A bravado act of Automatic Identification System (AIS) spoofing has been detected in waters off Crimea, with the locations of a number of ships in the east of the Black Sea being temporarily “relocated” some distance to the east, and spelling out the letter “Z”, a pro-Russian war symbol.
British geospatial intelligence firm Geollect reported that the AISs of many merchant ships had been spoofed.
“It is highly likely that this is a deliberate information operation by a pro-Russian actor (possibly Russian military psychological operations) ahead of an anticipated Ukrainian counter offence and/or in celebration of Russia’s proclaimed victory over Bakhmut,” Geollect suggested in a note to clients.
This pattern started to emerge from May 14th. Vessel speeds of up to 102 knots, with no variation for tide and weather, were detected.
“It is likely this is designed to increase pro-Russian audiences’ morale, as well as antagonize Ukrainian and NATO audiences. The message seems clear: ‘Crimea is Russian’,” said Geollect.
Those with long memories might recall that in June 2021 when, as we know now but did not know at the time, Russia was preparing for its eventual invasion, the tracking data of two NATO warships was faked. According to AIS UK navy ship HMS Defender and Dutch Navy vessel Evertsen left Odesa just before midnight on June 18th, heading directly to Sevastopol and approaching to within 2nm of the harbour entrance.
In fact, the vessels never left Odesa, but this was the first indication that Russia saw the potential of sending fake AIS signals when it came to the location of ships. Since the Black Sea Corridor agreement came into effect, the “real” location of vessels in the Black Sea has become more important. While the (presumably Russian) spoofing might be seen as an act of propaganda, it could also be seen as a dress rehearsal for further spoofing activity “for real” should the situation in the Black Sea escalate.