international airspace; which is easy to do, since it's all international airspace past 12 nautical miles from shore.

I can hope that someone at NORAD sees my butchery of Google Earth maps / the ADIZ and demands they publish better maps so they never have to be subjected to my graphics "prowess" again.

THERE'S VIDEO?


Unfortunately Lieutenant-General Sergey Kobylash, the commander of long-range aviation of the RuAF isn't a Twitter guy, so I don't think I'll be able to ask him any specifics on the mission, but here are the videos they published of the flight (the same flight) as NORAD announced. You may not be aware, but NORAD has no obligation to Canadians or Americans to tell us every time they perform one of these interceptions; they only release the information if the Russians publish something about it, or if someone at the Pentagon leaks it to the press, forcing their hand.

As an aside; it sure would be nice to get 1080p or 4k NORAD footage, wouldn't it?







The news media routinely make the same mistakes, with clickbait headlines about intrusions into North American airspace, every single time one of these flights takes place, but NORAD every single time diligently tells the public no national airspace was crossed, and the bombers were never in sovereign airspace. Why editors and producers of the news ignore this can only be because of clicks, because it certainly isn't from being accurate. Kudos to you journalists who didn't fall for the "buzz the coast" narrative, and a finger wag to those of who who spread the story in that "Fake News" light.

2019-02-08 Update


Thank you to the mystery person (and people!) who are monitoring the Russian HF radio networks the bombers talk to each other (unencrypted, old school, voice comms) while performing operations, live tweeting it for the world to read as it happens. I completely missed this thread on Twitter, and several side-bar threads of people I follow, and who follow me on Twitter; so I profusely apologize to them for not noticing and not including the information they had put out there while the action was going on.



We knew the Russians said they were doing refuelling up over the Arctic on their 15 hour training flight, but now we know the composition of that effort.
  • 2x Tupolev Tu-160 strategic bombers (58401, 58402)
  • 1x Tu-160 strategic bombers acting as a communication relay (58403)
  • 4x Ilyushin Il-78 refuelling planes (90722, 90723, 90724, 90725)
That's a pretty impressive sortie, I'd say.

January 25, 2019

The public's ability to use OSINT to track planes should not be underestimated by the RCMP.

( Cropped Pilatus PR Photo - underbelly of the PC-12 NG "Spectre" showing its electro-optical sensor)

At least one RCMP surveillance plane, believed to be outfitted with electo-optical night vision and thermal sensors, circled ~6000-7000ft over Kingston for almost two weeks in January, keeping residents awake, annoyed, and curious, all night long, while they were investigating a National Security case in Kingston.

It turns out the noise was from at least one nondescript, primarily white in colour, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Pilatus PC-12, registration number C-GMPB, ICAO Hex C065E0, and a serial number of 1304. C-GMPB departed London Ontario on January 4th headed toward Ottawa. On January 4th a local Kingstonian PlaneSpotter, Neil Aird, heard the plane, and checked his own ADS-B/Mode-S transponder receiver to catch the tail number as it flew overhead and around Kingston.

The same plane seemed to head home on January 7th, then back towards Ottawa January 8th, operating in the area until January 15th when the plane was flown back to Southern Ontario, to the Division "O" headquarters, but not before getting photographed by Neil on January 14th. I speculate the jaunt to London Ontario could have been a crew change, or something similarly practical and mundane.

Let's check in on the capabilities of the plane, which are naturally not mentioned by the RCMP. For cost savings, I suspect the plane is COTS, so we can refer to the marketing material around the two or three PC-12 "Spectre" variants the RCMP purchased. The last official number I could find was two, but I think more have been upgraded/converted or delivered since. The plane would have been outfitted with the top of the line IR/Electro-Optical and Thermal sensors. Here is their brochure; in short, they'll kit it out with whatever sensors you want, or leave you the hook ups exposed so you can customize it yourself. Glossy: here.



Below we have a sister-plane to C-GMPB taking off from Ottawa International YOW/CYOW in 2018. Notice the paint scheme is different from older RCMP planes with rainbow racing stripes.


C-FGMQ|ICAO:C01121|SN:1107

Here is another sister-plane to the aircraft that had been circling Kingston, on and off, from January 4th to January 14th, 2018. Notice the paint scheme; not the usual RCMP colours.

Reg:C-FMPA|ICAO:C02137|SN:1216

What did we learn from this?

