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From July 1976 to December 1989 a mysterious radio signal could be heard all over the world. Its source was the subject of much controversy, but at the end of the cold war the speculation ended and made way for the truth. It came from a top secret Soviet Military installation which now lies abandoned and in ruins.

Duga (meaning arc in Russian) was a Soviet over-the-horizon (OTHRLS) radar locating system used as part of the Soviet anti-ballistic missile early-warning network, designed to provide advance warning of intercontinental ballistic missile launches from the West. Following early prototypes, simply reffered to as DUGA, there were two operational Duga radars, the one featured in this article, DUGA-1 was built close to the town of Chernobyl in the Ukraine and now lies in the radioactive exclusion zone. The other, DUGA-2, in eastern Siberia.

The Duga systems were extremely powerful, over 10 MW in some cases, and broadcast in the shortwave radio bands. They appeared without warning, sounding like a sharp, repetitive tapping noise at 10 Hz, which led to it being nicknamed by shortwave listeners the Russian Woodpecker. The random frequency hops disrupted legitimate broadcast, amateur radio, commercial aviation communications, utility transmissions, and resulted in thousands of complaints by many countries worldwide. The signal became such a nuisance that some receivers such as amateur radios and televisions actually began including ‘Woodpecker Blankers’ in their design which negated the effects of the rogue signal.

During the cold war the signal was a source of much speculation, giving rise to theories such as Soviet mind control and weather control experiments. However, many experts and amateur radio hobbyists realised it was an over-the-horizon radar system. NATO military intelligence had already photographed the system and given it the NATO reporting name of the Steel Yard.

The first prototype for the Duga system, officially named 5H77, but referred to simply as DUGA (without a numeric suffix) was constructed near Mykolaiv in Ukraine. It consisted of two antennas located approximately 30km apart. The transmitting antenna was located close to the village of Luch, and the receiver near to Kalynivka village. It was said to have successfully detected rocket launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome around 2,500km away. The second prototype, consisting of another antenna pair, was built in the same location and was designed to detect launches from the far east and from submarines in the Pacific Ocean.

After the apparent success of the DUGA prototypes construction of the “5H32-West”, or DUGA-1 system featured in this article began, along with construction of another installation, DUGA-2, not far from the town Komsomolsk-on-Amur, in Bolshya Kartel and Lian villages. This eastern military radar was intended to detect launches of ballistic nuclear missiles from the western coastline of the USA across the Pacific Ocean, and also the ballistic missiles which were launched from nuclear submarines in the Pacific.

DUGA-1 consisted of two military towns – Chernobyl-2 (not far from the town of Chernobyl town and the nearby Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant) and Liubech-1 (not far from the town of Chernihiv). The two transmitting antennas were located in Liubech and the two receiving antennas in Chernobyl-2. This installation was designed to detect launches from the USA across the northern polar coverage of the planet and was even protected by its own, nearby, missile based air defence system, of which little information is available today.

Because of different ways of counting the Duga installations and the intial secrecy that surrounded them “5H32-West” located near Chernobyl and Liubech is quite frequently, but incorrectly referred to as DUGA-3, when in fact DUGA-3 was never constructed. There were only ever three installations in total; the prototype installation, simply called DUGA, the installation near Chernobyl and Liubech called DUGA-1 and the eastern instalation in Bolshya Kartel and Lian villages called DUGA-2.

The success of the DUGA systems is also a matter of great controversy, with some officials even claiming that despite completion of the DUGA-2 system prior to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the system never actually worked properly and this speculation indeed fueled the rather extreme theory explored in the recent film by Ukrainian artist Fedor Alexandrovich entitled ‘The Russian Woodpecker’ where he presents his idea that the Chernobyl disaster was an intentional political act to divert attention from the fact the extremely costly DUGA-2 system was in fact a failure. Whether you believe the theory or not it is an excellent insight into Fedor’s world, as someone whose family was evacuated from the Chernobyl exclusion zone following the accident and who has coped with a very different life since.

It is my understanding that of all the antenna paris that made up DUGA, DUGA-1 and DUGA-2 OTH Radar systems the only antennas that still remain today are the pair of receiving antennas of the DUGA-2 system near Chernobyl-2, but despite being deep inside the radioactive Chernobyl exclusion zone they are already showing signs of being looted, and official plans to dismantle the remaining antennas to regain the 14,000 tonnes of steel are currently being discussed.


My latest visit to Chernobyl was arranged by the great people at CHERNOBYLwel.come

If you want to experience the unique location for yourself then they are certainly the best people to speak to!!