Since 14th April 2022, Snake Island became a centre of gravity in the War for Ukraine. The loss of the Moskva caused two things to happen in that theatre…
Radical changes in the way the Black Sea Fleet trained for war, with obvious intense work-up phases around Crimea, and a renewed focus on using SI as a land replacement for the cruiser.
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Sat in his HQ in Sevastopol, Admiral Osipov had a few obvious problems in the weeks after Moskva went down. The Ukrainians clearly had the capability to kill warships at sea. Using TB2 drones and fixed-wing, they harassed the small Russian garrison on Snake Island mercilessly.
Any convoys to reinforce would have to dog leg to keep out of range of surface-to-surface missile batteries, and with only a small concrete pier and relatively narrow ramp, disembarking vehicles was going to be problematic. Any ships he sent would inevitably be seen by the various NATO assets airborne in theatre, and so the Ukrainians would know. Drifting mines, and the ever-present threat of a couple of Ukrainian fighter jocks with their hair on fire, streaking in to kill anything flying the Russian flag.
So, why bother?
I was asked weeks ago whether this rocky outcrop was worth the effort, and indeed was laughed at when I suggested not only could the Russians learn quickly and get this done, but it was essential for their long-term plans. I suggested that SI:-
Could be used as a base for a long-range air search radar, giving the Russians the ability to form a comprehensive air picture over southern coastal Ukraine and indeed East Romania, including Constanta.
Would first of all receive local air defence capability to secure itself against further air attack. Then some form of command and control vehicle in readiness to conduct tactical data link operations with a variety of assets including AWACS, surface warships and the local AAW assets in situ.
Would receive equipment in shuttle runs at a fairly low rate to start, using expendable platforms as a test of the viability of the resupply routes. Once the operational plan looked good, the more valuable assault ships would be used.
Would eventually receive some form of artillery, probably MRLS, in order to give some form of counter-battery capability and the option of conducting shoots against targets in Ukraine, alongside ESM/ECM platforms for monitoring coastal traffic along the Ukrainian coast and denuding/degrading NATO SIGINT assets in the area.
And I’m afraid it’s pretty much panned out that way. Ivan now has a fully functional air defence station 90km from Odessa. We see indications of nine TOR and two Pantsir anti-air weapons systems and two search radars. One Ranzhir mobile command centre. There are trenches, revetments, fuel and ammunition dumps. We know Russia has been putting up CAP stations further West from Crimea. Warships are appearing regularly in the holding box south of the island. We would be foolish, given this obvious success for the Black Sea Fleet, for us to think at least Link 11 Tactical Data System-level connectivity hasn’t been established, with an AWACS on station continuously in theatre.
Resupply convoys continue.
I suspect we will see more artillery and S300 or S400 systems soon. They are running out of space but with the right weapon systems the Russians are about to adversely affect Ukrainian Air Force ops in southern Ukraine, especially around Odessa.
Finally, and you may laugh, but I have a sneaking suspicion there is one more possibility still to come into play here. It would be frankly bonkers ,and very dangerous, but they have the strategic lift capability and rotary wing assets available in Crimea to support it. They have the surface ships to give Naval gunfire support, including two Krivak… So if they can manage to scrape together some infantry and AFV’s…
Look to the beaches and estuaries West of Odessa. The Russians have a fire base now, Well defended. They have options and to a degree, the initiative. Would they be that mad? Well they invaded, didn’t they?
It started with a civilian ship taken up from trade and with Pantsir and TOR lashed down on deck. People laughed.
Then a crane barge started doing the run to offload.
And today the Russians have a new Moskva in the west Black Sea, capable of exercising control of the air battle in that litterol environment and coordinating a variety of air and surface assets.
Nobody is laughing.
The island must die. How it can be done will doubtless be a priority for the Ukrainian high command. It is a Black Sea Failaka Island and without two sixteen-inch battleships to trash it, and air parity lost to the Russians, some innovative thinking will be needed to make it ineffective.
Given what we’ve seen so far, I have no doubt the good guys have a plan.
Snake Island – Strikes/Attacks:
2nd May 2022 – 2x Raptor Patrol craft hit by Bayraktar TB2
7th May 2022 – Serna Landing craft & TOR System hit by Bayraktar TB2 near S.I Jetty – both sunk, later recovered to Sevastopol.
8th May 2022 – 2x Raptor Patrol craft & 1 Helicopter carrying troops hit by Bayraktar TB2
17 June 2022 – 1 x Project 22870 Supply ship – Vasily Bekh with 1x TOR System onboard. Crew of at least 33 sailors onboard. Claimed to be a Harpoon missile strike with 2 successfully hitting the target.
Let’s take a look at how the Russians had resupplied the island without any major incidents up until the early morning of the 17th June 2022. They had managed to ship over at least 18 separate vehicles, Air Defence systems, Fuel tanks, troops etc using cranes and supply craft like the Serna’s and the Project 22870. I was taking daily satellite images to keep an eye on the movements and positioning of this equipment and try to work out what was going on.
I was also working with a few friends to try and identify as much as possible through various pieces of image/object recognition software. Currently, we can positively identify at least 5 TOR systems, 2 Pantir Systems, 1 Ranzhir mobile command centre, multiple Artillery pieces, 2x Air search Radars and multiple fuel/ammo dumps. Over the last week there has been a drastic increase in the use of camo netting, in an attempt to try and hide the equipment from the satellite passes.
Below is a satellite image from 16th June 2022, with some of the areas identified being used for the above. Also attached is a satellite image from the 14th April 2022, Here you will be able to see the Island in more or less its original state, now most of it has been destroyed and is full of Russian equipment.
At the time of writing, news was just breaking regarding the strike of a Russian Project 22870 Supply vessel with 2 Harpoon missiles, It would seem the Ukrainian Navy have waited patiently for the Russians to drop their guard and catch them snoozing.
If this ship has been sunk in the mouth of the jetty, this will block the islands only usable resupply jetty/pier and make it near enough impossible to get anything alongside to unload in the near future.
Not only hindering the security of the island but also all the equipment now sitting on there burning through valuable fuel, ammunition and other valuable supplies.