Duga 3 Radar – Chernobyl’s Secret Missile Detector

Facing to the west, the Radar is 660 metres in width and almost 150 metres in height. It was built in the 1970's as part of a sophisticated Soviet Over The Horizon system that could detect long range nuclear missiles from the US.

The Duga 3, nicknamed the Russian Woodpecker due to the loud “pecking noises” emitted worldwide from the radar. It is located within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, designated after the catastrophic nuclear meltdown in 1986. This colossal radar system could detect a Nuclear Missile launch from the United States within 4 seconds. After the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant disaster in 1986, it was slowly decommissioned up until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Today it is an Urbex (urban exploration) paradise. While tours are guided, it’s generally accepted that you can explore wherever you want. There are occasion security patrols, but these are rare. Don’t forget that there are random doses of radiation about, so be careful and ask your tour guide before venturing into unknown areas.

The radar was extremely powerful, and often caused chaos with air traffic control and radio services in countries throughout the world.

The radar was extremely powerful, and often caused chaos with air traffic control and radio services in countries throughout the world.

The radar, at almost 150 metres in height and 660 metres in length, was built in the late 1970’s as part of the Soviet Union’s “Over-The-Horizon” project. This was a widespread system developed to detect American Nuclear Missiles launched towards the USSR. Built near the city of Pripyat, the zone around the Radar was entirely off limits and was completely unknown to outsiders. All staff and their families lived in a sealed off small town next to the radar, such was the extreme secrecy of the complex.

See the Abandoned Chernobyl city of Pripyat here.

Duga 3 was the last of a trio of similar radars dotted around Ukraine. The Western world was unaware of its construction, and for years mystery clicks and pecking noises caused chaos with Air Traffic Control, military radio and even TV signals around the world. Hence, the nickname “Woodpecker”.  Considering its immense size, it’s quite amazing that it wasn’t until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990 that the source of this mystery frequency was revealed.

The Duga Radar Complex was also a training centre for new military recruits, and fascinating anti-American and anti-Capitalist propaganda can be found in abandoned classrooms. Full sized radar control training rooms can also be found, as can the real deal – which look like something straight out of a retro James Bond movie (Or Austin Powers!)

The overall weight of this massive steel structure is estimated to be well over 14,000 tones. Dismantling the radar would be a hugely expensive task, and the Ukrainian government have no idea how to go about this.

The overall weight of this massive steel structure is estimated to be well over 14,000 tones. Dismantling the radar would be a hugely expensive task, and the Ukrainian government have no idea how to go about this.

It's easy to climb up the radar, but the army still patrols the area and due to the current situation it's advised not climb up too high, in case you're arrested.

It’s easy to climb up the radar, but the army still patrols the area and due to the current situation it’s advised not climb up too high, in case you’re arrested.

One mad rumour is that the radar was used as a mind control weapon, to keep the citizens of the Soviet Republics such as Ukraine and Czechoslovakia in check.

One mad rumour is that the radar was used as a mind control weapon, to keep the citizens of the Soviet Republics such as Ukraine and Czechoslovakia in check.

The radar is visible across the dense forest from the town of Pripyat, next to the power plant.

The radar is visible across the dense forest from the town of Pripyat, next to the power plant.

Amazingly, the radar consumed over 30% of the overall power from the Chernobyl Power Plant, such was the amount of energy it required to emit its signal.

Amazingly, the radar consumed over 30% of the overall power from the Chernobyl Power Plant, such was the amount of energy it required to emit its signal.

The Radar was top secret, and the secret town of Chernobyl 2 was built for its workers, completely unknown to the outside world.

The Radar was top secret, and the secret town of Chernobyl 2 was built for its workers, completely unknown to the outside world.

The radar drove Western intelligence and radio enthusiasts mad because of the non-stop liud clicks it emitted - this is where the term "Russian Woodpecker" came from.

The radar drove Western intelligence and radio enthusiasts mad because of the non-stop liud clicks it emitted – this is where the term “Russian Woodpecker” came from.

