February’s Blackjacks

After a couple of days of teasing us with the standard “W” markers in CW, on the 17th February the Russian Air Force (Военно-воздушные cилы России [BBC России]) carried out a Long Range Aviation mission using two Tu-160 Blackjacks.

I was able to monitor nearly the whole mission on HF (both in CW and Voice USB), with a small amount on UHF (though no Russian Air to Air voice comms were received on VHF/UHF) and following some investigation into my data along with other logs and reports from the internet and friends, I can now compile a rough idea of the routing they took on their journey to the English Channel and back again.

The first reception I had that showed a mission was taking place was at around 0830z when a standard 3 figure group message was sent by IWV4 but unfortunately I was just setting up my gear and so missed it to write down. Further “W” markers took place at the usual every 20 minute schedule of 0840z and 0900z, with IWV4 sending another message at 0903z to the aircraft. This call gave us the CW callsign for the aircraft, probably the IL-78 Midas4YMA

Russian Air Force TU-160 Blackjack RF-94104 “Alexander Golovanov” © Crown copyright 2016

As is standard, the early part of the mission was relatively quiet on CW with markers only, though there was one unusual thing that took place around 0920z. Firstly there was no 0920z “W” (this only happened one other time for the whole day at 1600z – the 20 mins schedule was kept going solidly otherwise) and secondly, at 0922z, there was a sending of data on the frequency. The first eight minutes was a carrier tone centred exactly on 8112; with the full data commencing at 0930z continuing until 0943z. Unfortunately, the CW recording I had for the day got corrupted so I wasn’t able to analyse the signal to at least try and determine what type it may have been. Of course, it could have been coincidence as we all know that many of the frequencies used by the Russians are shared, but this does seem almost too good a coincidence. One thing is noteworthy in recent missions, and that is the big reduction in CW messages over the large increase of voice messages – are the Russians trying out a new data messaging system for their Long Range Aviation fleet?

8112 continued in the usual manner for most of the morning, with the occasional message or “radio check” [QSA] but there wasn’t much else. The Winter CW frequency for the aircraft side of the “Bear Net” had always alluded us and was in fact the only missing frequency we had for the whole net, so it was just the ground side of the duplex network that I was receiving. I had 8990 down as a back-up frequency for their voice comms and I was monitoring this frequency on my Icom IC-R8500 in USB mode, with all the remaining Winter frequencies on the Titan SDR Pro. I was also using the Titan to monitor most of the Oceanic frequencies in case they were coming this way, something useful to do as this can sometimes give away the rough position of the Russians. Because of this set-up I had the SDR monitoring the Oceanic frequencies in the 8MHz range. The bandwidth I’d allocated also incorporated 8990 and it was during a QSA check at 1205z from IWV4 on 8112 that I noticed a faint trace of CW on the frequency! I quickly changed the mode on the Icom to CW and caught the end – “QSA3” – nothing else followed, but it looked like I had found the Winter CW airborne frequency for the “Bear Net”. But, I had to be sure.

Russian Air Force TU-160 Blackjack RF-94101 “Paval Taran” © Crown copyright 2016

Up until now there had been zero voice comms on 8131, the primary Winter voice frequency, but not too long after the 1205z QSA check on CW the first call came with 44732 calling KATOLIK followed by a call to BALANS after not much luck with KATOLIK. There was one more call after this on 8112 before this frequency went to markers only, but there was a reply on 8990 confirming that this was the Winter CW frequency for the aircraft. The complete 8112/8990 transcript can be found in PDF format in my full CW log

Going from various reports, the Northern QRA had not launched so this led me to believe that the Russian aircraft were not coming in the direction of the UK, but when I noticed on my SBS that the Tanker was travelling north from Brize Norton, then I wondered if they were. The only comms I had was from the Tanker with Swanwick Mil so I presume (and with no logs showing anything from Lossiemouth) that a long range track of the Blackjacks was taking place.

Certainly, on Oceanic warnings were being passed about the “unknown” traffic heading south and it’s from this information that I’ve been able to roughly guess their initial routing, down through the Shetland Island and Faeroe Island gap to near ERAKA, before tracking south along the 10W line – like I say, a rough guess, but going on previous routes this won’t be far out. They probably got to around the NIBOG area before tracking SW to go around Ireland, before heading in again towards Lands End and the English Channel.

Voice comms on HF with BALANS was pretty continuous by this stage, with three potential callsigns heard. Two would have been the Blackjacks, 44731 and 44732, with a third more than likely the support IL-78 Midas tanker that remained clear up to the north and so was much weaker with me – I think it was 60991 but was too weak to tell, with only the readback from BALANS copied.

At about 1505z it was reported that two Typhoons from Coningsby that had launched about an hour before, and had been holding in ARA10W, had joined up with the “unknowns” and these were identified as Tu-160 Blackjacks. The comms were again picked up by Kyle, and the Typhoons gave full details including the tailcodes, with the lead aircraft being RF-94101, the second RF-94104. The Russians name their Tu-160’s and these are given “Paval Taran” and “Alexander Golovanov” respectively.

By coincidence, at 1510z, 44732 calls BALANS with a message starting 502. I always suspect that they send messages out when they’re intercepted and I expect this was one of those messages. It could well have been that they were entering the Channel though, it’s hard to tell, but certainly for the whole time they were in that area, the messages sent began with 502. Around 1600z the French QRA also joined up and from images produced by the MOD, these were shown to be a single Rafale and a single Mirage 2000C – callsigns noted on Fighter Control as MASTIFF01 and MARAUD03.

Russian Air Force TU-160 Blackjack RF-94104 with a French Air Force Rafale and Mirage 2000C © Crown copyright 2016

From there the Blackjacks turned around and I expect pretty much followed the same route back. I could certainly tell that they were near to me later on, they were ridiculously loud on HF.

Below then is a copy of my voice logs, along with the recordings I made. A good test of my recently installed Wellbrook Loop that I’d finally been able to put up on the mast just the week before, after having it for nearly three months! Scottish weather!!

NOTE – These recordings are copyrighted to me. It has been noted that other recordings have ended up on YouTube, uploaded by a third party. Should this happen with my recordings, further action will be taken

8131

1216z 44732 calls KATOLIK

1217z 44732 calls KATOLIK [KATOLIK very faint]

1218z 44732 calls KATOLIK, BALANS replies

1220z BALANS passes message 130 525

1222z BALANS calls 44731 numerous times
– Note, contains all of the above

1226z 44732 answers, BALANS passes message 130 525

1232z 44732 calls BALANS with message [too faint to copy]

[messages continue until 1245z, all too faint, multiple callsigns]

1302z 44732 calls BALANS with message 157 133 796 290 525 853

1306z BALANS and 60991[?] 532 598 757 706 057 162 363 395

1318z BALANS passes message 727 to 44732

1356z 44732 calls BALANS with message 197 077 950 525 305

1510z 44732 calls BALANS with message 502 549 447 360 981 848 842 366 215 492 481

1551z 44732 calls BALANS with message 502 956 447 339 822 532 842 942 563 592 339

1612z 44732 calls BALANS with message 502 411 447 132 196 010 565 564 978

1641z 44732 calls BALANS with message 926 429 564 695 525 447

1745z 44731 called by BALANS

1750z BALANS calls 44731 with message 861 408 850

1826z 44732 calls BALANS with message 976 170 408 953 525 055

160217map

Approximate routing of the Tu-160 Blackjacks

One final thing to note – on exactly the same day in 2015 (day of the year, not actual date, so the third Wednesday in February) the Russians carried out almost the same flight, going down the West coast of Ireland. Further information on that mission, including HF recordings, can be found in Bear Hunting – part two

Bet you a few quid they’ll be back same day next year 😉

TitanSDR Pro demonstration

After receiving quite a few requests on information about the Enablia TitanSDR and it’s capabilities, I decided it would be good a good idea to create a demonstration video that would hopefully show just how good an SDR it is. The video is at the end of this blog.

I think that a lot of people can’t understand just why the two versions are the price they are, especially when it seems that a new dongle SDR is being evolved every day at a ridiculously cheap price. Yes, they are expensive but when you compare the price of these SDR’s to a top end desktop receiver, such as the Icom IC-R8500 for example, then it is fairly comparable.

But you must consider the fact that the Titan is really more than one receiver. The Pro version is 40 receivers, the standard is eight. You can’t record independently using the Icom, you need some additional software or a digital voice recorder plugged in to the receiver; and even then you can only record the one frequency – the Pro can record 40 frequencies, the standard can record eight.

The TitanSDR Pro can monitor up to 40 frequencies at the same time. Here, 10 frequencies are being monitored, mainly Oceanic ones.

The TitanSDR Pro can monitor up to 40 frequencies at the same time. Here, 10 frequencies are being monitored, mainly Oceanic ones.

Then, you can’t really record any bandwidth to play back using the Icom, but both versions of the Titan can record up to three separate bandwidths. These can then be played back, either through the SDR itself, or on another PC using the supplied USB dongle that carries a second version of the software – and if you did this you could be listening to, or recording, further frequencies or bandwidths. And all these separate bandwidth recordings can, of course, be played back multiple times, with multiple recordings being made within them; or data can be decoded; or signals analysed – what ever you require from an SDR.

This image shows the Titan monitoring 12 frequencies, 6 of which are decoding ALE using PC-ALE. This can take place in the background, while listening to the other frequencies on the SDR.

This image shows the Titan monitoring 12 frequencies, 6 of which are decoding ALE using PC-ALE. This can take place in the background, while listening to the other frequencies on the SDR.

But, of course, this is just standard for any SDR isn’t it?? But is it?? Can you think of another SDR that has the capability to monitor/record 40 frequencies at once? I can’t.

The nearest SDR I found to the Titan in quality of not only recording capabilities but in quality of filters etc. meant that I would need to buy around 13 SDR’s of this model and spend over €30,000. Yet, just one of this model costs pretty much the same price as the Titan. Now, with that knowledge, the price of the TitanSDR’s really doesn’t seem that bad after all.

Don’t forget, the TitanSDR is a Military spec. SDR, designed originally for agencies to monitor multiple frequencies for analysis and data collecting. It already has top specifications but Enablia are still willing to listen to the users and add requested features if they can. They have already done this with quite a few ideas that myself and other users have suggested.

You'd think that the Titan would be a CPU guzzler wouldn't you? Well it isn't. Here the SDR is running 31 frequencies, multiple decodings using MultiPSK, and PC-ALE. The CPU is running at only 27%, and that was it's max reading.

You’d think that the Titan would be a CPU guzzler wouldn’t you? Well it isn’t. Here the SDR is running 31 frequencies, whilst making multiple decodings using MultiPSK and PC-ALE. The CPU is running at only 27%, and that was it’s max reading.

 

2 B2 or not 2 B2

Whilst most of the UK were running around chasing B-52s and B-2s that were flying out of Fairford, more on which later, the USAF and USN over in the States were preparing for yet another large combined exercise involving multiple assets, including more B-52s and B-2s, as well as E-6s and KC-135s

Early heads up that something was going to take place was given when various airspace reservations were spotted by “Magnum” on the USAFs own NOTAM website. This was re-enforced when four KC-135s were positioned in Nova Scotia on the 10th of June

Sure enough, as predicted, on the afternoon of the 11th 11175kHz of the HF-GCS network started to come alive with calls from various assets involved in the exercise

I was preoccupied for the first few hours, but plenty of calls were coming through and picked up by the small group of us that regularly follow these missions. A couple of us do live in the USA so follow the action with their own gear, but in the majority Live ATC is a necessity for us in Europe; that is until a bit later and conditions let us follow the aircraft that are the furthest east

At around 1830z a long EAM (Emergency Action Message) of 147 characters was sent by GOALPOST, an E-6B operating over the USA:

1833z GOALPOST ET75CD – BP7BPFFJAT5QBNJDRENN662OQ47RN4OZZ55XIWU6ISZCG3GSMKMCSSUCND6I4W
WTTIRR5HJOPVAZ4FEBITCJ655OOORV4HJZ4PCXX662GSQTWM6JWFKH677GKTTNIH
FLFWHVGGIG2V62K

This is significantly longer than the standard EAMs of 30 characters, and this EAM was repeated on quite few occasions over the next hour or so

By 1900z the callsign tally was quite large:
SPURxx KC135s
NARESxx KC135s
RIPPERxx B52s
BEAKxx B2s
ALOE VERA E6
GOALPOST E6
ROUNDHAT E6
FIREDOME E6

The operating areas of these flights had been pretty much worked out by those monitoring too, but I’ll leave those out except for one portion a bit later on

The sheer number of messages, such as the 4 group status messages used by the B2s in previous missions I’ve mentioned, and EAMs were overwhelming. There were so many they were stepping all over each other making it nigh on impossible to make them all out. It does make you wonder just how things would pan out should this all happen for real

Saying that though, the Russian CW networks I also listen too aren’t any better and do exactly the same thing.

I joined the action properly at around 2130z when I got a SkyKing message using my WinRadio Excalibur on 11175kHz. With the way the bandwidth was set up with the Excalibur I could see that Gander on 11279kHz was coming in strong which gave me hope that conditions would be good enough to pick some of the exercise up on 11175. I decided to set one of the other channels available on Gander as it’s always interesting listening to them sometimes

As it was, whilst monitoring 11175, I saw a really strong signal come in on Gander so I changed channels quickly and heard what I thought was SPEED20 calling with a position report. There was a distinct burn to the background call which showed it as a military flight.

