Military-Grade Awesome

Vudi Dyatel!

In the depths of the Chernobyl Zone of Alienation lurks a giant antenna array. Depending on the source, the Russians shut it down when the Chernobyl ‘incident’ happened, or perhaps they kept the whole thing running for a few years afterwards. Just what was it all for? When the array came online in 1976, its presence was announced by a 10 Hz ‘tapping’ all across the shortwave bands, and the ideas began to fly. Was it a radar system, or a weather control system, or perhaps even some sort of mind control weapon? The prevailing theory was that it was an over the horizon radar used for missile defense, and after the end of the Cold War, it was confirmed to be the transmitter array for a Duga-3 system, part of the Soviet ABM early-warning network, named Steel Yard by NATO.


The Soviet Union began work on over-the-horizon [OTH] radar in the late 1950s, given the potential of this techology to surpasss the range of conventional early warning radars. The focus was on backscatter radars that would provide warning of missile launches by detecting alterations in ionosphere propogation caused by the depletion of ions by missile exhaust plumes. These radars had to reliably detect group and mass launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles from the territory of the US. The radars are reportedly known as STEEL YARD or STEEL WORKS by the Western intelligence community, the code name derived from their large intricate girder construction.

The Duga-2 experimental model over-the-horizon radar, designed in 1970 by Chief Designer F. Kuzmin, was successfully tested using launches of domestic ballistic missiles from the Far East and Pacific Ocean to the testing ground on Novaya Zemlya. The radar, built near Nikolaeyev [Nikolaev] near the Black Sea in Ukraine [almost certainly not in the Caucasus mountains, as suggested by one source] included 26 huge transmitters (each one the size of a two-story building) assembled by the Dnepropetrovsk machine building plant. The transmitting antenna was 210 meters wide and 85 meters high. The receiving antenna was 300 meters wide and 135 meters high. The antenna field housed 330 transmitters of about 15 meters each.


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 is 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 is 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, cleans up most forms of pulse noise. (


You can find the Woodpecker on Google Maps as well!

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  • 40 kilohertz of bandwidth?!? For a machine that goes *ping!*? That's a 5000 pound woodpecker right there. A typical FM audio signal is under 15 kHz, AM and SSB are way less than that, and Morse Code (Continuous Wave) is 0.15 kHz

    I'm guessing it was real difficult to keep 300 odd transmitters all on the same frequency, which might make the signal quite dirty, but the rest is just pure loud.