Quick LNA4ALL test

Despite the best efforts of the Royal Mail service, I have been able to get my hands on a Low Noise Amplifier created by Adam at LNA4ALL. The Royal Mail showed just how useless it is, when the parcel arrived here in the UK in just 11 hours from Croatia on February the 14th, but then not getting delivered to me until March the 14th – yes, one month! There is no surprise that courier companies such as DPD and Hermes are getting more business than the Royal Mail – they are bloody useless.

Anyway, the reason for the purchase is for a later review on an AIS dongle that I will be testing, but which has unfortunately been possibly damaged before getting to me.

So, as I had some time to spare I thought I’d run a quick test on how the LNA performs against the claims that is shown on the LNA4ALL website. For the test I used a quickly built 12v to 5v PSU that was connected to a Maplin bench PSU and also a Rigol DP711 Linear DC PSU where I could ensure a precise power input. As it was, it was good that I used the DP711 because my quick PSU was only chucking out 1.2v at connection to the LNA4ALL, despite an unconnected output of 5v – some work needed there I think.

Despite this lower power the LNA4ALL still worked with just the 1.2v input, though the results where not as good.

Other equipment used were a Rigol DSG815 Signal Generator and a Rigol DSA1030 Spectrum Analyser (no longer available), along with various Mini-Circuits shielded test cables. The Rigol equipment I purchased from Telonic Instruments Ltd last year.

Below then is a table that contains all the relevant data. As you’ll see the Gain claim is pretty much spot on with some being over. Just a couple of frequencies are below that which is claimed, especially at 28 MHz.

LNA4ALL Frequency data

A couple of things to note.

Firstly, somehow I managed to miss testing 1296 MHz. I obviously didn’t put it in the table in Excel before I started 🙂 Also, the DSG815 only goes up to 1.5 GHz so I couldn’t test above that.

Secondly I ran a test for the AIS centre frequency of 162 MHz, for which there was no comparison to the LNA4ALL data. A gain of over 24dB though shows that the LNA would be perfect for those of you with AIS receivers that may want to get better reception. To prove the theory I compared the LNA reception against data without it connected to the NASA Engine AIS receiver that I currently use. In ShipPlotter I average a max range of around 15nm without the LNA, but with it connected this increased to around 22nm. The number of messages received also tripled as it was able to dig out the weaker signals.

The NASA Engine isn’t a bad receiver, but it is a frequency hopper rather than a dual monitor, and so it changes between the two AIS frequencies every 30 seconds (161.975 MHz and 162.025 MHz). I suspect a dual monitor would give better message numbers and range.

Below is a graph made using the excellent software by Neal Arundale – NMEA AIS Router. As you can see the message numbers (or sentences) for over an hour are pretty good – well, it is a vast improvement on what I used to get with my current “temporary” set-up, with 419 messages received in an hour. The software is available at his website, for free, along with various other programs that you can use with AIS. If you’d rather not use ShipPlotter he has created his own AIS Decoder which can be linked into Google Earth and such like. Visit his website for more information.

My antenna isn’t exactly top-notch. It is at a height of just 4 metres AGL in the extension loft, and it is made from galvanised steel angle bead used by plasterers to strengthen corners prior to skimming – this I cut down as a dipole for a target of 162 MHz. As usual with my trimming of antennas, I cut just too much off and ended up with it cut to 161.167 MHz. It gives a VSWR of 1.018 and Return loss of 40.82dB, with 162 MHz being approx. 30dB Return loss which equates to 1.075 VSWR – that will do.

Also, as I live right on the coast, about 50 metres from the sea, I’m practically at sea level, which doesn’t help much with range and signal reception either. Despite this the antenna produces great results, though it is just temporary until I can get a new homebuild up on the roof.

VSWR reading for the homebrew loft AIS Antenna

The LNA4ALL retails at various prices depending on what option you go for. I went for the aluminium box version so it was around £54 including the delivery. I had looked at a Mini-circuits equivalent, and when it looked like the LNA4ALL was lost I did actually order one. But this was nearly twice the price, and seeing as the LNA4ALL contains many components from Mini-Circuit I doubt it is any different really.

All in all the LNA4ALL is all you need to boost your weak signals – couldn’t get any more all’s in 🙂

The Spectrum Monitor article June 2016

tsm_june_001A few months later than normal, but here’s a copy of my article from the June edition of The Spectrum Monitor

Russian Navy around the World

The Russian Navy has started to get active again after the usual period of rest over the winter months. The main reason for this is because most of the areas the Navy operate from in the North are frozen over, and are only just now starting to thaw out. There are three busy areas that produce the most traffic in the summer, but one of those practically disappears over the winter; and that is the area that falls under the command of the Northern Fleet, and in particular the White Sea. I intend to cover the Northern Fleet in much greater soon.

