More information on “Bastion-P” Matua Island deployment

  • Deployment day is now known
  • Maxar and Sentinel capture deployment
  • Identity of ships involved now known

Following on from my previous blog on the deployment of Russian K-300P “Bastion-P” mobile coastal defence missile unit to Matua Island, further satellite imagery from Sentinel and Maxar has been found showing the deployment taking place.

Moreover, the Maxar imagey has captured the actual moment the equipment exits the Pacific Fleet Project 775M Ropucha class Large landing ship – and in such detail you can clearly see the personnel filming the event.

The first thing ascertained is that the deployment took place on November 16th 2021, so the Russian MoD took two weeks to release the news. It is also now confirmed that all the support vehicles and personnel deployed at the same time rather than at an earlier date – which I suggested may have been the case in the previous blog.

If you watched the video from the Russian MoD in my last blog, at the beginning of it a Monolit-B mobile coastal surveillance radar vehicle exits the Ropucha class landing ship. The Maxar image clearly shows the Monolit-B on the beach having passed the “film crew”, and a K-300P just exited the ship and still in the breakwater.

Satellite image ©2021 Maxar Technologies.

The Ropucha can also be clearly identified as Admiral Nevelsky [055].

Imagery of the base for November 16th – the same as that from the ROLES article mentioned in my previous blog – shows little going on so it is likely that a small group of personnel were already there to set up the base, but very little else. However, it is good to get a high resolution of the image now.

Satellite image ©2021 Maxar Technologies.

Of interest is just how lucky a capture this was. Going through Sentinel-2 imagery, the weather before the 16th, up to today (December 9th), has been cloudy for the vast majority of the time. This is the drawback to normal EO imagery, and is why the SAR imagery capabilities of Capella is important to modern intelligence gathering using satellite imagery.

The Capella image from the 3rd December was collected during a period of 100% cloud cover over the island.

There is absolutely no doubt that both capabilities work in tandem with each other and will make it exceptionally difficult to hide deployments such as these in the future. Capella can provide continuous coverage of a target of interest, and should full EO imagery be required for confirmation of activity and/or actual identities of ships etc. then this can be tasked by the likes of Maxar when weather permits.

The Sentinel-2 imagery, though of low resolution, also revealed the other ships used in the deployment. These consisted of:

  • Project 141 Kashtan class tender KIL-168
  • Project 23470 salvage tug Andrey Stepanov
  • Project 19910 AGS Viktor Faleev

S-AIS data from FleetMon for Andrey Stepanov shows that she arrived at the island on the 14th November, staying for the deployment. She then left the region back to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky on the 17th, before returning at the end of the month and arriving on the 27th via Severo-Kurilsk at the island of Paramushir.

A quick hop back to and from Severo-Kurilsk took place over a couple of days, and she is now enroute back to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky as we speak.

The FleetMon Sat 15 package was worth its weight in gold for recovering this data

With this activity from Andrey Stepanov and the timing of the Russian MoD news, can one presume that the deployment is now over and just lasted two weeks?

With the Capella imagery showing very little activity at the base on 3rd December, it may well be.

But, it could also be that Andrey Stepanov has been shuttling supplies back and forth to the island – though as a tug is more likely to be there in support of a further ship such as KIL-168. With no S-AIS data available for both KIL-168 and iktor Faleev it could be they were there also. The runway is operational and also capable of taking flights for supply purposes.

For the time being, some further monitoring of the island is required.

Russian K-300P “Bastion-P” deployment to Kuril Islands

  • Russian Mod News outlet shows K-300P deployment to Matua Island
  • Capella Space imagery collection request submitted for next available pass
  • Imagery from just over 26 hours later collected and analysed

The Russian Ministry of Defence produced a small video on 2nd December 2021 of a K-300P “Bastion-P” mobile coastal defence missile unit deploying to Matau Island – part of the disputed Kuril Island chain in the Pacific.

Though only just over 1 minute and 10 seconds long, a few things can be taken from it and analysed.

The original video on the Russian MoD site can be found here or alternatively it can found on the Zvezda news online website.

