Heat signatures from fighting in Ukraine

As you might guess one of my favorite TV shows from the last 20 years was “House, MD”. House was noted for saying “It’s a basic truth of the human condition that everybody lies, the only variable is about what.” When it comes to geopolitics and especially military action, this goes double, and it’s essentially impossible to get somewhat neutral information. The only way to sort of get a handle on the situation is to delve in to the various propaganda sources and try to figure out who is lying about what, and thus get a glimpse of the truth. Even photos and videos are not objective data – I’ve seen many times where reporters will do stand-ups in front of the most devastated structure after a wind storm – surrounded by areas that look like nothing happened. Likewise, especially in Ukraine where both sides are using similar military hardware, knowing who that burning ATV belonged to is difficult.

It’s fascinating to see how things are reported on each side of this conflict. Many of you have seen the video of a missile hitting an apartment building. In the Western media it is universally being called a “Russian Missile.” However, pro-Russian media and the Russian MOD says it was a Ukrainian BUK-M1 anti-aircraft missile that had malfunctioned/missed its target. That’s certainly a plausible explanation based on the appearance and flight path. Recall that during the Pearl Harbor attacks, a lot of the 5″ anti-aircraft artillery rounds were improperly fuzed in the panic or malfunctioned, landing in Honolulu and caused fires and damage. Which is true? Almost doesn’t matter at this point, not to those in the middle. It seems likely the “Kindergarten attack” from a week or so before the Russian Invasion was, in fact, friendly fire – the wall was apparently facing away from the LDPR forces who were returning fire across the border. No matter who is shooting, civilians always get caught in the crossfire in these conflicts.

From space we can see heat signatures that are normally used to track wild fires. They also are useful for tracking other human activities; often the operating status of factories or refineries can be assessed from their thermal images. During COVID I’ve used this data to monitor China’s factories to see if their rhetoric about production is truthy or not. Likewise, wars generate a lot of unique signatures detectable from space. Here’s one example, the fighting northeast of Kiev yesterday in the outskirts of the town of Chernhiv, which lies on the route between Belarus and the capital …

Fighting has been intense near the airfields around Kiev. Here is Antonov International Airport …

And yesterday, after the order was given to resume the advance (which had apparently been paused by Russia to allow negotiations – or was it the delay caused by the heroic resistance of Ukrainian forces?), the fuel dumps near the military airfield at Vasylkiv were hit by missiles …

Clearly there is heavy fighting – but in the fog of war, with propaganda the only thing coming out of the “news” sources from all sides, facts and truth are in short supply. In summary, I’d suggest that you not jump to any conclusions as to how the war is going. My guess is by the middle of this week we will really know how things are really going, based on seeing if the government of Zelenskii is still in Kiev or has relocated to Livov.

I’d also urge everyone to consider that this is getting out of hand, and realize that the global leadership are taking actions that will potentially make a bad situation worse. Disconnecting Russia from the global financial system is going to have severe repercussions. Europe and the US are trying to have it both ways – hurt Russia while still keeping access to Russian energy, since without it Europe will likely plunge in to economic chaos, which will cascade across the rest of the world. What if Russia doesn’t cooperate in this and stops the flow of gas (and wheat – it’s not 1980 any more – while certain US politicians seem to be ignorant of this fact, Russia now exports more wheat than the US and Canada combined!). May be obvious, but it’s going to get uglier the longer this goes on.

One other note, I think it is very dangerous to call foreign leaders insane, crazy, compare them to Hitler, and use that kind of rhetoric in most cases, including this one. It’s “good” politics and a “good” way to manipulate public opinion, but it’s terrible policy because once you call someone “crazy” you don’t have to consider if maybe you share some responsibility for what has happened, and it paints you into a corner that shuts down the path to negotiation and compromise. To be clear, I don’t approve of the invasion, and think they had other options, but I understand why Russia has done it, and feel we didn’t take Russia’s legitimate concerns seriously. If we had I think the people of Ukraine would be better off, and this would have been avoided.

Finally, thanks for all of the kind comments and support for previous posts. These events are so emotional, and people tend to have knee-jerk reactions to things. There are over 20,000 readers of a typical post, and if even half of a percent of people misunderstand something, take it the wrong way, or even are just having a bad day and vent, that’s over a hundred angry emails or comments to deal with (not to mention the hundreds of reasonable replies of people who may disagree, but just want to have a discussion and understand). For one person that’s a bit exhausting and some times it gets to be a bit much. Again, thanks for the understanding.

The Chinese Hypersonic Vehicle Test

(Note for tropics watchers – nothing active anywhere, nothing expected in the next five days.)

There was a surprising flood of media attention over the weekend about a Chinese hypersonic missile test supposedly conducted a couple of months ago …

Hmmm … single source report echoed in multiple places?