The Radar Control Room - just like something out of a James Bond movie. A large digital map of the world would have covered the far wall

The Radar Control Room – just like something out of a James Bond movie. A large digital map of the world would have covered the far wall

Bizarre pictures portraying the USA as a brutal, authoritarian regime...Note to Self: Never trust a man in a Stetson

Bizarre pictures portraying the USA as a brutal, authoritarian regime…Note to Self: Never trust a man in a Stetson

American army intelligence - sourced from the hundreds of Soviet informants that lead secret lives in the USA during the Cold War.

American army intelligence – sourced from the hundreds of Soviet informants that lead secret lives in the USA during the Cold War.

The pride of the USSR - featuring the space programme and famous Soviets

The pride of the USSR – featuring the space programme and famous Soviets

An upturned piano in one of the Control Centre training rooms - perhaps they picked up Elton John on the radar

An upturned piano in one of the Control Centre training rooms – perhaps they picked up Elton John on the radar

This room was full of intelligence on the CIA, American army and NATO

This room was full of intelligence on the CIA, American army and NATO

In a training room, there is extremely detailed information about the CIA, US army and the Navy. This information was most likely sourced by the hundreds of Soviet informants in the USA at the time.

In a training room, there is extremely detailed information about the CIA, US army and the Navy. This information was most likely sourced by the hundreds of Soviet informants in the USA at the time.

As with everywhere else in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, nature is reconquering every nook and cranny.

As with everywhere else in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, nature is reconquering every nook and cranny.

A former Missile Tracking training room - next to the real Control Room.

A former Missile Tracking training room – next to the real Control Room.

A huge globe, portraying the distances the radar covers, is in the Radar Control Room.

A huge globe, portraying the distances the radar covers, is in the Radar Control Room.

Lets hope Ireland wasn't in the firing range!

Lets hope Ireland wasn’t in the firing range!

An abandoned office in the Control Centre of the Duga 3 Radar

An abandoned office in the Control Centre of the Duga 3 Radar

The area surrounding the radar is now devoid of human life. Wild hogs, deer and wolves stalk the once forbidden grounds.

The area surrounding the radar is now devoid of human life. Wild hogs, deer and wolves stalk the once forbidden grounds.

This littered, abandoned corridor run underneath the Radar, and would have been home to hundreds of engineers, army officers and radio operators.

This littered, abandoned corridor run underneath the Radar, and would have been home to hundreds of engineers, army officers and radio operators.

Blueprints scattered throughout the control centre give an idea of how much work was put into constructing the radar - and how hastily it was abandoned

Blueprints scattered throughout the control centre give an idea of how much work was put into constructing the radar – and how hastily it was abandoned

The abandoned Radar control centre was simply left as it was at the end of Soviet Rule. Mother Nature has begun to reclaim this concrete shell.

The abandoned Radar control centre was simply left as it was at the end of Soviet Rule. Mother Nature has begun to reclaim this concrete shell.

Some parts of the radar have already come down due to Mother Natures wind and ice.

Some parts of the radar have already come down due to Mother Natures wind and ice.

Today the radar is rusting away, and while it is quite stable, some parts of visibly worn, and over time parts of the radar have collapsed.

Today the radar is rusting away, and while it is quite stable, some parts of visibly worn, and over time parts of the radar have collapsed.

You can listen to how the Duga 3 radar sounded, many recordings are available on Youtube – any questions or comments, please let us know!

My visit to the Duga 3 Radar was part of a two day tour of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone with Ukrainian Web. To read more about my visit, with tour information, prices and what to see, please visit my Ultimate Chernobyl Guide .


I travelled to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone with Ukrainian Web. The owner, Yuri, was extremely helpful and managed to find me space on my preferred days of travel. Payment is in stages, with roughly half via Paypal beforehand and the rest on the day of the tour. Don’t worry, it’s fully legit!
A 2 day tour, including transport from Kiev, food and accommodation costs between €275 – €360 (depending on tour size and external factors). There is also a small visa-type charge upon entry to the exclusion zone. The tour features the ghost city of Pripyat, the Power Station itself, a visit to an elderly couple who returned to live in the zone and of course Duga-3.
Accommodation and food are basic, however the tour guides are brilliant and their English is perfect. Our guides parents actually lived in the city so you receive plenty of insider knowledge and they are happy to answer any questions.

Have you travelled to Chernobyl? Or do you wish to explore this haunted region someday in the future? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

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