About ss27topol

Freelance writer/photographer. Primarily my work is for IHS Jane's publications such as Fighting Ships, Intelligence Review, Defence Weekly, Navy International and International Defence Review - but there's also Warship International Fleet Review and radio magazines such as The Spectrum Monitor

Link-11 SLEW with go2MONITOR

In early November, whilst working on an article for Jane’s, I noticed a Link-11 SLEW signal on 4510 kHz (CF) that was slowly growing in reception strength. I’d been monitoring frequencies used by the Northern Fleet of the Russian navy around this one and had already spotted that Link-11 CLEW was being used on a nearby frequency, though this remained at a constant signal strength at my location. The fact that the Link-11 SLEW was getting stronger made me stop what I was doing and start concentrating on this instead.

AirSpy HF+ Discovery SDR with SDRConsole operating software. Link-11 SLEW signal in Receiver 1, and the weaker Link-11 CLEW signal in Receiver 3. Whilst there a two SLEW signals showing, there is just one, with the left hand one being produced by the strong signal. You can see the weaker transmissions from a receiving station between the stronger ones on the correct frequency, but not on the “reflection”.

Link-11 SLEW (Single-Tone Link-11 waveform) ,or STANAG 5511, is a NATO Standard for tactical data exchange used between multiple platforms, be it on Land, Sea or Air. Its main function is the exchange of radar information, and in HF this is particularly useful for platforms that are beyond line of sight of each other and therefore cannot use the UHF version of Link-11.

With propagation being the way it is, in theory radar data could be exchanged between platforms that are hundreds to thousands of miles apart, therefore providing a wider picture of operations to other mobile platforms and fixed land bases. This data can also be forwarded on using ground stations that receive the data and then re-transmit on another frequency and/or frequency band. However, the approximate range of an individual broadcast on HF is reported to be 300nm.

As well as radar information, electronic warfare (EW) and command data can also be transmitted, but despite the capability to transmit radar data, it is not used for ATC purposes. In the UK, Link-11 is used by both the RAF (in E-3 AWAC’s and Tactical Air Control Centres) and the Royal Navy. Primarily it is used for sharing of Maritime data. Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA’s) such as USN P-8’s and Canadian CP-140’s use Link-11 both as receivers and transmitters of data, so when the RAF start using their P-8’s operationally in 2020 expect this to be added to the UK list. Whilst it is a secure data system, certain parameters can be extracted for network analysis and it can be subjected to Electronic Countermeasures (ECM).

Link-11 data is correlated against any tracks already present on a receivers radar picture. If a track is there it is ignored, whilst any that are missing are added but with a different symbol to show it is not being tracked by their own equipment. As this shared data is normally beyond the range of a ships own radar systems, this can provide an early warning of possible offensive aircraft, missiles or ships that would not normally be available.

I started up go2MONITOR and linked it to my WinRadio G31 Excalibur. Using a centre frequency of 4510 kHz I ran an emission search and selected the Link-11 SLEW modulation that it found at this frequency.

It immediately started decoding as much as it could, and I noticed that three Address ID’s were in the network.

go2MONITOR in action just after starting it up. Note, three ID’s in the network – 2_o, 30_o and 71_o

As the signal was strong, and it is normally maritime radar data that is being transmitted, I decided to have a quick look on AIS to see if there was anything showing nearby. Using AISLive I spotted that Norwegian navy Fridtjof Nansen class FFGHM Thor Heyerdahl was 18.5 nm SW of my location, just to the west of the island Ailsa Craig. Whilst it was using an incorrect name for AIS identification, its ITU callsign of LABH gave me the correct ID. This appeared to be the likely candidate for the strong Link-11 signal.

Position of Thor Heyerdahl from my AIS receiver using AISLive software

It wasn’t the best day and it was pretty murky out to sea with visibility being around 5nm – I certainly couldn’t see the Isle of Arran 11.5 nm away. I kept an eye on the AIS track for Thor Heyerdahl but it didn’t appear to be moving.

Whilst my own gear doesn’t allow me to carry out any Direction Finding (DF) I elected to utilise SDR.hu and KiwiSDR’s to see if I could get a good TDoA fix on a potential transmitter site – TDoA = Time Difference Of Arrival, also known as multilateration or MLAT. Whilst not 100% accurate, TDoA is surprisingly good and will sometimes get you to within a few kilometres of a transmission site with a strong signal.

One of my thoughts was that the signal was emanating from the UK Defence High Frequency Communications Service (DHFCS) site at either St. Eval in Cornwall or Inskip in Lancashire. With this in mind I picked relevant KiwiSDR’s that surrounded these two sites and my area and ran a TDoA.

St. Eval transmitter site at 50°28’43.0″N 4°59’58.0″W
Inskip transmitter site at 53°49’26.6″N 2°50’14.1″W

As expected, the result showed the probable transmitter site as just over 58 kilometres from St. Eval, though the overall shape and “hot area” of the TDoA map also covered Inskip, running along the West coast of England, Wales and Scotland. It peaked exactly in line to where the Norwegian navy ship and I were located! With the fact that there were signals being received from three different sources it is highly likely this has averaged out to this plot.

TDoA result showing the likely transmitter site at 50.60N 4.20W. Note the elongated “hot spot” which denotes the area that the transmitter site is likely to be situated.

Just after 10am the weather cleared allowing me to see a US Navy Arleigh Burke class DDGHM between myself and Arran. This added an extra ship to the equation, and also tied in with the TDoA hot spot. Things were getting even more interesting!

Link-11 SLEW at its strongest which also coincided with USS Gridley being its closest to my location.

Thor Heyerdahl still hadn’t moved according to AISLive but the Arleigh Burke was clearly heading in to the Royal Navy base at Faslane. With my Bearcat UBC-800T scanning the maritime frequencies it wasn’t long before “Warship 101” called up for Clyde pilot information along with an estimate for Ashton Buoy of 1300z. Warship 101 tied up with Arleigh Burke USS Gridley.

The Link-11 SLEW signal was considerably weaker at the time USS Gridley was at Ashton Buoy.

As USS Gridley progressed towards Faslane, the signal started to get weaker. Ashton Buoy is where most ships inbound for Faslane meet the pilot and tugs, taking up to another 30 minutes to get from there to alongside at the base – a journey of about 8.5nm.

At 1328z the Link-11 SLEW signal ended which coincided with the time that USS Gridley approached alongside at Faslane. It would be at about this time that most of the radar systems used on the ship would have been powered down so data was no longer available for transmission, therefore the Link-11 network was not required any further and it was disconnected.

The Link-11 SLEW signal disappeared at 1328z
Some images of USS Gridley arriving into Faslane taken by good friend Dougie Coull

So, was this Link-11 SLEW connected to USS Gridley? And was the ship also the NCS of the network? I think the answer is yes to both, and I’ll explain a couple of things that leads me to this conclusion. But first…………….

Link-11 SLEW Technical details

Using Upper Side Band (USB) in HF, a single waveform is generated in a PSK-8 modulated, 1800 Hz tone. The symbol rate is 2400 Bd and the user data rate is 1800 bps. Link-11 SLEW is an improved version of the older Link-11 CLEW modulation and due to enhanced error detection and correction is a more robust method of sending data. This makes it more likely that transmissions are received correctly the first time. Moreover, an adaptive system is used to counter any multipath signals the receiving unit may experience due to HF propagation.

The waveform transmission consists of an acquisition preamble followed by two or more fields, each of which is followed by a reinsertion probe. The field after the preamble is a header field containing information that is used by the CDS (Combat Data System) and an encryptor. If a network Participating Unit (PU) has any data, for instance track data, this follows the reinsertion probe. Finally, an end-of-message (EOM) is sent followed by a reinsertion probe.

The header is made up of 33 data bits and 12 error detection bits (CRC – Cyclic Redundancy Check). The 45 bit sequence is encoded with a 1/2 rate error correction code therefore giving a 90 bit field. The header contains information on the transmission type used, Picket/Participating Unit (PU) address, KG-40 Message Indicator, the NCS/Picket designation and a spare field.

Broken down, each piece of information is made up as follows:

The transmission type indicates the format of the transmission – 0 for a NCS (Network Control) Interrogation Message (NCS IM); 1 for a NCS Interrogation with Message (NCS IWM) or a Picket reply.

The address contains either the address of the next Picket or that of the Picket that initiated the call.

The KG-40 Message Indicator (MI) contains a number sequence generated by a KG-40AR cryptographic device. Synchronization is achieved when the receiver acquires the correct MI. For a NCS IM this will be made up of zeros as no message or data is actually sent.

The NCS/Picket designation identifies whether the current transmission originates from the NCS or PU: 0 = NCS; 1 = PU

Following on from the header, the SLEW data field consists of 48 information data bits along with 12 error detection and correction bits, themselves encoded with 2/3 rate error correction. This creates a 90 bit data field. 

The EOM indicates the end of the transmission and is also a 90 bit field. There are no error detection or correction bits. Depending on the unit that is transmitting, a different sequence is sent – NCS = 0’s; PU = 1’s

Analysis

There is a specific order of transmissions which takes place for data to be exchanged.

