OSINT-Was USAF Jake 21 Constant Phoenix “Nuke Sniffer” Checking out IRINS Makran?

Intelligence Research Observatory 


Was the USAF Jake 21 Constant Phoenix “Nuke Sniffer” Checking out IRINS Makran?


Methodology-OSINT Research & Analysis 


Research & Analysis-S.A. Cavanagh 

Research Assistance-Chuck Stevens



The United States Air force Nuclear Sniffer plane WC-135W serial number 61-2667, call sign Jake 21 was spotted by OSINT flight followers, on 05 August 2021 conducting a suspected MASINT (Measurement and Signature Intelligence) mission over the Baltic Sea

Image of Jake 21 Flight Path Courtesy of Flight Radar 24

Image of Jake 21 Flight Path Courtesy of The Drive War Zone

Image of Jake 21 Flight Path Courtesy of Flight Radar 24


The CONSTANT PHOENIX WC-135W serves as an aerial collection platform for the Air Force Technical Applications Center (AFTAC), supporting the detection and identification of debris from nuclear weapons detonations and other scientific research. A single WC-135W [61-2667] is currently assigned to the 45th RS, 55th Wg at Offutt AFB. (FAS, 1997)


Image of CONSTANT PHOENIX WC-135W Courtesy of FAS


Reports on Why Phoenix 61-2667 was Spotted Over the Baltic Sea

There have been several open source speculations reported on why call sign Jake 21 was flying circuits at 5000 feet in this region.

Image of Flight Path Jake 21 Courtesy of Flight Radar 24

The Drive War Zone Journalist/analyst Joseph Trevithick recently reported Jake 21 may have been seeking MASINT on,

Image of Orel Submarine Courtesy of The Barents Observer

Russian Navy’s Oscar-II class nuclear guided-missile submarine Orel

  • Orel broke down while transiting out of the Baltic Sea into the North Sea via Denmark’s Great Belt strait. The vessel was reportedly having problems with propulsion, as per the Norwegian Armed Forces’ Joint Headquarters
  • It is unknown if the nuclear reactor was the problem with propulsion
  • Trevithick points out that, 61-2667 was already in transit to the region days before the Orel broke down, making the Orel an unlikely scenario for a USAF nuke sniffing mission (Drive War Zone, 2021)

De Faakto analysis suggests, the Orel incident maybe Russian intelligence misdirection to provide a plausible cover for other radiation signatures, if Russian intelligence got word of Phoenix 61-2667 heading to the general area, this could explain Russian intelligence leaking information about the Orel in distress


Regional Radiation Spikes

There are several reasonable explanations why the USAF would conduct a MASINT mission in the area

The area is notorious for former Soviet and current Russian,

  • Nuclear waste dumps
  • Nuclear power generation stations
  • Submarine naval bases emitting radiation from active and decommissioned nuclear submarines
  • Russia does not have a strong track record for cleaning up decommissioned nuclear waste or admitting radiation accidents and nuclear testing


Image Sevmorput Courtesy of Baird Marine

Sevmorput Cargo Ship

  • The Sevmorput is a Russian nuclear powered cargo ship
  • The Sevmorput was in dry dock undergoing repairs over the last year
  • The nuclear cargo ship maybe performing sea trials in the region, which may explain the Phoenix mission to sniff out radiation (Drive War Zone, 2021)


Routine MASINT Mission

  • The USAF maybe conducting a routine patrol to monitor radiation levels, as the area is notorious for  radiation signatures



De Faakto Intelligence Notes


IRIN Vessels Transit Baltic Sea to Russia, St. Petersburg & Kronshtadt

Image Map Courtesy of USNI News

  • Recently Iranian Naval Ship IRIN Makran transited the Baltic Sea accompanied by frigate destroyer IRIN Sahand. The vessels were headed to Russia for celebrations marking the occasion of Russia’s Main Naval Parade, the event took place in St Petersburg and Kronshtadt on July 25.  The annual Navy Day celebrations were attended by President Vladimir Putin, ships of the Indian, Pakistani, and Iranian navies also took part in the display (Euro News, 2021)


