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:

https://zizuhotel.ru/en/bangkok/sekrety-matua-chto-skryvayut-nedra-kurilskogo-ostrova-yaponskuyu-krepost/



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)
Stationary

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.

SDRplay RSPdx with go2MONITOR

Thanks to SDRplay, I was sent both their new RSPdx and older RSPduo SDRs at the end of January.

The main reason was to get them integrated into Procitec’s go2MONITOR and go2DECODE software, to increase the number of SDRs that the company’s products are compatible with.

This I’ve been successful in doing with the RSPdx – I’m still to unbox the RSPduo at this time of writing.

First of all though, I’ve been extremely pleased with the RSPdx in its own right. The SDRuno software works really well, is pretty easy to use – and it looks good too.

SDRuno running the RSPdx
The RSPdx also works with SDRConsole

The fact that you can have up to 10 MHz of bandwidth is brilliant, and it isn’t too bad on the CPU usage either – running at around 25% with 10 MHz bandwidth on my ancient PC. Used with SDRConsole you can cover a good number of frequencies at once, and can record them if necessary. Of course, you can do this with SDRuno too, but at the moment only IQ – you can’t record individual frequencies.

Saying that, I’ve seen the SDRuno Roadmap for future releases and not only will recording of individual frequencies be possible, a more advanced scheduler is to be included. This is something I feel SDRConsole – amazing though it is – is lacking when it comes to single frequency recording. There is also the issue with SDRConsole that you are limited to recording only 6 hours worth of wav file per frequency.

Anyway, I digress. Back to the RSPdx and go2MONITOR.

To get the SDRs to work correctly with any of the go2 products means creating a configuration file and adding a ExtIO DLL file to the software. This is reasonably easy to do once you get use to it and it enables a GUI to become active so that you can control the SDR through go2MONITOR.

One interesting aspect with the RSPdx GUI is that regardless of what you enter as some of the parameters in the configuration file, the ExtIO file overrides these. Effectively, I just left some of the data as found in a basic configuration template and let the GUI do all the work for me.

So, below are some of the results with today’s first test.

First of all I went into the VHF/UHF side of things and targeted the local TETRA networks. These were found easily and after messing around with the GUI, I was able to get go2MONITOR set up to nicely find all the emissions within the 1.6 MHz bandwidth I’d chosen to use

From there, all I had to do was to select one of the found emissions and let the software do its thing.

Next I moved on to HF where there’s a plethora of data to choose from to test out the SDR. There was quite a large storm going through at the time and my Wellbrook loop and coax feed were getting a bit of a bashing with some considerable interference being produced with the really strong gusts, as can be seen below – the interference between the two HFDL bursts is one such gust.

I’ve frequently mentioned the Results Viewer that’s part of go2MONITOR and with things such as HFDL and TETRA, that process data quickly from lots of signals, this part of the software comes into its own.

The image below is two minutes of HFDL monitoring. All the red blocks is received data that scrolled through the Channel window too quickly to read live. In the viewer you can select any of the signals and you’ll be shown the message as sent. In this case, it is one sent by an Open Skies Treaty observation flight OSY11F.

By looking at the Lat/Long and comparing it to the flight history from FlightAware and its location at 1313z it ties in nicely. This flight was carried out by the German Air Force A319 1503 specially kitted out to make these flights.

go2MONITOR has a basic map function within the Result Viewer function so if there’s any Lat/Long position within any message it will plot it – as shown below for OSY11F at 1313z.

Within the General tab of Result Viewer you can get all the parameters of the signal.

One final test that I carried out was how well everything coped with a bigger bandwidth. In HF I can use up to 3 MHz of bandwidth with the licence I have – going up to 10 MHz once into VHF/UHF. In HF then, I selected 3 MHz in the GUI and then ran an emissions search.

My PC is nearing the end of its life but it coped easily with the amount of data found despite only having 4 GB of RAM with a 3.6 GHz AMD processor – a new PC is in the pipeline that is going to give me much better processing power.