Ordinarily the NCS sends data that creates the network, synchronizing things such as platform clocks etc. Each PU is called by the NCS and any data that a PU has is then sent, or the NCS sends data, or both. This is a very simple explanation of how data is exchanged but if you monitor a SLEW network you’ll see the exchanges take place rapidly. Except for the message itself which is encrypted, go2MONITOR will decode all the relevant information for you for analysis. This means that you don’t need to look at each raw data burst as sent to calculate whether it was a PU reply or NCS IWM, the decoder will do this for you.

At this point I need to say that Link-11 decoding is only available in the Mil version of go2MONITOR so doesn’t come as standard. Should you be interested in Link-11 decoding yourself then you would need to go for the full go2MONITOR package to enable this.

As previously mentioned, the data itself is encrypted but it is possible to try to calculate who is who within the network, and the analysis of the header information in particular will give you a good clue if you already know of potential PU’s that could be on the frequency.

In this case we already have four possible PU’s:

  1. USS Gridley
  2. Thor Heyerdahl
  3. St. Eval transmitter site
  4. Inskip transmitter site

It later transpired that Thor Heyerdahl had gone into Belfast Harbour for repairs so this practically cancelled out this ship as the NCS though it could still be a PU. Moreover, Thor Heyerdahl and USS Gridley were part of the same NATO squadron at that time which meant it was highly likely they were on the same network. This left us with three choices for the NCS, but still four for the network.

Here, I’d cancel out Inskip completely as both the NCS and a PU as the TDoA appeared to give a stronger indication to St. Eval – that left us with three in the network.

The pure fact that the strength of the major signal increased as USS Gridley got closer to my location, then slowly faded as she went further away added to my theory of her being the NCS. This was practically confirmed when the signal stopped on arrival to Faslane. Throughout the monitoring period he other signals on the frequency remained at the same strength.

Based on this, this meant that the strong signal was USS Gridley using ID Address 2_o.

Let’s take a look at one the previous screenshots, but this time with annotations explaining a number of points.

Firstly, we need to look for the NCS. The easiest way to do this is to look at the NCS/Picket Designation and find transmissions that are a zero, combined with a Message Type that indicates it is a NCS IWM. Here, there is just one transmission and that emanates from Address ID 2_o – the long one that includes a data message.

We next need to find NCS/Picket Designation transmissions that still have a zero – therefore coming from the NCS – but that have a Message Type that show it to be a NCS IM. These are calls from the NCS to any PU’s that are on the network looking to see if they have any “traffic” or messages.

Because of this there should be numerous messages of this type, and if you notice none have an ID address of 2_o. However, all of these messages are actually coming from 2_o as the ID address shown in a NCS IM is that of the PU being called rather than who it is from.

Any reply messages from PU’s will show as a NCS IWM/PU Reply transmission, but importantly the NCS/PU designation will be a one – showing it isn’t the NCS. Here there is one data reply from 71_o. You’ll notice that in the “reflection” there isn’t any transmission, unlike the ones from 2_o.

Moreover, though not shown here as the messages were off screen and not captured in the screen grab, you can see that one of the PU’s sent another reply message. As I was able to look at the complete message history I was able to see that this was also from 71_o – and 2_o either replied to this or sent further data.

There are two fainter transmissions which were not captured by go2MONITOR. These were from a PU, and must have been 30_o as there are no transmissions at all in the sequence that are from this ID address.

We now have a quandry. Who was 30_o and who was 71_o?

Data is definitely being sent by 71_o so to me this is more likely to be a ship rather than a transmitter site – but – a strong TDoA signal pointing at St. Eval makes it look like 71_o is this location instead.

Now though, we need to think outside the box a bit and realise that I’m looking at two different sources of radio reception. The TDoA receivers I selected were nowhere near my location as I’d selected KiwiSDR’s that surrounded St. Eval. This meant the signal that was weak with me could have been strong with these, therefore giving the result above.

If I base the fact that I think USS Gridley is 2_o due to strength, then I must presume the same with 71_o and call this as Thor Heyerdahl as this is the second strongest signal. I can also say that having gone through the four and a half hours of Link-11 SLEW transmissions available that 30_o never sent a single data transmission – or rather, not one that was received by me.

Full four and a half hours of Link-11 SLEW as shown in the go2MONITOR results page. You can see other areas (in red) that I was decoding at the same same. By selecting an area in the results page you can access the data as decoded, saved into files. I could have further enhanced this and carried out a full audio recording for further analysis, but I didn’t on this occasion.

Here then is my conclusion:

  1. USS Gridley = 2_o and the NCS
  2. Thor Heyerdahl = 71_o
  3. St. Eval transmitter site = 30_o

Of course, we’ll never really know, but I hope this shows some of the extra things you can do with go2MONITOR and that it isn’t just a decoder. It really can add further interest to your radio monitoring if you’re an amateur; and if you’re a professional with a full plethora of gear, direction finders, receiver networks etc. then you really can start getting some interesting results in SIGINT gathering with this software – and highly likely be able to pinpoint exactly who was who in this scenario.

Now, how do I get some Direction Finders set up near me….Hmmmmmm??

British Airways discriminates against Cross-country skiers

With the Biathlon and Cross-Country ski season now started I thought it time I write about British Airways and its discriminating policy that stops people who partake in these sports from taking their own equipment with the airline.

But, before I explain why BA discriminates against Cross-Country skiers and Biathletes – and for that matter, ski jumpers; a little bit of history.

Having a break on a trail in Norway

Wikipedia’s page on Cross-Country skiing (also known as Nordic skiing) goes into the history in greater detail so it is pointless doing the same thing, but effectively people have been travelling across the land by skies for millennia. Around 550 AD seems to be a popular time for the first real evidence of Cross-Country skiing (XCS) taking place in Nordic areas, though there is also evidence that it possibly took place as far back as 6000 BC in Asia.

The equipment really wasn’t much different to what it is today, though it was obviously all made out of wood rather than the composites used today. Skis were known to be over 350 cm in length for some uses which in the majority was for easy travel in winter periods, though they also assisted in winter hunting.

From this spawned Ski warfare, recorded as such in Denmark in the 13th Century, further spawning into Biathlon in more recent times – although it could be argued that it started at the same time as XCS due to tribal hunting in the winter.

Alpine skiing on the other hand is a recent pastime. Whilst downhill is part of XCS – what goes up, must come down – to actually go up a mountain/hill for the specific reason to come straight back down again, at the same spot rather than on a route, seems to have started in the 1850’s. And even this was part of a military competition in Norway where certain ski disciplines were given for regimental competition – shooting at mark while skiing at top speed, downhill race among trees, downhill race on big hills without falling, and a long race on flat ground while carrying rifle and military pack.

It can be seen then that XCS and Biathlon were the first ski disciplines to have been invented, and that alpine skiing is a follow on to these.

XCS and Biathlon also has a much wider viewing audience, and more people take part in XCS than alpine skiing for physical fitness – millions more in fact. When we attend the yearly Biathlon World cup week in Ruhpolding, Bavaria, the crowd attendance starts at around 15,000 people on the first day – a wednesday – peeking at 25,000 on the sunday.

Our video from the Ruhpolding Biathlon World Cup in 2016

XCS is deemed to be one of the hardest sports on the planet, yet out on the Nordic and Bavarian plains we regularly see people that must be into their 80’s happily skiing round the routes to keep fit and healthy. In the countries where snow is prevalent in the winter, schools teach the skills as part of their physical education lessons from an early age. It is thought near to 100% of the Norwegian population, past and present, have Nordic skied at some stage in their life, with around 80% of the current adult population actively still taking part.

It is because of this that countries such as Norway, Sweden and Germany excel on the professional XCS and Biathlon tracks in World Cups and Olympics. Newer countries are coming to the forefront though, with the USA and Canada getting better with each year.

Britain too has both XCS and Biathlon athletes, though as expected they are not large in numbers. We do have Andrew Musgrave just outside the world’s top 20 in XCS, and for Biathlon Amanda Lightfoot competes in the women’s World Cup – both have participated in Winter Olympics. Going back in time a little, now Eurosport presenter Mike Dixson is one of only seven athletes to have competed in six Winter games; and one of only fifty that has participated in six Olympic games.

Andrew can also be found on Twitter:
https://twitter.com/musgraveandrew

The future looks good though for the British teams as more people are getting interested and involved in the sport. Biathlon in particular is taken up by the British military personnel not only for winter warfare requirements, but for team competitions between Britain and other countries militaries. For the first time in a number of years Britain could have a small Biathlon team in the IBU World Cup this year.

There are now many clubs in the UK dedicated to XCS and the advent of social media has made the memberships of these grow in the last few years as information on the sport increases. TV channels such as Eurosport also brings XCS and Biathlon to a wider UK audience, therefore increasing the numbers of people that may become involved. BA in theory are reducing the chances of this happening by not allowing people to buy their own gear and travel.

