The “Bear Net” of Russian Long Range Aviation has been relatively busy during the last few months, no doubt some of this due to the exercises playing out in Northern Europe by Western countries and NATO. They also tend to increase activity around the same time as USSTRATCOM have their Global Thunder exercises, one of which kicked off on the 29th October and lasted for just over one week.
Three Russian missions took place within the last two weeks, all of which travelled through the same airspace as the area covered by Exercise Trident Juncture 2019 (TRJE18) off the North coast of Norway. One flight was of a single Tu-142M, RF-34063//Red 56, that made a low pass near participating ships. I was unable to follow this flight so not received by me, the likely callsign on the CW frequencies for this was LNA1. This was intercepted being called by IWV4 on 8112 kHz at approximately the same time as the pass was being made. Images of the pass were caught by AFP correspondent P. Deshayes who was on one of the ships.
One of the other missions was of more interest than normal. The “Bear Net” is always an interesting thing to follow on HF, but when extras are produced it makes them even more fascinating. In this case it wasn’t so much what the Russian did, but what happened late on in the mission that wasn’t them.
Stepping back, we’ll go to the beginning of the day – 31st October 2018. The net was still on the autumn frequencies with ground station CW first being picked by myself sending “W” markers at 0920z on 8162 kHz. I quite often put one of the receivers on the current season ground station frequency to get any alert of possible flights heading out thanks to the markers sent every 20 minutes at H+00, H+20 and H+40. With this 0920z interception I started recording the frequency and I switched all radios to the other known frequencies – 9027 kHz for Air CW and 8033 kHz for Simplex USB voice comms – and got set up to start recording these should anything happen.
The 0940z W marker came, but interestingly when I went through the recordings later on I was able to hear a very faint G marker in the background. This had at least two operators carrying out the task as there were two distinct methods of sending. One would use the standard G every two seconds, whilst the other sent as double G’s and slightly quicker. The marker also started approximately 10 seconds earlier than the W and – guessing as it was stepped on by the W – looks to have lasted the two minutes too. You could hear it in the background between the odd W space.
At 0949z 8033 kHz became active and I started up recording on multiple SDR’s whilst using my Icom IC-R8500 as the live radio. By this time, I had also observed callsigns associated with QRA flights on my SBS so was pretty certain something was heading towards the UK.
With a few more USB calls following, but no CW traffic except for the markers I was certain the aircraft involved were Tu-160’s as they don’t use CW.
My Russian is still pretty basic (if that) so I totally rely on recordings to go through it all in slow time. I had been able to work out live that there was at least the usual STUPEN callsign along with TABLITSA; but I was also hearing another one that when going through the recordings I worked out to be KONUS – this one I hadn’t heard of before.
Going through the recordings, this mission certainly helped my knowledge of Russian numbers, or rather the methodology of how the messages are sent, as there were plenty of messages involved. The two aircraft callsigns were 16115 and 16116. These callsigns carry on in sequence to those that were used on a mission a few days earlier on the 28th with 16111, 16112 and 16114 being used by Tu-160’s and 50606 by an accompanying A-50.
In general 16115 was much harder to understand than 16116. 16116 said it all much slower and louder. STUPEN was very clear at the beginning, but faded towards the end, whilst TABLITSA may of well have been in my room, she was that loud.