A quick check through my old notes showed SPEED as a 97AMW callsign so I thought this would be one of the tankers. But, one of the US monitors then said he’d not heard a tanker using SPEED before, which made me doubt the call. Magnum then queried whether it may have been BEAK20 so I waited until the next position report about 20 mins later to confirm. It was indeed BEAK20, probably a B-2A from Whiteman AFB. The two B-2s were not that far from the boundary between Gander and Shanwick, and were now heading south

Route over the Atlantic by BEAK20/21

Route over the Atlantic by BEAK20/21

A bit of further delving through my old bits of papers that I call logs showed that I’d written down SPEED as a 97BW callsign in the early 90s. I’d tie this down to the fact that the 97th flew B-52s to Fairford for Desert Storm, and I visited the base then on a few occasions whilst stationed at Lyneham. Obviously, when the 97th transitioned to their new role of transports and tankers from Altus AFB, I’d just copied over the callsigns

As I’d not picked up much on 11175 on my own gear I decided to make Gander my primary on the Excalibur with 11175 on channel 2, along with 11175 on my Icom IC-R8500; and just to top that off, have Live ATC going on the PC too. It takes a lot of effort to listen to all this at once especially when there’s a time lag through Live ATC; it makes logging it all very difficult – I still feel like I’m cheating when listening to alive ATC too

Another position report followed with Gander telling BEAK20 to switch to 8891 as the new primary frequency. I followed them over as I was getting a good plot of their route using Skyvector. Again, with the bandwidth setup that I use on the Excalibur I was able to see other surrounding frequencies, and I noted that the Russian network on 8847kHz was also very busy. A quick listen showed these to be transports, but I was busy elsewhere so dumped the freq

I followed BEAK20 back to the Canadian domestic airspace at waypoint ELSIR, but before that at 2350z he asked Gander if they could go off frequency at midnight Zulu to monitor 11175 for approx 10 minutes. Gander said standby but never did get back to them, well not that I heard

At 0010z a new EAM was sent, this time by new callsign and an E-6B, OUTCROP. The Pool callsigns for the E-6s always change at midnight Zulu, so we were to expect a few new ones in the next half an hour or so, another one being LEGALITY.

With BEAK20 pretty much being back on Canadian domestic I was back to 11175 on the Excalibur and OUTCROP was quite clearly audible on it, whilst LEGALITY wasn’t.

Things had really started picking up again, with lots of stepped on calls again as everyone came back up on frequency, a pattern that is common with these – busy (all checking in) – quiet (flying the mission) – busy (checking back in). A couple of new callsigns also followed along with new groups of EAMs

This continued on for the next few hours, with myself calling it a day around 0130z when it had mostly died down. The final callsign list for the night was:

SPURxx KC135s
NARESxx KC135s
RIPPERxx B52s
BEAKxx B2s
ALOE VERA E6
GOALPOST E6
ROUNDHAT E6
FIREDOME E6
AMBAY B52
BURNTxx ?
GLUExx ?
AREA ?
HALLxx ?
SUMACxx KC135s
HISTO possibly B52s
MESSHALL E6
INSUREABLE E6
OUTCROP E6
LEGALITY E6

The last group of E6s were the same ones as earlier but have the midnight callsign change

Interestingly, a new NOTAM has been published that covers at least the next week, and the same airspace as used for this exercise. Is this to be a bigger and better one?

UK B-2s and B-52s

As I mentioned earlier, 2 B-2s and 3 B-52s have deployed to the UK for two exercises; SaberStrike for the B-52s and a FAMEX(Familiarisation Exercise) for the B-2s. They have caused nothing but what I would call a “boy band” over excitement from the UK aviation enthusiasts (of which I am one, though I’ve not got that excited)

It is great to see them over here again, and I did manage a glimpse of two B-52s as they left the Turnberry VOR tracking NW, but the commotion and excitement they have caused is amazing. Maybe I got too used to them 20 years ago (the B-52s) and I’ve seen a few B-2s in the USA so maybe I’ve been nulled by that.