Amanda is also on Twitter: https://twitter.com/amandabiathlon1

So, where am I going with all this? Why is British Airways the target of this blog?

The reason is because, despite XCS being the first discipline in skiing, the airline discriminates against those that partake in the sport by not allowing them to carry XC and Biathlon skis on their aircraft due to a ridiculous bag length policy – max length 190cm! This allowance only allows Alpine skiers the chance to take their own equipment.

BA is only one of three in over 40 airlines that I analysed that have such a restrictive allowance – and one of these was the now no more Thomas Cook Airline. But, out of all the mainline, large airlines of the world BA was the worst that flies to XCS destinations. Some airlines with a mixed fleet do have restrictions, but from my analysis aircraft types that do fly to the XCS destinations fall into the ski length allowance – FlyBe for example, though they do also have some strange policies in ski carriage (see table below).

Theoretically only children and very small, lightweight adults would be able to take XC skis on a BA flight – I’ll explain why shortly. But even then there may be issues. Most XC ski bags are generic and designed to take all lengths of skis, therefore pushing the chance to fly with BA out of the window. OK, this isn’t a problem if you happen to live near Heathrow where you have a huge choice of airlines, but up here in Scotland where the choice is basically BA via Heathrow you are limited.

Lufthansa flew direct to Munich last year from Glasgow but ended this schedule due to low passenger numbers; and EasyJet runs services from Edinburgh but the times/days of the week do not fit in well with most holidays as they are not a daily service, and the destinations are limited. Norwegian Air Shuttle also fly out of Edinburgh, but obviously only to Norway and so limited in destinations also.

I mentioned earlier about children and small adults possibly being able to take their own equipment. This is because of the way the required ski lengths is calculated.

There’s mixed methods but it is either done on the weight or height of the skier – sometimes a mixture of both – to come up with the required length. On average then, most male adults need skis of approx 200 cm with women needing 195 cm. Steph fits into this 195 cm category despite being relatively short and lightweight; I’m at 201 cm.

BA’s policy takes none of this into consideration and they have thrown a blanket length on ALL items that go in the hold. So you can have 190 cm golf clubs if you want – perfect if you were over 8ft tall.

But this isn’t the end of it. There is no real reason as to why they have chosen this length. They fly aircraft that other airlines fly, they use the same hold baggage containers – in fact, most airlines just interchange the hold containers with no airline using their own each time. On my first enquiry call to BA, their customer services agent informed me that they were too long for the width of the aircraft they operate!! Errr, the A.380??? Then I happily pointed out that the likes of Lufthansa and Finnair (a code-sharer in OneWorld – I’ll get to that bit in a minute) happily manage in their A.320’s so why not BA?? No answer.

A pool of baggage containers at Montreal airport being used by Air Canada. Most actually “belong” to other airlines but are used by any as required.

In a later email – a copy of which is below – I was then told that it was in fact Terminal 5 that was the issue and that the conveyors and baggage machinery cannot accept bags of this length – except for the fact that Iberia (another code sharer and a merged airline with BA) also operates out of T5 and guess what? They allow ANY length of bag but with a weight restriction and possible fee depending on short haul/long haul. So the T5 argument is also complete rubbish.

The final, and quite frankly, ridiculous problem is the OneWorld alliance differences in the allowances. BA is the only airline in the group that will not allow most XC ski lengths – the next nearest has a limitation of 203 cm, American allow up to 320 cm!

With these differences you really could find yourself in trouble if you have booked a code-shared flight with BA. For example, if you were to book a flight from the USA with American Airlines via Heathrow connecting onto a BA flight to Oslo, your bags would, in theory, be abandoned at Heathrow.

But it’s not as simple as that.

For travel that involves more than one carrier, the “Most Significant Carrier” concept helps determine whose baggage rules apply for the itinerary. This is based on IATA Resolution 302, effective since 1 April 2011.

These rules are based on a “checked portion” concept, which refers to the point where baggage check-in occurs, until the next stopover where the passenger collects their baggage. The Most Significant Carrier between these two points of travel, chosen according to IATA definitions, will define the baggage policy for the whole itinerary. 

So, in the above case, the bags SHOULD go on to Oslo on the BA flight as American were the significant carrier – the longest portion of the flight.

But, what makes the whole thing ridiculous is that if you buy a BA ticket just from Heathrow to Oslo, and happen to be on the same flight as people that have flown from the US to Oslo – you can’t take your XC skis, but the US ones can – on the same aircraft!! This also makes a mockery of the T5 argument mentioned earlier.

BA seriously need to sort this out, and nearly one year ago they stated to me that they were going to change their allowances to be in line with the rest of OneWorld. This appears to have been a complete lie.

Response from BA in January:

I fully understand your disappointment with the current baggage dimensions we permit under our policy, compared to that of our oneworld partners and other airlines.

I recognise that you feel strongly that this policy should be changed to match those baggage dimensions offered by other airlines.  At this time, there are certain areas of inconsistency within oneworld partners’ policies.  Many of our policies are currently being reviewed, in order to try to provide consistency and standardisation.  This is being performed to benefit our customers and the business equally.  

It’s only through your feedback we’re able to focus on areas where we need to improve, so we can offer you the best possible service.  I’ve fully logged your comments and observations about the current permitted item dimensions.  Sometimes it can take time for us to fix any problems we’re having and make changes to our policies, but we’ll always work hard to make sure they get resolved.  Our Chairman and CEO, Alex Cruz, makes sure we improve continuously across all areas of our business, and I know our customers will see a number of positive changes being introduced soon. 

However, as I advised in my previous correspondence, the maximum baggage dimensions we currently permit is up to 190x65x75cm for items our customers carry within their allowance.  This is due to airport and aircraft baggage systems restrictions, which we state on our website.  Until any changes are made to the current equipment in operation, then the policy for these eligible dimensions will remain in place for all our customers. 

I’ll be sending a copy of this blog to Alex Cruz seeing as he seems to want to improve the airline.

Should you still insist on taking your own equipment it can only go as cargo. Their website points you to IAG Cargo to do this. However, it doesn’t travel with you! You have to to package it up – in other words box it all up – deliver it to the nearest IAG Cargo airport days before you travel, and hopefully receive it whilst you are actually on your holiday. Of course, this counts for the return flight too! On requesting a quote for this from IAG for taking our equipment to Canada, our ski bag with fours pairs of skis, four pairs of boots and 4 poles weighing 15 KG in total was nearly £600!

When you consider that we are going to Bavaria in January with Lufthansa who allow a ski bag as an extra bag – either at a small cost or free depending on class of travel – and to Norway in March with Norwegian – for £80 return as an extra bag – you can see just how much BA have lost the plot and what they think of their travelling public.

In the last year I have communicated with BA on numerous occasions. They lied to me nearly each time. They have also sent me around 10 customer survey requests asking them to comment on their airline to help them improve their services. I, of course, mentioned all of this in the surveys, also requesting that they reply to it. On no occasion did they respond, instead just sending me another survey hoping I’d say they are the best at everything.

They are currently celebrating their 100th year and pumping out lots of propaganda about how amazing they are, respraying a number of their aircraft in “retro” markings of the airline. The irony here being that back in the days of these retro schemes they were one of the best airlines in the world. Now they’re just expensive offering a cheap service.

From the tables below you will see that British Airways is by far the worst airline when it comes to Cross-country skiing and Biathlon equipment. Cathay and JAL would be a squeeze but they’d fit, the rest would be easy. You could give BA the benefit of the doubt that they may not have done it intentionally as they didn’t know the differences in equipment but I have made them fully aware of their discrimination over the last year, and yet they’ve done nothing about it.

There is absolutely no doubt that airline baggage allowances – be it for ski, other sport equipment or just normal baggage – is a mess with so many differences between the airlines it makes it near impossible to find any consistency. 300 cm seems to be the most common baggage length though – over a third more than BA.

Come on BA, countries that are basically 100% desert allow more for XCS than you! And if that doesn’t make you think about changing, even Ryanair have a better allowance – that’s how bad an airline you’ve become!

Selection of OneWorld alliance Airlines

AirlineAllowanceNotes
British Airways190 cm or approx £600 by cargoPart of baggage allowance
American Airlines320 cmPossible fee depending on class of travel
Finnair220 cm, max 23 kgFee depending on class. Extra bag outside of allowance
IberiaNo length, max 23 kgShort haul £40 Each way
Long haul part of allowance
Cathay Pacific203 cmPart of baggage allowance
JAL203 cmPart of baggage allowance
Malaysian 300 cmPart of baggage allowance or fee depending on class of travel

Selection of other airlines of the world

AirlineAllowancenotes
Lufthansa315 cm, max 32 kgFee or free depending on class of travel. Extra bag outside of allowance
RyanairNo length, max 20 kgFee £25 each way. Extra bag outside of allowance
EasyJetNo length, max 32 kgFee
Norwegian250 cm, max 32 kgFee £35 each way. Extra bag outside of allowance
SASNo specific restrictionsPart of allowance for class
Air France300 cmPart of allowance
KLM300 cm, max 23 kg or 32 kg depending on class of travelPart of allowance
Air CanadaNo restrictionsExtra bag regardless of allowance and class
WestJet300 cmPart of allowance. $50CAD fee
Emirates300 cmPart of allowance or possible fee
Etihad300 cmPart of allowance
UnitedNo length, max 23 kgPart of allowance
Turkish AirlinesNo length, max 23 kgPart of allowance
FlyBe250 cmExtra bag outside of allowance. Certain aircraft types only.
Fee is £30 each way per “kit”. That would mean £120 each way for us as we take four “kits” between us in one bag. Moreover, even though these would be pre-booked, because they would be in one bag and therefore saving space, the airline would put these as stand-by and they may be refused. Because of this, FlyBe are pushing the ridiculous too.

