Main Menu

The Old Secret “Russian Woodpecker ” code 5Н32 What was it ?

Chernobyl-2 was a station of the Russian overhorizon radar system Duga-3, better known as Woodpecker.

It was named “woodpecker” due to the sound of its signals, which jammed many shortwave transmissions and sounded like a woodpecker knocking on wood. The signal was sometimes so strong that it could heard in telephone sets thousands of kilometers away from the facility!

The facility was erected between 1970 and 1975 and used as an enormous antenna. It is a huge lattice mega-structure, 150 meters wide, 90 high, and 750 long. To man the radar system, a small secret city was built, in which 1000 people lived.

The site at Chernobyl remained in operation after the Chernobyl disaster, but in 1987 most technical equipment was moved to a site at Komsomolsk na Amure.

Today the mega-structure is still there, just a few kilometers south of the infamous Chernobyl reactor. There are plans to install wind turbines on it.

The Soviets had been working on early warning radar for their anti-ballistic missile systems through the 1960s, but most of these had been line-of-sight systems that were useful for raid analysis and interception only. None of these systems had the capability to provide early warning of a launch, within seconds or minutes of a launch, which would give the defences time to study the attack and plan a response. At the time, the Soviet early-warning satellite network was not well developed, and there were questions about their ability to operate in a hostile environment including anti-satellite efforts. An over-the-horizon radar sited in the USSR would not have any of these problems, and work on such a system for this associated role started in the late 1960s.

The first experimental system, Duga, was built outside Mykolaiv in Ukraine, successfully detecting rocket launches from Baikonur Cosmodrome at 2,500 kilometers. This was followed by the prototype Duga, built on the same site, which was able to track launches from the far east and submarines in the Pacific Ocean as the missiles flew towards Novaya Zemlya. Both of these radar systems were aimed east and were fairly low power, but with the concept proven, work began on an operational system. The new Duga-1 systems used a transmitter and receiver separated by about 60 km

“Russian Woodpecker”

How it sounds…

At some point in 1976, a new and powerful radio signal was detected simultaneously worldwide, and quickly dubbed ‘the Woodpecker’ by amateur radio operators. Transmission power on some Woodpecker transmitters was estimated to be as high as 10 MW equivalent isotropically radiated power.Even prior to 1976, a similar ‘woodpecker’ interference is remembered by radio amateurs occurring in the high frequencies. As early as 1963, or before, radio amateurs were calling this “the Russian Woodpecker”. Little is apparently known about the power levels or Russian designation but is probably a forerunner of the Duga radar systems. It was also speculated at that time, at least among radio amateurs, that this was an over-the-horizon radar.

Triangulation by both amateur radio hobbyists and NATO quickly revealed the signals came from a location in present day Ukraine, at the time called Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (part of USSR). Confusion due to small differences in the reports being made from various sources led to the site being alternately located near KievMinskChernobylGomel or Chernihiv. All of these reports were describing the same deployment, with the transmitter only a few kilometers southwest of Chernobyl (south of Minsk, northwest of Kyiv) and the receiver about 50 km northeast of Chernobyl (just west of Chernihiv, south of Gomel). At one time there was speculation that several transmitters were in use.

The radar system was given the code 5Н32-West by the Soviets, and was set up in two closed towns, Liubech-1 held the two transmitters and Chernobyl-2 the receivers. Unknown to civilian observers at the time, NATO was aware of the new installation. A second installation was built near Komsomolsk-on-Amur, in Bolshya Kartel and Lian, but did not become active for some time.


Starting in the late 1980s, even as the FCC was publishing studies, the signals became less frequent, and in 1989, they disappeared altogether. Although the reasons for the eventual shutdown of the Duga systems have not been made public, the changing strategic balance with the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s likely had a major part to play. Another factor was the success of the US-KS early-warning satellites, which began entering service in the early 1980s, and by this time had grown into a complete network. The satellite system provides immediate, direct and highly secure warnings, whereas any radar-based system is subject to jamming, and the effectiveness of OTH systems is also subject to atmospheric conditions.

According to some reports, the Komsomolsk-na-Amure installation in the Russian Far East was taken off combat alert duty in November 1989, and some of its equipment was subsequently scrapped. The original Duga-1 site lies within the 30 kilometer Zone of Alienation around the Chernobyl power plant. It appears to have been permanently deactivated, since their continued maintenance did not figure in the negotiations between Russia and Ukraine over the active Dnepr early warning radar systems at Mukachevo and Sevastopol. The antenna still stands, however, and has been used by amateurs as a transmission tower (using their own antennas) and has been extensively photographe

Not much is left of The Woodpecker today



Source :

Picture credit Russian org