As I live a good 300 miles away from Fairford, and with a holiday during the same period, I was never really going to see them, but I thought the radio may be a bit interesting. In the end it wasn’t. Daily round-robin tours of the UK for training purposes gave mainly route information. The B-2s tended to fly as singletons, but the B-52s did fly in pairs so there was some inter-plane chat between them – at the time of going on holiday this was on
226.875MHz and 300.125MHz

One of the routes flown as plotted by Chris Globe

One of the routes flown as plotted by Chris Globe

With the flights there seemed to be a regular pattern of one in the morning, one in the afternoon (of both types); and after a while it was noticeable that they used the same waypoints or FRDs (fix/radial/distance) but maybe in a different order. After two days, once they were used to being here, air to air refuelling also was incorporated into the missions with 100ARW from RAF Mildenhall

Callsigns used for the UK flights were:

EXULT11-13 B-52s on the 7th for flights from USA to Fairford
CORE11/12 B-52 UK flights
DOOM11/12 B-52 UK flights
DOOM20 B-52 UK flights
DEATH11/12 B-2 for flights from USA to Fairford
SPIRIT01/02 B-2UK flights
SPIRIT11 B-2 UK flights
ICOSA11/12 B-2 flight to Ascension

At the time of this blog the B-52s are yet to take part in Exercise SaberStrike except for one fly past at the beginning of the exercise

As I’ve said, I went away on holiday so missed some of it, but on the 11th the B-2s made a trip to Ascension Island (where I was posted to in the 90s) as ICOSA11/12 flight and they were monitored again by the small group of us. They were met by four to six KC135s that flew from Lajes in the Azores. This was part of an Out-of-Area operation to prove they can carry out Global Power flights outside of operating from Whiteman AFB

Although I believe they were due to land at Ascension, they didn’t and they returned to Fairford that night following a very long mission

Let’s hope these exercises are repeated next year, and maybe I’ll be able to head down to Fairford to see them

Logs from CONUS exercise:

10/6/14

11175[LATC]

1833z GOALPOST ET75CD – BP7BPFFJAT5QBNJDRENN662OQ47RN4OZZ55XIWU6ISZCG3GSMKMCSSUCND6I4W
WTTIRR5HJOPVAZ4FEBITCJ655OOORV4HJZ4PCXX662GSQTWM6JWFKH677GKTTNIH
FLFWHVGGIG2V62K

1842z NARES42 calls SkyMaster, no response

11175

2128z SkyKing PP3 T28 Auth RJ

Gander 11279

2220z BEAK20 (B-2A)
5442N 38W @ 2200 FL250
Est 5448N 3338W @ 2220
5245N 3339W next

2225z BEAK20
5448N 3338W @ 2220
Est 5245N 3339W @2238
5012N 3340W next
asked by Gander to do a radio check on 8891, then told that this was the new primary. 5616 is back up

Gander 8891

2240z BEAK20
5245N 3339W @ 2239 FL250
est 5012N 3340W @ 2301
5018N 38W next

2300z BEAK20
5012N 3340W @ 2259 FL250
est 5018N 38W @ 2324
5015N 42W next, Req FL280 (approved at 2304)

2323z BEAK20
5018N 38W @ 2324 (note being sent before this time) FL280
est 5015N 42W @ 2342
5007N 45W next

2345z BEAK20
5015N 42W @ 2342 FL280
est 5007N 45W @ 2359
50N 50W next

2351z beak20 Requesting to go off freq at midnight to monitor 11175

11/6/14

Gander 8891

0002z BEAK20
5007N 45W @ 2359 FL280
est 50N 50W @ 0023
ELSIR next

At 50W call Gander on 122.375

11175

0010z OUTCROP GHTYMC – ZFFA2APJV2XXC7NNWS5DMNLK

0012z OUTCROP GH3GMH – 36QUIMUTJSLUWLFD6MQ23DJJ

0015 BEAK21 1msg 4grps TL5T

11175[LATC]

0020z SPUR44 1 msg 4 grps 1YCK

0030z LEGALITY GHTYMC – ZFFA2APJV2XXC7NNWS5DMNLK

0032z LEGALITY GH3GMH – 36QUIMUTJSLUWLFD6MQ23DJJ

0035z HALL33 1msg 4grps KIW2

0039z SPUR23 calling

11175

0040z OUTCROP GHTYMC – ZFFA2APJV2XXC7NNWS5DMNLK

0042z OUTCROP GH3GMH – 36QUIMUTJSLUWLFD6MQ23DJJ

11175[LATC]

0045z SUMAC24 1msg 4grps TPUW

0054z GH342C – RXS6IC2H46TKBC4E2UOLRSOF

11175

0055z OUTCROP GH342C – RXS6IC2H46TKBC4E2UOLRSOF

11175[LATC]

