Russian Navy

Prometheus at Russia’s Service

The flag of St. Andrew in the salt steppes at the North-West of Kirghizia is quite astonishing sight! What wind blew the Russian seamen in here heaven knows how many miles or kilometers from the roaring seas? What a marvelous open works spread at the vast territory at the very border with Kazakhstan? This kind of thoughts occurs to anybody who comes to the place of Chaldovar in the well-known Chuya Valley.

Station at River Kudma

It is little-known fact that everything was started from Goliath the pride of German engineers. That was the most powerful radio unit of the World War II capable to radio encoded signals into the depth of the oceans. Installed yet in 1943 in Germany in the vicinity of Frankfurt am Oder it had been transmitting messages to the “wolf packs” – submarines of Gro?admiral Deniz. These submarines attacked Soviet convoys in the Arctic and allied convoys in the Atlantic. In the beginning of 1945 the station was captured by the Americans but during separation of Germany into occupation zones Goliath was given to the Soviets. The Soviet experts rated the station high dismantled it and transported the equipment to USSR.

For three years the German capture was kept at warehouses around Leningrad but in 1949 it was decided to re-assemble this scientific “wunder”. The location for Goliath was chosen near the river Kudma in Kstov region (today Nizhniy Novgorod region). The whole system was re-assembled at the new site for three years and December 27, 1952 the transmitter was put on the air for the first time in the Soviet Union.

I early 60’s the radio station in Druzhniy (this is the name of a settlement where the station stays till today) was included into space vehicles tracking system. Although in passive mode but it followed up the flights of Gagarin, Titov, space craft Energia-Buran and many others.

For long 62 years in Germany they were speculating where exactly the Russians hidden Goliath and last year only German newspapers flashed with the headers:

”The Goliath is found!”, “The Goliath is still operational!” It appeared that German historians still refer to the station in their works and place of its original installation has become a place for sightseeing. The belief is still strong at Goliath’s country of birththat it was “unique antenna arrangement” and “the most effective radio station in the world that time”.

It is true that one of the principle disadvantages of the existing that time submarines command and control system was the impossibility to transmit messages under water. The works of shortcomings removal were headed in two directions namely set up of communication system on extra-long waves (ELW) frequency that would allow submarines to receive transmissions submerged and development of retractable antennas for submarines maintaining contact at periscope depth. The Germans gave preference to extra-long waves. Goliath was located 140 kilometers from Berlin making possible for the submarines to receive its signals at quite considerable distance. The Kriegsmarine received commands from the station all over Northern and Central Atlantic at depths down to 28 meters and in the Indian Ocean off Madagascar at depths down to 18 meters. That it was a great achievement.

Extra-long wave station Goliath is actually operational to the present day. For over then half a century it remained online almost all the time except for the periods of outdated equipment replacement.

Putting of USSR naval ships to the World Ocean in the 60’s of the last century, weight increase of the assigned tasks to strategic level, and experience gained during the Great Patriotic War required the transfer from separate fleet communication units to the integrated global hot lines. In its turn it required solution of the whole set of scientific and technical issues aimed at provision of communication with submerged submarines at long distances, signals hiding, automation of communications flow, increase of communication reliability in the electronic countermeasures medium.

That is why the government took a decision to construct own radio stations and communication centers. For instance in Byelorussia in the town of Vileika in 1964 Antaeus station was built and in 1974 in Kirghizia 338th naval communications facility Marevo. Nowadays there are several such facilities in Russia. Apart from the above mentioned there are ones located in Arkhangelsk, Krasnodar, Khabarovsk. They all fulfill one duty – transmission of information received from the General Staff of Russia Armed Forces and Navy General Staff to our submarines at combat patrols in various areas of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans. Apart form the orders issued by the Navy Command the communication men work for other branches of Armed Forces transmitting signals for clock synchronization on the basis of reference system of universal time. Such encoded broadcasting is performed via ELW frequency band thanks to power transmitters capable to maintain the communication at distances over 10 000 kilometers.