  • The RCMP have sixteen Pilatus PC-12 planes, and the same type of plane has several different configurations, with potentially overlapping duties. There is a surveillance variant called the "Spectre" and the RCMP has 2 of those on the books. I believe it's one of those that caused the din above Kingston. I have not been able to conclusively pick out the registration numbers of the two "Spectre" variants out of the 16 plane fleet, yet. (specs)
  • Singled out as being the only single engine plane circling for over a week over a city makes you "overt", not "covert". Kingston has ~125,000 people, and more than a few noticed the RCMP was circling overhead and kept them awake all night for days; that's overt, not covert surveillance. I was contacted by a couple of people in Kingston who'd seen me written up previously (here, here, or here), but I really didn't think there would be such a paper trail for an RCMP surveillance aircraft, I thought they would have been super-stealthy. I guess not!
  • Even before we knew the tail number from Neil's work, the plane operated all night long, that's a very specific behaviour. I ask you rhetorically, who else would possibly be flying, at 3 am, over Kingston in the cold. I live near the Carp Airport (CYRP) and twice a year helicopter pilots get re-certified for night operation or some other paperwork. They fly helicopters over the neighbourhood until ~10pm, and then go home - because they're human and have families to go home to. There is no activity, other than LEO, that would keep employees circling that long at that time in that pattern. I speculated it could be something corporate, doing some sort of survey,... but realistically, no. It's really likely any circling plane at 3am over any town of 125k people is some variety of LEO; local, provincial, national, or border services.
  • The plane was circling for hours. Again, this is a behavioural tell.
    Take an example.. Sightseeing biplanes take off from CYRP; depending how much you want to spend, you can get a short tour, or a long tour of Ottawa. Either way, you're taking off from CYRP, flying around, and returning during the daytime, within a short-ish period. Minutes, not hours. There isn't anything that would justify circling for hours and days on end. The pattern of the plane's movement, the time, the altitude, this all paints a picture, but I still don't know why a white van parked across the street (yeah I know it's a movie trope) wouldn't be sufficient? SURE the plane is nice, but was it necessary? I don't know. That's past what I can realistically criticize, since they won't say why they needed the plane to begin with (even after today's 1pm press conference).
  • Initially many wondered if it could have been military? With CFB Trenton so close, it seemed like it could have been, but Trenton has a transport squadron, and while there are other people who I'd rather not mention in the area, none that would do reconnaissance from a small plane that fits that description, that I'm aware of. I liked the idea they were testing a drone's optics or something, but that didn't pan out either. Early distant photos of the plane showed it was a small plane, that looked like a PC-12, but was not confirmed at the time.
  • On January 4th the public (Neil in this case) knew that an RCMP operation was going on from the noise coming from their not-so-covert platform circling at < 7000ft for hours at night, by checking for the closest transponders that were beaconing in the area. The operational security implications of this are huge, as organised crime could easily look for all RCMP planes' presence in the future. I'm sure there are reasons why Mode-S has to be used, rather than being turned off entirely, which gives away the location of the plane, but shouldn't there be something they can do? Use a different mode? Neil is one of the good guys, and expecting the bad guys to not notice an RCMP plane circling overhead when they can precisely triangulate their position with < $1000 of computer gear bought off Amazon.
Why am I bringing all this up? Because nothing changes if you leave it alone. The RCMP is performing surveillance with a plane that's (figuratively) screaming "HEY! I'm with the RCMP and you're within line-of-sight of this transponder that's on a plane overhead, else your laptop wouldn't be able to hear me!", over 1090 MHz, over and over, as it circles all night long, if you're listening. I believe this was a good use case for why the RCMP needs a Predator-sized drone, which could fly higher, see farther, and loiter longer - drones don't eat or sleep. If the plane hadn't been noticed from its sound, nobody would have looked it up and tried to piece it together with relatively easily available present hobbyist technology.

Here's Global News talking with Neil, who's really the Plane-Spotter hero of this story, in my opinion.
Also, the title of the report should be "MYSTERY SOLVED!". Neil nailed it, and Steph Crosier first reported it in The Whig January 22nd 2018.

Appendix:

Snapshot of all Pilatus PC-12 planes in the RCMP inventory, per the Canadian Government. (source, source)
BrandModelRegistrationICAOSerial
PilatusPC-12/45C-FMPBC02138283
PilatusPC-12/45C-GMPYC065F7311
PilatusPC-12/45C-GMPPC065EE374
PilatusPC-12/47C-FMPFC0213C768
PilatusPC-12/47EC-GMPMC065EB1011
PilatusPC-12/47EC-GMPXC065F61017
PilatusPC-12/47EC-GMPEC065E31073
PilatusPC-12/47EC-FMPKC021411092
PilatusPC-12/47EC-FGMQC011211107
PilatusPC-12/47EC-GMPVC065F41181
PilatusPC-12/47EC-GMPOC065ED1197
PilatusPC-12/47EC-FMPAC021371216
PilatusPC-12/47EC-GMPAC065DF1262
PilatusPC-12/47EC-GMPQC065EF1268
PilatusPC-12/47EC-GMPBC065E01304
PilatusPC-12/47EC-GMPWC065F51336


News:

2019-01-22 "Kingston's mystery plane captured on camera" (Kingston Whig Standard)
https://www.thewhig.com/news/local-news/kingstons-mystery-plane-captured-on-camera

2019-01-22 "Mystery plane that keeps flying over Kingston in the dead of night baffles citizens" (National Post)
https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/mystery-plane-that-keeps-flying-over-kingston-ont-in-dead-of-night-baffles-citizens

2019-01-23 "Kingston mystery plane solved?" (Global News)
https://globalnews.ca/video/4881340/kingston-mystery-plane-solved

November 15, 2018

The Canadian Forces may be ignoring a nuclear waste problem they may have in Goose Bay.

The United States Strategic Air Command stored multiple offensive nuclear weapon assemblies in the woods near Goose Air Base from 1950 to at least 1954, per John Clearwater, who wrote the book on nuclear weapons in Canada. Several even, including U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Canada, and Canadian Nuclear Weapons. In 1954 the United States military completed construction on the proper double-barbed wire fenced Weapons Storage Area in the Southeast part of the base, giving any "Special Weapons" a concrete hardened new home. They used the same design you can still see at multiple bases in Span and Morocco; same earth covered magazines, separate storage for the fissile "pits" (the part that sits as the core of the nuclear weapon), same administration buildings, same warehouses for parts, etc - the design was repeated worldwide. (I've written about this before here, and compiled a lot of information with the help of people local to the base - thank you all!)

Fissile pit storage buildings were unique in US military architecture. US Strategic Air Command "Special Weapon" design (until the early 1960s) had removable fissile pits, and once sealed pit weapons were fielded, the maintenance intensive "open pit" weapons were withdrawn, stockpiled, and decommissioned. A sealed pit is maintenance-free and allows the weapon to sit idle, without routine maintenance (polishing) while deployed at an Operational Storage Site.