Here then is the first part of my USB log:
8033 – Bear Net
0941z 16116 calls STUPEN
274 443 624
0949z 16116 calls STUPEN
458 842 156 816 443 896
0959z 16116 calls STUPEN [replies, 16116 faint]
KONUS calls 16116 and tells him to pass the message to him
1000z  303 847 023 534 734 619 822 332
[with wrong read back of group three, corrected by 16116]
1002z 16115 call KONUS
138 534 005 964 312 147 443 896
1010z 16115 call KONUS
741 534 724 619 822 180 443 594
1020z 16116 calls STUPEN
478 815 023 534 071 955 117 957 084 305
1028z 16115 calls TABLITSA, then straight away calls STUPEN
138 1?5 [error?] 138 534 540 115 ??? 251 660 033 084 316
[garbled with a possible error]
1036z 16116 calls STUPEN and TABLITSA, STUPEN replies
303 815 023 534 671 612 842 768 084 544
1039z 16115 calls TABLITSA and STUPEN, STUPEN replies
741 534 671 619 246 768 023 084 544
1048z 16115 calls STUPEN
138 534 491 236 896 443 084 635
1050z 16116 calls STUPEN
478 815 023 534 635 233 107 219 084 615
The recording below contains the 1048z and 1050z messages
1112z 16116 calls STUPEN
452 635 084 125
[repeats third number twice]
1129z STUPEN calls 16116 twice – no answer
1132z STUPEN calls 16116 twice – no answer
1133z STUPEN send message
BLIND 553 028 533 ??1
1141z 16115 calls STUPEN
741 534 360 810 719 980 447 023 038 914
1144z 16116 calls STUPEN
303 875 023 534 106 673 980 719 038 914
1148z 16115 calls STUPEN
138 537 023 534 674 400 388 521 038 496
1159z 16115 calls STUPEN
741 537 023 534 940 441 388 441 038 896
1201z 16116 calls STUPEN
478 816 023 534 717 355 637 321 038 496
1210z 16115 calls STUPEN
138 537 023 534 600 902 955 462 038 844
1213z 16116 calls STUPEN
303 815 023 534 186 117 388 117 038 896
1217z 16115 calls STUPEN
741 537 023 534 981 980 356 789 905 149
1306z 16115 calls STUPEN
138 537 023 534 540 288 810 236 905 206
1318z 16115 calls STUPEN
352 315 544 243 942
1320z 16115 calls STUPEN
[4 calls, no answer]
1322z 16115 calls STUPEN
741 537 023 534 724 284 312 816 315 555
1325z 16116 calls STUPEN
457 187 905 844
1351z 16116 calls STUPEN
457 187 315 715
Then comes the interesting part of this…… the arrival on frequency of the “Pirate”.
At 1427z an open mike became present on the frequency, in AM mode. This was fairly brief, and at 1429z the Pirate started.
Mike Delta Kilo Romeo, Mike Delta Kilo Romeo
Mike Delta Kilo Romeo, Mike Delta Kilo Romeo Standby
Mike Kilo Delta Romeo, Mike Kilo Delta Romeo, Mike Kilo Delta Romeo Standby
Note his own error or change with the callsign
This was followed at 1431z
Mike Kilo Delta Romeo
The audio for the above is here:
At 1439z he was back but very faint, almost like it was a recording or live transmission of a Numbers Station. Shortly after this 16116 tries to call STUPEN and KONUS, getting stepped on by the Pirate who sends yet another attempt at an EAM/Numbers Station.
C78AAA5ACBCEA77D76FF33EAFAE63CF5A7AAAAFAF555A85CDBEEBBA5D6DFCCA – or something like that! It was hard to work out some of the digits due to the lack of phonetics. Each time I listen to it I get a different result!
The audio is below.
At 1446z, 16116 calls STUPEN, KONUS and TABLITSA but gets no response back.
The Pirate then attempts to jam the frequency again. First of all with an extract from a selcall system used by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs given the name “Mazielka”, designated X06 in the Enigma Control list. See the end of the blog for analysis on this.
This was followed by a continuous tone at 1090 Hz for approximately 35 seconds. These are the last transmissions by the Pirate.
Again at 1459z, 16116 tries the ground stations until TABLITSA finally acknowledges his presence and a message is sent. 16116 is barely readable with me by this time, though TABLITSA was ridiculously loud.
1459z 16116 calls STUPEN
calls TABLITSA answers [very strong]
452 730 969 463
1506z 16115 calls TABLITSA
590 375 143 986 196 233
1531z 16116 [very faint] calls TABLITSA
452 859 143 168
This was the end of all contacts on USB, with the last W marker coming it at 1520z (though these then did start up again at 1640z, though much weaker).
From various OSINT feeds, the approximate route of the Tu-160’s took them out over the Barents Sea having departed Olen’ya air base in the Murmansk Oblast and heading north before turning west once out over the sea. At some stage they were intercepted by Norwegian Air Force F-16’s and were escorted to abeam Bergen/NE of the Faroe Islands before turning for home. The Russian Air Force have stated that the flight lasted for ten hours which ties in with the seven hours or so of HF traffic, with the remaining 3 hours probably within range of Russian VHF communications.