So, is this what it appears? Was US Intelligence “surprised”? Let’s see what Bender has to say:

It is unimaginable that there was any surprise over this within the community – if any analyst was surprised, they should be fired. Immediately. In fact, any journalist who did not immediately ask “how is it possible to be surprised by this??” should also be sacked. And any editor who would let such a headline through to distribution without more context and questions should be sacked. While the USIC isn’t what it used to be, it’s not that utterly incompetent, so obviously there is something else going on. Let’s look a little deeper …

Hypersonic weapons systems are a hot topic right now. The phrase covers a lot of territory, from short range anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles to land attack weapons and ICBM based systems that can hit targets anywhere in the world within minutes. Hypersonic refers to the speed – generally to be considered hypersonic is to fly faster than Mach 5 (five times the speed of sound). At the high end (literally and technically) are a class of vehicles that fly into space and return. These can range from boost-glide vehicles to vehicles that combine boost-glide with supersonic combustion ram-jet engines (SCRAM jets). There are a lot of technical aspects and considerations in how vehicles are designed, and how altitude and velocity are traded for maneuvering, avoidance, and range.

The first hypersonic boost-glide vehicle was designed in … the early 1940’s. The Silbervogel (“Silver bird”) project was part of the advanced weapons development associated with the V-2 rocket development. After the war, the designers came to America and these concepts were used in everything from the X-20 Dynasoar project (one of the sad, great “what if” projects in history) and the Space Shuttle, as well as modern similar projects like the X-37 today. In terms of weapons development, there were numerous cold war era projects with varying degrees of classification that I will leave to the interested reader to Google so I don’t get in trouble. The Soviets and now Russians have developed and tested – and in recent years deployed – hypersonic boost-glide and fractional orbit bombardment systems such as Авангард (Avangard) that are on combat duty, as well as an array of other hypersonic weapons such as anti-ship and land attack missiles (Циркон, кинжал).

What about the Chinese in particular? Well, the DF-ZF boost-glide vehicle was deployed by the Chinese military and declared operational on … October 1st, 2019. Two years ago – with known tests years before that. They too have hypersonic anti-shipping missiles such as the DF-21, which was supposedly operational as early as 2010.

So even based on public information it’s inconceivable any serious analyst would be surprised by the existence of this thing, therefore there is something else going on aside from the obvious fact that the journalists writing the above news articles are clueless and gullible. While the US has had multiple hypersonic weapons projects over the years, there is an impression it has been lagging well behind Russia for some time. The AGM-183A has had testing problems and is not in deployment, while the Prompt Global Strike program also seems (at least in public) to still be mired in development, although the common hypersonic glide body was successfully tested last year.

So, this isn’t really new. It’s obviously a placed leak for some reason, Why? Probably several reasons: First, at least on paper (and probably in reality) the US is behind in hypersonic weapons system deployment. That is in fact a serious strategic problem, especially for the Navy, as it renders most large navy assets (like Carrier Battle Groups) extremely vulnerable. It also has the potential to negate most of the existing anti-missile systems like the Patriot and render close-in defense systems ineffective. So it makes sense to play up the red threat to get Congress to shovel some more money into these programs, after the huge amounts always already shoveled into these programs, hopefully this time to get some practical results.

Second, there is increasing nervousness over the situation with Taiwan, and the potential for China to move to reassert sovereignty over the island. The “correlation of forces” is already pretty unfavorable for the US to be able to defend the island, so again it makes sense to push potential threats to try to get more funding, redirect assets towards the West Pacific, etc.

And globally China is increasingly asserting itself, with projects not only across Asia but in Africa and Central/South America. So as a strategic threat, China is clearly number one.

In summary, this seems to be an incremental test by the Chinese. If it did in fact miss by “two dozen” miles as reported, that is actually a pretty significant failure in many ways. It makes me wonder about the capacity of systems like the DF-ZF, and how advanced their development really is. For the flood of articles to hit the press this way is a clear indication of an agenda. That’s potentially the real story, and it is distressing that the “news” media doesn’t have the depth to see it.

#Saudi Arabia Refinery #Attacks

The weather isn’t by any means the most dangerous threat facing us.  My guess is most folks think of Enki as a hurricane or weather research group.  In fact, Hurricanes and Weather/Climate research is about 60% of Enki’s work right now.  Geophysical hazards (Earthquakes, Tsunamis) are another 20% or so, and about 10% “anthropogenic” hazards like LNG or nuclear power incidents.  But about 10% of Enki’s work is in the area of Foreign Policy and related issues (space, remote sensing, and open source intelligence) and impacts of WMD (nuclear mostly).  While the WMD/Foreign Policy related work is the smallest percentile it has been in a long time, in many ways that field was the most important, as many of the techniques used in the other areas originated in that dark realm.  I don’t often post about it for the obvious reasons, but also because unfortunately in modern day America it’s becoming increasingly hard to have a nuanced discussion about anything that touches on Politics. This blog actually started in the early 2000’s as “SatBlog”, and most of the posts were about  monitoring disasters, including war zones, using satellite remote sensing.  In may interest some of you that SatBlog broke several news stories during the Iraq invasion, including that the Iraqis had set the oil fields on fire.

This morning the Houthis rebels (with almost certain help from Iran) are alleged to have attacked multiple targets in Saudi Arabia, damaging several refineries and taking offline over half of Saudi oil production (there is reason to be skeptical of this narrative, but that is what the official sources say).  The fires and smoke plumes are visible from space, as this MODIS quick look image shows …

If these facilities are heavily damaged or stay offline for long, it will have a ripple effect throughout the fragile world economy.  And, of course, the inevitable retaliation will have consequences, and a spiral of violence is possible.  Scary stuff.