A Giant in the Steppes

The decision to locate naval communications facility Marevo in Pervomaiskoye settlement in Chuya region of Kirghizia was by no means occasional. The thing was not in the will of admirals as this location thanks to good geographical position provides for greater depth of radio transmission. The proximity of ground water of local salt steppe also gives positive effect for conductivity and communication range. The CO of the facility Captain of the 1st rank Grigori Belonozhko demonstrated us quite a weird map were the center of the globe was marked by…the station. That was however not the most striking but the range of Marevo plotted on the same map. The signal sent from the facility is capable to reach the Antarctic (!) for instance, penetrate the mass of water and deliver an assignment to the crew of a submarine on patrol.

The communication center of the Russian Navy stays at the territory of Kirghizia thanks to the Agreement between two countries. It dates back to October 10, 1997 and called Regarding Terms of Station Lease for Navy Facilities of Russian Federation at the Territory of Kirghiz Republic. In accordance with this document the rent price of land plots occupied by the facilities makes up almost 4.5 million US dollars that is discharged by means of cross-cancellation of debts. The Russian party instead of paying money directly trains military specialists, supplies weapons and military equipment, military purpose stores, spares, etc. The list of services is specified annually and recorded in a protocol. Regulatory framework for facility operation became the Agreement between Russian Federation and Kirghiz Republic Regarding Military Co-operation effective since July 1993.

The communication center is not an ordinary radio station but receiving/ transmitting centers, central station of universal time systems and huge antenna mast set. All these equipment is placed in barrack, residential and technical zones. The latter occupies a floor space of no less than 620 hectares. The perimeter of the zone is over 10 kilometers.

Antenna mast set is truly colossal structure. It consists of three paralleled umbrella-type antennas. Every one called Zenith represents a hexahedron with lateral length of 600 meters in plan. Antenna curtains made of steel reinforced aluminum cables hanged at 18 masts of framed structure. These masts are nothing but engineering marvels. 12 outer and 3 corner “needles” has the height of 260 meters and the 3 center ones 312 meters. As a comparison the height of Great Pyramid in Giza (Egypt) is 146 meters, Cologne Cathedral is 159, Washington Obelisk is 175. Even the Eiffel Tower only 8 meters higher than Marevo set.

All masts are grounded. Antenna curtains are insulated from the masts by means of special insulation links. 39 electric hoists ensure the elevation and lowering of antenna curtains. The hoists of outer and corner masts are located in special modules. The adjustment of antenna curtains in windy conditions and glaze frosts is performed with the help of automated units actuating electric hoists of outer and corner masts when needed.

Next to central masts located outer antenna modules equipped with antenna adjustment equipment. They have a shape of horizontally paced cylinder and made of cast in-situ reinforced concrete with high level of penetration protection

It could be only guessed how much did it cost at that time. The masts with the weigh of hundreds of tons placed on huge cubic foundations, open works of antennas, high frequency grounding made of 3 millimeters copper wire with the total length of over 900 (!) kilometers, copper collecting buses and screens… Sometimes you feel shame for the country but seeing these hectares of triumph of mankind you keep on admiring what was done by our countrymen in distant 60’s. And also you feel the pride for the country that managed to retain all this and stay in the lead in this frequency range.

Extra-long Wave

The heart of 338th naval communication center is certainly 1000-kilowatt radio station operating in 5.000 – 25.000 meters wave band designed for long-distance communication and command of submarines and ships as well as for transmitting signals of correct time and calibrating frequencies for the purposes of Ministry of Defense. The station itself bears proud name of Prometheus by tradition started by Goliath all its younger “brothers” named after Greek gods.


Prometheus (Greek – seer, forseeing) – son of Titan Iapetus and goddess Themis. He fashioned the first man out of clay learned him count, crafts, arts and brought people fire stealing it from Olympus in the hollow stalk of reed. Angry Zeus ordered Hephaestus to chain Prometheus to a rock in Caucasus for eternity where his liver was eaten by an eagle sent by Zeus daily only to be regenerated due to his immortality by night. Years later the Greek hero Heracles shot the eagle and free Prometheus from his chains.

