They are up to 2000 kilometers away from the war zone – and yet they are indispensable for the Ukrainian army in the fight against the Russian aggressor: commercial spy satellites from US companies such as Maxar, BlackSky and Hawkeye 360.
Never before have there been so many up-to-date satellite images on the Internet as now, writes the “Wirtschaftswoche”. Combined with drone videos, visualizations and reconnaissance units on the ground, the satellites are “an essential tool for every modern army,” said US satellite expert Keith Masback to the newspaper.
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Are satellites the key to Ukraine’s success?
At the beginning of the invasion, Masback said the main concern was to find out where the Russian troops were and what they were doing. Then the methods became more and more sophisticated: “When Ukrainian analysts see certain pieces of equipment on satellite images, they can conclude what the Russian units are planning next.”
For example, you can see on the satellites when large headquarters are getting ready to move on – and are accordingly preparing for a larger attack. “And if you spot a certain type of radar, you know what missile system is likely to be deployed nearby and can respond to that.”
This is how satellite images help in the Ukraine war
Satellite images provide crucial clues
Not only in theory, but also in the practice of war, one can observe again and again how satellite images provide crucial information. As The Wall Street Journal writes, spy satellites from Planet Labs PBC were already monitoring the movements of Russian troops on the borders with Belarus and Ukraine before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
While Vladimir Putin, 69, claimed his troops were withdrawing from the border areas, satellite images showed the opposite and that Russia had built a bridge from Belarus to allow tanks to cross a river into Ukraine. PBC, which also works with the Pentagon, was able to spot the bridge because 200 of the satellites fly over Ukraine once a day.
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Spy satellites help form opinions
The data from these commercial spy satellites is now an integral, if often unofficial, part of the conflict, the newspaper notes, as it provides Ukraine with valuable intelligence to use in its fight against Russian forces. But the images also help shape opinion by exposing the destruction of civilian populations and possible war crimes.
For example, satellite images revealed the atrocities in Bucha and provided crucial evidence that Russian soldiers were brutally murdering innocent civilians there. Satellites have also been used to track refugee flows and locate mass graves in Ukraine.
Images from satellite company Blacksky showed on Thursday that three Russian pontoon bridges were destroyed by Ukraine. A large number of Russian war vehicles sank or burned as a result of these blasts, and observers assume that hundreds of Russians died. Ukraine managed a decisive push back from the Russian troops. (chs)