One thing that is noticeable is that the fleets seem to have moved to a more regional network of frequencies. They used them anyway before, but in general they tended to stick to 8345 kHz at night and 12464 kHz during the day as the main ship frequencies. I suspect that with the large increase of ships becoming active these frequencies were getting saturated with calls – something that was becoming noticeable as ships were “stepping” on each other. I mentioned last time that these main frequencies were quiet, and it now looks like this it was the reason.

As I say, I’ll go into regional stuff through the rest of the year so I’ll concentrate on a couple of interesting things that have happened over the last few months.

One of my favourite ships is Admiral Vladimirskiy, a Akademik Krylov Class Survey/Research Ship that uses the CW callsign RHO62. From late August 2014 this ship carried out a round the world trip, starting from the Baltic Sea headquarters at Kronshtadt, routing around the north coast of Russia through the Barents Sea, Kara Sea, Laptev Sea, East Siberian Sea and through the Bering Straits. From there it head south down to Taiwan and then across the Pacific to Corinto in Nicaragua, down through the Panama Canal, across the Atlantic to Brest, through the English Channel and home to Kronshtadt. It returned home on the 18th of January 2015 – a huge trip and one that our small group of monitors was able to track the whole way round, probably getting around 95% of all weather/TESAC reports that it sent. After that, it needed a good rest, and that it had until November last year when it set sail for the Antarctic.

Again, we have been able to follow its travels all the way down to the Northern edge of the Antarctic Ice belt, where it operated for some time near Davis Station, part of the Australian Antarctic program. They have a great website which provides various webcams, but unfortunately Vlad didn’t get within their sights. It’s worth checking out their website, just so that you can watch the fascinating time-lapse videos that are produced from the webcams. Vlads route took it this time through the Med, through the Suez Canal, the Gulf of Aden, along the East coast of Africa, stopping off at Madagascar for Christmas. Then it was down to Port Elizabeth in South Africa, before its final push to the Antarctic, getting there mid-January. For its time down to around Madagascar it stuck to 8345 or 12464 for its reports, but later on it transferred to 8460 kHz where it then spent most of its time. It would try the other frequencies should it not get through of course, there’s a huge selection that it could choose from.

8460 kHz is noted as being used by RMP (Baltic Fleet HQ at Kaliningrad) but in fact Vlad was calling RJH25 to pass on its messages. RJH25 is a RX/TX site in Kyrgyzstan and in this case is used in simplex instead of the normal duplex. This was good because it meant we were able to get both sides of the conversation easier than having to monitor lots of frequencies in duplex mode. A link to Google maps is in my callsign list which shows the RJH25 antenna site.

Here is one of my receptions of a FM-13 weather report from the 15th February on 8345 kHz:
0010z RHO62 586 20 15 0301 586 = SML FOR RJH45 RJH48 RJH74 RJD38 =
15001 99655 30900 22233

rho62_davis_001

Distance from RHO62 to my Wellbrook Loop antenna using Google Earth

I’ve missed out most of the weather information to show the relevant data for positioning. The data equates to RHO62 being at 65.5S 90.0E heading SE @ 11-15kts. This is approximately 9670 miles from ship to my Wellbrook Loop antenna!! I must say, I am very pleased with that achievement.

So, what are the Hydrographic ships of the Russian Navy doing? Their main task is to carry out data acquisition of the waters that the Russian navy operate in, which is why the TESAC is very important to them. The checking of sea temperatures against salinity levels helps them in various ways, but there are two particular reasons for this data. One, is that temperature and salinity actually affect how torpedoes and missiles from underwater launches travel through the water – the higher the salinity and colder the sea water is, the more it can cause drag. The second is for much the same reason, but in this case it is for Submarines. Not so important for the Nuclear powered ones, but a little more so for the SSK’s as this can affect the time they can stay underwater before requiring to surface to “snort” and power up their batteries.

The TESAC data also provides the depth of the sea though most of the Hydrographic ships will have equipment that fully maps the sea beds. Again, depths are important, especially for the Submarine fleets, and I suspect they use these ships to map potential routes to strike areas for the SSBN’s. You see a good amount of Hydrographic ship activity in the Northern waters of the Arctic for instance, as with the higher sea temperatures, and the receding Ice cap, more routes are becoming available there – and this is useful for the ships too.

