by and for citizen investigative journalists

Russia’s Pantsir-S1s Geolocated in Ukraine

May 28, 2015

By Eliot Higgins

During the conflict in Ukraine a number of Russian military vehicles not known to be in service in Ukraine have appeared under the control of separatists inside Ukraine. One of these systems is the Pantsir-S1 anti-aircraft system, with a number of sightings in separatist controlled Ukraine. Using geolocation it has been possible to establish the exact location the images of the Pantsir-S1s have been captured, further confirming the appearance of these Russian system inside Ukraine.

Luhansk

The following video was shared online in February 2015 showing a Pantsir-S1 in separatist controlled Luhansk.

Luhansk is well covered by Yandex Maps street view imagery, and the location the video was filmed can be found here. At the start of the video the large building on the left of the screen can also be found on the street view imagery.1

Shortly after that the same building can be seen in both the video and the street view imagery on the right side of the road.

2

Then on the left arched structures are also visible in both the video and street view imagery.

3

Those structures are then followed by two distinct buildings.

4

There are many other matches between the video and street view imagery, clearly establishing the exact location in separatist controlled Luhansk the Pantsir-S1 the video was filmed.

Makeevka

Another sighting of a Pantsir-S1 was shared on January 24th 2015, with a photograph showing it in what was claimed to be separatist controlled Makeevka.

5

The photograph was geolocated by the Conflict Report blog, with additional analysis done on Russian social media sites. This work established the location as 48.05830,38.01003, and it is possible to confirm the geolocation using the information provided by the earlier analysis.

A number of structure are visible in the image that match the location, but one is of particular interest. The building, described as an unfinished shopping centre on Wikimapia, has a distinct shape and arrangement of windows, which is visible in the satellite imagery of the area.

6

Not only is the shape of the building a perfect match for what’s visible in the photograph, but the windows are also visible in the satellite imagery in the same positions as those on the building in the photograph. Along with other matching features detailed in earlier analysis of this photograph, the unusual design of the building visible in the photograph matching with the satellite imagery confirms that this is the correction location.

These images were collected as part of the Bellingcat Ukraine Conflict Vehicle Tracking Project, a crowd sourced project aimed at collecting and organising images of military vehicles involved in the conflict with Ukraine.

Pantsir-S1 anti-aircraft systems were featured in Hiding in Plain Sight: Putin’s War in Ukraine, available here.

Eliot Higgins

Eliot Higgins is the founder of Bellingcat and the Brown Moses Blog. Eliot focuses on the weapons used in the conflict in Syria, and open source investigation tools and techniques.

49 Comments

  1. Joe6

    Now we gonna wait for Robert to call all this fake because these two buildings are not at same angle!

    Reply
    • Frank

      It can’t be the same building if you look at the angle of the road in the satellite picture. In the street foto you side the side from the hightest part of the building, which means you are looking at an angle from where you would not see so much of very left front side of the building. So, this is guesswork at best, and will convince no court. But I am sure you guys at BC are good at convincing each other 🙂
      I’ll wait for the MH17 report, done by actual experts, and on that I’ll base my opinion on how the MH17 downing actually happend.

      Reply
      • Frank

        Also, in the sat picture you see that this thing has another tower to the very left. Clearly not visible in street photo, although it must be there if it would be the same building.
        I know BC thinks their shit don’t stank but this should really make u wonder if you are qualified for this kind of analyses.

        Reply
        • Frank

          Final proof: go to the link provided in the article (Russian social media site) and take a look at the sat with the red triangle. If you take the line of sight from the red triangle, the purple square should not block your view of the yellow square (unfinished shopping center) – but in this case you should see the tower on the very left of the building – but in the foto you dont.

          Reply
          • Frank

            Sidewalks an telegraph poles I also dont see in the sat pic.

          • Not Mark

            Frank, it is pretty clear to me that the sat pic is zoomed in too far to see what you are looking for but I assure you it all checks out. Here is a map I made specifically for you. I am not as good at this as bellingcat but the basics are there.

            http://binged.it/1dIoQzZ

    • RadarTechniker

      Hello,

      Bellingcat, did you know, IF there is an PANTZIR S1 the RadarWaves would be an evidence that there are russisan troops. But its not possible, you are maybe a freak in watch movies, but you are Motivated, hyped by media, your goverment. I Know any weapontyps too. But your mind cannot know all.