PROCITEC go2MONITOR overview

If you follow me on Twitter you’ll see that in the last month or so I’ve been sending out images of classification and decoder software go2MONITOR working with a number of my SDR’s.

go2MONITOR is part of the go2SIGNALS range of software solutions created by PROCITEC GmbH operating from Pforzheim in Germany, themselves part of the PLATH group. PLATH Group is the leading European-based solution provider for communication intelligence and electronic warfare (EW) with worldwide government customers. The group covers all aspects of signal interception and analysis split between a number of companies such as PROCITEC. EW, COMINT/SIGINT, Jamming and Decoding are just a small part of what the group specialises in.

go2MONITOR is advanced high-performance, automatic HF, VHF and UHF monitoring software capable of recording, SDR control, wideband and narrowband classification and multichannel signal decoding.

It isn’t for the faint hearted, but once you get used to using it, it really does make gathering information on networks extremely easy. And it decodes many modes other software can’t.

In a series of blogs I’m going to show you the capabilities of this amazing software, though I must stress now, it is aimed at Professional SIGINT gathering and it comes with a Professional price tag.

Saying that, it doesn’t mean it isn’t available to the non-professional. It is open to all and to cover this it comes in various versions starting with the Standard package progressing to a full Military package – which gives you the full range of HF, VHF and UHF classification and modem recognition decoders available, including PMR and SAT (Inmarsat AERO). The Standard version isn’t to be sniffed at, it still gives you an amazing range of decoders, though you could easily argue that many of these are available in other free – or near to free – decoding software like MultiPSK or Sorcerer. A full list of decoders available can be found here. Note, this list is broken down into the various packages and not all are available with the Standard option. Confirm what belongs to what if you’re thinking of purchasing.

Various signals within the Satellite L-band using an AirSpy R2 and SDR#

So what’s the difference in what go2MONITOR can do with other software available? That’s the idea of these blogs, to answer just that question. It will take quite a few blogs – mainly because there isn’t just one answer.

Here then, is a brief overview of what can be done, what SDR’s it works with – in fact, not just SDR’s but all receivers that can produce a recording – and any other things I can think of.

As, I’ve said then, it can decode pretty much any data signal out there. Obviously, some signals are encrypted so it wouldn’t fully decode unless you had the key, but you can get the encrypted messages. It can also classify voice signals, not just data. So, if you wanted to hunt out various voice networks, go2MONITOR can assist you in doing this.

Here is where it excels. Classification – and doing it very quickly.

Imagine being on your SDR (SDR1) and you can see a whole load of data signals on the waterfall/spectrum and you quickly want to know what they all are. With go2MONITOR operating another SDR (SDR2) you can dial in the centre frequency of the bandwidth shown on SDR1 into the go2MONITOR/SDR2 combo, click one button – Find Emissions – and within seconds the whole bandwidth has been analysed and every signal classified.

I’ll go back a step though here. You don’t need two SDR’s. One will do. SDR1 – as long as it is a compatible SDR – can be controlled through a GUI by go2MONITOR. The software includes a waterfall/spectrum display. Like all SDR software, these displays are fully adaptable to how you like to see the signals.

The previous L-band bandwidth but his time using go2MONITOR and the AirSpy R2 GUI, decoding INMARSAT 3-F2

Either way, you now have a list of every emission that go2MONITOR has received within that bandwidth. This list includes Modulation type, Frequency, Bandwidth, Symbol (Baud) rate and SNR. It also shows which SDR you have used for interception (useful if you’re using go2MONITOR with more than SDR at the same time, but also with other advanced features such as network control), and it also shows if the frequency is already stored within the frequency database – yes, you can create this too; or import ready made databases in a CSV format.

All the emissions within the bandwidth have been analysed and types ascertained.

Already then, you have built up a picture of what these signals are. One thing to note. If the signal type is not one of those included within the package you have, it will be classed as unknown. Example – a STANAG 4285 will show as unknown in the Standard and PMR/SAT package, but will be classified correctly in the MIL package.

OK, those of us that are looking at SDR’s all the time can pretty much tell what the signals are just by looking at them, so there’s no great advantage here is there? Except, now go2MONITOR has logged these in its database which can be searched through at a later date – handy if you’re looking for potential schedules for example.

However, the next step is where things get interesting. By putting one of these emissions into a “Channel” you can carry out an advanced classification, recognition and decode. You have multiple choices here, but I generally start off with a Classification. Whilst the software has already decided what the emission type is, by doing this it double checks just this one channel and produces a choice of decoders that it is likely to be.

go2MONITOR in Classification mode. Here it has calculated that the FSK emission received has a 50 Bd symbol rate with two tones with 859 Hz spacing. From this it has deduced it is likely to be one of four modems – one of which is ALE-400.

By using STANAG 4285 as an example, it will put this into the list of choices, but it may put other PSK signals there too. By clicking on another button, this puts the channel into Recognition mode and it reduces the hundreds of decoders down to just those in the classification list produced. The software then calculates which is the best decoder and starts to decode the signal.

If you think about STANAG 4285 in other software, you generally have to try all the various potential Baud rates – is it Long Interleaving? is it Short? etc etc. Well go2MONITOR does this automatically. It checks the alphabet and protocol and will decode it if known. More often than not it can’t calculate the alphabet, but every now and again it does and it will produce encrypted data – don’t forget, if it’s encrypted it won’t decrypt it without the correct key.

By continuing on the process from the Classification mode into the Recognition & Decode mode, here from another emission go2MONITOR has selected the CIS-50-50 modem and started to decode the message.

This further Recognition and Decoding is also stored in the database for later analysis, along with a recorded wav file for playback and deeper signal analysis.

Seriously, it is harder describing it in text than it is doing it so I’ve created a video that’s at the end of this blog.

I mentioned previously that the software works with receivers that aren’t SDR’s. That’s because, as long as you can create a wav file recording – Narrowband as it’s known in go2MONITOR – it can be analysed. There are things missing, the actual frequency for instance (though this can be typed into a text box so that you can then have the right information – this i’ll show in a later blog). Time stamps aren’t naturally there but again you can add these by telling the software to use the time the recording was started.

I’ve used recordings made on my Icom IC-R8500 as an example of this but it is literally the bandwidth of the mode used by the receiver that is shown on the go2MONITOR spectrogram.

You don’t actually need to own a receiver of your own. Use an online SDR such as a KiwiSDR, record the IQ as a wav file and play it back through go2MONITOR for analysis. I’m doing just that for a Jane’s Intelligence Review magazine article.

If you use SDRConsole, then you may have also tried the File Analyser function that I blogged about in August last year. The File Analyser in SDRC is excellent, there’s no doubt about it, but it has one drawback. Once you’ve carried out your recording you have to create a run through of the recording, making an XML file that effectively joins all the wav files up. If you’ve made a wide and long IQ recording this can take quite some time. With most of my overnight recordings – normally 7 hours long, with a 768 kHz bandwidth – this takes around 45 minutes to complete.

With go2MONITOR you can also record the bandwidth IQ data. With this you can do two things. Firstly you can run it through as a normal playback, classifying and decoding as you go. Secondly though, you can open the Results window which gives you a time based view of the whole recording allowing you to immediately see any transmissions. Unlike SDRC Analyser, the signals have already been classified, and more importantly, this is done straight away without any need to create an XML file first. The Results window will be covered in greater detail in a blog of its own.

Analysing a Wav file made using the IQ recording capabilities with go2MONITOR
Further analysis of a STANAG 4285 emission within the recording.

However, there are no decodings here. With just an IQ recording you need to play it back and run an emission search etc. There are some basic automation tasks available, such as setting up an emissions search every 10 seconds.

But, if you have the Automated Monitoring and Tasking package, you can also have the software automatically record, recognise and decode a single emission type – or all emissions types within the bandwidth, a set frequency, between two frequencies or any other parameters you may wish to set up.

The go2MONITOR results window of a IQ recording that has been set up to automatically run an emissions search every 10 seconds. The blue rectangles are every emission found. By running the mouse of them you can get basic information on each emission. Clicking on them brings further details that can be viewed in the tabbed area to the right.
The red rectangles are emissions that have also been Recognised and Decoded. By clicking on them the decoded data is shown in the tabbed area.

