Author Topic: Aircraft carriers and spy satellites  (Read 73585 times)

Online Blackstar

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Aircraft carriers and spy satellites
« on: 05/12/2021 01:56 am »
I'm writing an article and can use some help.

The subject of the article is going to be aircraft carriers photographed by reconnaissance satellites. I was inspired to do this because of the Samuel Loring Morison case:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Loring_Morison

In 1984, Morison provided three secret photos to Jane's Defence Weekly taken by a KH-11 KENNEN reconnaissance satellite of a Soviet aircraft carrier (technically, an aircraft-carrying heavy cruiser) and an amphibious warfare ship under construction. He had a part-time job with Jane's in addition to his day job as a naval analyst. Morison was arrested, convicted, and sent to prison. I have attached one of his images. (I'd really like to get an image of the cover of the issue of Jane's Defence Weekly that carried the photos.)

Because the photos he provided were so famous, they became somewhat of an inside joke among people interested in intelligence collection. Many years later (1990s), somebody leaked a satellite photograph of another Soviet-era aircraft carrier to another journalist, this one working for The Washington Times. And when the National Reconnaissance Office declassified the GAMBIT and HEXAGON satellites, they released an image of a Soviet aircraft carrier, almost certainly a nod to the infamous Morison case.

What I'm looking for is other satellite photos of aircraft carriers, but with date and context. I believe that when the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning--a rebuilt Soviet-era aircraft carrier--first put to sea, there was a US commercial remote sensing satellite imaging showing it sailing. (I'd like to find that image.)

I'm not committing great scholarship here, but I'd like to write an article that points out that using satellites to photograph aircraft carriers at sea is sort of an inside-joke. So I'd like to collect a bunch of the images and the dates that they were taken and hopefully where they first appeared (usually a website). As an aside: back in the 1990s I went through declassified CORONA imagery trying to find the first aircraft carrier photographed by a reconnaissance satellite. All I found was a low-quality image of Norfolk Naval Base with a single, barely-visible carrier. I did not acquire the photo because it was so poor.

I already have a few images, but I know I'm missing some, so I'm asking for help. Please post here anything that you've found or know about, with the context if you have it.


Online VaBlue

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Re: Aircraft carriers and spy satellites
« Reply #1 on: 05/12/2021 02:27 am »
Getting a picture of any ship at sea is exceedingly difficult from ~24K miles high.  The camera field of view is large, yet pretty small when considering the expanse of oceans.  And a ship in that mess of sea state and featureless 'terrain' is nearly impossible to suss out without zooming in and looking at every pixel in the image.  Unless you have a fairly precise location (within ~75 miles of any given lat/long point), seeing something is PFL.  And if you have that location, it's probably still going to take a few analysts several hours to find the actual dot and zoom in enough to see a ship.

Good luck finding any pictures you can publish!  And let us know when/where the article gets published, I'd like to read it...

Online Blackstar

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Re: Aircraft carriers and spy satellites
« Reply #2 on: 05/12/2021 03:24 am »

Online Blackstar

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Re: Aircraft carriers and spy satellites
« Reply #3 on: 05/12/2021 03:28 am »


Online Blackstar

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Online Blackstar

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Re: Aircraft carriers and spy satellites
« Reply #6 on: 05/12/2021 03:53 am »


Online Blackstar

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Offline bstrong

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Re: Aircraft carriers and spy satellites
« Reply #9 on: 05/12/2021 04:32 am »
Tying it back to the leaked photos, it's kind of fun that nowadays you can just search up Kiev class carriers on Google Earth:

https://goo.gl/maps/M1b91CHrVMQ7J7vc6
https://goo.gl/maps/adEQaeLDkacC51hb8

Offline libra

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Re: Aircraft carriers and spy satellites
« Reply #10 on: 05/12/2021 04:47 am »
Yes I had a lot of fun with that a long time ago. Looking for the Kievs on Google Earth.
The Chinese started a collection of Kievs, supposedly as "amusement parks". But it was India who got the last one... and turned it into a full blown carrier.

Online Blackstar

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Re: Aircraft carriers and spy satellites
« Reply #11 on: 05/12/2021 12:25 pm »
Yes I had a lot of fun with that a long time ago. Looking for the Kievs on Google Earth.
The Chinese started a collection of Kievs, supposedly as "amusement parks". But it was India who got the last one... and turned it into a full blown carrier.


