Long-term monitoring of Russian activities on the Luninets Airbase

SpaceKnow’s proactive monitoring alerted the world to the ominous Russian military buildup along Ukraine’s borders prior to the onset of the invasion. Now, as the conflict enters its third year, our focus turns to the Luninets Air Base—one of the locations from which Russian forces launched their invasion. Through meticulous analysis spanning the two-year duration of the war, SpaceKnow unveils intriguing developments at the base, shedding light on the evolving dynamics and maneuvers amidst this prolonged conflict.

Luninets, initially a reserve air base in Belarus, held no significant permanent military presence. However, its proximity—merely 200 kilometers from NATO territory in Poland, 400 kilometers from Rzeszow airport where Western military aid for Ukraine is transferred from cargo airplanes to railroads, and 330 kilometers from the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv—rendered it a crucial location amid escalating tensions. Despite its reserve status, Luninets played an important role in geopolitical dynamics, serving as a potential staging ground and a focal point of strategic interests amidst the evolving conflict in the region.

Before the war

SpaceKnow’s satellite imagery detected a military build-up of 32 Su-25 attack warplanes deployed to the once-empty Luninets Air Base just two weeks before the invasion.

Luninets Air Base, Belarus, 03-02-2022, Planet SkySat imagery, 21 days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine started, no signs of military activity

Luninets Air Base, Belarus, 11-02-2022, Planet SkySat imagery, SpaceKnow advanced automated aircraft detection and classification algorithm, 13 days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine started, massive military build-up of 32 Su-25 warplanes.

Open-source intelligence reveals that the 18th Guard Assault Aviation Regiment and the 266th Aviation Regiment from the Russian Far East have been deployed to the Luninets Air Base. SpaceKnow’s imagery intelligence analysis corroborates the arrival of these military aircraft. The type of warplanes observed aligns with those used by the aforementioned aviation regiments deployed from the Far East.

The invasion

Following the onset of the invasion on February 24th, 2022, and the subsequent successful resistance by the Ukrainian armed forces, SpaceKnow’s analysis reveals a major shift at the Luninets Air Base. With the Ukrainian forces effectively pushing back the invading Russian army from Kyiv by the end of March 2022, our observations indicate a withdrawal of Russian warplanes from the base. Instead, only a limited number of helicopters remain stationed there, reflecting a recalibration of military presence amidst the evolving dynamics of the conflict.

Planet SkySat imagery with automated aircraft detection and classification algorithm by SpaceKnow

The military buildup and subsequent withdrawal are clearly discernible even on SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) satellite imagery, providing valuable insights into activities at the Luninets Air Base. Utilizing SAR data, SpaceKnow’s advanced algorithms analyze the metallic reflectance on the tarmac surface of the apron, enabling monitoring of aircraft movements.

Automated monitoring using SAR imagery reveals the timing of the arrival and departure of Russian warplanes. By the end of March 2022, the absence of aircraft is confirmed, indicating their withdrawal from the base. Subsequent observations suggest that the warplanes did not return in such significant numbers, highlighting a notable shift in military operations at Luninets Air Base.

ESA Sentinel-1 SAR imagery enhanced by SpaceKnow algorithm detecting metallic aircraft on the apron

New Activity at the Air Base

Beginning in April 2022, SpaceKnow detected and identified new construction activity at the Luninets Air Base. Our analysis revealed ground clearing and grubbing activity in the eastern part of the air base, followed by the identification of new military trucks.

Open-source intelligence corroborated these findings, indicating that Belarus had established a new air defense unit at the Luninets Airport. This unit was reportedly equipped with an S-300 air defense system. SpaceKnow’s imagery-intelligence analysis confirmed the presence of the S-300 system through satellite imagery.

Planet SkySat imagery with automated Land Equipment detection algorithm by SpaceKnow

SpaceKnow’s change detection algorithms further unveiled significant developments at the Luninets Air Base. Analysis indicated the construction of new buildings in the vicinity of barracks and garages, along with the burial of underground tanks in the area.

Moreover, activity adjacent to the apron of the air base was detected, with our algorithms identifying the construction of a newly erected building. This suggests the possibility of the Luninets air base accommodating a permanent deployment of military units in the future.

Between late summer and early autumn 2022, SpaceKnow’s change detection algorithms identified new activity at the ammunition depot located at the air base. Subsequently, according to open-source intelligence, Russia purportedly deployed the Iranian kamikaze drone Shaheed-136 at the Luninets Air Base.

For instance, a new protective fence was observed to have been raised around the ammunition depot. These developments suggest that the Luninets air base may evolve into a crucial hub for permanent military operations against Ukrainian territory, potentially featuring deep strike capabilities and advanced air defense protection.

Should you have any questions, please contact us at defense@spaceknow.com.

Stay light years ahead of the competition.

Interested in: