Tag Archives: Automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast

Two years after MH370 there is a way for aviation enthusiasts to obtain location data from aircraft flying in remote areas

Amateur tracking software can monitor the signals sent by the aircraft to the Inmarsat network.

On Mar. 8, 2014, Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, a Boeing B777-200 aircraft (registration 9M-MRO), operating from Kuala Lumpur and Beijing, disappeared from radars about 40 minutes after take off from Kuala Lumpur.

The flight, carrying a total number of 239 passengers and crew members, was regularly transmitting ADS-B data until contact was lost over the Gulf of Thailand, when the wide body was cruising at 35,000 feet at 474 knots in reportedly good weather.

Between 1:19 and 1:20AM local time, the aircraft turned right, changing heading from 25 to 40 degrees.

The transponder stopped transmitting at 1:21AM LT.

According to the Malaysian authorities, there were subsequent primary radar returns to the west of the Malaysian peninsula, over the Strait of Malacca and then north-west. This is assumed to be a real return from MH370 even if based on primary radar echo.

For reasons we still don’t know the aircraft radio systems did not work while the plane flew westwards back towards Malaysia.

Even if information was incoherent and sometimes contradictory, we know for certain that military radars in both Malaysia and Thailand saw the plane.

MH370 route with initial search (credit: Wiki)

MH370 route with initial search (credit: Wiki)

SATCOM (a radio system that uses a constellation of satellites used to transmit voice, data or both)  system pings linked to the INMARSAT network continued for 7+ (last ping at 08:11 local) hrs after LOS (loss of signal).

A Ping is a quite common term for IT Networking. It refers to a utility used to test the reachability of a host on an IP network and measure the round-trip time (RTT) of the packets even if it is more frequently associated to the data messages themselves, or “pings”.

Similarly to what happens on a Local Area Network, satellites send pings (once an hour) to their receiving peers that respond to it thus signaling their network presence. Hence, these pings are no more than simple probes used to check the reachability of SATCOM systems aboard the planes.

Based on the round-trip times of such pings, two arcs made of all the possible positions located at the same distance from the INMARSAT satellite were drawn.

But further analysis on Doppler Effect, as well as correlation among the “signatures” of other B777s, clearly indicated that aircraft had followed a southbound route, towards the South Pole.

Whilst search efforts have not been able to find the wreckage of the Boeing 777, the mysterious disappearance of the MH370 flight highlighted the need for tracking aircraft flying over high seas or remote locations, where radar coverage does not exist (such as southern Indian Ocean where aircraft, ships and submarines from 26 nations, have searched for any debris).

Two years on from the loss of MH370 and six months after Inmarsat completed their initial trials of a free tracking network for commercial traffic across Autralasia and the Pacific region COAA’s team who develop PlanePlotter, an aircraft position plotting program that decodes the digital messages transmitted from aircraft to display their content and plot their position on a radar-like chart, have successfully completed their own trials to see if we can obtain location data from the Inmarsat fleet and then plot it on their own tracking system.

Here’s how they describe their recent developments:

“This had been on our minds for some time, but we didn’t have the decoding knowledge to fully understand the signals from the satellite fleet,” says John, from PlanePlotter support.

“In stepped “Jonti” from New Zealand, who co-incidentally had been decoding the L band signals in the Aero band from Inmarsat. Those signals did not contain location data as the ACARS style messages at L band are from the earth stations, up to the satellite and “down” to the aircraft.

Thinking back to the days when we monitored the Inmarsat analogue phone circuits we realised that to get both sides of the “conversation” we needed to monitor both L band [ 1.5 ghz ] …and C [3.5 ghz] band. With Jonti’s help we set about some trials.

Inmarsat uses 8m dishes to monitor the tracking signals, we only had 1.8m and 2.4m dishes, but with Jonti’s guidance we managed to get good signals with just 1.8m antenna.

Jonti identified the short bursts of data which looked like they were from the a/c and after some stirling work he produced a version of his software JAERO, which decoded the bursts. Sure enough, in the data down from the aircraft was information akin to that which is contained in ADS-B signals. Using that and satellite dishes in Europe, America and Australasia we can now locate aircraft from the US
eastern seaboard into Asia and across the Pacific, via five different satellites.”