Vintage site plans of Goose Air Base show the pre-1954 weapons storage site in the woods at the Northwest end of the base, and it is labelled "USAF Special Storage Area". You may recall nuclear weapons of the time were referred to as "Special Weapons". There are the ruins of a dog kennel, guard buildings, and laboratories for the maintenance of the bomb by technicians on loan from Sandia National Labs, and double barbed wire fences.The fences have been kept up, since the base still uses the area, and are lately using it for a firing range.

If no maintenance was ever going to be done at the 1950-1954 labs in the woods, there would be no reason to build a "lab" right beside the Operational Storage Site. It's also possible that they built the lab in case they had to perform maintenance, but never did.

In the process of doing maintenance on a fissile pit, which is like a shiny heavy metal grapefruit, small amounts of low yield waste are produced - dust. Fissile pit maintenance has to do with polishing any oxidation off. After the procedure, Kimwipes, smocks, paper masks, gloves, etc. would all be put into metal canisters, and buried down a bore hole in the back yard. Literally. Any dust that rubbed off the pit onto the floor would be painted into the floor with a heavy paint that would keep the dust trapped. Painting radioactive dust into the floor instead of sweeping it up isn't a bad idea, it's just short lived - if the paint starts to chip, you have a problem, which was exactly what happened in Fort Bliss. An old timer pointed out to the officials at Fort Bliss that before re-purposing the old Snake Pit buildings, maybe they should check for radiation in the floor. (!)

This slide deck should show you how seriously the US Military takes this threat; they went all out trying to find the contamination at Fort Bliss (Deck dated 2016)
https://www.bliss.army.mil/dpw/Environmental/documents/2016%20RAB%20-%20Presentations.pdf

All activities involving nuclear weapons were, and are still, highly classified matters of national security. Unlike common knowledge about where the local drive-in theater was in the 1950s, very few people knew anything about nuclear weapons maintenance / operations who lived nearby, unless they had a need to know. From reviewing hundreds of pages of documentation from 5 Wing Goose Bay, and Parks Canada, regarding the former Strategic Air Command Weapons Storage Area at CFB Goose Bay, nobody has any institutional knowledge about the 1954 and 1958 Weapons Storage Areas built specifically to store nuclear weapons, or what came before them.

What will satisfy me that the Canadian Forces have taken this seriously and done all they can do to prove there is absolutely no nuclear waste buried near where the United States stored "The Bomb" between 1950 and 1954?

I'd like a survey for Alpha ( α ), Beta ( β ) and Gamma ( γ radiation to be performed with the aid of the United States Corps of Engineers, who have dealt with these sites many times before, and considering it's their mess, I think its appropriate to drag them back to Goose Bay to take a closer look at what they left behind - IF they left anything behind. The low-yield waste that would have been left behind would emit Alpha and Beta radiation; the risk to the local community would be slight. All the same, I would like the Government of Canada to be 100% confident that when the Americans pulled out of Goose Bay they only left a nightmare of hydrocarbon contamination, and not radiological contamination too.

The United States keeps quite good account of where their nuclear weapons are, and where they have been. All nuclear weapons and weapons assemblies have serial numbers and can be traced through their life cycle. Canadians do not know when and how many nuclear weapons were in Canada, and for how long. Ultimately I would like a complete account of every single nuclear (and non-nuclear) weapon that has been transported in Canada, including US-leased bases, with their serial numbers. If there were no fissile pits from 1950-1971 (with a focus on 1950-1954) in Goose Bay, then there is no way there could have been low yield nuclear waste there, and it would save everyone a lot of time knowing that up-front.



November 13, 2018

Tracking US Navy nuclear submarines using publicly available information

US Navy official photo (exact credit unknown)
US Navy official web page (Screenshot 2017-06-09)

(2018-12-16 Edit) The purpose of the secrecy around the locations of US Navy SSNs, SSGNs, and SSBNs is operational security; OPSEC.  You don't want to tell an adversary where the submarines are, so you don't jeopardize their mission.  The safety of those submarines, and their submariners, is of paramount importance to everyone. My objective in highlighting the following is to raise awareness that the supposed secrecy surrounding those deployments does not to hide their area of deployment from the Chinese Navy, North Korean Navy, or the Russian Navy; it hides or obfuscates their deployments from the collective knowledge of the American people, who happen to pay for the US Navy though their taxes. The technique I'm going to show you suggests that they are not hiding, and know it. I speculate they are not spoken openly about for political, rather than OPSEC, reasons.

The US Navy themselves post to official US Navy web pages and social media about US Navy submarine deployments; the screenshots embedded are proof of that, in case you hadn't noticed these posts before, or are not following the US Navy on social media.  Unlike the leaks to Fox News from Pentagon sources and other news organisations around the positions of the Russian Navy AGI Viktor Leonov, which were derived from US Navy intelligence sources and clearly Secret, if not Top Secret, these are public displays of the US Navy's ability to project power to the other side of the globe. The transponders being on, and the press releases, are all shows of force.