Despite having 3 MHz available, not everything was identified. Most of this was at the fringes of the bandwidth, but some of the weaker signals also failed. That doesn’t mean you can’t then process them further, you can, it’s just the Emissions scan hasn’t quite been able to ID them. Saying that, the software managed to ID things within 2.2 MHz of the 3 MHz bandwidth.

I picked one of the weaker signals to see how both the RSPdx and software coped and they did very well, pretty much decoding all of the CIS-50-50 messages that were coming through on 8678 kHz.

So, overall, pretty pleased with how the RSPdx works with go2MONITOR.

Once I get a better PC I’ll be able to test at bigger bandwidths but even with 3 MHz here I was able to achieve the same, if not better, results than I have with the considerably more expensive WinRadio G31 Excalibur I have been using previously (running with the G33 hack software).

Not that I’m likely to really use go2MONITOR at big bandwidths – 1.6 MHz is probably fine for me – but for Pro’s there’s no doubt that having these “cheaper” SDRs would make absolutely no difference over using an expensive one such as those in the WinRadio range. In all honesty, I don’t think I’ll be holding on to the WinRadio for much longer – I’m more likely to get another RSPdx to cover this area of my monitoring.

On its own, as an SDR, the RSPdx is worth the money I’d say. I like it just as much as I do the AirSpy HF+ Discovery – the only real difference I can see between these two SDRs is the max bandwidth available.

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

The Bear Net “Pirate”

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 [16116] 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

MDKR//MKDR

Image of carrier wave and transmissions of MDKR//MKDR. The Pirate is using AM mode, but as the recording was in USB only that half was captured.

This was followed at 1431z
Mike Kilo Delta Romeo
56822166095499102

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!

Fake EAM/Number station message

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
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

And later

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

Pirate_003Pirate_003a

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.

Pirate_004Pirate_004a

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.

X06_005

Here you can see the two tones (actually 6). The total time for the selcall is 2.040 seconds with 1 marked at 896 Hz and 6 at 1074 Hz

X06_006

Measuring the length of an individual tone (though actually 3 joined together) gives a length just over 1 second or 3 tones at 333 ms each

X06_007

Finally, measuring the space between each call gives us 1.312 seconds which is the correct spacing for X06

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

X06_004

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.

A quick update & Roland Proesch Radio Monitoring books 2018

Firstly, a quick update on what’s been going on with me.

In the world of radios, ships, photos and Russians – not a lot!! No blog since September 2017 wasn’t what I had planned that’s for sure. Much of my writing time has gone to Jane’s, which has been great. This has meant I had to prioritise any free time available to them, having to put my blog on the back burner. Overall I’ve written or carried out analysis for around 10 Jane’s magazine articles since September 2017, as well as my continual fleet analysis on the Russian navy for Fighting Ships.

One of my articles from the November 2017 edition of Jane’s Intelligence Review

With regards to any radio monitoring, that also had to go on a back burner. When the shack was rebuilt as part of the house renovations I installed all the coaxial in temporary locations, drilled through the outer wall and coming into the shack through a large 50cm by 30cm hole in the interior plasterboard wall. This was in April 2015!! Hardly temporary!!

Due to the pretty crap weather we get here, and the fact that I needed at least 5 days of continuous good weather to be able to do all the connections outside, it has taken until the last week – 3 years later – to finally get the sunny days I needed at the same time as being off work.

Over the last year, the temporary connections had become worse and worse, with lots of noise causing interference. Nothing was earthed correctly either. Other factors such as the neighbours installing dreaded solar panels really screwed up everything, totally wiping out the main Russian navy day frequency they use for CW.

Not only that, with the hole in the interior wall being the size it is, it gets very cold in the room during the Winter – and the rest of the year for that matter – with a large draft blowing in most of the time.

Anyway, new outside connections are complete, in nice new waterproof boxes. Now the exterior part is done, I’m not weather dependant on the rest of it and hopefully I’ll be back up and running in the next month or so. I’ll do a full blog on the new setup once it’s complete.

Roland Proesch Radio Monitoring books 2018

For 2018, Roland Proesch has updated two of the five books he creates in his Technical handbook range.