The list of SDR’s that can be used with go2MONITOR is pretty good, though due to the target audience, many of them are high end, “government/military” receivers. But, it does work with Perseus, SDRplay RSP1 & RSP2, RFSpace NetSDR and SDR-14, and of course AirSpy R2 – and now the AirSpy HF+ and AirSpy HF+ Discovery.

Supported receiver list:

ReceiverMax. Rx bandwidthSpectrum overviewScanRemark
AirSpy2 MHz  Experimental support
CommsAudit CA78515 MHz  VITA 49
Grintek GRX Lan1 MHz   
IZT R3xxx series20 MHzXXUp to 3 channels  spectrum
IZT R4000 (SignalSuite)1 MHz  1 channel only
Microtelecom PERSEUS800 kHz  Limited USB 3.0 compatibility
narda® NRA-3000 RX320 kHz   
narda® NRA-6000 RX320 kHz   
narda® IDA 2320 kHz   
narda® SignalShark®331020 MHz  VITA 49 support. Only 1 MHz and no receiver control at LINUX
PLATH SIR 211020 MHz  LINUX recommended. External receiver control only
PLATH SIR 21154×20 MHz  External receiver control only
PLATH SIR 511012 MHz  16×768 kHz subbands External receiver control only
PLATH SIR 5115Full HF  40×768 kHz subbands External receiver control only
R&S EB5005 MHzX No gain control available
R&S EM100 / PR100500 kHzXX 
R&S ESMD15 MHz  External receiver control only
RFSPACE NetSDR2 MHz   
RFSPACE SDR-14190 kHz   
RTLSDR/Noxon USB-sticks3.2 MHz  Experimental support. Continuous signal up to 2.4 MHz
SDRplay RSP1 & RSP26 MHz  Experimental support
ThinkRF R5500-4086.25 MHz  VITA 49
ThinkRF R5500-4276.25 MHz  VITA 49
ThinkRF WSA5000-408780 kHz  VITA 49
ThinkRF WSA5000-427780 kHz  VITA 49
WiNRADiO G31DDC800 kHz   
WiNRADiO G33DDC4 MHzX  
WiNRADiO G35DDC4 MHzX  
WiNRADiO G39DDC4 MHzX Up to 2 channels + spectrum
Generic VITA 49 receiver supportMax. receiver bandwidth  Can be configured in a wide range for different receiver types
Other generic “Winrad ExtIO” supported receiversMax. receiver bandwidth  Experimental support

As you can see, there is a huge difference in bandwidth capabilities for each receiver. I use my WinRadio G31DDC quite often with go2MONITOR, but the AirSpy HF+ Discovery (not listed as i’ve only just got it working) isn’t much worse with it’s full 610 kHz bandwidth.

When you think that the G31 has a much better operational bandwidth than 800 kHz when you use it on its own, it’s obvious which is better value if you were buying an SDR solely for using it with go2MONITOR. It is this kind of thing that many Government agencies are looking at when it comes to funding operations aimed at large scale monitoring.

That then is a very basic overview of go2MONITOR. The quick video and images have hopefully shown you a little of what is possible.

Outside of a Professional SIGINT operation, why would an amateur radio monitor need something like go2MONITOR? And would they pay the price?

I think they would. After all, most of us have spent a fair amount on radio monitoring over the years, so why not on software that would make their monitoring not only quicker and easier, but potentially open up new areas of monitoring.

Many of us specialise in certain monitoring areas – Russian military, particular the Navy and Strategic aviation for me for example. With go2MONITOR I have already used it to hunt out potential Russian Northern Fleet frequencies by running an automated 10 second CW emission scan overnight within a bandwidth block. By doing this, and then analysing data found in the results window, I was able to target certain frequencies to see what activity there was on subsequent nights.

Whilst there are other decoders available – some of which are plugins in software such as SDR#; some of which are free – it is the quickness and ease with which it can be done that makes go2MONITOR attractive. The big question is, would you pay for this?

SubSea Craft – VICTA DDU

One of the exhibitors at DSEI I received an early heads up on was SubSea Craft and their VICTA Diver Delivery Unit (DDU). I was immediately drawn to it because of the artistic drawings and if you have ever wanted to see something that had the potential to have been built by “Q” division then here it is.

VICTA combines the characteristics of a Long-Range Insertion Craft (LRIC – high-speed, long-range vessel normally associated with the discreet insertion of small specialist teams) with those of a Swimmer Delivery Vehicle (SDV – a submersible craft normally associated with the covert, sub-surface delivery of divers).  Its fly-by-wire control enable it to transition seamlessly and quickly from one domain to the other. 

The vessel is currently in build and so whilst there wasn’t a VICTA on display at DSEI this year, the team from SubSea Craft had a fully working cockpit simulator as well as virtual and augmented reality ‘tours’ of the vessel.  Fully marinized to enable its seamless operation above and below the surface, the fully fly-by-wire helm, specially designed for VICTA, employs an advanced control system created by BAR Technologies and based on experience gained in other projects such as America’s Cup yachts. The console consists of two large MFDs developed by SCISYS which provide the crew (pilot/navigator) with essential navigation, control and mission information.

Cockpit simulator at DSEI

VICTA carries eight divers plus equipment and has a surface endurance of 250nm. Its delivery into an operating area is highly flexible as, because of the craft’s size (11.95m long, 2.3m wide and 2.0m high), it is compatible with most launch methods, whether that be by road, surface vessel or by helicopter and it can fit into a standard shipping container.  Combined with the craft’s range and speed, this flexibility delivers options to commanders, allowing an array of tactical choices to be explored, at range from an objective area and without an enduring requirement for expensive strategic assets. 

Artistic impression of VICTA being delivered by Chinook

For submerged operations, 140kw Li-ion batteries power twin 20kw thrusters to enable a maximum speed of up to 8kts with a planned 6kt cruising speed and a range of 25nm whilst the on-board life-support delivers 4 hours endurance through a communal air-breathing system. The maximum operating depth is 30 metres.

On the surface, VICTA uses a Seatek 725+ diesel engine and a Kongsberg Kamewa FF37 waterjet propulsion system which provides speeds of up to 40 kts. The seating is provided by Ullman Dynamics and comes with an advanced shock absorbing system to provide a smooth ride at high speeds on the surface.

The craft has a retractable radar and a mast which can be used for camera, GPS and communication.  Although Defence is VICTA’s primary market, there is interest from elsewhere and the configurable nature of the accommodation confers flexibility for mission planning – balancing fuel and air with the load carried.  Conversely, alteration in size or specification offers the potential to increase capacity. 

Overall, VICTA looks to be a promising prospect, offering a more flexible and potentially cheaper alternative to the more conventional Submarine and DDU combination. Certainly, for countries that do not operate a Submarine force, but seek to enhance their maritime capability, then VICTA could well be the choice for them.

I will be following the progress of VICTA over the next year or so, hopefully getting to see it in use during some of the sea trials as they take place.

Exercise Joint Warrior 192

Sunday the 6th of October 2019 sees the start of Exercise Joint Warrior 192.

Royal Navy Type 23 Duke class FFGHM HMS Sutherland (F 81) went into Faslane, here passing the Cloch lighthouse near Gourock.

Taking part primarily to the North West of Britain, mainly off the coast of Scotland, the exercise brings together a number of navies and ground forces for two weeks of training.

Despite media headlines such as “Joint Warrior 19(2) features 17 countries, 75 aircraft, 50 naval vessels and 12,000 troops” this isn’t the JW of old. It is one of the smallest, if not the smallest, in participant numbers since the exercises started and the headlines are completely incorrect – in fact most of the headlines use stock Royal Navy media notices that cover all JW exercises.

In reality, JW 192 has 16 ships, will not really go over 30 aircraft at any one time and feature nowhere near 12,000 troops. Rumours have it that the exercise would have been cancelled had not the French elements insisted on it taking place. Unfortunately, media outlets have misinterpreted some of the RN notices as ships from other countries – such as Japan – participating, when in fact the countries have sent a number of officers to observe or be trained in the handling of exercises.

This JW has coincided with other NATO exercises – Dynamic Mariner/Flotex-19 for example -which are taking place in far sunnier climes, so the draw of the rough seas and bad weather of Western Scotland was not so great on this occasion. And with NATO forces spread out on real world tasks, the number of ships, aircraft and personnel required to cover all of these exercises is low.

The weather has already taken its toll with some of the first few days activities cancelled due to high sea states. Whilst you could argue that surely they should be able to “fight” no matter what the weather, in reality in the real world, operations do get delayed because of this. For exercises though, safety must come first. However, MPA activity is taking place with at least three flights up at the time of writing on Monday 7th October.

One saving grace for the number of ships and personnel that are taking part is the fact that Exercise Griffin Strike is shoehorned into JW192. Griffin Strike is a training exercise for the Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (CJEF) involving the UK and France and which is due to become fully implemented in 2020. Griffin Strike will contain the Amphibious part of JW192.

