Russian Navy's New Deceptive Camouflage To Protect Kalibr-Armed Warships


Russian Navy's New Deceptive Camouflage To Protect Kalibr-Armed Warships

Flag Russia The Russian Navy has continued to apply deceptive camouflage to key ships in the Black Sea. The new camo was first reported on June 22 when the frigate Admiral Essen was observed in Sevastopol. Since then at least 3 more warships have been painted in a similar way.

All four warships, two Pr.11356ла Admiral Grigorovich class frigates and two Pr.21631 Buyan-M class corvettes, are Kalibr carriers. This is unlikely to be a coincidence.

The camouflage involves black (or very dark) paint applied to bow sand stern of the ship. This makes the ship appear shorter in some conditions. It can be considered a deceptive camouflage scheme because it doesn't try to hide the ship completely, instead it tries to deceive the viewer into misidentifying it.

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Defense Against Maritime Drones

The context which appears the main factor in the case of Admiral Essen, is to confuse maritime drone (USV) pilots. Admiral Essen has the dark paint applied to the sides at the bow and stern, plus the deck above the bow. The helipad at the stern however is left unpainted. This shows that the camouflage is intended to work from the side.

During Ukrainian USV attacks a human operator uses the camera to discern targets. Any trick therefore, which inhibits their ability to identify the most valuable target, would be seen as worth it to the Russians.

If the Ukrainians use artificial intelligence (AI) to assist targeting this camouflage scheme could be even more effective.

Camouflage Against Satellites

Aside from Admiral Essen, the other ships have substantial dark paint areas on the decks at the bow and stern. This is likely to be intended to work against some satellite reconnaissance.

This camouflage is evident from a close examination of commercial satellite imagery shared on Twitter by MT Anderson. This imagery shows just how effective it can be, but equally shows that, with experience, it can be 'seen through'.

Often the sea appears almost black in satellite imagery, especially in ports and in the Black Sea.

Again, it may be effective against AI assisted tracking. Various companies provide AI based classification of ships in satellite imagery which may be used as a search filter by professionals. From what I have seen, measuring length is a major way this is done. So it may be effective, at least in the short term.

It is unlikely to work against seasoned analysts working with high resolution imagery in a traditional way. However, it may catch a few unwary professionals in a rush. As always, context will be everything.

It may be designed to defeat the OSINT (open source intelligence) community. Many OSINT practitioners reporting on Social Media are casual/non professionals. From a counter-intelligence perspective, it is less than desirable finding your daily harbour ORBAT (order of battle) on social media. So this may be to mitigation against this.

Another important consideration is that many observers, both amateur and professional, are leveraging low-resolution satellite imagery such as Sentinel 2. Identifying these ships in this imagery will be much harder. Sentinel 2 is useful because of its coverage, especially of open water.

It is a fascinating move. It is still early days and we may see more variations over time. And there may be more hints which allow us to narrow down what this is really about.

Update June 29, 2023

The first public photos shows another warship, the Project 266M NATYA Class minesweeper Ivan Golubets apparently photographed on May 26 2023:
Russian Navy's New Deceptive Camouflage To Protect Kalibr-Armed Warships

Subsequently, a Sentinel-2 satellite overpass of Novorossiysk allows us to glimpse the impact on analysis of low-resolution satellite imagery. The new camouflage is moderately effective and may lead to misidentification of ships:

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Update July 9, 2023

Photos shared on Russian social media show Pr.1124M GRISHA-III Class ASW corvette Muromets (064) with false bow. Photo reportedly dated June 16:
Russian Navy's New Deceptive Camouflage On Grisha

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