US Navy official Twitter account (posted 2017-06-07)
I do not want anyone to think the transponders on these subs are being used naively or in any incompetent fashion by the US Navy, or they're "forgetting" that they turn them on and off; all of this is extremely well known by the commanding officer of the submarine and the rest of the crew. The decisions related to who to tell or not tell in the public sphere are solely made at the Pentagon.  Submarines are stealthy by nature, and have the capability to remain hidden for an extended trip into hostile waters; that these submarines are turning up on AIS indicates the US Navy feels it doesn't have to hide these particular submarines at these specific times.  You'll notice very few SSBN "Boomers" on the list, since they do not show up very often at all; their areas of operation are more secret than the attack submarines. I presume this difference is directly related to their vital role in the nuclear triad; they must stay hidden.  This difference again demonstrates it isn't that the US Navy can't keep a secret, SSN deployments just aren't universally as secret as they may seem to be.

locations where US Navy submarines have last beaconed using AIS-T
(screenshot 2017-06-09 MarineTraffic.com)
Much like the NORAD interceptions of Russian Long Range Aviation flights, or Russian Open Skies Treaty overflights of the United States, the military is under no obligation to share information about these operations with the public, and by policy doesn't.  NORAD does not announce when they intercept Russian Long Range Aviation flights; the only time you hear them on the news is when information is leaked by someone (read: officials at the Pentagon). The USAF doesn't announce when Russian Open Skies Treaty overflights are going on.  Those flights are not secret, as evidenced by their transponders being on, and as they are announced in advance in the Russian news media.  Again, the silence is political.

The following spreadsheet should help you match the Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI), which the submarine transponder identifies itself as, with the true name of the submarine. They usually identify themselves with a generic name like "submarine" or "us submarine"; with a little data aggregation we can fix that.  Special thanks to @lala_zet (どうもありがとうございました) who posted their MMSI / name correlations as well. The MMSI-name correlations I didn't have, I copied, and the ones I had previously, I was able to confirm.

Some of the below, but not all, can be tracked on MarineTraffic.com, if this interests you. The corresponding MMSIs can only be considered "best-guess" in terms of accuracy.


USS Henry M. Jackson (SSBN-730) MMSI:
USS Alabama (SSBN-731) MMSI:
USS Alaska (SSBN-732) MMSI:
USS Nevada (SSBN-733) MMSI:
USS Tennessee (SSBN-734) MMSI:
USS Pennsylvania (SSBN-735) MMSI:
USS West Virginia (SSBN-736) MMSI:
USS Kentucky (SSBN-737) MMSI:
USS Maryland (SSBN-738) MMSI:
USS Nebraska (SSBN-739) MMSI:
USS Rhode Island (SSBN-740) MMSI:369970218
USS Maine (SSBN-741) MMSI:
USS Wyoming (SSBN-742) MMSI:369970231
USS Louisiana (SSBN-743) MMSI:369970198
USS Ohio (SSGN-726) MMSI:
USS Michigan (SSGN-727) MMSI:369970203
USS Florida (SSGN-728) MMSI:369970157
USS Georgia (SSGN-729) MMSI:369970181
USS Seawolf (SSN-21) MMSI:
USS Connecticut (SSN-22) MMSI:369970178
USS Jimmy Carter (SSN-23) MMSI:369970192
USS Bremerton (SSN-698) MMSI:369970170
USS Jacksonville (SSN-699) MMSI:
USS Buffalo (SSN-715) MMSI:
USS Olympia (SSN-717) MMSI:369970212
USS Providence (SSN-719) MMSI:369970008
USS Pittsburgh (SSN-720) MMSI:369970216
USS Chicago (SSN-721) MMSI:
USS Key West (SSN-722) MMSI:366874512
USS Oklahoma City (SSN-723) MMSI:369970211
USS Louisville (SSN-724) MMSI:
USS Helena (SSN-725) MMSI:369970185
USS Newport News (SSN-750) MMSI:369970208
USS San Juan (SSN-751) MMSI:369970217
USS Pasadena (SSN-752) MMSI:369970213
USS Albany (SSN-753) MMSI:369970163
USS Topeka (SSN-754) MMSI:369970227
USS Scranton (SSN-756) MMSI:369970221
USS Alexandria (SSN-757) MMSI:369970165
USS Asheville (SSN-758) MMSI:
USS Jefferson City (SSN-759) MMSI:
USS Annapolis (SSN-760) MMSI:369970166
USS Springfield (SSN-761) MMSI:369970223
USS Columbus (SSN-762) MMSI:369970177
USS Santa Fe (SSN-763) MMSI:369970220
USS Boise (SSN-764) MMSI:369970169
USS Montpelier (SSN-765) MMSI:
USS Charlotte (SSN-766) MMSI:369970172
USS Hampton (SSN-767) MMSI:369970183
USS Hartford (SSN-768) MMSI:369970184
USS Toledo (SSN-769) MMSI:369970226
USS Tucson (SSN-770) MMSI:369970228
USS Columbia (SSN-771) MMSI:369970176
USS Greeneville (SSN-772) MMSI:369970182
USS Cheyenne (SSN-773) MMSI:369970173
USS Virginia (SSN-774) MMSI:369970229
USS Texas (SSN-775) MMSI:369970225
USS Hawaii (SSN-776) MMSI:369970158
USS North Carolina (SSN-777) MMSI:369970159
USS New Hampshire (SSN-778) MMSI:
USS New Mexico (SSN-779) MMSI:369970012
USS Missouri (SSN-780) MMSI:368926259
USS California (SSN-781) MMSI:369970327
USS Mississippi (SSN-782) MMSI:369970328
USS Minnesota (SSN-783) MMSI:369970641
USS North Dakota (SSN-784) MMSI:369970642
USS John Warner (SSN-785) MMSI:369970640
USS Illinois (SSN-786) MMSI:369970957
USS Washington (SSN-787) MMSI:369970958
USS Colorado (SSN-788) MMSI:369970201
USS Indiana (SSN-789) MMSI:369970960
USS South Dakota (SSN-790) MMSI:368926327

(2018-12-16 Edit)

November 03, 2018

We will bury you (in data) - Russian Navy Yantar backgrounder and Summer 2016 Trip Report.