There are no visiting fighter aircraft from other countries, but there are the usual Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) consisting of 2 x US Navy P-8’s, 2 x Canadian CP-140’s and 2 x French Navy Atlantique ATL2’s. These are operating out of Prestwick again, likely doing the usual 4 hours “on-station” missions. This means that there will likely only ever be two or three airborne at any one time with a 1 hour or so transit each end of the flight. Callsigns so far have been OCTOPUS** and SUNFISH**(FNY), DINKUM** (RCAF), GROMMET** and DRAGON** (USN).

My friend, Rob Banks, captured most of the MPA participants on October 4th.

Also out of Prestwick will be mixed Royal Navy and Royal Air Force Hawks, along with Cobham Aviation Dassault Falcon 20’s acting as enemy aircraft. For information on how the Falcon 20’s operate read my previous blog on monitoring Joint Warrior.

There will be other aircraft movements of course, with RAF Typhoons playing their part. Also expected are E3’s of both the RAF and NATO fleets, RAF Sentinel and Rivet Joint aircraft providing ISTAR support and Air to Air refuelling from RAF Voyagers and C130’s. I would also expect F-35’s from 617 Sqn at Marham to be involved in some form, though I can’t confirm this for sure. These will all be operating from their home bases.

The aviation side of the exercise is capped off with plenty of helicopters operating from both land and sea, with Chinooks operating from Lossiemouth and most ships providing one or two various types. I was able to watch one Chinook, ONSLAUGHT01, practising a deck landing on RFA Lyme Bay (using callsign 4QW) to the front of my house in the Firth of Clyde. Lyme Bay later tweeted the event.

The most disappointing aspect of the exercise is the maritime part. The ships are sparse in numbers in comparison to previous exercises, with a light participation by the Royal Navy. The RN is providing Amphibious Assault Ship HMS Albion, possibly using her Landing Craft Utility (LCU) Mk.10 class vessels operated by the Royal Marines. Albion is the current RN flagship. Also taking part is Duke (Type 23) class FFGHM HMS Sutherland and a small number of Minesweepers and Minehunters.

Royal Navy Albion class LPD HMS Albion (L14) approaching Faslane

**Edit: RFA Lyme Bay is now also confirmed as part of the exercise. RFA Argus and RFA Tidesurge are also now confirmed.

France has also sent a Amphibious Assault Ship in the form of FS Tonnerre, a Mistral class LHDM. Tonnerre can embark 450 fully kitted troops and 60 armoured vehicles or 13 main battle tanks, along with Landing craft and up to 16 helicopters. No helicopters were observed on deck as she arrived at the Greenock area on Friday 4th October 2019 – it is not known whether they, if any, were on the hanger deck. The same goes for APC’s/MBT’s on the lower decks.

French Navy Mistral-class Amphibious Assault Ship FS Tonnerre (L9014)

Modified Georges Leygues class FFGHM FS La-Motte-Picquet arrived into Glasgow on the afternoon of 2nd October along with Éridan (Tripartite) class minehunter FS Cephee going into Faslane earlier in the morning.

French Navy Modified Georges Leygues-class DDGHM La Motte-Picquet (D645) arriving into Glasgow

The German Navy has sent a single ship – the Berlin (Type 702) class replenishment ship FGS Berlin – whilst the US Navy, who normally send a number of frigates and cruisers, have only sent Military Sealift Command Lewis and Clark class dry cargo/ammunition ship USNS William McLean.

German Navy FGS Berlin (A1411) arrived early, on a very murky morning.

Finally, Danish Navy Iver Huitfeldt class FFGHM HDMS Iver Huitfeldt is also participating, but due to other tasks is heading straight to the exercise area rather than going to Faslane for the pre-exercise briefings.

US Military Sealift Command Lewis and Clark class USNS William McLean (T-AKE12)

For submarine participants, Norwegian Type 210 (Ula) class SSK Utsira is one of the MPA targets. She arrived earlier in the week and departed on Sunday 6th October as the exercise began.

Also, an Astute class SSN of the Royal Navy departed Faslane on friday 4th. Though not confirmed, again it is highly likely to be taking part in some form or other.

Unknown Astute class SSN departs Faslane

As well as areas in and around Scotland, it is highly likely there will be the usual missions around the Spadeadam Electronic Warfare Tactics range and possibly areas out over the North Sea. GPS jamming also normally takes place as part of the exercise, normally out in danger areas situated to the NW, over the sea.

There should be Maritime Gunnery firing off the west coast of Scotland. Timings and areas are normally reported via the Royal Navy’s Gunfacts service either by a recorded telephone message and on NAVTEX at 0620 and 1820 UTC. Coastguards also broadcast the details at 0710, 0810, 1910 and 2010 UTC. If you happen to be in the area where gunnery is taking place then the duty broadcast ship sends out details at 0800 and 1400 local, or 1 hour before firing, by making a call on Maritime channel 16 and then the appropriate broadcast frequency for the area.

The navy also provides SUBFACTS warnings on submarine operations on the same telephone hotline and NAVTEX.

NOTAMs will also be available that provide warnings on most of the activities taking place. A good place to look for these is on the NATS AIS NOTAM page.

The amount of frequencies used for the exercise is huge, and near impossible to list. However, there is a list of VHF/UHF and HF frequencies on my Monitoring Joint Warrior Exercises blog from 2014. Despite being 5 years old, the HF freqs tend to be the same especially those used by the MPA’s when communicating with Northwood (Callsign MKL).

Noticeable so far has been the fact that the P8’s and CP140’s have both been out on their frequencies by 1.5 to 2.0 kHz when calling MKL on 6697 kHz (primary freq) and 4620 kHz.

The VHF/UHF frequencies won’t have changed that much either, but as most of the exercise is at sea, and generally out of range of most of us, it is hard to gather them all. Certainly the standard Swanwick Mil, A2A and TAD’s will be used, so if you have these you’re bound to get something.

DSEI 2019 – overview

Nearly two weeks ago I attended the Defence & Security Equipment International 2019 (DSEI19) at the Excel exhibition centre, London.

The intention of this blog is to provide a brief look at what I saw on the day I attended.

Generally, I was more impressed with the smaller companies that I met rather than the larger ones. The larger ones, once they’d read my name badge and saw that I was “Media”, gave me the feeling that they couldn’t wait to get rid of me as I wasn’t there to make a multi-million pound purchase from them. The smaller, or less well known, were far more attentive and provided me with a good amount of information on their products, target audience and hopes for the future.

Whilst this may turn you off from reading the remainder of the blog, I think I’ll start with the things I was a little disappointed with.

One of the companies I was extremely interested in visiting was Barrett Communications. As I’m currently writing an article for Jane’s on a system very much like one of their products I emailed the UK office in advance to tell them that I was coming and what I was interested in. They did reply and were keen to see I was attending, even sending me a heads up on one their new products that was yet to be revealed. I was, then, very quick to go and see them once the show started.

Barrett PRC-4090 HF Tactical Manpack. 250 kHz to 30 MHz Rx/Tx (from 1.6 MHz for Tx) – CW, USB/LSB/ISB modes – 2G/3G ALE – 10W/30W or 150W PEP depending on 12v/24v power – 5 0r 25 freq hops per second – max weight 5kg

However, once on the stand, things were very different. As I said above, the media name badge meant I wasn’t a buyer. And despite trying to show keenness on their equipment, which I’d swatted up on before attending, I got the feeling the sales chap just wanted me to leave. On a couple of occasions I was brushed aside so that he could chat or shake hands with a mate rather than carry on showing me some of their products – which are actually very good. Nice gear, not always so good at media relations.

Barrett 4050 HF SDR’s in various guises, with the capability to control via tablets such as iPads.

Unfortunately, the same can almost be said with rugged case manufacturer, Peli Products UK. This time I hadn’t emailed in advance, but I sought them out as I am actually in the market for a number of new rugged cases – a new camera case, a 13″ laptop case and a GoPro case.

Whilst this time the guy I spoke to was nice and briefly showed me their new TrekPak dividers – which are pretty cool – I got the impression he didn’t really want to be at the show and he kind of fobbed me off with a brochure rather than trying to sell me the products that I had told him I was interesting in buying. The irony here being that when you go to the TrekPak part of their website, the opening image is that of a rugged case full of camera equipment with “Press” stickers all over them.

In all honesty I could go on about quite a few other companies much like these but I don’t want to have too much of a whinge about the show, so let’s move on to the good stuff.

I obviously paid a visit to the Jane’s stand first, had a quick coffee and chat – and it was nice to know that they’d heard of me 🙂

Next to the Jane’s stand was Keysight Technologies, well known manufacturers of Signal Generators, Oscilloscopes and Spectrum Analysers – and many, many other outstanding workbench solutions. I spoke to Radar, EW and Satellite solutions manager Erik Diez, who showed me one of their solutions used to analyse an unknown radar signal with the idea of creating a potential jammer, countermeasure or signal designation. It truly was an interesting chat and the demo of the equipment was very interesting – if only any of it was within my price range 🙂 Saying that, their entry stage Spectrum Analysers etc are comparable in price to the Rigol equipment I have at home.