      Reply
      • Not Mark

        Hello RadarTechniker, is your point here that if there were Pantsir-S1s operating then their radars would be picked up, thus proving the presence of russian troops? That is as best as I can interpret your comment. I guess to try and answer your question I shall say this: How do you know they aren’t being picked up? How do you know the radar is even being turned on? Maybe they have been instructed to only use optical tracking on the Pantsir because using radar is dangerous? There are many reasons the Pantsir radar emmisions might not be detected and maybe they are being detected. Who knows?

        Reply
  2. Mark

    Pictures all look different to me. First pair- above/ at the top of the line of buildings there is another building (separate). On the picture on the right that building is not there.
    Second pair (101) the picture on the right has a much shorter car park which ends with grass and there is a red doored building present.
    Third pair- On the picture on the left here are more spokes in the fence than in the one on the right.
    Makeeva could be anywhere
    Unfinished shopping centre, totally incapable of confirming they are the same when one is shot from the side and one from the air.
    I would actually be surprised if Russian weapons were not in DNR but this doesn’t strengthen that feeling

    Reply
    • Not Mark

      Mark, Come on…. Really? It does not take a genius with a background in imagery analysis to come to the conclusion the fine folks here at Bellingcat have. This “advanced” anti-aircraft equipment was almost certainly in Ukrainian territory. Please muster up whatever spacial reasoning abilities you can and look at the images again. You will notice that these are, in fact, the same locations just taken at different times and at different angles with different fields of view. Its not rocket science. No really, its not. It’s just plain common sense.

      Reply
    • Hopea Kone

      There is also a billboard with a picture of Igor Plotnitsky on the video.

      Reply
      • rockybeethoven

        Naaaaah.

        There is no photo on Yandex from before the war showing that Plonitsky-billboard in Luhansk, so it cannot be Luhansk.
        So the only logical explanation is it must be somewhere in Russia, Algeria, Iraq or Jordan, where they actually use Pantsir-S1 systems.

        An totally legit alternative explanation that I have read from a trustworthy and very serious russian guy on Twitter, concerning the Pantsir-S1 sighting in Makeevka was this:
        The system originally belonged to the Iraqi army. It was captured by the IS, who are actually US agents, like the ukrainian government, working together on the destruction of the russian world.
        The captured Pantsir-S1 was then donated by the IS to Ukraine in order to have it captured by the totally not russian army in Luhansk, who could then be accused of actually being the russian army.
        A false-flag operation so to say.

        Reply
        • Matto

          ” It was captured by the IS, who are actually US agents, like the ukrainian government, working together on the destruction of the russian world.”

          which drugs are you using?

          Reply
        • Alex

          This video is definitely from Luhansk, I can confirm it as a former inhabitant of L. You can see Oboronnaya street here, near bus station. Driver is going to the south-east direction.

          Reply
          • Lenomdeplume

            There you go again Alex, using those pesky “facts” when talking to the Pu-trolls.

        • Not Mark

          LOL! rockybeethoven, You are so good at sarcasm that I was almost convinced you actually believed the words you typed out! Keep up the good work. Putin will be so proud. 😉

          Can you please let us know who this “very serious russian guy” is so we can do some fact checking? Don’t you think IS would be using these to shoot down the numerous coalition aircraft that bomb those guys any time they step outside? I’m pretty sure they would if they were in possession of such equipment….

          Mark, where is your insightful response to further explain how these pictures are not what they quite clearly depict?

          Reply
          • rockybeethoven

            What I wrote about the IS theory is true. There really was some russian lunatic on twitter who tried to explain the sighting of the Pantsir S1 that way. I can’t remember the name, but check out my russian troll list on twitter. He is definitely on it.

        • rockybeethoven

          Jesus Christ guys 😀

          If anyone needed proof that “irony doesn’t work in the web”, this is it 😀

          Reply
  3. J-W

    I can’t believe the excuses and theories people come up with to refute these images. There are dozens if not hundreds of images showing various Russian equipment that is unique to the Russian military or at least to its close allies and not Ukraine or NATO. I can’t imagine you are all Russian trolls but more likely mentally disturbed individuals.

    Reply
  4. Lenomdeplume

    When the Dutch release the entire accident report, the evidence will overwhelm the Kremlin denials…which isn’t to say they will stop denying. They won’t. the real question is: Will the civilized nations of the West continue to resist Putin? The movement of the eastern-most NATO nations to request permanent bases and troops is heartening as if recent overtures from Sweden and Finland.

