TNB Night Owl – The Russian Woodpecker

Duga-2. Image captured by the News Blender.

From mid-1976 through to the end of 1989, worldwide airwaves were filled with the tap, tap, tap, of the Russian woodpecker. It interfered with shortwave and amateur (ham) radio reception, television, air traffic, and many other frequencies. With a broadcast power of up to 10 Megawatts, the powerful signal could be heard most anywhere in the world at random times. Duga, (Дуга́), which is Russian for  ’arc’ or ‘curve’ was an over-the-horizon (OTH) radar system of gargantuan proportions. (NATO name: STEEL YARD or STEEL WORKS). Its purpose was to detect ballistic missile launches and provide early warning. The United States and other countries also had OTH early warning systems during the Cold War, and still do. The Soviet-era woodpecker, however, is dead.

The Soviets built one, probably two, experimental Duga systems in the sixties as proof of concept. These were located in southern Ukraine SSR. Construction on two permanent systems began in 1972, one in northern Ukraine, north of Kyiv, and one in eastern Siberia near the Sea of Okhotsk. Power was required for these massive systems, and construction of the nearby Chernobyl nuclear power plant was not coincidental. The Duga is what Chernobyl was built for.

The two permanent Duga systems each had two components located tens of miles apart: a transmitter antenna and a receiver antenna. The receiver antennas were huge at 700 meters (2,300 feet) long and 150 meters (490 feet) high.

DUGA-1 (East… Sea of Okhotsk)
transmitter at 50°53′34.66″N 136°50′12.38″E
…..receiver at 50°23′07.98″N 137°19′41.87″E.

transmitter is located at 51°38′15.98″N 30°42′10.41″E
…..receiver is located at 51°18′19.06″N 30°03′57.35″E.

Duga-1 was dismantled years ago, but Duga-2 still stands due to its proximity to the Chernobyl exclusion zone and its slight radioactivity. There is a 2015 documentary film about the Duga system called, “The Russian Woodpecker”, but the name was given to the Soviet OTH radar system by international ham radio operators back in the sixties and seventies.

“The secret Soviet radar hidden in Chernobyl’s shadow – BBC REEL” (6:29)

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About Richard Doud 622 Articles
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