The main building of the station represents … a hill covered with grass. Artificiality can be revealed due to the plain entrance and a smoke-room next to it as it is strictly prohibited to smoke inside that is reminded by the label obliging to leave behind everything flammable. The door opens the way to a tunnel ending with the impressive armored door. Then goes a small portal and armor again that can not be broken open. The system is designed in such a way that every next door can be opened after closing the previous one. Every portal chamber is equipped with decontamination and degassing means as well.

Finally we found ourselves in 4-storey building with the basement made of cast in-situ reinforced concrete covered with the vault of the same concrete. The building is birmed and designed in such a way that it is capable to withstand direct hit if not nuclear but high-explosive bomb for sure.

Right here installed radio set of extra-long waves ( (5.000 - 25.000 meters) with 1000 kW output, standalone diesel generator, low and high voltage switchgear, water supply system, water cooling plant, sewage system, ventilation and compressed air conditioning system with local and automated remote controls, signaling and shut-down units. Building heating, ventilation and other utility systems ensure operations of the facility under various conditions.

As our host Captain of the 1st rank Belonozhko told us how this “underworld” functions. Through the passages, stairs that resemble ship’s ladders we entered either radio-technical or electromechanic rooms then paid a visit to the specialists of telegraph-telephonic department…

”After the signal is received from the Navy General Staff the equipment fashions it into the required type of job. Then this signal via specific frequency goes to the main amplifier – radio set of cascade type. These lamps (from tiny to huge – author’s note) accumulate enough power to transmit the signal to submarines that would hear us in any point of the World Ocean.”

According to Grigory Viktorovich who commands Marevo station for over 6 years the signal is received and transmitted coded from the station. Answering to the question whether signal intercept is possible he smiled and said,

”It is possible. But our adversaries will sure spend up to hundred years to decode it. And ballistic missile or attack submarine would receive it and fulfill the task.”

The power of the transmitter itself is the subject of pride here. It makes possible to “cap” any enemy surface ship or submarine and eventually making it deaf and blind.

We were not let in on details about electronic warfare but were proudly told that the power of all similar stations in USA for instance would be not enough to block Prometheus. And the latter on the contrary can kick up a lot of fuss to his overseas colleagues.

”The more ships and submarines are on the patrol far from home the more demandable and intensive our work. The capabilities of the station enable a lot”, said Captain of the 1st rank Belonozhko.

Listen to his detailed story we again and again admired and felt the pride for our people and country.

Second is Everything!

Another remarkable sight of the station is its exact time reference system (ETRS) provided for by Sandal (Boxwood) unit. This unique “clock” is used by the Navy and other Armed Forces for synchronization. The universal time allows exact correlating of all ships and submarines at their locations in the oceans. Timing provision of other branches of the Armed forces is also included in the duties of Sandal.

At first sight exact time looks like familiar electronic clock on the wall and other clock with dial and hands hanging next to it. Both of them tell the time regulated to the last fraction of a second. These clocks differ from our wall clock by having built-in radio receiver that adjusts the mechanism automatically to the signal of exact time.

Quite another thing is nuclear units of the mechanisms that count fractions of seconds. It is believed that such chronoscopes can advance or slow for only a second for 100 thousand years. Then we had the possibility to adjust our watches not according to Kremlin’s tower clock but referring to the standard so to say. Several times a day all ships of the Navy that have so called secondary clocks receive particular signal from the station. Suck clocks adjust as per the reference to Sandal.

”Standard is standard but the most exact time is always told by CO’s watch”, joked Belonozhko.