PlanePlotter are in the middle of further tests and have recently rolled out a new version of their software which, for their satellite ground stations, will provide full information, from location, heading etc. to outside air temperature: in fact, everything you would expect from ADS-B data.

“For our sharers it will show the usual ADS-B style information and plot sat comms equipped Oceanic traffic in real-time. Whilst we are not seeing reports from aircraft on a 15 minute basis yet, presumably as more airlines comply the reports will become more regular,” says John.

“Over the next few weeks more of our satellite ground stations will come online providing real-time coverage for tracking enthusiasts. The Inmarsat data, combined with ACARS, live PiReps and ADS-B will provide seamless global tracking.”

PlanePlotter global coverage

PlanePlotter global coverage


Top image credit: Laurent Errera (Wiki)

All the articles about MH370 can be read here (scroll down).

 

Job done! Russia’s most advanced spyplane is returning home after deployment in Syria

The Tu-214R is currently returning to Russia after a 14-day deployment to Syria.

The Russian Air Force Tu-214R ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) aircraft that was deployed to Syria on Feb. 15 is seemingly returning home.

The aircraft could be tracked online on Flightradar24 thanks to the signals of its ADS-B transponder as it flew from Hmeymim airbase, near Latakia, over the southern Syrian airspace, then into Iraq: the aircraft is likely following the eastern corridor that overflies Iran and the Caspian Sea, and it is possibly returning to Kazan, where KAPO (Kazan Aircraft Production Association), the Russian company that builds the plane.

So, the aircraft has eventually completed its first tour of duty in Syria using its wide array of radar systems and electro optical sensors to map the position of the enemy forces or intercept the signals emitted by the enemy systems (radars, aircraft, radios, combat vehicles, mobile phones etc).

Most probably, among the weapons systems of interest there were also F-22 Raptors performing “kinetic situational awareness” tasks over Syria: the Tu-214R alongside the Il-20 Coot and other ground-based radars might have collected intelligence data needed to “characterize” the F-22’s signature at specific wavelengths.

Actually, there is someone who suggests the aircraft was withdrawn due to complications concerning its logistical maintenance requirements that forward away from Russia…

Image credit: Flightradar24.com

 

Russia has just deployed its most advanced spyplane to Syria

A Russian Air Force Tu-214R is about to land at Latakia, Syria.

The Tu-214R is a Russian ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) aircraft. In other words, a quite advanced spyplane.

As we have already explained here in the past, it is a special mission aircraft equipped with all-weather radar systems and electro optical sensors that produce photo-like imagery of a large parts of the ground: these images are then used to identify and map the position of the enemy forces, even if these are camouflaged or hidden.

The aircraft is known to carry sensor packages to perform ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) and SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) missions: the antennae of the Tu-214R can intercept the signals emitted by the enemy systems (radars, aircraft, radios, combat vehicles, mobile phones etc) so as it can build the EOB (Electronic Order of Battle) of the enemy forces: where the enemy forces are operating, what kind of equipment they are using and, by eavesdropping into their radio/phone communications, what they are doing and what will be their next move.

The aircraft is built by KAPO (Kazan Aircraft Production Association) and flown from the company’s airfield in Kazan.

On Feb. 15, the Tu-214R registered RA-64514, serial number 42305014, the second of the two examples of this kind of aircraft built under contract with Russia’s Ministry of Defense, flew from Kazan to Latakia airbase, Syria.

LX9203

Image credit: Flightradar24.com

With its ADS-B transponder signals broadcast in the clear and detected by Flightradar24 collecting stations, the aircraft could be tracked as it followed the eastern corridor from Russia, to the Caspian Sea and then to Syria via the Iranian and Iraqi airspaces. It’s not clear whether the aircraft has already been delivered to the Russian Air Force, even though it is quite weird that a developmental aircraft is deployed abroad (unless the reason is testing it at war in a real scenario…).