I read the modern propaganda being parroted on social media. Twitter accounts allege to have seen or heard things on the news, with no precise source, but claim it sounded "right", and according to their bias, they believe it to be true. This cycle repeats itself almost daily. It's disappointing, and disheartening, especially when the media is routinely misled by sources who so boldly mislead them. Some (even many) journalists aren't aware at the time, and sometimes are never aware that they've been lied to. Unsuspecting people will parrot the information they get from the media, who are just reporting what they were told, from sometimes-trustworthy and believed-to-be reputable sources, with no idea they're complicit in perpetuating a lie. Thankfully, this isn't the 1950s anymore, and the power to fact-check many topics that were previously exclusive to the government with spy satellites and covert operations is now in the hands of the people. Today, anyone can find someone in Vladivostok and ask them to take a picture of a ship in front of them using their iPhone. It's a whole different world, and the public needs to aggressively fact-check the stories that are being fed to the media by both military and political factions worldwide.

I would like everyone to fact-check the Canadians, fact-check the Russians, fact-check the Americans; fact-check every side. Publish your findings for everyone to read, with facts and references that can be checked. There is nothing more patriotic than proving to the world that your government isn't lying to you. But what if they are, and you expose it..? Well, that's not your fault, now is it?

One of my least favourite pieces of propaganda is the rumour being spread that the Russian Navy AGOR Yantar is tapping and/or preparing to cut/detonate commercial telecom cables that stretch across the Atlantic. I didn't want to get into exactly how this came about, but "anonymous officials" have been less than truthful. I believe US Government leaked statements, through "anonymous" officials, about the ship being capable of cutting cables; the DoD was concerned about their secret military cables that run across the ocean to remote deployments and bases. Somewhere along the way, with or without help from "government officials", the media switched the narrative to direct focus toward commercial telecom cables. "The Internet", they said, was what Russia was after, all of a sudden.

David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt of the New York Times reported October 25th, 2015 that the Russian Navy AGOR Yantar "cruised slowly off the East Coast of the United States on its way to Cuba — where one major cable lands near the American naval station at Guantánamo Bay".

Green = >12.5 Knots, Yantar's top speed is ~14-15
Map Data from MarineTraffic.com
Illustration by Steffan Watkins
(using Google Fusion Tables & Google Maps API)
Slowly? While "slowly" is subjective, there is nothing subjective about the AIS data the ship was transmitting for most of the transit from near Halifax Nova Scotia to Havana Cuba, which shows the ship was at full speed, and with the wind at their backs they even got up past 16 knots. How did Mr Sanger and Mr Schmitt arrive at the conclusion the ship sailed slowly, anywhere? Anonymous government officials? Unfortunately neither Mr Sanger or Mr Schmit fact-checked these claims with OSINT data (to be fair, I didn't check in October 2015 either)

"Off the East Coast" is a frequently used term, that is hugely subjective. Everyone has a different interpretation regarding what constitutes "off the coast". Legally, sovereign territorial waters extend only 12 nautical miles, and the EEZ extends 200 nautical miles; so where was Yantar?  Until they approached Cuba at the end of their transit, their closest point was hundreds of miles away from the coast. Once again, government officials chose to mislead Mr Sanger and Mr Schmitt, rather than provide a verifiable number that could be fact-checked to give an illusion of their proximity to the US coast that simply didn't exist.

Maybe the anonymous government officials didn't want to give the New York Times "Top Secret" US Navy intelligence about the ship's location, but... I just gave you a map. How did I do that? The Russian Navy vessel Yantar is a research vessel, classified as an AGOR, a relatively ordinary, but new and advanced, Russian Navy oceanographic research ship; and while ultimately I'm sure Yantar is doing more than looking for whales, their location isn't a secret to anyone outside The Pentagon. They're broadcasting their location both to AIS satellite based receivers, and terrestrial receivers, for the entire world to watch. They beacon their precise location frequently, every few minutes to local marine traffic over Marine VHF.

Mr Sanger and Mr Schmitt correctly stated the vessel was headed to Havana, but they left fact-based reporting behind when they linked the Russian ship's movements to the Guantanamo Bay cable that comes ashore at the base in Guantanamo Bay. Yantar was never anywhere near Guantanamo Bay's cable demarcation point, or even the South side of Cuba, where Guantanamo Bay is, nor did they stop where the cable was expected to have been laid by USNS Zeus. I speculate this was either a misunderstanding, or deliberate misinformation being sewn by the "anonymous" government officials.

Mr Sanger and Mr Schmitt continued and quoted US Navy Admiral Mark Ferguson, commander of US Naval Forces in Europe. 
"Citing public remarks by the Russian Navy chief, Adm. Viktor Chirkov, Admiral Ferguson said the intensity of Russian submarine patrols had risen by almost 50 percent over the last year. Russia has increased its operating tempo to levels not seen in over a decade." [MISLEADING]
-Russian Ships Near Data Cables Are Too Close for U.S. Comfort, New York Times, October 25, 2015.
If those truisms sound familiar to you, I already went over how both the US Navy and Russian Navy have a symbiotic relationship regarding their bravado, threats, and posturing (here). In short; the Russians promote their successes, and the US increase their already ridiculous military budget to counter their claims, regardless of how hollow, validating the Russian Navy's ego, enabling further peacocking. It's true that the Russian Navy operations are at their highest since the Cold War. That's a truism because there were no submarine patrols when the Soviet Navy fell apart, and any number of patrols now is higher than none.
"Intensity" of Russian submarine patrols is up "Almost" 50% the Admiral said in 2015. That's likely a reference to days at sea, which I explain in the previous blog post too, and we already know those numbers are, at best, 20% of Cold War levels, using declassified CIA data.
Let me paraphrase then, using OSINT to fill-in the blanks that US Navy Admiral Mark Ferguson, commander of US Naval Forces in Europe, left out of his statement:

Russian submarine patrols spent 50% more time at sea, over the year before, raising the number of days spent at sea to almost 20% of what they were during The Cold War, according to declassified CIA assessments of Soviet Navy out of area deployments from the 1980s. -Steffan Watkins, paraphrasing US Navy Adm Ferguson

See how that statement loses a lot of air when you un-cloak the numbers behind it?

