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

SDR Console V3 analyser

The shack, finally operational after a few months off.

With the rebuild of my shack complete I’ve been able to start testing out all my radios, new connections etc.

The Mini-Circuits components all come well packaged in anti-static bags

A whole bundle of new cables from Mini-Circuits arrived last of all and have helped tidy up the back of the radio 19″ rack considerably. I’ve previously installed quite a few Mini-Circuits components, including 0.141″ diameter Hand-Flex interconnect cables, and so it was more of these that I opted for. The bonus with these cables is that they are hand formable meaning you can shape and bend them into pretty much any area that you want to. The 141 series (which I use) are capable of a 8mm bend radius, whilst the thinner 086 series can be bent to 6mm.

Being able to manipulate the cables certainly helps in tight spaces, and when you don’t want them to hang down

Previously I used hand-made cables with RG58U coax, but in order to have a 19″ rack that can slide out from under the desk, the cables needed to be longer than actually required. Because of this the cables would drop down into all the others attached to the PC and in some cases cause a little interference. With the Hand-Flex cables I’ve been able to use the same length of coax to allow me to move out the rack, but be able to bend them up and out of the way of the PC cables.

They’re also very good for the radios on the rack, being able to bend them and hold in place around the radios and other cables. They are near lossless too with a quoted insertion loss of 0.01 dB in the HF band to 0.55 dB at 18GHz. I normally run tests of the Mini-Circuit components when I receive them and find that the figures quoted are near spot on. I highly recommend these cables if you’re looking to upgrade your systems, and are available from the Mini-Circuits website, along with lots of other goodies that will tempt you.

Measurement of insertion loss of the Mini-Circuits ZF3RSC-542B-S+ Power Splitter/Combiner I also purchased as part of my plans for satellite communication monitoring. This is connected to the AirSpy SDR and takes feeds from two SatCom connections (currently deactivated) and a WinRadio AX-71C Discone Antenna. Mini-Circuits quote an insertion loss of around 19.5dB at 130 MHz which is confirmed here with a signal generated at -20dB being less than 1dB out at -40.48dB when passed through the combiner.

This image shows how the cables can be held in place without cable ties

The radio setup now includes two new SDR’s – an AirSpy HF+ and a standard AirSpy with the HF+ replacing the Enablia TitanPro. I’ve also reinstated my WinRadio G31DDC which had been in storage for a year or so. I really do like the TitanPro, and have put it into storage for the time being. The recording capabilities in particular are great with it being able to select 40 frequencies at once spread over numerous bandwidths, but I have had issues with the power supply – one being it caused interference. I attempted to make one of my own but it has a 6v(+/-1v)/2.5 Amp current requirement and no matter how many different methods of building my own supply using a 12v feed downgrading to 5, 6 or 7 volts, it just wouldn’t work in a stable manner. In the end it was easier to remove it and slot the G31DDC back in its place.

As it is, I’d forgotten how good the G31DDC is and I don’t really feel like I’m missing much thanks to the ability to use the other SDR’s with SDR Console V3 and it’s SDR Analyser.

The three 19″ racking units from Penn Elcom, along with all the shelves, have been very useful and certainly makes things easier when it comes to changing radios and connections over. I can just disconnect a few things and slide the whole unit out. I also obtained a 19″ Project box from them which I used as my main 12v switch unit. This is connected to two regulated desktop power supplies that act as master switches.

Although the SDR Console website page for the Analyser states it isn’t available yet, this is incorrect and it is downloaded with the latest version of the main programme.

If you’re a current user of V2 or have been in the past then you won’t notice much difference. You can have up to 24 parallel demodulators operating within the SDR’s bandwidth that you have chosen, all of which can run independent of each other in receive and record. You can also run each demodulator through a decoder such as MultiPSK independently and decode these in parallel with each other. This capability has taken that step towards those of the TitanPro, especially when being used with the Elad FDM-S2 that can provide a Maximum DDC bandwidth of 6144kHz’s.

Unfortunately, whilst you can schedule recordings of IQ data, you still can’t do this for individual channel recordings. This is a real shame as it would be a fantastic addition to the capabilities of SDR Console.

Getting back to the analyser though this does, in theory, cancel out the lack of channel recording scheduling.

When you record IQ data it is saved as WAV files, split into multiple ones depending on how long a recording you make . All of these files can be individually played back through the incorporated SDR Console player but even better is the use of the File Analyser.

With this you get a visual “image” of the complete recording, whereby after opening the analyser you get it to combine all the files into one XML file. For the image below I used the FDM-S2 with a selected bandwith of 768kHz centred on 4425kHz, hoping to catch calls to Russian Naval base Severomorsk in CW(RJD99) from ships operating in the region. I set the scheduler up to record from 0000z to 0700z which worked perfectly, giving me 78 files totalling 78GB – obviously, the bigger the bandwidth, the larger the total file size.

After clicking on New in the analyser and browsing to the relevant folder the WAV files are saved in, the analyser finds the first one and gives this as an option to open – it automatically adds the remaining WAV files and starts the process. This can take quite some time to extract, around 45 minutes for the example shown. But you only need to do this once because once it has finished you can save it as an XML file and open it at any time – in this case it was a 28MB XML file.

A note here – do not then delete the WAV files as the analyser still needs them.

As you can see, I was successful in locating calls to RJD99, and I have highlighted some of the others that I took a look at – this is just a screenshot of two hours out of the seven recorded.

All you then need to do is find any signal of interest, and after clicking on select and start in the top ribbon, click on the signal. This will then start playing the file from that location in the main SDR Console window. You don’t need to stay on that frequency, you can use the Console as if you were listening live and move around the frequency range you dictated in the bandwidth of the recording.

And, as it is basically a live screen you can do additional things such as record and use decoding software.

RJI92 calling RJD99 on 4416 kHz during playback of the Analyser

When using the Analyser I run this through a separate PC meaning SDR Console itself can carry on working on the main radio control PC. This is also handy if you’re away but have time to go through the IQ data using a laptop. Just copy over the original WAV files to a portable hard drive/memory stick and carry on as described above.

There are numerous other functions available for you to use with the main part of SDR Console, some I still haven’t had the chance to play with completely. I’m still exploring things such as the Signal History function which can store up to 48 hours of data. Here you can export data in CSV format to third-party programs such as QtiPlot. Signal history can also be used within the Analyser

This is useful as it can give you a quick overview into single frequency use, signal strengths, fading and such like. Definitely something I need to spend more time on.

It’s been a long time coming, but Version 3 of SDR Console has been well worth the wait.