The video commences with a Monolit-B mobile coastal surveillance radar vehicle (mounted on a MZKT-7930 chassis) exiting a Pacific Fleet Project 775M Ropucha class Large landing ship onto one of the beaches of the island.

This is easily identifiable in Google Earth, located at 48° 2’49.30″N 153°13’13.19″E

The complete K-300P battery – consisting of 4 launcher vehicles (TELs) and two Monolit-B radar vehicles – are seen transiting south along the beach, probably to an access track at the far end that allows vehicles to proceed up onto the mainland.

From here the battery heads east to the airfield, along the northern edge of the runway, before heading north to what was an old scientific research base located at 48° 3’59.89″N 153°15’37.12″E

Google Earth imagery from September 2019 shows that the base had been modified from the previous 2016 imagery. This was the same as the runway and was carried out during research expeditions in 2016 and 2017.

Interestingly, the battery convoy doesn’t show any support vehicles, and it is highly likely these had already arrived prior to this part of the filming. Moreover, the video shows that the research area has been fully converted into a small military base made up of trailer buildings for accommodation and operations along with a separately fenced off communications area containing at least Satcom.

On the 22nd November 2021, the Japanese Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology (ROLES) produced a report saying the research base had been recently upgraded. Imagery in the report, from Maxar, showed that the base was still in the 2019 Google Earth configuration in September 2021, but by October it was well underway to becoming the new base.

Image from ROLES report. Original imagery from Maxar Technologies Secure watch

By November 16th it appeared to be complete, including two hangers that ROLES had measured at 30 metres in length. This is sufficient to take two K-300P TEL vehicles each – though it would be a tight squeeze.

Image from ROLES report. Original imagery from Maxar Technologies Secure watch

Please head to the ROLES website to view their report.

A short sequence shows inside what is probably one of the command vehicles though nothing of note is discernible. A keypad to the right of the screen states “INTERNAL COMMUNICATION” (ВНУТРЕННЯЯ СВЯЗЬ) used for secure coms between all the vehicles of the battery.

The remainder of the video shows two of the K-300P TELs (TEL 211 and TEL 214) taking a small tour of the South-eastern part of the island before deploying into two revetments back at the airfield.

48° 2’15.12″N 153°16’32.28″E

Capella Space Imagery

Whilst the news from the Russian MoD was interesting, it didn’t actually state any dates for when this deployment took place and whether it is still in operation. It had to be after October 23rd as the Maxar imagery in the ROLES report showed the base still under construction.

The Zvezda article had quotes from the Pacific Fleet: “On this remote island in the central part of the Kuril ridge, the Pacific Fleet’s missilemen will be on a 24-hour watch to monitor the adjacent water area and straits,” and “For the operation and maintenance of equipment, the equipment of technical posts has been installed, storage facilities for equipment and materiel have been deployed, entrances to the launch sites have been equipped,”

It also stated that work has been completed on the improvement of premises intended for year-round service and residence of personnel.

I wanted to check whether this was the case and so I put in an image collection request with Capella Space on the 2nd December 2021 at 1000 GMT.

From this request they were able to create a collection task for the 3rd December at 1236 GMT when the next pass took place – just 26 and a half hours later.

From comparing the video to revetment locations, it was a simple task to find where TEL 211 and 214 positioned themselves. This can also be easily done using Google Earth despite the age of the imagery available at this time. Very little has changed here except for the base.

However, the ability to task specific collection areas for future satellite passes meant an up-to-date 50cm resolution image was available for closer inspection.

Firstly, looking at the positions taken up by the TELs in the video these are now empty, though as a mobile system this is to be expected.

TEL 211 position

TEL 214 position

Main base

The main base does still show some sort of presence, though it is impossible to ascertain whether it is actually manned or not.

Whilst vehicles are present to the northeast of the hangers this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are being used. The Russian military store vehicles at locations for ease of a quick deployment should they decide to man them.

Though not shown here, the image available to me was for the complete southeastern area of the island and therefore all the areas commonly used when a deployment takes place. Again, there is little evidence to show any activity. There are no vehicles located at any of the revetments – likewise at the various locations to the north and south that could be used for not only the K-300Ps TELs but also any of the support vehicles carrying out any other tasks.

The concrete pad area is likely for supply storage, and this does appear to be empty.

However, with an +11 hour time difference between GMT and the region, this would mean that the local time when the collection took place was 2336 and therefore everything would probably be closed down for the night and little activity would be taking place anyway.

The fact that it was 2336, and therefore night time, highlights how useful the Capella SAR capability is. I was able to put in a request, and they were able to set up an image collection at the next available pass – despite it being dark. It could have been days before the next EO pass could be available from other providers.

This region is one of those that I regularly check so it will be interesting to keep an eye on it through imagery from Capella from time to time.

K-300P “Bastion-P” basic information

  • Anti-surface mobile coastal defence system
  • Consists of four TELs, each with two P-800 Oniks missiles, two Monolit-B mobile coastal surveillance radar vehicles, up to four loader vehicles, command and support vehicles.
  • Monolit-B has an approx range of 250 km in active mode, 240 km in passive mode
  • Can track up to 50 targets in passive mode, 30 in active
  • P-800: 6.9m in length; can cruise up to 2700 km/h at altitude; range between 120 km and 300 km depending on flight profile used; High cruise 46,000 ft, Low cruise 22 ft; 200 kg warhead
  • Command vehicle crew: 5
  • TEL crew: 3

Further information on Matua Island

The island itself is steeped in history, particularly for World War 2. All the trenches shown in the imagery are from that era. There’s a whole network of Japanese tunnels and bunkers located throughout the island; and reports that it was a potential test area for their nuclear weapons program that was being carried out at the end of the war.

A Zvezda video from 2017 on YouTube is well worth a watch – although it is obviously in Russian.

There’s also plenty of blogs and articles online that describe some of the research trips that have taken place there. To list a few:

More Konteyner

March 19th 2020 produced an interesting news story from TASS regarding a new Konteyner 29B6 OTHR system that is to be deployed in the Kaliningrad Oblast.

The full story can be read here in Russian.

Now, I still have my doubts about it being deployed here, and my first impressions were that it was just propaganda, but it still needs analysing to see what it could produce.

The article, sourcing a “Military-industrial complex”, mentions that the system is to cover the whole of Europe, including Great Britain.

This is, in itself, interesting as most of Europe is actually already covered by the system at Kovylkino. The mention of Great Britain specifically also is interesting as another Konteyner OTHR to cover this country would really only give an extra few seconds of warning that anything was coming from this direction. Moreover, I suspect that the Kovylkino system does actually cover Great Britain anyway, especially with the pulse rates of the system that I’ve analysed myself.

Looking at the image below you can see that if a system was placed at the rough centre of the Oblast, then only France, Spain and Iceland – along with GB – would be the extra countries that would be covered. The east of France is already covered as it is.

Personally, I wonder if – whilst GB might get extra coverage – the true targeting of the system would be to the North.

The Russian military have long been saying that they want to cover the Barents Sea and up to the North Pole with an early warning radar – specifically Konteyner – so this could be it.

If we adjust the predicted coverage to the North in an image then you get the following.

So, depending on the azimuths of the arrays used, we can see that GB, Iceland, East Greenland, North Sea, Norwegian Sea, Barents Sea, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Svalbard archipelago and the Noveya Zemlya archipelago (Severny Island and Yuzhny Island) could be covered by a four array system.Norway and Sweden are already partially covered by Kovylkino.

To me, this is the more likely coverage that will be created SHOULD a Konteyner system be placed in the Kaliningrad Oblast. And it is a should!

The TASS article states that multiple sites are being considered. The system at a minimum requires two sites. And the Oblast is not very big.

In all reality, the city of Kaliningrad itself is just 30 km from the Polish border. It would not take very long for a strike from a foreign land based missile site to reach a Konteyner site in the centre of the Oblast. It is because of this fact that I have my doubts about one being sited here, but who knows?

But say they do choose the Oblast for system two, where’s the likely spot?

If anything is to go by, with their previous sites, near an airfield seems to be a good choice, be it one in service, or one that could be quickly reinstated.