    The price of Putlers adventure in Ukraine will be isolation…economic and political. This time around, the Soviets (oops, I mean Russians) have rebuilt a wall that will protect the West from them.

    Reply
  5. Robert Johnson

    so i’m a little perplexed.

    why didnt the Russians just send one of these nifty self contained systems instead of pissing about with Buk Telars on Volvo trailers without radar units?

    Reply
    • Just a A

      The Buk was send in July 2014, the Pantsir-S1 was/were send in February 2015. Only some “minor” events happened between this two dates in the Russian-Ukrainian war.

      Reply
        • Just a A

          It was the answer to the question. And you got the answer you deserve, nothing more, but also nothing less.

          If you don´t understand the meaning of my answer: This is your problem, not my.

          Reply
          • Frank

            Sounds moronic. I haven’t checked this article in detail, but the “report” on T72B3 was checked by me in detail and there was no conclusive proof this were russian tanks in the graham vid. So I take everything from BC with a grain of salt.

          • Just a A

            If you want to discuss the T-72B3, do it in the corresponding article. But i would advise you, just leave it, you are obviously wrong.

            This article is about sightings of a different vehicle, the Pantsir-S1.

    • Not Mark

      If I had to guess, I would say it is because the russians were hunting “big game” over Ukraine. By big game I mean Ukrainian cargo aircraft such as the AN-76 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ukrainian_Air_Force_Ilyushin_Il-76_shoot-down). Note: That specific aircraft was likely brought down with anti-aircraft machine gun fire but the goal at the time was likely to cripple Ukrainian air resupply routes.

      The Pantsir-S1 is better suited for smaller targets such as low flying fighter aircraft and helicopters. The Buk system has a ~70 kilo warhead compared to a ~20 kilo warhead on the Pantsir-S1 missile. You would most likely have to get a lucky shot (direct hit on a fuel tank or something)with a Pantsir-S1 missile to bring down a large cargo aircraft such as an AN-76. If you are on the hunt for cargo aircraft you want something with much more power and the Buk missile with a ~70 kg warhead is just the thing.

      The russians were likely itching to try out this newly emplaced toy (Buk) and shot at the first aircraft their search radar detected that had a large enough radar cross section (i.e. >100 meters squared) to be a Ukrainian cargo aircraft. I’m guessing this particular Buk had a malfunctioning/unused IFF interrogator and it classified this contact as an enemy aircraft. MH17 had no countermeasures and stood no chance when struck with 70 kg of high explosives and steel shrapnel.

      Sadly this situation has happened before. The USN operators on board USS Vincennes misunderstood the air traffic situation displayed by the ship’s Aegis system and thought Iran Air Flight 655 was an F-14. The difference is the USA admitted their mistake immediately and compensated the government of iran US$131.8 million whereas russia is in full blast propaganda ‘smoke screen” mode.

      Reply
      • Robert Johnson

        Ukraine was never in a position to resupply by air anyway. not with a handful of rusty old planes.

        They could barely feed the troops from the ground, let alone the air.

        you think a 20 kilo warhead needs a lucky shot to bring down an Antonov?

        you must be nuts. do you have any idea what 20 kilos of high explosive does to a plane?

        its enough to bring down any aircraft in the world, in pieces.

        so i say again, why bother with a Buk launcher without the radar when you can have a far more capable Pantsir?

        Reply
        • Not Mark

          Well, whatever the Ukrainians were doing with their cargo planes makes no difference for this argument. The fact is, they were being used, for whatever purpose, to support the war effort. I would say it is more of a perceived achievement to bring down a large transport aircraft flying at high altitude when compared to the Ukrainian helicopters that had been shot down previously. I think you will agree that it would have been a massive propaganda victory for the “rebels” to bring down such an aircraft. To illustrate this point there were several posts on social media by rebel commanders bragging about their achievement. See this article: http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/new-mh17-footage-shows-militia-trawling-through-burning-wreckage-and-australian-luggage/story-e6freuy9-1227233702395 My point is I think the rebels/russians goal was to shoot down Ukrainian cargo aircraft. The loss of a cargo aircraft carrying your rations for the week will quickly drain morale from Ukrainian soldiers defending a russian invasion. I digress….

