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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

5N32 Duga [Arc] - Russian Woodpecker

The Steel Yard OTH began operations in 1975-1976. The exact location of this radar was initially not clear from the public record. Many sources report that it was located "near Kiev" while others state that it was "at Gomel, Belarus" [5226'30"N 03059'00"E], or "Gomel in Belarus near Chernobyl, approximately 175 mi (150 nm; 280 km) SE of Minsk" or "at Minsk." One source claimed it was located "at a distance of less than 10 km from the operational Chernobyl reactors" [5116'N 03014'E] and others claiming it is "near Chernigov" [Chernihiv PPL 5130'00"N 3118'00"E]. Some reports claim that the use of Direction Finding equipment traced the signals to the area of Gomel, Russia, or to "a site southeast of Minsk".

Transmitting on frequencies variouly reported as being between 3.26 and 17.54 megahertz and 4 to 30 MHz, with the actual frequency depending on the maximum-usable-frequency (MUF) for propagation. Typically, at dawn the transmissions were between 14 and 22MHz and by 3 PM. they were at 14MHz or lower. The radar was variously reported as having output power between 20 to 40 MW [though some sources suggest rather less plausibly a power level of 2 MW]. The signal was pulse-modulated at a rate of several times a second [most sources state 10 pulses per second], sounding like a woodpecker. The radar was observed using three repetition rates: 10 Hz, 16 Hz and 20 Hz. The most common rate was 10 Hz, while the 16 Hz and 20 Hz modes were rather rare. The pulses transmitted by the woodpecker had a wide bandwidth, typically 40 kHz.

This powerful Soviet radar signal was quickly dubbed the "Russian Woodpecker." When it first began operations, the transmitter interfered with several communications channels, including emergency frequencies for aircraft on transoceanic flights. Subsequently the operational practice was modified so that the radar skipped these critical frequencies as it moved across its operational spectrum. Noise limiters installed by shortwave ham operators eliminated the "Russian Woodpecker" interferrence. Such noise blankers, designed to cope with interference such as the Russian 'woodpecker' that was common in the 1980s, clean up most forms of pulse noise.

When the transmissions were first detected in the West, some suggested that the Soviets were developing a new radio system for communicating with strategic submarines. Others suggested that it was designed to detect and track low-flying aircraft or missiles. Far less plausible theories extended to suggestions the Soviets were trying to modify the weather; experimenting with radio waves to control human behavior; or developing a weapon to shoot down nuclear-tipped missles.

By 1980 the Russians were reportedly operating three OTHR transmitters, including two OTHR transmitters near Kiev and Minsk, and a third transmitter in Siberia focused on their northern flank which became operational in 1979. By the mid-1990s at least the two radars located in Ukraine appeared to have been deactivated, since their continued maintenance did not figure in the negotations between Russia and Ukraine over the active early warning radars at Mukachevo and Sevastopol. This installation was reportedly abandoned after but was put out of service by the Chernobyl nuclear reactor explosion in 1986, though other reports claimed it had remained operational.

Another over-the-horizon radar of this type was built at Komsomolsk-na-Amure [certainly not Nikolayevsk-na-Amur as reported by some sources -- the NIMA GeoNet NameServer is unaware of the "Nikolayevsk-na-Amur" placename]. Along with the facility at Kiev, the other Steel Yard located at Komsomolsk-na-Amure provided complementary coverage of the United States. According to some reports, the Komsomolsk-na-Amure installation was taken off combat alert duty in November 1989, and some of its equipment was subsequently scrapped.

Some sources report that a new radar was built at Nikolayev in the early 1980s to monitor Chinese missile tests, though it is unclear what if any relationship this installation has with the prototype tested in the early 1970s. Some reports suggest that this installation, said to be smaller and lower-power than the radars at other sites, may never have gone on line. This facility was apparently located at 4704'30"N 3139'00"E, about 20 km Northwest of the major city of Nikolaeyev [4658'N 3202'E].

A fourth OTH-B of a different design was reportedly constructed in the 1980s Nakhodka [sometimes incorrectly spelled Nakhoda] on the coastal of the Sea of Japan. It is unclear which location this refers to, since there are several places with this name, including Nakhodka [5135'40"N 15748'30"E] on the Pacific coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula, but the most probable locations seems to be Nakhodka 4250'49"N 13257'39"] near Vladivostok. This radar was reportedly intended to monitor shipping, aircraft and ballistic missile movements in the area between the coast of China and the island of Guam. The location and ascribed mission of this radar strongly suggest that it was unrelated to the STEEL YARD family, but was rather the much smaller "Irida" Over-The-Horizon Surface Wave (OTH-SW) radar. This radar was said to be capable of surface vessel detection at ranges of 280-300 km, depending on sea state and size of vessel. The transmitter complex had a maximum pulse power output of 64 kW in the HF frequency range, with separate transmit and receive complexes positioned 500 to 1,500 m apart.

    Gomel'              PPL   5519'00"N 02847'00"E 
    Gomel'              PPLA  5226'30"N 03059'00"E 
    Gomel', Gorod       ADM2  5226'30"N 03059'00"E 
    Gomel'skiy Rayon    ADM2  5220'00"N 03100'00"E 
    Gomel-Pokolyubichi  AIRF  5231'32"N 03100'49"E 
    Gomel' Severnyy     RSTN  5227'00"N 03058'00"E 
    Gomel', Stantsiya   RSTN  5226'00"N 03100'00"E 
    Chernobyl'          PPL   5116'00"N 03014'00"E

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