The first is Signal Analysis for Radio Monitoring Edition 2018. This has nearly 60 new pages of information on how to analyse various waveforms, including a new section on Satellite signals – useful if you’ve already purchased his Technical handbook for satellite monitoring 2017. There’s also a section on describing how to analyse RADAR signals. Other things such as useful software tools and PC calibration is also included. Here’s a PDF of the contents with new information highlighted in yellow.

The other book is Frequency Handbook for Radio Monitoring Edition 2018. Whilst many people would say a book containing information on frequencies used by various utility stations, armed forces and other agencies is dated and old school, I tend to disagree. There is so much useless information out there online, I prefer using a book for looking things up that I may have found on the HF bands. Granted, a book does go out of date – normally as it’s being printed – but you can quite easily add your own entries in the right places if needed.

This update has several hundred changes of new, deleted and updated frequencies ranging from 0Hz to 30000kHz, and contains a section dedicated to ALE frequencies and idents.

Both books, along with the ones released last year in one of my previous blogs, are available from his website. As usual, he has his bundle offers which makes the books cheaper if you buy two or more at the same time.

I’ve used his books for years and highly recommend them.

Liman follow-up

Well, it’s a couple of days now since my blog on the Liman incident went live. I’ve had some great feed back on my coverage.

There has however been one individual that has not liked it so much. This is Steffan Watkins, owner of the blog Vessel of Interest. Mr Watkins was one of the unnamed characters I referred to in the Liman blog. He is widely regarded as a conspiracy theorist, and even has to go to the extent of denying it on his own blog. Whether he is or isn’t is irrelevant really.

Interestingly, a recent piece of work I was asked to do for Jane’s Intelligence Review magazine was to analyse an image of Russian navy Vishnya-class AGI Viktor Leonov to try and work out the various intelligence gathering systems that may be on board via all the different antennas visible. The actual article was written by Mr Watkins.

Now, up until this stage I really didn’t pay much attention to anything Mr Watkins wrote, mainly because what he wrote was aiming towards being the aforementioned conspiracy theories. But, he kind of came through with an interesting article – though it was nothing I didn’t know, as a group of us have been following Viktor Leonov for a few years now.

So, why hasn’t he enjoyed my blog? Well, I suggest you read it and see what he has come up with, and then come back here where I’ll answer his “questions”.

Hopefully, then you have read his blog on Liman now.

Firstly, lets talk about the “expert” part. He seems to think that I am condescending towards others from my comments. I am fully open to ideas and theories if there is evidence to back these ideas up and people also listen to what is being presented to them. In this case he did neither. And my references to things such as the Heather Sea evidence is clear – the ship wasn’t involved, it never was and yet people were still saying it was (not Mr Watkins I hasten to add, he hadn’t looked into anything outside the bubble of Liman). It was a quick and easy search through AIS history to see that it wasn’t, and yet people weren’t doing this. My reference to not being an expert is correct. I have no qualifications in the field of Radio Communications, I do not have an amateur radio licence and such like. I do not have a degree or a masters or any other diploma in the theories of radio – therefore I am not an expert. In ATC we have engineers that are experts in that – I wouldn’t dare tell them their job, just like they wouldn’t tell me how to keep aircraft apart. This is the reference I am making to being an expert.

He also mentions banter on twitter. There was no such thing, certainly not in my eyes. I’ve been around banter for decades – in the forces you need to be able to take it, and give it – and it is actually worse in the world of ATC. I can recognise banter when I see it. He also mentions an exchange of ideas. Yes there were exchanges of ideas, but he really wasn’t coming up with anything of substance. Instead, from his comments, he gave a picture that there was a conspiracy behind the incident – there had to be something because of the nature of the ship involved – an Intelligence Gatherer.

He actually says this in his blog:
Any ship could have an accident while at sea, in the fog, early in the morning. But, this wasn’t “any” ship; just by being a Russian Navy AGI (a “Spy Ship”) it makes me +1 suspicious. There is no good rational basis for that suspicion, except it’s a Russian Navy AGI, it definitely has sensitive gear aboard, and having it sink leaves a gap in whatever task it was doing, on the deployment it was on.