And finally, of course, the Hydrographic ships will be providing information to the Russian Government, not only on things like climate change but also in the search for oil and minerals. The Russians have a civilian Hydrographic fleet for this, but it is not large and so they will use data acquired from the navy too.

The navy fleet consists of around 80 ships that are potentially capable of providing Hydrographic readings, though it is hard to find out exactly whether each one can or cannot. There’s certainly quite a few in the Baltic, where they test the SSK’s and torpedoes. And there’s also plenty in the Northern fleet which has a huge areas in the Barents Sea and White Sea for the testing of missiles launched from SSBN’s. They will use the Hydrographic ships to analyse the water before and after any trials of the submarines or weapons.

Monitoring 8460 Khz for RHO62 also brought us some luck with another callsign, RMGZ, a Prut Class Submarine Rescue Ship named Epron. This had in late summer 2015 travelled east from its home at Sevastopol in the Black Sea, again via the Med and Suez Canal where it was eventually lost from our radios off the east coast of Sri Lanka. It had been erratic on 8345 up until then anyway, and this was probably because it looks like it was using 8460 as its primary frequency. Of course, we didn’t know this as we weren’t monitoring it. Epron was heading towards Visakhapatnam in India to take part in exercises and later on in a Navy exhibition. My furthest east report from it was at 16.3N 82.5E, about 50km SW of Visakhapatnam. Epron is now at home in Sevastopol after its long journey.

Prut-class Submarine Rescue ship “Epron” transits the Bosporus on its journey home to the Black Sea – Photo by Yörük Işik

I mentioned last time Project 550 Large Dry Cargo and Passenger ship Yauza which uses the callsign RHM80. Yauza has been a very busy ship over the last few months as part of the Russian ferrying of equipment and troops to Syria – named by many as the “Syrian Express”.

In all, our tracking of RHM80 shows it made five trips to Tartus from either Sevastopol or Novorossiysk , both being Russian Navy bases in the Black Sea. The last trip to Tartus has ended, and instead of heading round towards the Bosporus, it headed towards Malta, arriving there on the 4th of April; it will probably travel onwards to its Northern Fleet base of Murmansk after picking up some supplies for the journey from Valletta. The Russian navy quite often uses Valletta as a stop off point and with plenty of ship photographers there, it is a useful port for tying up callsigns to ships.

Of course we will be tracking it all the way home on 8345 and 12464 as it is very good at sending FM-13’s every six hours as required. It also sends lots of “11111” messages – so called because of the first five figure group in messages to Moscow (RIW), Sevastopol (RCV) and Severomorsk (RIT). These are status messages I believe and of low priority, and are very common. But, you don’t need to be listening out on the Russian frequencies to track Yauza, you can just use MarineTraffic to track it. Just enter its name into the search area.

Yauza wasn’t the only ship involved in the “Syrian Express” so there was plenty of traffic from other ships. Some of the callsigns we know and some of them we don’t. There’s still a couple of Large Landing Ships that are avoiding us, but it looks like I have been able to tie-up at least one ship that is currently involved in Syria – and this is RKA80. This I believe is Slava Class Missile Cruiser Varyag, and it’s given itself away by sending messages via RCV for RJS, the callsign for Pacific Fleet HQ, Vladivostok. The messages started around the time that Varyag arrived in the Mediterranean Sea so time will tell if it disappears from the frequencies once it departs the operational area. It has recently stopped sending messages with the extra section for RJS so I wonder if it’s realised it was giving itself away? An example of their messages is here:

1900z RKA80 639 106 29 1230 639 = SML FOR RJS =
MMMMM ХАФЖШ ШЫЖКТ ….. ЦЦЬДЦ ВОПЫУ
АБПУИ = + RKA80

I removed most of the message for ease as this one was 106 groups long, but this was part of what looks like a standard schedule of three priority messages, each well into the hundreds of groups (normally around the 150 mark)

Well, I hope I haven’t gone on too much. Not much frequency information for you this time but I that I plan to change when I start with the Fleet information articles in the future. 8460 kHz monitoring has also bought us some other interesting things which wasn’t known before – but that would fill one article on its own.

As I say, keep an ear out on 8345 Khz and 12464 kHz. And if you’re on the West Coast of North America then try 8348 kHz which seems to be the Pacific Fleet primary CW frequency. If you do decide to give it a try then if you do manage to get anything, in particular from North America, then please do contact me either using my contact info in my blog, or via the TSM editor. I’m very keen to see what coverage there is elsewhere in the world.