Over a month before the New York Times ran their much-quoted piece, seasoned journalist and senior editor of the Washington Free Beacon Bill Gertz published his bombshell piece September 3rd 2015, after being contacted by anonymous Pentagon officials about the same story. For unknown reasons there was no credit given to Mr Gertz in the New York Times piece, so let me review the truth (and un-truths) he was given by the Pentagon officials who were, evidently, trying to get the story out in the media.

"U.S. intelligence (is) closely watching a Russian military vessel in the Atlantic that has been sailing near a U.S. nuclear missile submarine base and underwater transit routes, according to Pentagon officials." [FALSE]&[TRUE]
-U.S. Shadowing Russian Ship in Atlantic Near Nuclear Submarine Areas, Washington Free Beacon, September 3, 2015
See map above; they could have been watching underwater transit routes to and from King's Bay, but they were (arguably) not "near" King's Bay as Mr Gertz' source stated; that's a stretch. Notice that the New York Times didn't mention reconnaissance of paths that US nuclear ballistic submarines transit in their piece over a month later?
"Defense officials (..) say the Yantar is believed to be gathering intelligence on underwater sensors and other equipment used by U.S. nuclear submarines based at Kings Bay, Georgia.[TRUE]
-U.S. Shadowing Russian Ship in Atlantic Near Nuclear Submarine Areas, Washington Free Beacon, September 3, 2015
That's another very important statement the New York Times piece seemed to miss; they are gathering intelligence on US sensors; SOSUS's successors, IUSS, etc.  That seems like the sort of thing any adversary would want to know; where are the hydrophone arrays?
What new technology is being deployed to detect Russian submarines?

"A major target of the program is the Department of Defense Information Network, known as DoDIN. Moscow is seeking to map the global information network that is vital for U.S. warfighters" 
[TRUE]
-U.S. Shadowing Russian Ship in Atlantic Near Nuclear Submarine Areas, Washington Free Beacon, September 3, 2015
Again, it seems the New York Times piece, published over a month later, didn't want to re-publish that the Russian Navy vessel Yantar was reported by Pentagon officials to be looking for US military cables and sensors. Bill Gertz' original piece, over a month before the New York Times published basically the same story, doesn't mention the Russians coming over to attack the Internet at all, so I can't see where they got that idea, unless an anonymous official wasn't trying to distract them from the truth that Mr Gertz published over a month before.

I understand that journalists do not want to accidentally become part of the story, but in my view, "the story" is now why the New York Times changed and omitted so much relevant information from Bill Gertz' original piece, published over a month before, about the exact same topic. I presume the New York Times reached out to Pentagon officials, to confirm the story, but Pentagon officials refused to confirm the most important details from The Washington Free Beacon's piece, so the New York Times didn't run those parts. They obviously read the piece on the exact same topic from their competing news outlet. Isn't it the original Washington Free Beacon piece we should be paying closer attention to, since it has the superset of information? I strongly suspect Bill Gertz was given a bonafied leak that the Pentagon didn't want out in the open. The NYT piece, even unknowingly, encourages speculation about "other" types of cables that aren't DoD related, and obscures the vulnerability of DoD undersea cable infrastructure that exists. I believe that's the crux of the whole issue; there's a vulnerability, the Russians know it, and they're mapping it out.

Russian Navy AGOR Yantar - Summer 2016 Trip Report

All of the above came as a result of the inaugural voyage of Russian Navy AGOR Yantar during their initial shake-down in 2015, where their stated purpose was to test their equipment.  Fast-forward to Summer 2016, when Yantar was operating for ~3 months in the Northern Atlantic and near the GIUK gap; which has provided  several new interesting places to investigate. My analysis focuses on where the Yantar stops. Ships don't loiter in one spot in the middle of a sea or ocean for a day or two on a whim. You can realistically assume that if a ship, which was built for, and carries Russian Navy's most advanced deep sea equipment, is stationary for more than a few hours, that something of note is going on. While Yantar is equipped with lights for night-time work, when reviewing the data, time of day is important to determine if they have stopped somewhere and are waiting for first light before conducting operations. Using GPS-based AIS-data to try and guess what a ship is doing is just that; guessing. I could be wrong with my assessment of any of these locations, but these are my best guesses based on as much information I could find. If you have a better idea, lay it on me!

While writing a piece for Jane's Intelligence Review I studied the entire 2015 tour (+more), and saw scant evidence that any of their stops were over commercial telecom cables, which throws shade on reports that the Yantar's movements are related to tapping or cutting commercial telecom cables. Did I mention those cables are already charted on nautical charts? They're already mapped and known to the shipping industry, in an effort to avoid them being caught by ships' anchors. On that alone people should realize the publicized "The Ruskies are coming for your Internet" story does not hold water. While Yantar is absolutely conducting operations on behalf of the GUGI, which is the department that would do deep sea covert operations. Any covert action would be done covertly with mini-subs, deployed from a stretched-submarine, that acts as a mothership - not Yantar - which is a big steel very-not-stealthy ship. I believe it's perfectly reasonable to believe the Yantar is tasked with reconnaissance to enable future undersea operations. Also, I don't think it's that hard for our military to tell the public those details flat out, rather than trying to make up excuses for why Yantar is an interesting ship to follow.