          To now talk about the reason why a Buk system was used:

          With the Pantsir-S1 it isn’t 20 kilo of HE. It is 5.5 kg of HE with 15.5 kg steel rods. I agree, this surely packs a punch but this blast isn’t a guaranteed kill on a large aircraft unless a vulnerable location was hit such as wing root or major control surface. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2003_Baghdad_DHL_attempted_shootdown_incident This aircraft was struck by a manpad in a major control surface and still landed successfully. In fact, many many aircraft have been struck by small surface to air missiles and survived to tell the tale. How do you increase your chances of a successful shoot-down of a large aircraft? You go bigger, of course. MUCH bigger. The Buk missile’s entire warhead is 70 kg but I do not know the ratio of HE to shrapnel material. Regardless, the Buk warhead is 3.5 times as large and is obviously going to inflict much greater damage. You don’t want to shoot an aircraft and leave a possibility of it returning home with proof that a russian Pantsir-S1 missile hit it. You want to blow it out of the sky and have any and all evidence scatter across rebel held territory then intimidate anyone there to collect the evidence. Pretty simple really.

          Now then… for this: “why didnt the Russians just send one of these nifty self contained systems instead of pissing about with Buk Telars on Volvo trailers without radar units?” What does TELAR stand for? Oh, thats right, Transporter Erector Launcher and RADAR. The Buk system is improved by the use of a separate vehicle with a search radar but it is in no way necessary. In fact, this is probably the reason they shot down a civilian aircraft unintentionally. The fire control radar on the TELAR does not contain the hardware necessary for determining civilian aircraft from military. It is only capable of guiding the missile to whatever target it has acquired. The Identify Friend or FOE (IFF) hardware is located in a separate optional component of the Buk system.

          I wouldn’t say the Pantsir-S1 is far more capable. They serve different purposes. If the Buk was good as useless as you make it seem then why does russia still maintain them in inventory despite having the Pantsir?

          Got anything else?

          Reply
    • Andriy Makukha

      The answer is obvious: initially Russia’s intention was to use those types of equipment, which are available locally in Ukraine and *could* possibly be captured from Ukraine by the insurgents. As the Buk is available in Ukraine, it was sent from Russia.

      In Ukraine we wonder more on the opposite question: why does Russia send so much exclusively Russian equipment (BPM-97, GAZ Vodnik, Grad-K, Pantsir-S1, T-72B3, T-72BA, BTR-82AM and alike)? Is that on purpose, to show the world that Russia is really behind it?

      Reply
      • Not Mark

        I think russia just wants this done quickly like Crimea. When they figured out that “obsolete” weapons weren’t getting the job done very fast then I think they started supplying newer and more powerful weapons to get things done quickly. Maybe not, just my theory.

        Reply
        • Andriy Makukha

          But they could do equally well without BPM-97, GAZ Vodnik and Grad-K, for example. These are just different types of transport (Grad-K just uses different chassis, but it’s still Grad).

          Reply
    • Wolf Angel

      Because BUK systems with older generation missiles would have plausible deniability by Russia. The surface claim is they are captured Ukrainian advanced anti-aircraft missile systems run by coal miners with no training.

      Reply
  6. Not Mark

    Well, whatever the Ukrainians were doing with their cargo planes makes no difference for this argument. The fact is, they were being used, for whatever purpose, to support the war effort. I would say it is more of a perceived achievement to bring down a large transport aircraft flying at high altitude when compared to the Ukrainian helicopters that had been shot down previously. I think you will agree that it would have been a massive propaganda victory for the “rebels” to bring down such an aircraft. To illustrate this point there were several posts on social media by rebel commanders bragging about their achievement. See this article: http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/new-mh17-footage-shows-militia-trawling-through-burning-wreckage-and-australian-luggage/story-e6freuy9-1227233702395 My point is I think the rebels/russians goal was to shoot down Ukrainian cargo aircraft. The loss of the cargo aircraft carrying your rations for the week will quickly drain morale from Ukrainian soldiers defending a russian invasion. I digress….

    A warhead that small definitely isn’t guaranteed to bring down a large aircraft. You can find many many examples of aircraft struck by such weapons that landed successfully. The 3.5 times larger Buk missile is going to have a much higher chance at fatally damaging a large aircraft. When you want plausible deniability you don’t want anything but tiny scraps of airplane to come down. Why risk using a small weapon that could leave the aircraft intact enough to land and discover where the weapon came from?

