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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Duga-3, the secret Soviet radar hidden in the forests of Chernobyl

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Aakash Molpariya
Aakash started in Nov 2018 as a writer at Revyuh.com. Since joining, as writer, he is mainly responsible for Software, Science, programming, system administration and the Technology ecosystem, but due to his versatility he is used for everything possible. He writes about topics ranging from AI to hardware to games, stands in front of and behind the camera, creates creative product images and much more. He is a trained IT systems engineer and has studied computer science. By the way, he is enthusiastic about his own small projects in game development, hardware-handicraft, digital art, gaming and music. Email: aakash (at) revyuh (dot) com

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union devised a system to stop hypothetical American attacks, but the nuclear power plant explosion caused it to be abandoned

It seemed like one more day, but that April 26, 1986 something changed forever in the world as we knew it. What was, in principle, a simple routine test in reactor number four of the Chernobyl power plant ended up becoming the largest nuclear accident of all time, killing thousands of lives – although officially only 31 were killed directly- and leaving an area of ​​2,600 square kilometres damaged forever. Precisely there, one of the great Soviet secrets was hidden: the Duga-3, its enigmatic radar tower.

It was in the middle of the Cold War, in the first years of the 70s when Soviet scientists put an idea on the table. Given the possibility that the US could attack them with a long-range missile, they raised the possibility of building defensive weapons with which to neutralize these types of threats. How could they do it? Soon, they came to a conclusion: if they could build a huge radar that was capable of receiving the signals bouncing off the ionosphere, they would be able to have radio control above the Earth’s curvature and therefore monitor a hypothetical attack.

Thus, the USSR began to build one of the most impressive radars ever seen on the earth’s surface. How could it be otherwise, this fundamental element in their missile shield system was raised absolutely secretly, despite its monumental size. It had no more and no less than a length of 700 meters, in addition to an impressive height of 150 meters. But, how to make it invisible to the eyes of others? Very easy: install it in a place that is difficult to access, specifically in a quiet and lush forest north of Kiev (Ukraine).

It would be in 1976 when this Soviet radar began to work. Despite not knowing of its existence, radio amateurs soon discovered that something strange was happening. An unknown but powerful signal, capable of emitting up to 10 MW, interrupted shortwave signals in much of the planet. With a very characteristic and rhythmic noise, this strange signal soon became known by the name of ‘woodpecker’. What the world did not know is that it was the emissions of the Duga-3 to detect the hypothetical North American missiles.

Soon, radio amateurs were able to locate the signal in the USSR, although it was impossible to find its precise location, much less get close to it. This silence and mystery that surrounded the Duga-3, especially accompanied by its repetitive sound, soon generated all kinds of conspiracy theories, which ranged from believing that it was a system to control the communications to which they had access, even though the belief that they were low-frequency signals trying to intercede with human behaviour.

The truth is that it was nothing more than a Soviet attempt to monitor the presence of long-range missiles in its territory, but it is no less true that the project was born with a fundamental deficiency: at that time, scientists were completely unaware of how the ionosphere and, much less, how radio signals bounced off it. Or, put another way, in reality, the project did not make much sense as it was not able to fulfil the objective for which it had been built.

With the explosion of the Chernobyl plant, this monumental radio station had to be abandoned as it was within the exclusion zone. The high radiation resulted to be evacuated and, since then, abandoned to its fate, having a certain macabre form due to the effects of the explosion and radiation, which have been responsible for twisting their irons in a whimsical way A monumental secret mass in the middle of nowhere that became known with the dismemberment of the USSR.

But why does the mystery continue to surround it? Being a top-secret military area, the USSR did not hesitate to delete all the documents that made reference to the Duga-3 after its collapse. For this reason, it has not been possible to obtain too many official documents in which it is explained what was the exact operation of one of the largest radar stations ever built by man. Now, in the middle of the Chernobyl exclusion zone, it stands tall as a memento of the monumental project.

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