Using historical AIS-T (terrestrial) and AIS-S (satellite) data from MarineTraffic.com, we can see between May and July 2016 Yantar departed their home port in Olenya Guba|Оленья Губа and stopped in several places that were... interesting.


At each of the big red push pins the Yantar came to a stop. The more pushpins around the spot they stopped, the more times an AIS signal from that location was received by a satellite overhead. The colour of the dots indicates how fast they were going.





Vicinity of the Soviet Navy Submarine K-159
~69.36142, 33.93928
Several stops were made in the Barents Sea immediately outside Murmansk, and one of those was at a site where a Russian Navy submarine (K-159) was lost while being towed to be scrapped, with its two nuclear reactors aboard, killing 9 of the 10 member salvage team aboard the submarine. That story was reported by The Barents Observer here. The environmental survey / report is here.
Close to the site of the Kursk disaster.


They also stopped near the site of the ill-fated Kursk's destruction, despite it not being there anymore. Maybe looking for something they left behind? Were there pieces of the Kursk that were not recovered that they wanted to check in on?





Vicinity of the German Battleship Scharnhorst?
71.9814, 26.96789



Around 2016-06-23 Yantar slowed and may have stopped around 71.9814, 26.96789, which is closer to the wreck of the German Battleship Scharnhorst's official position than the other spot to the NW where they stopped on their way out. There are no indications the two locations are related, but the only item of note in the area that I know of is the Battleship. If it isn't related, then it could be a military undersea cable or sensor, but neither are mapped, suggesting they are not commercially owned.





Arrived: 2016-05-26 for ~12hrs
Location: ~72.54836, 25.08537

Off the Northern coast of continental Norway, this area is composed of sand, clay, and stone, with a depth of around 800-900ft. There are no known cables or wrecks that I was able to find mentioned. The closest bathymetric survey was a German, somewhat nearby, in 1993 (M26-2).

I'm pretty confident it isn't anything pipeline, gas line, or telecom cable related.



The Southern tip of Svalbard, Norway, showing the area the Russian Navy Yantar stopped and examined. Nothing charted.


Three distinct places where Yantar had stopped and hovered.
Between 2016-05-27 and 2016-05-28 ~76.31613, 15.17415 Yantar stopped just outside Norwegian territorial waters, off the Southern tip of Svalbard, and concentrating on three distinct sites; what was it they were focused on? The depth is around 900ft/275m at those locations.

There are no wrecks, cables, pipelines, or geological features there that I could find any reference to. I can find nothing note worthy to stop and look at, but they most certainly didn't stop for a "swimex". As the nautical chart shows, no remarkable undersea features are known to be there. NATO comms cable? Cable running to an undersea sensor? Maybe undersea sensors themselves? I don't know. This is selection by elimination.










Yantar then moved over to the middle of the Fram Strait between Norway and Greenland(Denmark); the very middle. Same story. Granted, the three sources of nautical charts I have on hand don't have a lot of data in that area, but there is nothing that suggests a commercial telecom cable would be in that area, or gas line, or any civilian infrastructure, obstruction, or geological feature. However, that location is in the middle of a choke point, and would be a perfect place to put a sensor; hydrophone or otherwise. Can I prove there is a hydrophone array between Svalbard and Greenland? Of course not. If it isn't a sensor of some kind, what was it? Secret cables? A wreck, or three? At least 3 of their other stops were in proximity to sunken nuclear subs, so I wonder, what submarine losses could have happened covertly? Could these be older wrecks? Could they have been looking for some good crab fishing while they were in the neighbourhood?

They stopped at at least three locations in the same vicinity, and travelled in slow deliberate lines. I believe the red dotted line we're seeing is a search for a cable, rather than a geographically known single point or object, like a sensor or wreck. Cables have a little play and travel, since they get pulled up to be repaired and laid down more or less in the same place again.
Let me use an analogy for the search that explains why the pattern of movement is important; If you had a carpeted living room, with an extension cord hidden in the pile of the carpet, you could walk barefoot where you believe the extension cord is, and find where it is with your toes. To find the cable quickest, you'd walk perpendicular to the cable's presumed direction.
At least, that's what I think that's what we're seeing from the transponder's path. Notice the line of red dots, and the crescent of red dots? It was not a full criss-cross zig-zag like a search pattern for something lost on the bottom.

I believe they are looking for multiple undersea cables that are not charted. I suspect they know cables go from A to B, and are therefore searching in a perpendicular line to the cable's run, in the vicinity they expect the cable.  Hopefully that makes sense without a better graphic to explain it. Compared with the pushpins where the Yantar went directly to a location, and seemed to stop over something, it seems like they're doing more of a sweeping search path for something at those three pushpins in the trench on the map.



In the vicinity of ~71.1265, -10.5407
Jan Mayen is a Norwegian island in the Arctic Ocean, but I do not know if it has a current military significance, like providing power for local hydrophones or sensors, but the Yantar stopped on 2016-06-04 at ~71.1265, -10.5407, which is only ~60km from land, and seems to be northeast and very close to a significant sea mount that raises the depth from thousands of feet to only hundreds. Rumour has it hydrophones were positioned in geographically favourable positions for their acoustics. Mounts, cliffs, etc. were reportedly used to position hydrophones at the correct depth to get the best acoustic "view". While it's complete conjecture, it is interesting that NE would be the direction you'd expect Russian submarines to be coming from.