There’s a number of abandoned sites, including:

  • Chernyakhovsk at 54°36’7.12″N 21°47’29.07″E
  • Nivenskoye at 54°33’48.13″N 20°36’13.02″E
  • Marienkhof at 54°51’57.25″N 20°11’0.92″E

Chernyakhovsk has a large military presence – as does the whole of the Oblast to be honest! – and some work has been started at 54°39’1.12″N 21°48’24.77″E that I’ve been monitoring since mid 2019. Here there have been a number of small buildings about 3 metres wide since at least 2005 but I think these are something to do with oil or gas extraction – as is the new development. Moreover, the shape isn’t right for Konteyner as can be seen below.

Marienkhof (Dunayevka) is the location of a Voronezh-DM Early Warning radar that is situated to the SE of the old airfield. There is plenty of land around here for extra development. Moreover, out to the west coast is Yantarny which is home to the 841st Independent EW centre, and to the north is a SIGINT site at Pionersky that houses one of the new Sledopyt satellite signal interception systems amongst others.

Voronezh-DM Early Warning radar site near old Marienkhof airfield

Nivenskoye certainly has a lot of land available, but it is the nearest site to the Polish border and certainly not top of my list.

My favourite area would have to be near to Marienkhof due to the location of other Russian systems of this “type” – radio/radar/SIGINT based systems. The area is almost as far as you can get from any land based threats, though of course anything from the sea would not be that far.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what develops. One thing is for sure, the system stands out once you have an area of interest and this area is not that big to continually monitor.

For a while, sites like these in the Kaliningrad Oblast took my interest as they were developed a few years ago – this one situated at 54°28’10.14″N 21°39’4.07″E – as they looked liked potential radar or antenna sites. But it soon became obvious they were actually something to do with cattle farming

Konteyner Follow-up

If you read my blog on the Russian Over-The-Horizon radar system Konteyner (29B6) then you may recall that at the end of it I mentioned the report on a Far East site, and that it hadn’t been started:

There has also been mention of another Konteyner site already in construction in the far east. At this time nothing has been found of any construction site that looks to be a Konteyner OTHR and I have my doubts about this. It was first muted in 2010, then again in 2018, and I would have expected something to be there by now.

Well, thanks to a contact on Twitter – Krakek – this has been proven not to be the case!

He was able to point me to the location of the receiver site, though it is very clear that the system has either been abandoned, or it has been postponed.

Located at 53°43’16.27″N 127° 4’29.63″E, the site appears to have been started sometime between 23rd August 2015 and 6th September 2017 according to Google Earth imagery. The site has just been cut through a forest and it appears that no antenna arrays have ever been sited there.

The latest GE imagery available, dated 7/7/19, is shown below with the site not changing since September 2017.

The site is located 9 km west of the town of Zeya. There appears to be no other real military presence, with the region being mainly involved in open pit gold mining. The large dam nearby is also a big employer – an ideal source for the large amount of electricity required to power an OTHR.

At this time I have been unable to locate any sign of the Transmitter site, though it is like looking for a needle in a haystack. I went along the same lines of the other site and looked within a nearby radius and discovered nothing of real significance.

Using the GE imagery, I’ve taken a look at the potential coverage the Far East system would provide. As there isn’t a transmitter site available, I’ve based it on a three array system, rather than the four at Kovylkino.

The image below shows the site with added arrows for the direction the antenna arrays would appear to be planned in covering. The rough bearing for each is: 077 (Green), 137 (Red) and 197 (Blue).

The Green and Blue directions are definite as you can also see the areas cut out of the trees into what would be the ground plane that is placed in front of each array. This is not visible with the Red arrow and there isn’t a second ground plane visible for an array pointing to the West. This currently points to a three array system, but should there be a fourth array, my thoughts are that it would be back to back with the Green array. My reasoning for this? The second cut through the trees that extends in front of the Red (197 degrees) proposed array and around to the rear of the Green (077 degree) is the potential extension for the ground plane.

The next image depicts the potential coverage based on the same dimensions from the Kovylino system. The quadrants are colour coded the same as the previous image. The inner ring is at approximately 900 km and shows the skip area, whilst the outer ring is at approximately 3000 km. The lines in each coloured quadrant are extend from the planned arrays to the bearings of 077, 137 and 197 degrees.