Notes:
Since the time that I wrote the article I have confirmed that RKA80 is Varyag

Project 21631 Buyan-M class Patrol ship Zelenyy Dol transits the Bosporus, heading for its first ever patrol. It was heading for the port of Tartus as part of the Russian Syrian crisis fleet. Since this image was taken, sister ship Sepukov also deployed to the Med, and after further deployments both have transferred to the Baltic. Both of these ships will be two of the unknown callsigns we’ve picked up recently – photo by Yörük Işik

DIY Canon EOS 5D Camera fix

Canon Eos5D(mk1) DIY fix

There I was on a harbour tour of Portsmouth, snapping away at the (large) amount of RN ships docked there at the moment, when my 5D made an awful clunking, grating sound and stopped taking images. Looking through the viewfinder gave me nothing but darkness. After a brief panic, I took the lens off and sitting in it was what looked like the shutter mechanism from the camera. Luckily I also had my 50D with me, so I was able to continue with what I was doing, but as soon as the time became available I took another look at the 5D

As it was, it turned out it wasn’t the full mechanism but just the mirror that had come unstuck, so the thought of huge amounts of money flying on to my credit card stopped as I thought it would be a reasonably cheap fix. I did wonder if the previous weeks wet shoot of HMS Duncan may have been the cause. It had been a wet day, but the camera hadn’t got seriously soaked as I protected it. It was, however, also quite humid, so I think the two weather patterns and the clunking process that shutters have to go through combined to unstick the mirror a little. This final shoot was enough to let the mirror lose it’s grip completely

5D_001

Back home a few days later and I investigated the price of getting the mirror put back on. I was shocked to find that the price for this repair was ridiculous, prices between $250 and $500 were being quoted by people with the same problem in the USA (I couldn’t find a price in the UK). This was crazy, and I seriously thought that at that price I may as well look for another 5D

But then I thought, well I may as well see if a bit of superglue to the back of the mirror will work. So I Googled to see if others had tried this, and they had, and it had worked

So this is this is the process I carried out to make the DIY fix.

1. Obviously, make sure you’re in a clean area, with as little dust as possible

2. On the back of the mirror is a small black piece of thin plastic, take this away. There’s no need to remember or mark what way round it goes as this is obvious by the holes

3. Cut the end off a cotton-bud

Remove the black plastic and cut off the end of a cotton-bud

Remove the black plastic and cut off the end of a cotton-bud

4. Get the superglue and squeeze some out onto a piece of paper, card or plastic – whatever you have available really. DO NOT squeeze superglue directly onto the small pads on the back of the mirror, we all know that superglue has a mind of its own and is hard to control in small amounts

5. Take the cut end of the cotton-bud, scoop up a small amount of glue and dab it onto one of the small pads on the mirror – you don’t need too much. Repeat this for the other three pads, but do it fairly quickly before the glue can dry

6. Return the black plastic to back of the mirror

7. Look at the shutter mechanism of the 5D and note the correct way round the mirror should go by the position of the indents for the pads

8. Gently place the mirror on the shutter mechanism, applying only a small amount of pressure

Mirror fixed back in place. Now let the glue dry followed by a clean

Mirror fixed back in place – now let the glue dry followed by a clean

9. Close up the camera with the lens cap and leave it for a few hours to dry properly

10. After a few hours, test to make sure the camera works correctly and the mirror stays in place

11. Give the mirror a clean as its bound to have some fingerprints on it

This took me about 5 minutes, and cost the price of one cotton bud and a tube of superglue – both of which I had already

Cross Country Wireless HF/VHF/UHF Multicoupler

With the total rebuild of the radio-shack looming I’d been investigating on a Multicoupler for my VHF/UHF radios. My homebuilt antenna connected to my Bearcat UBC-800XLT is far better than the bought Vertical Antenna that is connected to my Icom IC-R8500 so I wanted to remove the vertical antenna (using the co-ax for a homebuilt AIS antenna I’ve been testing in a different location) and use the Bearcat antenna on multiple radios

I’d found a few Multicouplers that suited, but after a discussion on MilCom about different ones, and a recommendation on one of my choices, I decided to go for the Cross Country Wireless HF/VHF/UHF Multicoupler multicoupler

I wasn’t the only one as I know at least one other member of MilCom made the same choice

There was a slight delay in delivery as Chris, the owner of CCW, was away on holiday. But as the units are made to order this wasn’t a problem to me at all

When the Multicoupler arrived I put it to use immediately and was very pleased with the results. It does have to be powered by a 12V adaptor and I had one of these spare, it can go down to 7V I believe, but either way power is required or you’ll get nothing. I ran the Multicoupler with the two radios, and even added my UBC-3500XLT to it too, with no loss at all. Very happy indeed.