Image of Makran Courtesy of Maritime Executive


Installation of Naval Spoofing Equipment

  • Since leaving St. Petersburg, the IRIS Makran has been difficult to track, the Makran has gone missing for days at a time, several maritime ship followers have claimed notice of fake AIS as they have not been able to locate the Makran for periods of up to 6 days continuously
  • While not uncommon for navy assets to turn off their tracking beacon and disappear from time to time, the same maritime ship followers also claim there have been other interesting anomalies that indicate spoofing equipment may be responsible for hiding the actual location of the vessel Makran
  • There is little collaborating evidence at this time, however Russia is known to have GPS spoofing capability, most recently the Russian navy demonstrated the ability to spoof GPS systems, in the Black Sea when one of its vessels allegedly fired warning shots at British HMS Defender off the coast of Cape Fiolent, Crimea on 23 June 2021

De Faakto intelligence analysis indicates a strong possibility, that the IRIN Naval Ships Makran & frigate Sahands’ attendance in St. Petersburg may have been part of a more important operation that facilitated Russian technicians to install GPS location spoofing gear on the ships, to hide the locations of the vessels while sailing

Satellite Image of Makran Courtesy of CNN


Arms Transport

Counter Sanctions Smuggling Operations

De Faakto intelligence research denotes, that the IRIN Makran may have attended the Russian celebrations in St. Petersburg as a way to cover Iranian-Russian clandestine smuggling operations

  • Any number of materials and cargos could have been taken to Russia as a form of payment in trade for sanctioned materials & weapons Iran desires
  • The highest stakes mission for the Iranian government would be to smuggle out Russian nuclear materials and equipment for its underground nuclear weapons program
  • If the intelligence community suspected any transfer of weapons grade materials and equipment from Russia to Iran using the Makran, this could certainly account for the USAF nuclear sniffer Phoenix mission in the region on 05 August 2021
  • On 04 August 2021 the Makron shows it was underway near Denmark some distance away, however the Makran did transit through the general region in similar time frames, before the USAF WC-135W 61-2667 nuke sniffer conducted its MASINT mission on 05 August 2021
  • Given the strong possibility the Makran now has GPS spoofing capabilities; it is even plausible the Makran was the MASINT target of the Jake 21 mission
  • Any given number of operations to transfer sanctioned cargos including radioactive materials, could have taken place at sea between Russian and Iranian vessels in the region of the Jake 21 MASINT mission
  • It is worthwhile noting that parts of the Makran voyage were covered by the flight path of Jake 21


Image Courtesy of Flight Radar 24 & Twitter


The IRIN Makran as a Smuggler

  • The IRIN Makran is a forward operating base, support vessel, capable of various intelligence and logistical support missions
  • Most importantly the Makran is a former tanker that has been converted to its current naval multi role configuration
  • The Makran refit went from tanker to naval vessel in a 2 month period
  • This quick turnaround likely left much of the Makrans’ tanker cargo space intact, allowing it to carry significant volumes of materials, making Makran an ideal vessel for smuggling sanctioned material (Covert Shores, 2021)
  • In theory the Makran may now be a combination carrier (designed to carry oil or solid cargoes in bulk)
  • As Iran is under international sanctions because of its nuclear ambitions, IRIN can use the flagged naval vessel to transport illegal cargos and circumvent boarding in search of contraband (Covert Shores, 2021)


IRIN Navy Ships Sabotage and Readiness

  • The IRIN Makran is an important vessel and is therefore at stark risk for sabotage
  • International sanctions against Iran have taken a toll on Iranian infrastructure; its naval fleet has not been immune to lack of funding, materials and parts
  • IRIN navy vessels are poorly maintained and left in service without comprehensive overhaul for lengthy periods of time


Recently there have been several examples of IRINS poor readiness

Image of Kharg Burning Courtesy of UK Defense News



  • The Kharg Iranian supply ship caught fire in June of 2021 and sank near the strait of Hormuz, while the loss of the Kharg may have been an accident it is likely the incident was an act of sabotage conducted by Israeli Mossad operators, within hours a state owned oil refinery caught fire in Tehran adding to the probability of Israeli interference


Image of the Saviz Courtesy of Haaretz



  • The Saviz an Iranian spy ship was sabotaged in an explosion in the Red Sea in April 2021; Israel has been blamed for this attack