As you can see, the OTHR is perfectly placed to cover SE China, North and South Korea, Japan and anything launched from the West coast of the USA. Three of those countries have ICBM capability. Major cities and naval bases such as Vladivostok are covered, as is a lot of the sea areas to the east of Russia.

You can also see that if a fourth transmitter array was to be built and it was put back to back with the 077 (Green) system, that it would point in the direction of India and Pakistan – both countries are ICBM capable.

It will be very interesting to monitor this site, to see if any further development takes place. I wonder whether they are waiting on how well the Kovylkino site copes in a live environment before continuing with any work here.

Krakek was also able to provide me with some further data on the Konteyner system as a whole. The data, shown below with some of the information translated in a separate table, is from the procurement datasheet produced by Радиотехнические и Информационные Системы (Radio Engineering and Information Systems JSC). The paper is further sourced from Oружие Oтечества (Weapons of the Fatherland) – a fantastic site on all things Russian military. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the direct link to the page.

This data confirms much of that already known, in particular the range (min and max) of Konteyner and the maximum number of aircraft that can be tracked simultaneously. Of note is the pulse length – 6 to 8 ms as I was able to ascertain through my analysis.

1Multifunctional Radar Station with increased range of detection of air objects
2Main Technical specifications
3 and 4Wavelength Range : Decametre
5 and 6Antenna Type : Phased Array
7Area of Responsibility
8Maximum Range – 2700 km
9Minimum Range – 1000 km
10Azimuth Width in Degrees – 60
11Within Area of Responsibility
12Number of continuous monitoring zones – 4
13Range size – 450 km
14Azimuth Width in Degrees – 15
15Standard errors of measurement
16Range for single target – 18 km
17Range for single target in degrees – 2
18Radial speed (pulse rate) – 6 to 8 milliseconds
19Number of simultaneously tracked targets – 350
20Service life – 15 years
21Placement Options
22Relocated (note – presumed mobile)

The positional error information highlights the issues with OTHR. The plot for each track could be anything up to 18 km and/or 2 degrees out. This shows why the system can not be used for weapons targeting, and can only be used in an information or rough intercept/search area purpose for aircraft or another air defence system.

The title of the paper also alludes to the fact that Konteyner will only be used for air targets and not maritime surface targeting. This explains why there are no ship targets in the video for the Kovylkino activation.

I’d like to thank Krakek again for all the information as this has helped not only in locating the Far East site for further observations, but also for the datasheet that has proven a lot of the analysis already carried out.

I’ll be working with Jane’s, keeping a close eye on the site to catch any further work that may start here in the future.

Russian OTHR 29B6 Konteyner analysis

I recently completed an article for Jane’s Intelligence Review magazine on the activation in December 2019 of the Russian Over-the-Horizon Radar system (OTHR) 29B6 Konteyner near Kovylkino in Mordovia.

Like all of the articles I write for them, many parts and imagery are removed due to space constraints in the magazine – for example, see my previous blog on the Murmansk-BN EW system where I have been able to add a substantial amount of extras that couldn’t be published. So, whilst I can’t publish here the actual article on Konteyner, I can show some of the extras that were removed.

How OTHR works

I could go into how OTHR works, but it’s been covered elsewhere in extreme detail. One of the best places for a basic overview is Wikipedia, where the image below is taken from.

How a skywave OTH radar works: A powerful shortwave signal from a large transmitting antenna (left) reaches a target beyond the horizon by reflecting off the ionosphere, and the echo signal from the target (right) returns to the receiving antenna by the same route.
Image by Charly Whisky. More information on OTHRs is available on Wikipedia

Konteyner specifics

Officially designated Object 5452, construction work of the original transmitter and receiver sites commenced in 2000, taking two years to complete.

The Konteyner receiver site, with one array, was situated 6 km to the South West of Kovylkino, whilst the transmitter site – also with one array – was located 5 km north of Gorodets in Nizhny Novgorod Oblast. The system covered airspace to the west of Russia with a central bearing of 275 degrees, arcing out in a fan, with an approximate range of 3000 km (depending on radar pulse rates – covered later). Due to Ionospheric bounce a null area is created that is approximately 900 km in depth from the transmitter site. Here, nothing would be picked up by the Konteyner systems, and other OTHRs such as Resonans-N and standard Air Defence radar systems are used to fill in these gaps.