However, a problem did arise. For some reason, reception would drop off over time. A quick chat with Chris bought about the probability that it was the power unit as he tests everything before sending out. Using another power supply the problem was fixed – initially. After a few days the same happened again, with great reception at first but then a drop. The power supplies I used were of the same make, so I queried it with Chris and he told me of a supply they have available that doesn’t seem to have any problems at all. So I purchased this too, and a few days later it arrived

Since then I’ve had no problems at all, and I am very pleased with it. I have only used it for VHF/UHF, not HF, so I can’t give any critique on its performance in this area

Temporary placement of the Multicoupler for testing

Temporary placement of the Multicoupler for testing

The HF/VHF/UHF Multicoupler is priced at £119.95 plus shipping (£8 in the UK I believe)
The 12V power supply is £20 including postage to the UK

Further details and specifications are available on the CCW website

The Spectrum Monitor articles and the MilCom Forum

I’m pleased to say that I’ve had two articles published in the July edition of e-Mag The Spectrum Monitor

tsnpreview
The first article is about the Joint Warrior exercise that took place in March/April this year, and how and what to listen out for when these exercises take place twice a year in the UK. I wasn’t expecting this article to be published until September so this was an added bonus this month

The second article is about how I got into listening to Air Traffic Control and how this then took me down the road to becoming an Air Traffic Controller, an aviation/military photographer and writer, and into monitoring the radios in general – in particular HF

As well as the articles, there’s about 11 photos of mine included alongside. I also provided the cover image.tsmcover

The magazine is available either to buy individually at $3 each or by subscription for $24 for one year. Either way the magazine is well worth the money

MilCom Forum

About a month ago now, a new forum was created for the Military Monitoring enthusiast – MilCom

The main aim of the forum is bring together those of us that are interested in monitoring Military Communications, be it VHF/UHF, HF, CW, data, SATCOM etc. The posting of radio logs is actively encouraged. In just a month the membership has passed 110 with posts already at 850+; and this is without any real advertising of the forum. One thing you’ll notice if you head over, is that it isn’t just about Aviation. The forum covers all areas of Military Communications – Aviation, Maritime and Land (Space too if you really want to)

image
As well as the forum area there is a database section which contains information on Military Callsigns, VHF/UHF frequencies, HF frequencies and other things such as common abbreviations and terms used by the Military. There’s also an interactive map. These databases are updated almost daily by a team of us, and can also have anything missing submitted to the team for addition once confirmed. The databases are continually growing, are more accurate than any printed publication (which is generally out of date the day of printing) and more importantly – FREE

The only proviso to this data being available is that members participate in the forum and do not just “lurk”. The membership is continually monitored by the team and trimmed if necessary. That being said, we are a friendly group so don’t let the rules put you off – instead join up and participate.

September Russian Navy movements

There was plenty of Russian Navy radio activity in September, obviously most was due to the crisis in Syria and the build up of Naval Fleets in the Mediterranean, but there are couple of others that I’m going to concentrate on

The first one I’m going to look at will hopefully show how easy it is to work out which callsigns belong to which ship or base sometimes.

Callsign RJP99 had been picked up once before in July calling RIT which is the Northern Fleet Comms centre at Severomorsk. It then wasn’t heard until the 4th September when again it called RIT with a weather and position report:

1825z RJP99 547 18 4 2214 547 = FOR RJH74 RJH45 =
04181 99700 10365 22211
This equates to a position of 70.0N 36.5E heading NE @ 1-5kts

These are standard messages sent out with basic weather information and so unless there is some other type of message or clue there is no way of telling which ship it is making the call. There’s a brief explanation to these messages in my blog previously. So when, 11 minutes later, RJP99 contacted RIT again but this time with a message type I’d not seen before, I got a little interested in this ship

1836z RJP99 911 28 4 2216 911 = FOR RJH74 RJH45 =
KKXX 04093 1545/ 17000 03601 88870
20000 31149 20010 31110 20020 31096
20030 30876 20050 30402 22075 30344
30100 30344 20?43 30288 00000 55555
10144 04025 = + RJP99

I sent the message I’d received out to a few people and it wasn’t long before I was informed that this message was a specialist one, known as a TESAC, that contains information on sea temperature, salinity and current at different depths; and within the Russian Navy only Hydrographic Ships are able to do this. A decode of TESAC reports is available here

Because of this new information, should there be any news about a Hydrographic Ship leaving the Severomorsk area over the previous few days then it would be an easy tie-up. And as luck would have it the next day, on the 5th, the Russian Navy announced that very information:

Hydrographic ship of the Northern Fleet , ” Gorizont” and seagoing tug MB -56 left the port of Murmansk and headed to the archipelago of Franz Josef Land , said in Wednesday’s press service WEST along the Northern Fleet.