Why does this receive an extra degree of suspicion? Oh, that’s right, there’s no rational explanation, it’s just suspicious.

I wonder what Mr Watkins reactions were to the collision between a French Navy SSBN and a Royal Navy SSBN in the middle of the Atlantic in 2009. Holy shit, the French are at it again, trying to sink our navy 🙂

He refers to the fact that surely the Youzar Sif. H must have been able to have seen the Liman on radar:
The Liman was not a “stealth” ship, and as far as I understand, should have shown up on the navigational radar of the Youzarsif H; isn’t that why navigational radar exists?
Well, if two of the most expensive vessels in the sea, with some of the most sophisticated sonar and listening equipment ever made managed to thump into each other in the wide open Atlantic, then it is perfectly feasible for two ships to hit each other in thick fog in one of the busiest shipping lanes on the planet.

And it doesn’t even have to be in thick fog or underwater – ships hit each other. His Canadian navy had such an incident in 2013 in perfectly good weather when they were approaching each other.

Or there’s the Turkish Coast guard patrol boat that was hit in broad daylight, in the middle of the Bosporus, by a 158ft long Bulk carrier in August last year

Further about the radar he stated:
They were in thick fog, only navigating by instruments, and didn’t see a ship directly in front of them on radar?
Isn’t that weird?
I don’t think it reflects well on the Youzarsif H’s crew, unless the operations of the Liman were causing issues for the radar of the Youzarsif H. Yes, that’s wild speculation, because it makes no sense how a ship doesn’t notice a giant hulk of floating steel in front of it on radar. Make up your own crazy theory! It’s better than what we have now, which is nothing.

None of us know what radar system Youzar Sif. H has in place. I’ve been on quite a few ships in my time, civil and military – and of course I work with radar all the time. You get plenty of radar returns or “primaries” which you don’t know what they are, and you do your best to avoid them if you are not sure, but you have to make an assessment as what you think is a ship/aircraft and what is just weather (or a wind farm in a lot of ATC cases these days). The image here shows just a basic ships radar image, a modern one at that, so actually could be much better than the one on Youzar Sif. H – we won’t ever know I expect. Other radars are available of course, with more detail, but if Mr Watkins can work out what is what in this image then well done.

The next statement he produces is:
There have been no reports regarding who ran into who; or if it was a mutual effort. The news media is making it sound like they were both moving and collided in the fog. I’m not sure that’s correct.
He produces a list of things that could have happened – yes all obvious – but then doesn’t actual state why he thinks the news media are incorrect?? So why do you think this Mr Watkins?

He then mentions jamming of the AIS frequencies, but thankfully seems to have realised that this wasn’t the case. At the time of the “banter” he wasn’t stating that though:
See, there you go down the rabbit hole again. I’m wondering if the AGI screwed itself by engaging in EW in the same frequency range as AIS. 161.975/162.025 MHz range, within the usual Marine VHF band, right? Might explain the sketchy AIS coverage immediately prior.
Firstly, I’m still not sure what he’s referring to with EW. Early Warning?? Electronic Warfare?? Neither of which Liman is equipped for. And, secondly I went into great depths, the best I could at the time (see later) to try to explain the likely reason for the sketchy AIS coverage – all of which he kind of brushed aside for his more extreme likelihoods. Here, again he gives the air of being a conspiracy theorist.

We now get on to my favourite part of his blog:
•The Youzarsif H’s AIS signal was being received by terrestrial based AIS receivers, which Mr Roper described in his blog post with excruciating detail. The signal was very spotty before the collision, and crystal clear after the collision. This is the thing that really draws my eye and triggers my curiosity; it is the basis for much of my suspicion regarding this event. On the day Mr. Roper and I were discussing this he specifically dismissed my speculation that the issue could be related to the sender and insisted the gap in reception must be related to the receiver, or environmental conditions.
“This totally depends on the receiver not the sender! The receiver may have been off.”
-Tony Roper, 6:29 PM EST, May 4 2017
I tried to convey that my interest was less with the gap before the collision, and more with the immediate change to the signal quality (seemingly crystal clear reception) instantaneously after the collision, which Mr Roper had no explanation for at the time. It seems after reflection, he now theorizes the sender, may have had their antenna(s) facing away (blocked by the ship’s superstructure?) from the shore-based receiver when travelling Southbound (toward the Liman) and immediately after the collision turned around and faced their AIS antenna(s) toward the shore-based AIS-T receiver. This is fantastic speculation, and would explain how the signal went from terrible, to perfect, immediately, while other ships in the area had AIS-T signal all along.