Image Damaged Konarak Vessel Courtesy of CTV News & Maxar Technologies



  • The Konarak support vessel was hit in 2020, by an anti-ship missile fired by another Iranian warship, the Jamaran frigate, killing nineteen sailors, this has been ruled an accident by the Islamic State, but displays IRINS embarrassing lack of expertise, De Faakto intelligence suggests a cyber attack conducted by Israel may have hijacked the missile and caused the friendly fire incident


Image of Damavand Courtesy of Tehran Times


  • The Damavand frigate sank in 2018 while sailing in the Caspian Sea, ostensibly due to high winds but down to human error in reality (Atlantic Council, 2021)



Intelligence Forecast IRIN Makran

De Faakto Forecasts the IRIN Makran will be targeted for sabotage, because the Makran operates as a forward base of operations for intelligence, logistical support, proxy and asymmetrical warfare.  The Makran is an older vessel, as robust and capable as she may be, as demonstrated by other IRIN incidents, she is probably not maintained to a high standard, nor does she have much in the way of defensive capability, making it susceptible to similar attacks conducted on the Saviz


Image Courtesy of USNI News


More About The IRIN Makran and its Maritime Utility

The Makran is a newly repurposed 40K tonne 228 meter former tanker which has been converted to a sort of multi-purpose Expeditionary Sea Base (ESB) which can provide range extension support to other naval ships in the IRIN fleet

IRIN claims the vessel is a force multiplier and provides the following capabilities,

  • A flight deck for helicopters, drones
  • Search and rescue
  • Special Forces support
  • Hospital facilities
  • Electronic warfare
  • Launch and basing for small fast attack water craft (Baird Maritime, 2021)


The 40,000-tonne, 228-metre forward base ship Makran, which reports indicate is probably a conversion of the Chinese-built, Maltese-registered bulker Persian Gulf, has been at sea since late December 2020. IRIN probably envisages the ship primarily as a force multiplier and range extender

The ship bears a superficial resemblance to the US Navy’s Expeditionary Sea Base (ESB) ships but lacks the ESB’s lower utility deck, which is used for the stowage and launching of landing craft and Special Forces’ boats as well as the transfer of stores

Like the ESBs, Makran lacks fixed defensive armament and is apparently not intended to go into harm’s way

The ship retains some fuel storage and transportation capability

It is therefore conceivable that another role could be support of the regular long-range deployments undertaken by IRIN frigates (Baird Maritime, 2021)




Curious Mission Flown Over the Baltic Sea by US Air Force Nuke Sniffing Plane-The Drive WarZone-Joseph Trevithick (2021) https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/41850/curious-mission-flown-over-the-baltic-sea-by-u-s-air-force-nuke-sniffing-plane

REVERSE ENGINEERING AND ADAPTATION ENABLE IRAN’S NAVAL EXPANSION [NAVAL GAZING] –Baird Maritime-Trevor Hollingsbee (2021) https://www.bairdmaritime.com/work-boat-world/maritime-security-world/naval/column-reverse-engineering-and-adaptation-enable-irans-naval-expansion-naval-gazing/

50 Warships Take Part in Russia’s Navy Day Parade in St. Petersburg-EURONEWS-Staff Writers (2021) https://www.euronews.com/2021/07/25/over-50-warships-take-part-in-russia-s-navy-day-parade-in-st-petersburg

Iranian Warships Appear To Try To Sneak Into North Sea-Covert Shores-H.I. Sutton (2021)http://www.hisutton.com/Iranian-Warships-Seen-Leaving-Baltic.html

Iran just lost one of its largest ships. It’s a major embarrassment-Atlantic Council-Robert Czulda (2021) https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/iransource/iran-just-lost-one-of-its-largest-ships-its-a-major-embarrassment/

OSINT Assistance Provided by

Hans de Vreij
  • Dutch journalist (ret.). Covered EU, G8, NATO, UN, WMD. Former correspondent in Berlin, Brussels, Geneva, Prague. Когда-то занималься русским языком. Hа пенсии.


Michael J. Sanchez



Editing Assistance Provided by Milena Castulovich