Keysight’s UXR0134A Infiniium UXR-Series Oscilloscope (left and on monitor) linked into other components for signals analysis. 13 GHz bandwidth and four full bandwidth channels is just part of the specifications available.

I enjoyed my time with Erik, with both of us agreeing that when I retire I may be able to buy something from him 🙂

Wondering around, there were plenty of vehicles, weapons systems, EW systems, ELINT/COMINT/SIGINT companies to take a look at. There was a huge Turkish contingent who took over a large area of the north side of the Excel with pretty much all of the above on view.

I had a chuckle to myself as I walked through an area of companies selling UAV’s, straight into another area selling various weapons and systems designed to take drones out.

As well as technical solutions there were clothing/footwear companies – I had a good chat at footwear company Rocky Boots who have some nice military boots.

BAe were there in force with various future ship models, simulators and other technologies. I even bumped into old friend Jamie Hunter on their stand – we calculated that it was over 20 years since we last bumped into each other and travelled to various bases on photo trips.

Type 26 and Hunter class models on the BAe Systems stand

I would have taken more photos of the vehicles but the stands were generally pretty close and so it made it difficult for photos. Some though I did manage:

Oshkosh Defense Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV). This vehicle will replace Humvee’s in the US forces and is already in service with the Marine Corps. The British Army also announced at DSEI that the JLTV is taking part in a two year contract to demonstrate its potential as a Multi Role Vehicle-Protected (MRV-P).
The 800 Titan is on offer by Polaris Government and Defense as a militarised version of their commercial skidoos.
Polaris also had a DAGOR A1 Ultra-Light Tactical Vehicle (ULTV) on show with additional pieces of equipment added on by the likes of FN Herstal’s medium pintle mount .50 cal FN M3M

I got to play with plenty of weapons. I was very happy on the Sig Sauer stand and spent some time in the pistol area. In comparison to some of the other companies, their handguns felt good and seemed to have a smoother slide – obvs no ammo was available. I was particularly happy with the SP2022 and if given the chance to try it out properly, I’d jump at it.

A plethora of SIG Sauer hand guns, with the SP2022 nearest
There were also plenty of assault rifles and machine pistols on display, along with various sights and suppressors

On a non-live ammo front, an interesting company here in the UK is Ultimate Training Munitions – UTM. They did have a “live firing” area at the show. Instead of being live ammunition however, UTM have created training ammunition that provides a realistic environment without the potential of death. With modifications to real weapons, this ammunition can be used in exercises giving troops/law enforcement agencies the chance to fire near real ammunition at one another and know when they’ve been hit by a projectile that has a plastic cover and a coloured marker.

I’ve got to say it was very good in the small range. I feel like the next time I’m down at Mildenhall I may request a visit.

My final port of call at DSEI was the Rohde & Schwarz stand. This was for two reasons. Firstly, I wanted to spend a bit of time there as I knew their products would be very interesting and secondly – they had a bar with free Augustiner-Bräu Helles beer 🙂

The beer was great, one of my favourites on my regular visits to Bavaria. And I had a great chat with Jo who hosted me in the bar and out at the equipment on display.

R&S really do have an amazing input into many of the worlds military radio requirements. For instance, they recently provided the Royal Navy with the first land-based NAVICS radio system for the Type 26 City class FFGHM – with all ships of the class being fitted out with the integrated comms system. This will provide internal and external comms (both voice and data) via an IP network, all of which will be secure. The External VHF/UHF and HF comms will use M3SR Series 4400 and M3SR Series 4100 radios.

As well as VHF/UHF and HF comms, they will also be providing SATCOM and GMDSS systems, along with a joint venture with STS Defence for the Communication masts.

In total, the NAVICS system has been provided to over 40 navies. For the RN this includes the Queen Elizabeth class Aircraft carriers, the River class batch II patrol ships and the above mentioned Type 26’s.

Also of interest was the WPU2000 ELINT Processor, launched at the show.

The WPU2000 is a wideband processing unit – hence WPU – and has a 2 GHz instantaneous real time bandwidth. It is set out to replace the WPU500 which operates with a 500 MHz bandwidth. It collects, then processes and analyses radar signals such as those produced by low probability of intercept (LPI) radars and emissions from Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars. I was told that due to its sensitivity it can detect emmissions that may be invisible to ELINT and EW systems currently in use.

As standard, R&S ELINT and radar direction-finding systems comes complete with identification software, analysis software for ELINT signals, and a database system for radar/ELINT/EW data management.

From what I can gather, the system has had considerable interest. It is still under final tests I believe and will be available in 2020.

So, that’s my DSEI 2019 run down. Not that comprehensive really. I could literally spend months writing about the various pieces of equipment, weapons, radios and software that I spotted and was drawn to. I will follow this blog up very soon with a few individual articles on some of those that really caught my eye.

Murmansk-BN HF EW Complex

Murmansk-BN of the 475th Independent EW Centre near Sevastopol

Brief Murmansk-BN overview

Murmansk-BN has been operationally active from at least 2014 when the 475th Independent EW Centre of the Russian navy set up a complex in the Crimea south of Sevastopol. The system has a primary role of eliminating, or trying to eliminate, High Frequency (HF) broadcasts from NATO forces – in particular the HF Global Communications System of the United States (HFGCS).

HFGCS operates on well known HF frequencies with regular broadcasts of Emergency Action Messages (EAM’s) and other operational messages, phone patches etc. as required. To this date though, I am unaware of any reports that HFGCS has been interfered with by jamming. This in itself isn’t surprising. HF is a difficult thing to jam due to the very nature of using the ionosphere to carry the broadcasts. Throw in multiple frequencies in use at the same time, the same message being broadcast on numerous occasions, propagation and all other things related to HF reception means the message is likely to get through regardless of the attempts made to jam.

The Murmansk-BN complex is a fully mobile system and comprises of groups of up to four extendable antenna masts – two of which each on a dedicated Kamaz or Ural truck, which then tows a further antenna on a trailer. The masts extend to 32 metres in height. Each full Murmansk-BN complex normally has four of these antenna groups, making 16 antennas in total.

Further to that there are numerous support vehicles including a Kamaz 6350 Command vehicle and a Kamaz 6350 generator vehicle per four antenna group. Other vehicles include fuel bowsers and troop transport. Not always four antennas are used per group.

Murmansk-BN is in operation with units of both the Russian army and the navy – for the army with the 15th EW brigade in Tambov, 16th EW Brigade in Kursk, 18th EW Brigade in Yekaterinburg and 19th EW Brigade in Rassvet – for the navy with 186th Independent EW Centre of the Northern Fleet in Severomorsk, the 471st and 474th Independent EW Centres of the Pacific Fleet in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky and Shtykovo respectively, the previously mentioned 475th Independent EW Centre of the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol and the 841st Independent EW Centre of the Baltic Fleet in Yantarnyy.

It is highly likely that the 17th EW Brigade at Khabarovsk also has Murmansk-BN in operation but a this time I haven’t been able to locate any of the systems.

Screen grab from one of the Murmansk-BN videos showing an Icom IC- R8500 in use as the main receiver in each command vehicle
AOR 500 in a R330ZH Zhitel – image credited to
twower.livejournal.com

One aspect about the system is its use of analogue receivers rather than Software Defined Radio (SDR) technology – Icom IC-R8500 receivers have been noted in all the video footage available so far. This isn’t unusual for Russian EW systems – the AOR 5000 receiver is used in R330ZH Zhitel which is a mobile system primarily used in the jamming of satellite and cellular phone communication systems operated in the 100 to 2,000 MHz range. The AOR 5000 has multiple versions available, one of which has the cellular bands (824 to 849 MHz and 869 to 894 MHz) unblocked. Zhitel was used in the Crimean conflict with the high likelihood that the AOR 5000 was used to jam or intercept mobile phone communications. Recent reports have shown that Zhitel is still in use in the occupied Luhansk region.

I use an R8500 myself and it is an excellent receiver. I normally use it in conjunction with my SDR’s that provide me with a wider view of the HF bands so that I can search out signals. From the videos available online, the Russian military don’t do this but instead slow scan manually through the bands or scroll through frequencies saved to the receivers memory bank.

The receiver is linked to a PC using software that shows a visual spectrum taken from the audio output from the R8500, but this is limited to the mode in use. Video footage shows the likely use of AM mode to give as wide a visual spectrum as possible but this would be limited to the R8500’s 12 kHz maximum bandwidth. More on the software later.

The slow scan/memory scan method is not the best and would likely mean that any interception would be caught mid-way through a message. It is also time consuming. I am highly surprised there isn’t some sort of auto-scan software included. For instance I personally use df8ry’s CSVUserListBrowser to control not only my R8500 but most of my SDR’s. This can scan through stored frequencies on the Icom at a slow 1 second pace, but its better than sitting there turning a knob continuously for hours.

As the Icom is a receiver only, it needs to be linked to a transceiver using its CI-V remote jack point that then sends out the jamming signal – whether this then means another Icom transceiver is located within the command vehicle is unknown as, whilst confirmed from commentary and interviews with Russian personnel in the videos I found, there is no visual confirmation of what is used as the transmitter.