Firstly, by excruciating detail I’m guessing Mr Watkins didn’t understand it. You must forgive me for trying to explain how something works instead of just giving less than half information on how something works. If he thinks my information was excruciating then maybe he should read the Propagation pages in the ARRL handbook which is spread over 30 pages. Or maybe he should go to websites such as:
Make more miles on VHF
HF Propagation tools
Or one of the many pages by Tomas Hood on propagation
It is obviously a fault of mine to make something interesting for the reader, that will hopefully teach them something.

I said above that at the time I did my best to try to explain to Mr Watkins what may have happened. This he seems to have thrown back in my face, alluding that I may have changed my mind on my original thoughts. I didn’t dismiss his thoughts but pointed out that there may have been a break in coverage. The interesting thing is the quote he has used, taken at 6:29PM EST. This was actually 23:59PM UK time, I was in a hotel room, 450 miles away from my computers and AIS systems. Maybe Mr Watkins has presumed that the rest of the planet is running at the same time as Canada, and that we were all glued to our PC’s? I made the best assessment at the time – and you know what, I wasn’t far wrong in the theory of coverage, as I proved in the blog.

He says I have “reflected” and changed my mind. No, I haven’t Mr Watkins. It’s a combination of both sender and receiver. I didn’t reflect. What I did was, on getting home, do some further analysis. Something Mr Watkins has quite clearly not done. He can only produce the same data on the what Youzar Sif. H did both before and after the incident. He still hasn’t come up with anything else – yet he has the nerve to criticise my analysis.

Come on Mr Watkins, show us some workings out. Do some actual analysis.

Here’s something for you. Data taken today from the same region.

The image below shows the tracks for various ships and their plots as received on AISLive

Holy crap – how do we explain all those gaps in the plots especially the ones on the rough route Youzar Sif. H took?? How the hell does the furthest ship away from any receivers have the best plot history?? Hmmmm, please do tell Mr Watkins. Maybe the Russians are jamming the area from outer space? Maybe there’s another AGI there?? Or maybe there’s just a poor area of reception.

The picture below shows the same area, at the very same time, but this time taken from MarineTraffic.

I’ve purposefully highlighted Reina as it is also highlighted in the AISLive image. The red ship to at the bottom is also on the AISLive image as the fully tracked ship. But what is that? MSC Eleonora is showing here, but isn’t on AISLive – what the hell?? How does that happen?? Please explain with all your worldly knowledge Mr Watkins.

Here’s some extra data for you, just so that you realise that AIS receivers aren’t on all the time (mine was off whilst 450 miles away for the weekend by the way). The three receiver examples that I used for the blog have the following averages for receiver availability over the last two months:
Istanbul = 93.3%
Burgas = 98.9%
Elena = 97.95%
So, not available all the time then.

He ends the large waffle with:
Can we prove this theory with the available data? Well, it’s certainly not as clear as I would like it to be. It is still crystal clear that immediately after the collision the AIS transmissions went from random times between successful transmissions to a steady stream at 3-4 minutes

The following day, still in the hotel 450 miles away from all my gear, I sent Mr Watkins roughly the same as the above showing a plot of another ship with the same loss of coverage. That obviously wasn’t enough evidence to make it “crystal clear”. I then produced my blog with further evidence – including an example of Youzar Sif. H with a loss of 14 hours of coverage – which again obviously wasn’t “crystal clear”, but was in fact excruciatingly full of too much detail for Mr Watkins. I have now produced the above which explains – yet again – that there are gaps in the coverage, yet other ships somehow have a better plot history. I suspect though, that all this will be far too foggy for Mr Watkins and he still will not be able to see anything clearly – except for a conspiracy.