Stopping at a pinch point,
where conventional wisdom would put a hydrophone.
Iceland is one of the founding nations of NATO, and critical to the security of the North Atlantic. At least one set of SOSUS hydrophones was placed NW of the island, and at least one set was placed SE of the island, according to Soviet Navy sources.

Iceland is an island (in case you're unfamiliar with it) and Yantar slowed down and stopped on opposite sides of the island, seeming taking an interest in the NE shore, the shore that faces where Russian Navy subs might potentially be coming from, over the top of Norway. The places they stopped were locations between Iceland, Greenland, and continental Europe; almost like a fence. At the NW side of Iceland they slowed and eventually stopped over an area again ~800-900ft in depth. I'm getting the impression the depth of the water is significant to this investigation.

Right in the middle of the Davis Sill,
a great spot for a hydrophone or sensor?
63.41641,-56.30731
After Iceland, the next stop was getting close to home. Yantar stopped over the Davis Sill; a rise between the Davis Strait and the Labrador Sea, that arguably forces deeply submerged submarines closer to the surface, or sail closer to the bottom, depending how you look at it. This is both a pinch-point, and a location of reduced depth; perfect for identification of submerged submarine using hydrophones, or other sensors. IMO. However, they stopped over a spot which had a depth of ~1400m, but no bathymetric surveys seem to have been done at that exact point, so I'm unsure if there could be a sea mount making the depth less than the surrounding area. Pure speculation. What's in the middle of the Davis Strait that the Russian Navy sailed all the way there to check out? They're a long way from home, and it's undeniably specific; that was no "while we're here" pit-stop. Historically they are very close to a former Cold War sub-hunting base on the West coast of Greenland. It would be an excellent place to put a sensor, I'd think.

Unknown significance
~70.2537,17.2082
Unknown significance
70.25372,17.20824

On the way back from the Davis Strait, Yantar stopped in the Norwegian EEZ, where there is a sandy bottom and a depth of ~820ft. I can't see any significance to this location; no cables, wrecks, etc.












Location of Soviet Navy Mike-Class Submarine K-278 Komsomolets

Finally, something I can put my finger on. They stopped at the location of the Soviet Navy Mike-Class Submarine K-278 Komsomolets, a known wreck that still may have two nuclear torpedoes, if the Americans haven't stolen them, and a fueled reactor. From what I read, the Norwegians are quite concerned with this wreck, and regular surveys are performed by environmental agencies.

I understand that the US Navy, NORAD, and NATO are rather sensitive about publishing where they put their undersea sub-hunting sensors, so I thought... what about the Soviets? Thankfully, there's a lot of expertise out there, and a lot of old documentation from the Cold War that the "Soviets" don't really care about anymore. One such graphic has shown up via two online sources, but I'm very interested in finding the original (for a better scan) or to find more Soviet Navy intelligence files regarding NATO SOSUS/IUSS sensor locations. Why? Because things don't change. From my experience, a mountain top today is just as high and has just as good a view for a long range radar as it did 50 years ago; applying the same idea to the ocean, I would think an old fashioned SOSUS hydrophone array might be obsolete now, but they were all positioned in geographically advantageous positions; I expect those places would be re-used for new sensor systems, which is why I'd like to monitor them for surface activity going forward. Better still, I don't think I'm alone in this pursuit; I'll continue to monitor Russian Navy auxiliary movements and see if they give away the locations of cables or sensor networks, as suggested by their stops at otherwise uninteresting spots.

Soviet diagram of SOSUS locations (original Soviet source unknown) 
Ultimately this circles back to the stories that are being told in the media about Yantar's purpose, claims that it's after telecom cables, that it's after the internet, that the Russians are going to cut the internet and destroy the financial markets. None of the places Yantar stopped stopped in the Summer of 2016 has any connection to the internet or telecom cables. While Yantar could cut cables with the claws of its ROV, it's an overt vessel, and ill-suited for covert operations - cable cutting or tapping would both be covert operations. Yantar's pattern of movement and operations show no signs that they're targeting telecom cables. I believe strongly that they are conducting underwater reconnaissance; helping allies like Iran and Syria with their cable issues, surveying NATO sensor arrays, surveying covert secret cables that are lying around the ocean's floor, checking on lost nuclear weapons on the ocean's bottom, etc.

"Muh, NATO said.."
If you still think Yantar is looking for telecom cables, The Internet, I challenge you to go back and read the quotes from the NATO/NORAD/DoD/USNavy sources to do with the Yantar specifically, and pay particular attention when they speak of Yantar and cables. No military source mentions commercial telecom cables; they all mention cables (wink wink, military cables), and they mention communications (wink wink, NATO/DoD comms), but they do not mention the Internet. The internet story is something the New York Times published in October of 2015, and as far as I understand, misunderstood from the get-go, or were deliberately misled by officials who wanted to cover up what Bill Gertz' article revealed. The September 2015 leak by Pentagon sources to the Washington Free Beacon said nothing about "internet" cables, but did speak of the threat to Secret DoD cables, which makes the earlier article more reputable and accurate.


Credit:

I could not have done this analysis without the help of MarineTraffic.com, and I am very appreciative of the help they have provided. Thank you.

References:

https://infoscience.epfl.ch/record/181564/files/LABA_COVERPOSTER.pdf
https://maps.ngdc.noaa.gov/viewers/bathymetry/
https://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/gazetteer/