0100z LEGALITY GH342C – RXS6IC2H46TKBC4E2UOLRSOF

0102z LEGALITY GHTYMC – ZFFA2APJV2XXC7NNWS5DMNLK

0105z LEGALITY GH3GMH – 36QUIMUTJSLUWLFD6MQ23DJJ

0107z BEAK20 1msg 4grps HG2W

0109z DOOM92 with REDRIVER radio check

11175

0116z BURNT15 1msg 4grps 6SX6 (only OUTCROP heard)

0120Z SUMAC42 1msg 4grps YUWI (only OUTCROP heard)

All information, callsigns and data has no connection to my employers and is obtained from my own radio logs, personal knowledge and public information

Book Review follow-up

Well, since my review on the Klingenfuss books there’s been quite a bit of discussion on the forums about these kind of publications, but in general there was a lot of agreement about Klingenfuss being poor

Nils Schiffhauer even went as far as making a comparison of three books against 54 signals he recorded.The books he compared were:
Joerg Klingenfuss’ Utility Guide 2013/1014
Michael Marten’s “Spezial-Frequenzliste Band 2, 2013/14
Roland Proesch’ “Frequency Handbook for Radio Monitoring HF”, Edition 2013

He allocated points to the signals which totalled 108. (Full entry/callsign info = 2, correct organisation but no callsign = 1, no entry = 0). The results are below:
Klingenfuss: 45
Marten: 79
Proesch: 68

This shows that over 50% of Klingenfuss has data missing or is incorrect. I’d be happy if around 75% of data was correct as it is a changing environment and 25% is an allowable discrepancy for these changes. The other two books come in at this (and above for Michael Martins)

CoverTechnicalHandbook2013_1E Moving on from this I obtained a copy of Roland Proesch’s “Technical Handbook for Radio Monitoring HF (2013)”, which is on the same subject as Klingenfuss’s “Radio Data Codes”. As I now have both books I am able to carry out a random comparison of the two publications

So that I could try and do a fair comparison, I flicked through the pages of Rolands book, randomly stopping and picking the HF mode on that page. I then opened Klingenfuss and compared what each book had on the subject. The results are below (RM = Radio Monitoring Handbook, KF = Klingenfuss):

DRM – WinDRM
RM – Full information on this subject
KF – No information at all (that I could find)
Winner – RM

DUP-ARQ
RM – Full information, images showing Spectrum information
KF – Same information, but the only images were of WaveCom decode screenshots
Winner – RM

DGPS
RM – 4 and a half pages on the subject including spectrum images and a table of information
KF – 1 page on the subject and another page of WaveCom decode screenshots
Winner – RM

DSC
RM – 1 info page, but contains a frequency table and Spectrum image. In the appendices there is a table containing all the Maritime Identification Digits, though basic country information only (an extra 5 pages). Another table contains Ship/Station Selective Calling (another 4 pages) – Total pages for DSC is 10
KF – Slightly more information, including a description of MMSIs. Contains the same tables as RM but with the added Coast Station identities. The total number of pages is 15 although there no Spectrum images and the images that are there are of WaveCom decode screenshots again
Winner – With both books I’d say there some inaccuracies when comparing the information to the ITU website, but KF does beat RM when it comes to DSC. The one thing that lets KF down though is its abuse of ITU – Quote: Alas, the data is obviously compiled by dull and incompetent ITU bureaucrats and, by consequence, incomplete and not up to date

Domino

Example page from Radio Monitoring HF 2013 of DominoEX

To compare the books further RM has 448 images of either Spectrum data, sonograms and such like whilst I struggled to find many in KF, but KF does have many decoder screenshots, which if this is what you want then fair enough.

Radio Monitoring has a much better coverage of Russian systems. For instance, the common MS-5 (also known as CIS-12 or Fire) QPSK system used by the Russian Navy is nowhere to be seen in Klingenfuss, whilst Radio Monitoring has over a page dedicated to it including Spectrum images and a sonogram, the same goes for other systems. It’s almost as if Klingenfuss refuses to acknowledge that Russian data systems exist

Kligenfuss does have a huge amount of data on Meteorological Transmissions, well over 140 pages, including tables and decodes, though I found the layout of some of it not that great. This information is readily available online anyway as is all the data contained in both books when it comes to frequencies, callsigns, MMSI decodes etc.