“Expedition Specialists Hydrographic Service of the Northern Fleet is dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the campaign Georgy Sedov and the establishment of state sovereignty over the archipelago of Franz Josef Land ,” – said the head of the press department of information management services for the Northern Fleet WEST Vadim Serga , whose words are quoted in the report .

The aim of the expedition is to collect information on changes in navigational and hydrographic conditions , proof of maps and nautical sailing directions, meteorological observations , geodetic survey points in the archipelago and the verification of their bindings , as well as exploring opportunities neledokolnogo sailing vessel in the high-latitude ice conditions favorable for the period . “It is planned a few landings on the islands of the archipelago , carrying memories of stocks? 100th anniversary campaign Georgy Sedov , and measures to improve the environmental situation in the archipelago ,” – said in a statement

This is the great thing about the Russian Navy. Despite the force being in quite a bad way shall we say, with rotting decommissioned ships in many Naval ports, they are still very proud. Because of this they announce everything, in particular movements of ships. A good source of this information is Flot.com or Russian Navy News as it’s also called. It helps to have a basic understanding of Russian but there’s always Google Translate which makes it very easy to read and disseminate the required information

Gorizont

© Photo by forums.airbase.ru

Gorizont is a Project 862/II Survey Ship (NATO – Yug class) and was commissioned in May 1983, being the 15th built in Gdansk, Poland. Originally 18 were built with 12 still in service. Gorizont is one of five in the Northern Fleet, with a crew of 46 plus up to 20 scientists. It has a range of approximately 9000nm at a speed of 12kts, top speed being 15kts. It can go for 40 days without any resupplies. There are provisions for 3 twin 25mm guns but these are not fitted

The interesting thing about the news from the Russian Navy was that it also mentions an escort Seagoing Tug, MB-56. This class of ship also tends to send basic weather reports so it was just a case of listening out for another unknown callsign that gave a Lat/Long position close to Gorizont.

mb56

© Photo by forums.airbase.ru

When I was going through my recordings of the early hours of the 5th an unknown callsign, RJQ88, sent its weather. This was followed by RJP99 which had almost the same position. RJQ88 had to be Seagoing Tug MB-56

MB-56 is a Project 745 Sorum Class Tug, with 13 in service with the Russian Navy. Up to about 43 have been built in total, operating also with the Russian Border Patrol force

As you can see there wasn’t much between the positions

0036z RJQ88 515 18 5 0403 515 = FOR RJH74 RJH45 =
05001 99712 10360 22212
(71.2N 36.0E heading NE @ 6-10kts)

0051z RJP99 314 17 5 0405 314 = FOR RJH74 RJH45 =
05001 99704 10360 22272
(70.4N 36.0E heading NW @ 6-10kts)

RJP99 then sent out another TESAC message and hour later

0152z RJP99 545 30 5 0545 545 = FOR RJH74 RJH45 =
KKXX 05093 0040/ 17030 03559
88870 20000 31167 20010 31029
20020 31029 20030 31029 20050
30618 20075 30483 20100 30448
20150 30351 20178 30295 00000
55555 10180 05027 = + RJP99

Gorizont and MB-56 continued to send basic weather reports until the 18th of September. MB-56 went to a bay in the North Western Islands of the Franz Josef Land archipelago and stayed there for most of the time, whilst Gorizont went to various areas for survey purposes

RJP99

I’ve added a Google Earth KMZ file if you want to look in closer detail to RJP99s positions over the 15 days

They both disappeared on the 19th of September with a final status message from Gorizont. MB-56 turned up on the 28th and by the 30th was entering the Kola Bay area heading for Severomorsk. On the 23rd of September the Russian Navy announced news that the survey had discovered a new island in the archipelago. Again, the ships were named.