Each antenna group can operate individually or as multiples. Reports also state that the complexes can be integrated into the Russian EW command and control system.

The software

The software in use cannot be identified. It appears to operate like an automatic signals classifier, such as go2MONITOR by Procitec, but it is hard to assess whether it has this capability. It would be unusual not to have a classification capability, even if it meant manual selection of a signal.

There are a number of different screens, some tabulated, that control different functions, or provide different data.

One screen shows spectrum information split into four panels. The top panel shows the selected frequency, and what looks like audio taken from the Icom in AM-Wide mode – this differs from cuts to the Icom itself which shows it is in AM mode. If in AM-Wide it would mean the maximum audio spectrum available would be 12 kHz as this is all that the Icom can manage in this mode below 30 MHz, whilst AM would only produce a 5.5 kHz wide spectrum. However, using either of these modes would make it possible to visually obtain a signal from this.

What is interesting here though is that in the video, the top panel appears to show a bandwidth spread of 30 kHz with an area of 6 kHz in a lighter colour, possibly depicting the true area that a signal can be classified or monitored. 30 kHz is not a selectable bandwidth for the R8500 in any mode, with the maximum possible being 15 kHz above 30 MHz in WFM mode. Also of note is the noise floor indication which appears to be between -40dB and -50dB.

It could well be that this panel does not actually show a signal from the Icom, but could be the panel that shows the transmitter that produces the jamming signal.

The next two panels appear to show the signal with sensitivity information from the incoming audio. The final panel is unknown as it is not shown in any video close-up.

Another screen shows interface information to the bottom left. This has a number of tabs that control some the external elements that assist in the suppression of a signal. Connection status is shown by a green or red button.

Firstly, one tab shows the connection to a Protek KS-100M navigation device which is a GPS unit. This is connected to an antenna mounted to the top of the command vehicle and provides an accurate position for probable signal reception direction finding/triangulation purposes when connected to the other command vehicles KS-100M’s.

The KS-100M is also found in the Zhitel system as shown here in the far right panel. It is used for Direction Finding purposes in both systems – image credited to
twower.livejournal.com

To the left of the KS-100 tab are two unknown connections marked as ГТ-11and ГТ-11.1 (GT-11 and GT-11.1). ГТ in the Russian military is normally an abbreviation for rehepatop which translate to generator. In another part of one of the videos it shows the ГТ-11.1 title again, this time with four green boxes, each with what appears to be a tick box. Two of these appear to be connected as there is a joining line between them.

The final tab is unknown but marked as ГТ-205-ОПМ (GT-205-OPM) which if using the standard abbreviation format would also be related to a generator. However, the generator shown in the video appears to be named as an AD-100-T400-1R. Alternatively, you could break down the OPM part into two which would give supply (OP)/ engine (M).

What doesn’t quite tie up is that each four antenna group only has one generator, so does this section actually have something to do with the four antennas themselves and whether they have power going to them?

Above the four tabs is a box that is titled Information about current IRI. Below this is information on the signal being suppressed: Frequency – 9 961 02 kHz Type of target – unclassified Bandwidth – 3.36 kHz Duration – 16 msec Strength – 16 dB Bearing – 179 7 (1) – 0

This box is likely associated with the KS-100M tab.

The large window to the right shows what I thought at first was historic signal information in the selected bandwidth. However, looking closer I wonder if this is the case as the “signals” are too regular – they are evenly spaced. In other shots there are up to 20 signals shown. My thoughts are that these are connected to the KS-100M and are signal strengths of GLONASS GPS satellites. But again, without clearer screenshots or a confirmed ID on the software in use, this can only be guessed at.

There are numerous other tabs and screens available, but these are unreadable in the videos found.

Locations

The various units I have listed above. The sites used so far, despite Murmansk-BN being fully mobile, have been very close to the units home base. Despite the area required for a full complex deployment being large, they can be difficult to spot, but once you know the locations used – or the area – then it makes checking on them relatively easy.

The 15th EW Brigade at Tambov has not been observed on Google Earth (GE) as deployed as yet but the vehicles can be seen at their HQ at 52.666385N 41.537552E

Latest 15th EW Brigade site imagery near Tambov. Dated 13/11/18 and is the first time the Murmansk-BN was observed here.

The 15th EW HQ is situated in a large area of military ranges with plenty of surrounding free land available. It is presumed that this area will be used when setting up the complex. There is also an area to the NW that previously contained numerous antennas, but is now disused.

The 16th EW Brigade at Kursk uses a military training group for its deployment site. Only two antenna groups have been observed since first deployment in April 2015.

Latest 16th EW Brigade site imagery near Kursk at 51.713194N,
36.290736E. Dated 3/9/19

The 18th EW Brigade at Yekaterinburg is a very active unit with just two Murmansk-BN antenna groups in use at any one time according to GE imagery. Moreover, it seems to be a unit that likes to train in setting up the complex as it is quite often observed in different states. The Murmansk-Bn is spread over two sites – a permanent one (site one below) and a secondary site located in a field about 1.6km away (site two). In some imagery of site two only one antenna is up in two “groups” and quite often the site is empty.

The continuous erecting and disassembling of the complex’s could hint at the unit being involved in training. As shown in the image below it also tends to use truck mounted antennas at site two. There are no trailer mounted antennas visible, whilst they are in use at site one. However, the fact that there are six truck mounted here points to the 18th EW having a full compliment of Murmansk-BN equipment, despite only using two groups at the same time.

Murmansk-BN equipment of 18 EW Brigade at site two in a stored state

The 18th EW was also used in one of the videos. Comparing the video to GE imagery I was able to identify various features that confirmed that site two was used for the filming.

Site two confirmed as used in the Pravda.ru video

The 19th EW Brigade at Rassvet, near Rostov-on-Don, has had Murmansk-BN since at least 19/6/2016 when equipment first appeared in GE imagery at the HQ. Since then it would appear that it has not been deployed as the vehicles have stayed in a parked up state in all imagery from that date. The number of vehicles indicates only two groups have been allocated to the Brigade so far.

19th EW Brigade HQ in latest imagery dated 15/2/19

On the Russian navy side of things, the 186th Independent EW centre is based near Taybola at 68.515306N 33.290056E on the old airfield for the town. Taybola used to be a Soviet R-14 (SS-5 ‘Skean’) intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) base with at least two silo complexes, a rail head, and the airfield.

The latest imagery on GE has just two Murmansk-BN groups set up at the northern end of the runway and old dispersal, but older imagery has a further group half way down the runway to the south.

GE imagery dated 18/8/17 showing the three locations of Murmansk-BN groups. the 186th has had the Murmansk-BN capability since at least 20/8/15 according to GE

The 471st Independent EW centre at Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, has a full complement of four Murmansk-BN antenna groups though it has had differing numbers in use since the system first arrived from at least 15/8/15. The latest imagery on GE below, dated from 3/11/18, shows just about a full complex in use. The NW group has one antenna missing.

471st Independent EW centre situated at 53.053583N 158.828178E

The 474th Independent EW Centre at Shtykovo, is also sited at a disused airfield. It has had three antenna groups in place at least once, but the latest GE imagery has just two in use.

The actual location of the 474th HQ is unknown and there no immediately close active military bases. There are numerous bases at a distance away, with a potential SIGINT site 12km to the SW. Analysis of these don’t provide any other Murmansk-BN vehicles.

The 475th Independent EW Centre is probably the most well known of the Murmansk-BN deployments. It is located to the south of Sevastopol in the Crimea at a coastal base and has been widely exposed on social media and articles since it became active. First shown in GE imagery dated 15/11/14 with one group, it has expanded to a full four group complex.

The 475th complex shown here, dated 26/8/18, with just the NW group active

It was news about the deployment of Murmansk-BN to the 841st Independent EW Centre at Yantarnyy in the Kaliningrad Oblast that drew my attention to the system. It is known that the 841st has a full compliment of four antenna groups but it is unusual to see all deployed. The image below, dated 11/9/17 is one of those times that it is fully active.

It is usually the northern site that is active when the 841st deploy. This is situated at 54.832506N 19.958467E. The “town” of Okunevo is actually a comms site.

The news I mention was reference the “new” deployment of Murmansk-BN to the Kaliningrad region, yet what is strange is that from GE analysis it is obvious the system has been in use there since at least 11/4/16 – so why this sudden hype? My only thought is that there was a major NATO exercise on in the region at the time which included USAF B-52’s carrying out Global Power missions from the US to Europe.

Was this news a counter to the US stating that Russian forces could interfere with their operations?

From all accounts, and from reported loggings of HFGCS messages since the Murmansk-BN system has been available for use, there has been zero suppression of any HFGCS frequencies that I’m aware of.

This then, with the fact that most units have not fully deployed their systems, makes me wonder whether Murmansk-BN is not quite so good as expected and claimed.

Here are the videos used for analysis:

This is the longer of the two videos and actually contains the second one.

https://www.yacoline.com/video/168091/

Second, shorter video showing the 186th Independent EW centre