Gorodets transmitter site on 25/10/16

However, the Gorodets site is no longer in use, despite many blogs and expert publications saying otherwise – Jane’s included (until my article). Located at 56°41’34.1″N 43°29’11.3″E, this site has been dismantled since at least 6/2/18 according to Google earth imagery. All the concrete footings remain, but the antenna array is no longer there.

Gorodets transmitter site as it is now.

The receiver site at Kovylkino is still there, and from June 2016 construction had begun on two other receiver arrays, creating a triangle. Array one continued to cover a 275-degree bearing whilst the new arrays covered 155 degrees and 215 degrees.

Kovylkino receiver site with the original first array on the West.

Each receiving array contains 144 masts, all approximately 34 metres in height. They are split into three sections where the two outer ones – consisting of one group of 23 masts and the other of 24 – is between 300 and 310 metres wide. Each antenna here has 14 metres of spacing between them. The inner section contains the remaining 97 masts with 7 metres between each. The total length of the array is over 1.3 km.

Matching these receiver arrays was a new transmitter site just 15km to the South East. Imagery on Google Earth from 29/6/16 shows that there are three arrays being constructed in a Y pattern, each with the same three bearings as the receiver site. By 18/8/17 it is clear that the southern array originally thought to be covering 275 degrees instead covers 095 degrees. A second array is visible being built back to back with the 095 array to cover 275 degrees. Moreover, this meant that the original 275 degree receiver array was also being used by both transmitters.

Kovylkino transmitter site with many areas still under construction

The closeness of the transmitter site to the receiver site for long range OTHR systems is a strange one. In general they are a good 100 kilometers apart – the Australian JORN system is good example of this. Moreover, putting all the arrays so close to each other – at both sites – opens the whole system up to being destroyed, or put out of action, by just one air strike!

Each transmitter array has up to 11 generator buildings located to the rear of the antennas. Four of these buildings are also located at the original 095/275 degree receiver array. Google Earth imagery from 24/2/18 shows both sites still under construction. From 1st December 2018, combat testing of Konteyner had started and satellite imagery shows all four arrays to have generators in place by November 2018.

Generator buildings situated to the rear of the 095/275 receiver array. These appear to be the same as the 11 situated at each transmitter array.

The transmitter site consists of 44 masts in a line, 500 metres in length. The masts themselves are of differing height with the 22 tallest ones approximately 34 metres tall. The remaining 22 are approximately 25 metres in height. The masts are split up into groups of 11 of each kind.

095 bearing transmitter array at the new Kolvykino site, with the footings in place for the 275 degree array

With ranges of over 3000 km for each transmitter – effectively there are four OTHRs in use – the number of radar tracks that are captured will be in their thousands, many of which are civilian. Moreover, static features such as large buildings are also captured, showing as background noise or unknown tracks.

There are two methods used to eliminate the background noise. Firstly, during testing many of these will show through time and are deemed static and can be filtered out. Secondly, this type of OTHR – known as OTH-B or Over-the-Horizon Radar (Backscatter) – employ a Doppler effect to distinguish between static and moving targets requiring fast computers with high processing power. Doppler uses frequency shift created by moving objects to measure their velocity and so can track targets travelling at any speed, even down to 1 or 2 knots for ship traffic. Whilst older Russian OTHRs – and likely Konteyner in its early days – would have struggled in this area, modern computers can cope with the Doppler methodologies used. Anything deemed not moving by the Doppler effect can be eliminated as a potential threat or track, and are also filtered out.

To further eliminate any overloading caused by unwanted tracks, areas of interest are set up within the radar coverage which are then further split into smaller areas or “search boxes” where radar returns outside of these are ignored. These search boxes can be moved by operators as required.

The radar system is unable to determine any height parameters therefore each track is just a target at an approximate GPS position, and could be on the ground or anywhere up to 100 km in altitude! In other words, it is the equivalent to a primary track in the standard radar world. Moreover, each track could be displayed at an operators console with a radar return that depicts the target to be kilometres in size! This further complicates determining the actual location of the track.