So as you can see, with the help of the Russian Navy itself, it is possible to tie-up callsigns with specific ships within their fleet. And it is possible to do this with not just the Auxiliary fleet, but with their Fighting Ships also, with only Submarines seeming to not use this system

Another callsign that cropped up at the same time was RAL48. This had shown in November 2012 when it met up with RMC99 off the NW coast of Norway but remained unidentified. The way the “meeting” took place at that time it looked like a handover of an escort of another ship or submarine

This time RAL48, still unidentified, was caught by other monitors operating near Lerwick at the end of August for nearly a week. I received a message on 8345kHz on the 29th of August, with the position it gave tracking SW down the east coast of Scotland near Wick until it finally moored of the coast near Lossiemouth that lunchtime. My log from the 4th of September shows it still Hove to:

1805z RAL48 757 21 4 2202 757 = SML FOR RJH45 RJH74 =
04181 99581 70027 22200
58.1N 02.7W Hove to http://goo.gl/maps/gBZAB

On the 29th of August a quick check of MarineTraffic.com showed that approximately where RAL48 had reported its position there was a Russian Navy Rescue Tug, the Nikolay Chiker. RAL48 had to be the Nikolay Chiker

NIKOLAY_CHIKER

Nikolay Chiker – Photo by Anatoly Romanko

With a crew of up to 71, the Nikolay Chiker was the lead build of two in its class and commissioned in April 1989 under Project R-5757. It has a range of 11,000nm at a speed of 16kts and can work autonomously for up to 50 days. It is able to pull any ship in the Russian Navy on its own, including the Aircraft Carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, and has a helipad able to take a Ka-27 helicopter

It remained moored off the coast of Scotland for over a week until on the evening of the 7th of September it went steaming off to the NW. I’d noticed that another callsign, RAL46, was heading towards the same position from the coast of Norway and wondered if they were meeting up. RAL46 had already been identified previously as Tanker Vyazma, and sure enough on the 8th at lunchtime they met up south of the Faroe Islands

By Wednesday the 11th they both arrived south of Cork in Ireland and hove to, shown here with A = Nikolay Chiker and B = Vyazma

For a lot of this journey Nikolay Chiker was able to be tracked using MarineTraffic, except for the times it was out of range of AIS feeders. But, there were still a few position reports via CW that confirmed the routing

Over the next four days Chiker did some very strange things. On the Thursday it tracked off towards Lands End, but never infringed UK waters. It was during the time that the FOST “Thursday war” normally takes place. Was it on observation duties? On Sunday the 15th, it then tracked north through the Celtic Sea towards St. Georges Channel before again turning back to it’s hove to position south of Cork. All during this time there had been a few SF exercises in the area, so again was Chiker on an observation mission? As far as I’m aware it has so special antenna fits and is purely a Rescue Tug, but you can never tell with Russian Navy ships totally

All of this was tracked using MarineTraffic. Even though most frequencies were being covered, RAL48 (Chiker) didn’t send any more message after Friday the 13th.

On the 18th, Chiker headed north, into the St. Georges Channel, then between Ireland and the Isle of Man before passing south of the Mull of Kintyre and disappearing from any AIS feeders. Here is the last report on ShipAis. No CW message was received again. RAL46 (Vyazma) had also disappeared on the 13th from CW, and as it didn’t show on MarineTraffic it’s not known whether it followed the same route with Chiker. It did however reappear on the 28th about 100km east of Severomorsk sending a weather report and position on 8345kHz

And all of a sudden, on the 2nd of October, Nikolay Chiker appeared again on MarineTraffic, dockside at Severomorsk

So, what had these two Russian Navy ships been up to? A friend has actually sent a letter to Whitehall requesting information. He is yet to receive any reply. Were they there as a “show”? At the same time NATO forces were building up off Syria. Was this a “look what we can do” message to the UK?

Soobrazitelny – Photo by Ben Zion on ShipSpotting.com

Or was it just a prelim trip to Cork for the current visit there by the Steregushchiy Class Frigate “Soobrazitelny”? Personally, I don’t think it does have anything to do with the Soobrazitelny visit to Cork. I doubt we’ll ever find out for sure what they were up to, but you never know, Whitehall might reply to my friend

I hope this shows how easy it is to track the Russian Navy ships whether it be using High Frequency Morse Code messages or with the use of AIS trackers.