While it was still under development, the same Tu-214R aircraft flew what appeared to be an operative mission on Jun. 18, 2015, when it flew from Kazan to Crimea and back, closely following the border between Russia and Ukraine, most probably testing some of its sensors against real targets.

Previously, the aircraft was spotted flying near Crimea.Interestingly, while over the Caspian Sea, approaching the Iranian airspace, the Tu-214R performed a couple of 360° turns at 33.000 feet (weird, while enroute): maybe it was working on the diplomatic clearence to enter Iran?

 

Image credit: Rimma Sadykova/Wiki

 

Online flight tracking exposes FBI Aerial Surveillance over San Bernardino Mosque after Terrorist Attack

FBI aircraft have been particularly active over San Bernardino, California, during and after the mass shooting.

As already highlighted on Twitter, several assets, including FBI planes and media helicopters, could be tracked online on Dec. 2, during the San Bernardino terrorist attack.

Interestingly, the following days, the FBI conducted aerial surveillance in the vicinity of the Dar Al Uloom Al Islamiyah-Amer mosque in San Bernardino.

The activity was conducted by an aircraft registered to PXW Services (a fake company established by the FBI), that loitered for 4 hours near the mosque on Dec. 3. Similar surveillance missions were conducted the next day, including a flight by another FBI aircraft with registration number N404KR.

The mosque was visited regularly by one of the attackers, Sayed Farook, and is approximately 5 miles away from the initial attack site at the Inland Regional Center.

You can view an animation of the surveillance flight (based on FlightRadar24 data) prepared by The Aviationist’s contributor Eric Rosenwald here:

Many thanks to Eric Rosenwald for contributing to this post.

Here’s how the Russian Air Force moved 28 aircraft to Syria (almost) undetected

It’s not easy to move 28 aircraft and keep the deployment confidential.

Satellite imagery released in the last couple of days has exposed the presence of 28 Russian aircraft at al-Assad airfield, near Latakia, in western Syria.

The photographs taken from space gave us the possibility to identify the combat planes as 4x Su-30SMs, 12x Su-25s (based on their color scheme, these are Su-25SMs belonging to the 368th Assault Aviation Regiment from Budyonnovsk) and 12 Su-24M2s along with about a dozen helicopters, including 10 Mi-24PN, Mi-35M and a couple of Mi-8AMTSh choppers, from the 387th Army Aviation Air Base Budyonnovsk.

One of our sources with IMINT Imagery Intel experience, who has had access to the imagery in the public domain, noticed something interesting on one of the Su-30SM: the first on the left (the one closer to the runway threshold) should be equipped with a KNIRTI SPS-171 / L005S Sorbtsiya-S mid/high band defensive jammer (ECM) at the wing tips. To be honest this is almost impossible to verify unless more high-resolution images become available.

Whilst satellite shots provided much details about the deployed assets, they obviously didn’t help answer the basic question: how did they manage to reach Syria undetected?

According to one source close who wishes to remain anonymous, the Russian combat planes have probably deployed to Latakia trailing the cargo planes that were tracked flying to Syria and back on Flightradar24.com, something that other analysts have also suggested.

There is someone who believes that during their ferry flight, some if not all the formation (each made of a cargo plane and four accompanying fast jets), may have made a stopover in Iran before flying the last leg to Latakia. This would also explain why some Il-76s (with an endurance that would allow a non-stop fly from Russia to Latakia) were observed stopping at Hamadan on Sept. 18-19, just before the Sukhois started appearing on the tarmac at Latakia.

Also interesting is the activity of several Israeli aircraft, including a G550 “Nachshon Aitam,” a sort of mini-AWACS equipped with 2 L-band antennas, on both sides of the fuselage, and 2 S-band antennas, on the nose and tail of the aircraft.

The G550, a so-called CAEW (Conformal Airborne Early Warning) asset, flew a mission over the eastern Mediterranean Sea off Lebanon on Sept. 20 (and could be tracked online on Flightradar24.com…).  Just a coincidence?

IAF-G550-961-2015-09-20_09_27

Top image credit: Sergey Kustov via Wiki. Bottom image credit: Flightradar24.com