    Now then, for this: “why didnt the Russians just send one of these nifty self contained systems instead of pissing about with Buk Telars on Volvo trailers without radar units?” Well, I believe I attempted to answer why they used a Buk to shoot at cargo aircraft versus a Pantsir-S1’s smaller missile up above. I think the reason you made a point about the Buk’s being deployed without the radar units is because you think this makes them useless and therefore likely some kind of part of a Ukrainian cover up? Well, what do you think TELAR stands for? Try Transporter Erector Launcher and RADAR. Thats right, the Buk system can operate with only the TELAR. The other vehicles are optional and contain additional equipment like a more powerful search radar and the equipment that can differentiate between military and civilian. Hmmm, maybe that’s why they shot down a passenger plane? 😉

    Got anything else?

    Reply
    • Robert Johnson

      find me one example, anywhere, any time, of an aircraft that was hit by a 20 kilo HE warhead and successfully landed.

      you realise this warhead is 10 times larger than those on shoulder launched missiles like the Stinger or Igla?

      Reply
      • Not Mark

        I didn’t spend much time looking but I found this for you: http://theaviationist.com/2014/09/15/f-15-lands-with-one-wing/

        That F-15 was hit by another aircraft and lost its entire wing and was still able to land safely. I think its safe to say that the kinetic energy of an entire jet aircraft is greater than the explosive power of 5.5 kg of HE. But whatever…. why is this the one thing you have problem with and not all the other holes in your propaganda theories that I discussed? There could have been any number of reasons they wanted to use a Buk such as plausible deniability since Ukraine had Buks and not Pantsir-S1s. But the only ones that know why are the ones who set it up and used it to murder innocent civilians.

        Reply
          • Not Mark

            http://www.pprune.org/biz-jets-ag-flying-ga-etc/312881-picture-hs-125-hit-rocket.html

            Ugh…. The Pantsir-S1 has ONLY 5.5 kg of HE. It is not that much. That HS 125 above was hit by a confirmed R-60 directly on the engine. It landed with no problems. Regardless, like I said above… This issue has nothing to do with anything really. You are just picking out the one thing I said that you can refute and ignoring all the other WAY more important facts. But because I like to argue here you go: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aloha_Airlines_Flight_243 This aircraft lost a MASSIVE section of its cabin due to a door design flaw. We can assume this is in the same class of damage a Pantsir-S1 missile would inflict on a civilian aircraft if detonated in proximity. This aircraft was able to land. But I still implore you worry about the important facts here and not whether “20 kg of warhead” is enough to bring down a plane. Obviously it is. One lucky shot with a riffle could do the same thing.

  7. Robert Johnson

    im not really interested in assumptions and speculations.

    has an aircraft survived an impact with a warhead of this size or not.

    Reply
    • Not Mark

      Lets just say no? What difference does it make? If we say all aircraft that have been hit with this this size missile have been lost it makes no difference to this theory does it? Move on to something more important man!

      Reply
  8. Robert Johnson

    So, back to square one.

    What you really want is a Pantsir with numerous missiles and a proper radar that can move fast on roads, not a rubbish old Buk without even the radar unit that needs a Volvo trailer.

    Reply
    • Not Mark

      Hmm, can’t say really. Maybe the russians weren’t willing to lend one to the rebels at that point in the conflict. Maybe they don’t trust them to work 100% since there isn’t much operational history with them. The only unconfirmed kill with a Pantsir-S1 is against a Turkish F-4. Who knows why they didn’t use a Pantsir-S1? Why do you keep fixating on the fact that it didn’t have the accompanying radar vehicle? I’ve already explained several time that it is not necessary and may have been a contributing factor to shooting down a passenger aircraft since the Buk TELAR does not contain Identification Friend or Foe hardware.

      Reply
      • Robert Johnson

        why would they lend a Buk without a radar or command vehicle but not a Pantsir?

        in for a penny, in for a pound. may as well have something good.

        Reply
        • Not Mark

          Good lord man! I hope you get good and drunk tonight after your shift at Internet Research ends because you are slowly but surely losing your propaganda skillz! I’ll repeat one more time because I have nothing better going on. The Buk does not need the radar or command vehicle so why send it in? A pantsir in that location would have raised quite a few eyebrows as only Russians had them. I don’t know how to make that more clear?

          Reply
  9. Not Mark

    So is everyone in agreement that this russian Pantsir-S1 was in a country it had no official business being in?

    Reply

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