It isn’t just the Russians that can be tracked using AIS by the way. There’s plenty of Naval Forces around the world slowly introducing the systems to their ships

Further references:
Jane’s Fighting Ships
Russian Navy News (Flot.com)
Russian-Ships.info
Warfare.be
MarineTraffic.com
ShipAis.com
ShipSpotting.com

New Year, new start

I really haven’t had much time to blog, so much so that it’s been months since my last one. So, with the New Year (although it’s already February) I decided I’d make more of an effort

Although my blog has the title of “Planes and stuff”, it’s more likely to become just “stuff”. Planes are somewhat lacking up here in Scotland, and the ones that are around are a good few hours drive away – in fact Lossiemouth is a longer drive than Manchester is. I really am hoping that this year I can get some trips in. Already planned is Aprils Joint Warrior up at Lossie; and most definitely up around Greenock and Faslane for the Warship participants

I’ve kind of stumbled into the Warship photography. It’s been interesting watching the Warships and Submarines go past the house over the last few years so when I started listening to the Russian Navy transmissions on my radios I started taking more notice of what was going by. In October last year I decided to pop up to Greenock to get some photos of the Warships taking part in the Joint Warrior exercise. It was an interesting day and I decided I’d get a secondhand Jane’s Fighting Ships off eBay so that I could get more information on things.

HMS Ambush

When the book arrived I noticed that Jane’s accepted photos so I sent a few away which will now hopefully be published in next years book

Of course, having the one book led onto others as I just needed to know about what weapons the ships were carrying; and radar, and comms equipment. I think I have 8 books now.

Jane’s were good enough to give me a discount on some newer books, including Fighting Ships, so I now have some more up to date copies than those originally bought off eBay

Belgian Navy Minesweeper Lobelia (M921)
Danish Navy Frigate Hvidbjornen (F360)

Onto my radio listening now, and in particular the Russian Navy Morse Code (CW) transmissions

This has turned into quite a fascinating hobby for me, although sometimes frustrating due to poor reception. I discovered through a forum that the CIS Navy ships send weather reports every 6 hours for their current location. They use the standard observation method as described by NOAA in their observation handbook, and within this message format there is a Lat/Long position report for where the observation took place. This means you are able to track their positions. This totally amazed me when I found this out

I now have a database of over a hundred callsigns as used by the CIS Navy, although I haven’t heard them all. Probably the busiest week or so of listening was in November when myself and a few others tracked a large movement of ships in the White Sea. Eventually we were able to work out that this was in fact a test of a new Cruise Missile from a newly launched Nuclear Submarine. More information can be found here http://rusnavy.com/news/navy/index.php?ELEMENT_ID=16398. In total we were able to track 9 ships during the firing, although all remained unidentified. The busiest mover was callsign RBC89 which gave position reports as shown here on google maps:

They do round up the positions hence the odd one that are on land. Below are example messages taken from the 5th November

0343z RBC89 191 19 5 0725 191 = FOR RJD90 RJH74 =
05001 99659 10364 41/96 91909 10020 49980 54000
70022 89/// 22252 00020 2???? 319// 40302 88000
05016 = + RBC89

65.9N 36.4E Heading SW @ 6-10kts
http://goo.gl/maps/hT0Ep

0354z VVV RJD99 DE RBC89 QSA? QTC

0355z VVV RJD99 DE RBC89 QSA? QTC

0356z RBC89 186 ?? 5 0730 186 = FOR RJD90 RJH74 =
05021 99662 10362 41/96 92207 00040 49980 54000
748?4 89/// 22272 00030 20202 319// 40402 88000
05016 = + RBC89

66.2N 36.2E Heading NW @ 6-10kts
http://goo.gl/maps/5TPrF

0403z RBC89 223 3 5 0801 223 = FOR RJD99 =
02552 05001 = + RBC89

0407z RMB81 QSA? QTC
VVV RJD99 DE RMB81 QSA? QTC

0550z VVV RJD99 DE RBC89 QSA? QTC
RBC89 572 9 5 0955 572 = FOR RJD90 RJH74 =
050?? 99662 10345 41/96 9230? 00050 40000 52020
70222 89/// 22232 00030 20202 232// 40302 88000
05016 = + RBC89

66.2N 34.5E Heading SE @ 6-10kts
http://goo.gl/maps/hmxyW

In the last message group RBC89 calls RJD99. The position is decoded from 99662 10345, with the heading/speed 22232.

The main frequencies in use are 8345kHz and 12464kHz, although there are hundreds listed that have been used by the Russian Navy. They are all in CW

Quite a few ships have been tied up to the callsigns now through their reports. This is achieved from the Russian Navy themselves as they publish news items everyday on the internet, especially when ships arrive at certain locations. I also use a few other websites including Shipspotting.com and Bosphorus Navy News

Well, that’s it for this update. Next will be Numbers Stations and QSL cards