Finally, OTHR technology does have another drawback that is much harder to filter out. Just by looking at the images below you can see that a substantial number of aircraft tracks are still captured within the search boxes, particularly in busy airspace such as around airports and heavily used civil ATC airway systems.

Here, a screengrab of a video release from 1st December 2019 when Konteyner went live shows the four areas covered by the four OTHRs, which then have search boxes at areas of interest.
A close up from the video, here showing Lt. General Andrei Demin, Commanding Officer of the 1st Air Defence Division, provides a better view of the search boxes from the 215 degree array. This antenna array obviously set up to cover the Black Sea region and Mediterranean Sea. The search boxes appear to only show air traffic, though Konteyner has the potential to pick up shipping too, and it clearly shows the busy airspace around Istanbul. It is highly likely that this area was selected for the search boxes to highlight the OTHRs potential at picking up traffic, but also to NOT show what it can pick up in the Med.

One thing that OTHR doesn’t have is an Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) capability. Without IFF, this then makes it even harder to determine who is friendly, who is just an airliner or who is a potential threat.

Each of these tracks needs to individually interrogated and the routes plotted to eliminate the potential threat. For instance, all traffic into Istanbul pictured above tends to fly the same routes in and out of the airport there, so whilst the track can’t be fully removed from the display (or filtered out) it can be “ignored”. If IFF was an OTHR capability – and this is the same for other OTHR systems, not just Konteyner – then known transponder codes allocated to airports/airway systems etc. could then be filtered out. This happens in everyday ATC operations where certain transponder codes can be filtered out to remove clutter at the press of a button.

This then can make OTHR monitoring reasonably labour intensive for operators covering areas of high aviation activity despite modern computer technology being there to help.

OTHR range capabilities are controlled by the pulse rate of the signal sent by the transmitter site. In general, Konteyner operates at 50 pulses per second (pps) giving a range of approximately 3000 km. This pulse rate is also used by many other OTHRs such as the Australian JORN system (Jindalee Operational Radar Network).

Another screenshot taken from the media video at the operational handover of Konteyner showing the standard range of approximately 3000 km from Kovylkino, Mordovia.

OTHR has a potential advantage over standard radar systems in that it can track stealth aircraft such as USAF B-2s and F-35s. JORN reportedly tracked a USAF F-117 Stealth in the 1990’s that was on a round the world flight proving it couldn’t be picked up by radar! The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) were so confident they’d tracked it, they gave the details of positions the F-117 took to the USAF. I couldn’t find any confirmation on this from USAF documentation but it is possible.

By using the Ionospheric HF bounce, the radar is effectively looking down on top of the aircraft rather than at a very low angled Microwave radar signal head on to the target. This creates a larger return and using Doppler frequency shift is able to establish whether the track is moving, and at what speed. An early heads-up of a potential stealth bomber attack on Russia gives them the advantage of knowing where to send intercept aircraft and set up other defence methods. In the case of an ICBM strike, extra vital minutes warning can be provided. But, as previously mentioned, the position isn’t 100% accurate and can only provide an approximate location of the target – the system can not be used for any weapons fire control.

Konteyner signal received using an AirSpy HF+ Discovery SDR in high resolution with SDR# software
Close up of same signal. Due to the high resolution, the individual pulse sweeps can not be seen and are instead show as a blurred pattern.

As previously mentioned, in general Konteyner uses a 50 pps radar signal sent as frequency modulation on pulse (FMOP) using an approximate 12 to 14 kHz of bandwidth. However, through analysis of the Konteyner signals other pps rates of 25 and 100 have been recorded giving ranges up to 6000 km and 1000 km respectively. The manufacturer of Konteyner, NPK NIIDAR (Scientific and Research Institute for Long-Distance Radio Communications), has confirmed the 3000 km range, along with an altitude coverage of 100 km.

When analysing the signal in Procitec’s go2MONITOR software, the pulse sweeps can be seen much clearer, though still at this resolution there is a blurring to the sweeps. The software has automatically ascertained the sweep rate of 40 Hz – or 40 pps – at a bandwidth of around 12 kHz. A 40 pps sweep for Konteyner provides a radar coverage range exceeding the stated 3000 km – up to approximately 4000 km.