But, when it comes to learning about the actual Waveforms and Data Modes I’d say Radio Monitoring beats Klingenfuss hands down. The first 135 pages of Radio Monitoring are fantastic, with descriptions of Waveforms, protocols, bit/baud rates (including a 12 page table which has great information on shift, modes, and possible users – needs to be seen to see how good this is), ASCII coding and much more. I will admit that Klingenfuss is better for a small number of Data Modes, but by and large this is often not the case.

If you could only afford one book on this subject matter, then Radio Monitoring is the one to choose, I think you’d find at least something on what you were looking for.

There’s a PDF file available that has 81 pages taken from the Radio Monitoring Handbook if you’d like to see more of whats covered and how it looks. This also includes the table of contents so that you can see what modes are covered

More information on this book, and the others written by Roland Proesch, is available on his website.

The Technical handbook for Radio Monitoring HF 2013 is 49Euros plus shipping and i’d give it a 9 out of 10. Personally I’ll be looking into getting the other books in the series

Radio book reviews

Klingenfuss Publications

I’m going to review two Klingenfuss books that I’ve purchased recently, firstly 2013/2014 Guide to Utility Radio Stations followed by Radio Data Code manual.

These are two books I’ve been contemplating on getting for over a year now and I finally decided to take the plunge at a cost of around £85 for the two, including delivery

2013/2014 Guide to Utility Radio Stations

This is the twenty-seventh edition of this book and Klingenfuss claim to be the best in this field when it comes to compiling data for HF frequency usage by Utility Stations. This book doesn’t cover any Broadcast Stations, this is in the companion book 2014 Shortwave Frequency guide which I’d decided not to purchase, mainly because there are free on-line providers of this data that is updated regularly, daily in some cases – my favourite (and the best) being SWBC Shortwave Broadcast Schedules

I wish I’d used that logic when it came to the Utility book too. To say I’m disappointed is an understatement. My decision to buy the book was because it seemed to give quite a bit of information on Digital data systems that I may find in the HF spectrum, and something I wanted to learn about. I’ll admit it does do this and it is as shown in the screenshot on the Klingenfuss website. What is disappointing though, is the huge amount of frequencies that aren’t included

There’s hardly any of the Russian Navy CW frequencies listed for instance, in particular 8345kHz and 12464kHz, the two primary frequencies used by Russina Navy ships to contact Moscow and various other bases. These have been used for years now, yet Klingenfuss quote themselves as being the most up to date publication around. They even go as far to slag off the internet and comment on out of date or incorrect frequencies online as quoted here:
……there is no comprehensive real radio monitoring executed out there at all! While these people offer gigantic frequency lists covering tenthousands of entries, these concoctions are perfectly useless to serious radio listeners since they merely represent dull data compilations copied – of all things! – from the Internet and not based on real radio monitoring. The internet, however, is not only just a too convenient source for copying and plagiarizing information, but above all constitutes a worldwide promotion platform for incompetent and stupid people, idiots and out right maniacs…… As a result, you will find on the Internet an incredible amount of intentional disinformation, misleading interpretations, pure speculation and wrong conclusions; and such “quality” of “data” is today the mainstay of cheap frequency lists offered by other publishers!

I think Klingenfuss need to revisit this statement, and the other statements that follow it in the book (too long to copy here), as they appear to be the publishers with out of date information

One of the other reasons for buying the Utility Guide was that at least if new frequencies did crop up over the year I could pencil them in with relevant data. Well, as it is, there’s a couple of hundred known Russian Navy frequencies missing. I’d be updating for hours – something I wouldn’t expect to do for a book costing £40; and this is just on one area of HF monitoring.

Searching through the HF Spectrum I came across various transmissions which when searching in the book drew a negative. It took around 10 frequencies before it came up with something, although the information provided was incorrect. In all reality, it is worse than a 1 in 10 success rate – the vast majority of frequencies I have searched are not there, yet they were all correctly listed on the Internet

The method for listing Major World Air Route Area (MWARA) and Regional and Domestic Air Routes Area (RDARA) frequencies is also slightly bizarre. In the general frequency section, when you search a frequency it doesn’t list the common users such as Shanwick or Gander. Instead it lists the regions “code”, for example:
6622kHz – AMS=NAT 6G 7F 9B 12C 13D

They then expect you to go to the back of the book where there’s a fold out map and you have to find the general area the frequency may cover. This still doesn’t tell you who it may be that you are hearing as frequencies are shared by different agencies. Later on in the book there is a chapter that lists each region and what frequencies they could possibly use, but again no callsigns. This I find strange as it’s probably easier to list the callsigns in the general frequency section in the first place – they’ve managed to do this repeatedly for other frequencies such as those used by the USAF HF-GCS network. Again, the internet beats Klingenfuss hands down with information such as this

Probably the biggest waste of space are the “screenshots” or should I call it WaveCom software advertising

Out of the 560 pages, 140 or more are of black and white screenshots. I honestly thought the screenshots may be useful in showing what different things may look like on an SDR Spectrum waterfall for instance. But no, it is just page after page of what WaveCom software has decoded. The example to the right here is from their website and is at least in colour, but it is all pretty meaningless when black and white in a small book.