The carrier under construction is the same one that India eventually got. The Russians did extensive rework on it. For example, all the forward armament was removed and that section turned into an extension of the flight deck.

The one that appeared in The Washington Times photograph (leaked to their reporter) eventually went to China, supposedly to be turned into a casino. That one was extensively refurbished and is now the Liaoning.


Offline libra

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Re: Aircraft carriers and spy satellites
« Reply #12 on: 05/12/2021 02:39 pm »
It is kind of weird to think to think Kuznetsov and Liaoning are half-brothers...

Online Blackstar

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Re: Aircraft carriers and spy satellites
« Reply #13 on: 06/03/2021 08:17 pm »
I need to find a color image of this cover. Anybody have any ideas on how to find it? I tried searching completed auctions on eBay, but came up with nothing. I'm sure a color version exists on the internet somewhere.

Offline Jim

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Re: Aircraft carriers and spy satellites
« Reply #14 on: 06/03/2021 08:48 pm »
I need to find a color image of this cover. Anybody have any ideas on how to find it? I tried searching completed auctions on eBay, but came up with nothing. I'm sure a color version exists on the internet somewhere.

I never saw a color version.  Wasn't the images from the KH-11 only in B&W back then?

Online Blackstar

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Re: Aircraft carriers and spy satellites
« Reply #15 on: 06/03/2021 10:23 pm »
The magazine name was done in yellow. All the other lettering was done in white. It is possible they tinted the image blue. If push comes to shove, I'll just do the font in yellow. But I'd rather have a really nice scan of the full color cover.
« Last Edit: 06/03/2021 11:08 pm by Blackstar »

Offline WBailey

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Re: Aircraft carriers and spy satellites
« Reply #16 on: 06/04/2021 03:35 am »
The magazine name was done in yellow. All the other lettering was done in white. It is possible they tinted the image blue. If push comes to shove, I'll just do the font in yellow. But I'd rather have a really nice scan of the full color cover.

Perhaps a long shot, but did you try contacting Jane's? It may be old-school but you might find a copy of that periodical in a library, perhaps a university library (or a military academy). If it were a book you could request an inter-library loan but I'm not sure if they do that with periodicals. Apologies if this was already obvious.

Online Blackstar

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Re: Aircraft carriers and spy satellites
« Reply #17 on: 06/04/2021 01:32 pm »
Yeah, I'm going to try that. Libraries won't loan out periodicals, but if this is in a bound volume, they might. We'll see.

By the way, the article is coming along. I've found some great images. What I'm looking for is a bit of context for some of them--as in the people who were doing the analysis and what they were interested in. I've got some of that, but I suspect there is more. It's a neat narrative over several decades.

Online VaBlue

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Re: Aircraft carriers and spy satellites
« Reply #18 on: 06/04/2021 01:56 pm »
Maybe the Library of Congress has it?  Worth a search of the holdings, anyway...  You have to be a researcher and set an appointment to show up in DC and read it, but they likely have a digital copy - if they have it at all - that you can access online.

The pics you posted are mostly of ships whose location is fixed and/or well known at some particular point in time.  It's not impossible to catch them, but it's exceedingly difficult to randomly find them at sea.  I know this from, well, experience...  And yes, most sat imagery is B/W, unless you're talking about the more recently designed birds (Maxar, Planet, BlackSky, Dig Globe, and others).  But yeah, there are some really cool pics released to the public!

Offline hoku

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Re: Aircraft carriers and spy satellites
« Reply #19 on: 06/05/2021 08:56 am »
The magazine name was done in yellow. All the other lettering was done in white. It is possible they tinted the image blue. If push comes to shove, I'll just do the font in yellow. But I'd rather have a really nice scan of the full color cover.
https://siris-libraries.si.edu/ipac20/ipac.jsp?menu=search&aspect=power&profile=liball&index=UTILEXP&term=10366120
https://lccn.loc.gov/84642698

check https://www.worldcat.org/title/janes-defence-weekly/oclc/10366120 for other libraries in your neighbourhood (quite a few libraries seem to be missing the early volumes)

The British Library offers delivery to "My Home or Office " as a scanned PDF (4 day delivery in "high quality" for ₤61.10):
http://explore.bl.uk/primo_library/libweb/action/search.do?ct=facet&fctN=facet_rtype&fctV=journals&vid=BLVU1&fn=search&vl(freeText0)=0265-3818

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