One find in my analysis of Konteyner signals was quite interesting.

Quite often when analysing OTHR signals closely, you can see weak Back-scatter return signals between the main pulses. These weak signals travel in the same radar sweep direction as the transmitted ones in either a down-sweep mode from a high frequency to a low one, or in an up-sweep mode from to low to high.

In the image below though you can see another, weaker, radar pulse emanating from the point the first down-sweep pulse ends, travelling up in frequency range and creating a V. If you look closely you can also see a very weak back-scatter signal from both.

My conclusion from this is that the up-sweep pulse is from the 095 degree Konteyner transmitter array, whilst the stronger down-sweep one is from the 275 degree array – the stronger signal is in theory pointing at my antenna in the UK and hence would be emanating from the 275 degree array.

The fact that this signal comes from the 095/275 arrays is a guess of course but I think I’m right. I am also going to guess that the complete radar pulse for the 095/275 transmitters starts at one end of one array, travelling along the 44 masts. When this pulse ends the other array starts in the opposite direction. Moreover, with this method there should be zero interference between the two arrays as they wont be transmitting at the same time.

In the image above, taken from from a screen grab of Procitec’s go2DECODE, you can see that each pulse is every 25 ms, therefore confirming a rate of 40 pps – the software also determines this automatically as shown in the table to the right. Also of note is the analysed signal in the frequency window (Hz) at the bottom. Here you can clearly see the V created by the two pulses.

When we look at the Time display window in go2DECODE (shown below) we can see that I’ve measured the total length of both pulses to be around 6.5 ms. But on closer inspection I think I’ve cut that short a little and it should be 8 ms. This would mean each pulse lasts 4 ms and ties in nicely with the 25 ms per pulse gap as there’s a 21 ms spacing between the end and start of each individual pulse.

I also wonder, that with a gap of 17 ms between the end of the second pulse and the beginning of the first one again, in theory there’s enough of a gap to fit two more 4 ms pulses between these from the the two remaining Konteyner arrays transmitting at 40 pps. Even at a higher 50 pps rate, the 12 ms gap is enough to allow the two remaining pulses to take place with a 4 ms buffer.

This then means that all four Konteyner transmitter arrays can be operational at the same time without causing any potential interference to each other, whether they use the same frequency or different ones. In this case, I’ve been lucky to capture two of the arrays using the same frequency – well, I think I have 🙂

Nevertheless, monitoring the Konteyner signals should bring some further interesting finds, especially if they are using the same frequency occasionally for different surveillance areas. Moreover, it would also be interesting to find all the various pps rates so that system ranges can be established.

Whilst for many, OTHR signals are a pain, wiping out other signals, they still have a lot to give when it comes to SIGINT gathering.

And it may not end at just the one Konteyner system. On the 1st December 2019 it was also announced that a further system would be activated to cover the Arctic region. At the moment, any potential sites have not been mentioned or found, but a likely site would be near Severodvinsk in the Arkhangelsk Oblast, or near Severomorsk in the Murmansk Oblast. Both of these are close to the 1st Air Defence Division headquarters located in Murmansk. My only negative thoughts on this would be that these sites are too close to areas of interest because of the ionosphere skip created, and also probably too far north – ionospheric bounce is not so good towards the poles.

As the original Konteyner transmitter site seems to be being maintained still, be it without any antennas, it also has the interesting aspect of being around 900 km south of the White Sea and areas of coverage needed – perfect for the ionospheric skip. Could this site be changed in aspect so that a transmitter array points to the north to cover the White Sea, Barents Sea and the northern Island? There’s certainly enough room to do this at the Gorodets site.

There has also been mention of another Konteyner site already in construction in the far east. At this time nothing has been found of any construction site that looks to be a Konteyner OTHR and I have my doubts about this. It was first muted in 2010, then again in 2018, and I would have expected something to be there by now.

I highly suspect that this plan has been abandoned, and the 095 degree OTHR of the Kovylkino Konteyner site has taken over the far east coverage.