Olen’ya is a common forward operating base for LRA missions, being one of the remaining Arctic Control Group (OGA) airfields available. The base itself hosts Tu-22M-3R Backfire-C of the Russian navy. These are Tu-22M3’s that have been converted for a navy reconnaissance role though it is unknown just how many are airworthy. The base has over 30 Tu-22’s in permanent storage.
Twitter feed for записки охотника (Hunter Notes) has a rough plan of the route flown, along with his intercept of the messages sent – he has few of the earlier ones, and there’s a couple of differences between his and mine.
So, who is this Pirate? It isn’t the first time he’s been around. He was also heard in September.
On this occasion he was a little bit more direct.
Russians we are watching you
Russians we know where you are
Russians, turn around and abort your mission
We will blow you out of the sky
The Russians. We have you under observations [sic], stand down
Despite having what is clearly a South East England accent, he signed off using something along the lines of:
This is the United States BC36
No doubt he is trying to gain some sort of attention, and in a way he is succeeding – me writing this blog is proof of that. But what else is he trying to achieve? Is he hoping the Russians respond? I doubt they will. Apart from anything, I expect the radio operators, having had to listen to all the noise on HF for every flight, have learnt to ignore any calls which aren’t specific to their mission.
My initial thoughts were that he isn’t a radio amateur and hasn’t worked in any other field that involves speaking on the radio. His use of poor phonetics made me wonder this. However, with access to a transceiver and associated antenna this may not be the case – and amateur radio operators tend to make up their own phonetics rather than standard ones, and he may just not know them.
That said, he must have some interest in military aviation and possibly a member of a military aviation forum. These tend to have thousands of members that have not been vetted in any way or form and quite often have threads that give notice of flights are on their way, be it with an alert of a QRA launch or actual comms received on Bear net frequencies.
Twitter, of course, is another example of information being out there for anyone to then take action on.
One thing is for sure, if caught he will find himself in trouble with UK authorities with the possibility of a two year prison sentence and a heavy fine. He will most definitely lose his radio licence should he actually have one, and have all equipment confiscated.
Lets see if he turns up again in another LRA mission.
Analysis of the Mazielka (X06) transmission
It was obvious straight away that this was a recording of X06 – in this case the sub-variant X06b.
However there was something odd about it.
X06 is a selcall system used by the the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to alert outstations of an upcoming message, normally on another frequency.
The system sends out 6 tones, each lasting 333 milliseconds, making each call 2 seconds long. Each tone represents numbers 1 to 6 making a total of 720 different selcall combinations available for use.
The tones are sent on slightly different frequencies:
1 – 840 Hz
2 – 870 Hz
3 – 900 Hz
4 – 930 Hz
5 – 970 Hz
6 – 1015 Hz
The image below is taken from a X06 call I intercepted in November 2017 and decoded using go2Monitor. This shows a selcall of 116611. In this case the tones, which are still 333 ms long, sound longer but this is because the digits join on the same tone.
Whilst you can use a decoder, for X06 it is easy enough to decode using other means, such as Adobe Audition or Signals Analyzer. With these you can measure the tone frequencies and lengths.
In Adobe Audition the Pirate transmission is shown below
What is unusual is that the tones are off by 60 Hz. Whilst 1 should be at 840 Hz, here it is at approximately 900 Hz, and 6 is at 1075 Hz rather than 1015 Hz. Whether this is because the Pirate was transmitting in AM rather than USB I’m not sure. Maybe it is something to do with his original recordings. My recording is below
It is likely the long tone sent after the selcall here is the usual long tone that is sent before the standard ones. This is sent at 1090 Hz.
Looking at it using Signals Analyzer (SA) you can see that it is definitely X06. With SA you can measure more accurately the frequency and length of each tone.
The sub-variant of X06b is designated due to its format of six tones sounding like two. It is thought this is a test transmission.
Finally, just to confirm my theory, I ran a looped sound file through go2Monitor with the result confirming the selcall as 111666