Then setting the jokes aside Grigoriy Viktorovich explained that the acknowledgement of exact times in navigation gives you your exact position. And this is the key factor for the combat patrol. Calculation of ballistic course is performed on the basis of knowing own co-ordinates. Then the strike if such necessity occurs would be accurate and deadly as ballistic missile covers miles for a second…

The Crew and its Problems

We spent a lot of time in the surroundings. For example visited 300 kW Almaz (Diamond) transmitting radio center designated for maintaining radio contact with submarines, surface ships and air crafts operating in the Indian Ocean as well as for trunk communication with naval communications facilities in Moscow and Vladivostok. Antenna mast set of the station read the “web” consisting of 33 antennas and 4 air feeder lines ensures stable radio communication with naval mobile units at a distance of up to 12 thousand kilometers.

It appeared that 42 kilometers away is located receiving radio center Kaktus (Cactus) included in the chain of long-distance communication hot link with submarines, surface ships and naval aviation designated for receiving messages and information form naval forces operating in the Pacific, Indian and Arctic Oceans. We did not actually paid a visit to Kaktus but Captain of the 1st rank Belonozhko willingly told us about life and service of the personnel there.

Saying of life, the seamen’s life in Kirghizia is reasonably good on the one hand: the amount of money allowance is incomparable with tiny earnings of the natives. As the resolution on additional payments to the military men serving abroad passed the gap in earnings became even more obvious. The passport issue for officers, warrant officers and members of their families is now closed as they all received the “red leather books” in the Passport and Visas Department of the city of Barnaul. All-Russian issue regarding apartments is not a problem here – two small towns with own water supply, boiler plants and even swimming pool cover the housing demands of communication men wearing marine singlets in full. Even those ready to discharge from service get accommodation at the territory of Russia and not in the middle of nowhere but in well developed regions such as Kostroma, Moscow, Voronezh Regions, Krasnodar Territory.

But all this in no way means the navy servicemen at Marevo free of any problems. However the majority of them pertain to social conditions. For instance Federal Parents Welfare Payment Act provides for maternity pay, lump-sum benefits for women registered in medical institutions at early pregnancy, bonus paid after birth of child, monthly benefit while child care leave till one and half years of child age, and monthly child allowance proper. But the law is applicable to military servicemen and civil personnel of military units and institutions of Russian Federation located at the territory of foreign states only in the instances provided for by international treaties. But such a treaty between Russia and Kirghizia is not yet concluded meaning no benefits and allowances.

The issue of unemployment allowance and other compensations to dependent wives is still open. The Monthly Payments for Dependent Wives of Contract Military Servicemen Government Resolution provides for monthly allowance for wives for the period of their life with husbands at the territories where they can not find employment corresponding with their profession due to the lack of such positions or children state of health is not applicable in Kirghizia.

Medical service is yet another headache of service in Kirghizia. The money to the Russian Federation funds of compulsory medical insurance is not deducted from the wages of the personnel of the small garrison meaning medical policies of insurance is possessed only by those members of families who is registered at the territory of Russia. This amount is not exceeding 10%.

Kirghizian part provides all sorts of medical aid to our military servicemen deployed at her territory both in military medical institutions and civil hospitals. But for instance an officer and two warrant officers who recently underwent surgeries had to pay from own pockets for the medical attendance.

Civil salaried personnel of the communication center that by the way makes up two thirds of the staff feels themselves not very comfortable. But why? The reason is that they come under Kirghizian labor legislation that seriously derogates from their right with regard to income tax payment, receiving benefits and even payments while on the sick leave. It turns out that officer’s wife who works in telegraph-telephonic department in the very Prometheus for 3-5 years has got no pension accruals. But for example with regard to Kant air base such issue was stipulated and it is no longer a problem there.

Captain of the 1st rank Belonozhko wants to have positions of Deputy for Education and Psychologist to be introduced in the staff listing of the station. For now almost every time he personally has to organize educational work, football tournaments and act as a judge in all service and private conflicts. And the wives dream of the kindergarten…

But according to naval communication men all the hardships can be overcome thanks to the certainty of the tomorrow of Marevo station. Starting next year already the major part of communication center is scheduled for upgrade and this means Prometheus will be serving Russian Navy for a long time yet. Serve honestly and honorably as serve those on combat patrols far from their Motherland.

Source: Krasnaya Zvezda, Author: Viltaliy Denisov

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