There are countless more pages of advertising throughout the book for other Klingenfuss products and WaveCom, which is understandable to a point – who doesn’t advertise their own products in their own books? But with a fifth of the book being adverts, that’s a bit extreme and I’d much rather have seen more dedicated to frequencies and callsigns; or a smaller book at a cheaper price

It’s only when you read the first few pages that you find out the possible reason for the poor content. All the information in the book is from their “24/7” monitoring from 2012. Yes, the information is in fact over one and a half years old. I wondered why there was a 2013/2014 supplement with the book. So despite claiming they are the most accurate and up to date HF database providers, they aren’t – and really your £40 is in fact purchasing this 10 page supplement of also inaccurate information as there’s still frequencies missing

The continual mentions of “professional Customers” and Government agencies that use this book only makes me wonder just what these agencies think they are getting here – it’s certainly not accurate

I’d say that everything and more is available online on the subjects covered in this book. It almost hurts me to say this as I’m a book lover when it comes to this type of subject, and I think that books are always better than the internet, but in this case that just isn’t so.

Recently I have discovered what looks like a great frequency database which I’m hoping I can get my hands on and review in the future – it certainly looks far superior to anything Klingenfuss has to offer

At a cost of £40 this book is totally overpriced, I’d put it more in the £20 region, probably less. I won’t be buying it again – 5/10

Radio Data Code Manual

I hoped that this book may be a bit better than the Utility one and it is, but there are still some huge shortfallings.

To start with, Klingenfuss have failed again to show screenshots of each type of digital data transmissions. For the main, there are no screenshots of an actual signal, again it’s just a WaveCom advert of decoded messages. Screenshots of each type of transmission is a must I would say, it helps to quickly show what to look for when using an SDR or the other way round, when you’ve found something and want to quickly scan through the book to see if it matches. OK, this would be no good to someone with a standard receiver, but if you’re going to provide screenshots make them useful – I don’t care what WaveCom decoded off someone elses radio two years ago.

Instead, I’ve had to look online for examples of what each transmission may look like (and as a bonus, normally you can hear what they sound like too) – and of course, there’s normally a description of the transmission along with it, how to decode it etc. In other words, the internet has beaten a book again

The text does make up for the lack of screenshots. There are good descriptions of the different types of data transmissions, their uses and how to decode it (if you can). The only thing I would say is this – if you know what it is you’re listening to then why would you need the manual in the first place? You actually need to know all about what it is you’ve found to then look in the right chapter in the book. This is why I think that screenshots of spectrum waterfalls should be included. Instead, there’s just 4 pages of how to identify transmissions and this isn’t enough

There are various callsign chapters, on Aeronautical ICAO designators for instance, but then because of this it seems strange that there aren’t other callsigns from other Utilities. And then you think, why aren’t these in the Utility book anyway? because they’re not but really they should be (the Maritime IMO callsigns for instance)

And this is where I think the problem lies

The data and information is spread between two books, with numerous sentences saying “For reverse list…… please refer to chapter(4) in our GUIDE TO UTILITY RADIO STATIONS”. Half of one thing is in one book, and the other half is in the other book. I’ve basically had to use both books to look some things up so I’m lucky(!?) that I bought them both. Had I only purchased one of them I’d have been even more disappointed than I already am

Given that though, the Radio Data Code Manual is an interesting book and does contain some very useful technical information. Out of the two books here it is the best value for money, it would be better if it had good technical screenshots

The Radio Data Code manual costs £40, I’d pay £30 max for it. I doubt I’ll need to purchase one again in the near too distant future as there’s not that much changing out there at the moment. I’d have to seriously consider whether I would actually part with any cash though – 7/10

***EDIT***
I have received quite a few emails regarding the Klingenfuss books which have all been negative towards them.

I have also had some recommendations for books by Roland Proesch. These can be found at his website. I haven’t read the books myself so can’t vouch for them but the PDF demonstration pages are very good and show the books in a good light, particularly the images