A country capable of creating the “Kolchuga” can look into the future with confidence

After the loud “promotion” by the U.S. Department of State, the Ukrainian “Kolchuga” radar was noticed in Ukraine, at last. The team of designers with the Topaz state holding, who developed this sophisticated hi-tech equipment, has been nominated for the State Science and Engineering Prize.

Vladimir Gorbulin, a member of the National Science Academy and a well-known statesman, shares his views on the scientific and technological achievements of the Ukrainian researchers in developing the new-generation strategic radar complex “Kolchuga” [Rus. for “hauberk”], and the developments around it.

It should be noted that unlike most Ukrainian politicians or high-ranking officials, who normally only come up with comments in response to some problem, Gorbulin ventures to highlight the attainments and prospects of one of Ukraine’s hi-tech sectors. He admits that there are still very many problems to solve, but insists that “optimistic sprouts” need to be noticed and supported, because Ukraine’s future in the global division of labor in the third millennium depends on how deep such sprouts are rooted in the national soil.

I am convinced that there are only three factors that give Ukraine a chance to become competitive in the globalized world of the 21st century. Number one is the still-available capacity for developing and manufacturing sophisticated and science-intensive commodities. Number two is the world’s largest area of fertile black soil, the importance of which is likely to grow vis-a-vis the growing population on the planet. And number three is Ukraine’s advantageous economic and geographical location at the intersection of basic Eurasian transport corridors.

Regrettably, the second and third factors, which Ukraine, like most modern nations, inherited from previous generations, are static. Their influence tends to reduce considerably and inevitably under continual pressure from so-called dynamic factors of nations’ competitiveness, i.e. factors created by nations in the process of production expansion. One of these dynamic factors is a nation’s ability to develop and produce sophisticated and science-intensive commodities. And the fact that the lion’s share of business activity in Ukraine involves commodities with low time and labor consumption, non-renewable resources, and simpler processing and transportation infrastructures, should leave no illusions about the rather bleak prospects for such businesses in the 21st century.

It is only an innovative form of development, directed at creating advanced science-intensive industries, that can give Ukraine a long-term competitive advantages. One of the State’s instruments for encouraging researchers’ and designers’ innovative efforts is the practice of awarding annual state prizes for scientific achievements.

Regrettably enough, industrial engineers, researchers, and designers of defense products seldom win such prizes. This is explained by the high costs of research, development, and manufacture in the defense industry, which the young Ukrainian state can not afford yet. At the same time, as international experience shows, this branch is not only a guarantee of national security, but also a kind of “locomotive” for the civilian branches of economy. One of the subjective reasons, to a certain extent, is the fact that representatives of the defense industry tend to conceal their achievements, which sometimes only become known to the general public for political considerations. Information about new weapons and their technical capacities is disclosed only when it appears expedient in terms of psychological influence on personnel or potential enemies.

The new-generation strategic long-range passive radar complex “Kolchuga” meets the most stringent moral-ethical and environmental standards as absolutely harmless to people or the environment. It is unique because, firstly, all research, development, pre-process, and serial production works were performed by the Topaz holding, and funded through Ukrspetsexport investment and Prominvestbank credits; secondly, the high technological level of the Ukrainian radar was asserted de facto by the most developed and powerful country, the trendsetter in the military sphere.

What Scared the Americans So?

The Americans must have been indignant over the alleged breach of UN sanctions against Iraq by Ukraine. But there is another feasible explanation, and it lies in the uniqueness of the Ukrainian radar complex.

The Ukrainian scientific, engineering, and design solutions in the field of passive radiolocation, embodied in the Kolchuga complex, are what is eating U.S. designers and government functionaries, who are responsible for stealth technologies in modern armaments. Such technologies are meant to fulfill every general’s dream: to make his aircraft, ships, tanks, and other hardware invisible to enemies. The geometrical shape may be changed (like in the F-117 or B-2) to disperse a reflected signal from active radars, or there may be various wave-absorbing coatings to transform active signals into heat energy. But no modern military aircraft, tank, or ship can exist without its own radar. Without a radiating aerial it is simply “blind”. That is why every aircraft, ship, and ground-based radar complex has active radiolocation devices. These devices are always on, emitting radio signals. Each specific type of hardware emits signals within different parameters. Consequently, a machine on which an emitting radar is mounted can be identified.

As a rule, there is a very long and sometimes impassable distance between an abstract formulation of some technical feasibility and its “embodiment” in metal. This distance was covered by the Special Radio Device Design Bureau public holding, the Topaz holding, the Donetsk National Technical University, the Ukrspetsexport state company, and the Investment and Technologies Company. It took them eight years (1993 – 2000) to conduct research, develop algorithms, test solutions on experimental specimens, and launch serial production. The new product dramatically changed the balance in the constant competition between offensive and defensive means. The relatively cheap Ukrainian Kolchuga radar station, which is able to detect and identify practically all known active radio devices mounted on ground, airborne, or marine objects, actually cancels out all those billions of dollars spent on stealth-based armaments.

The operation in Iraq in 1991, when the U.S.A. first used new F-117 stealth fighters, seemed to have named the winner in the battle between air offense and air defense. Not a single (!) F-117 was even damaged in 1,272 sorties. The U.S. fighters destroyed about 40 percent of prime ground targets in areas with a high concentration of Iraqi air defenses. Notably, the U.S.A.F. owed much of its success in the offensive operations to neutralizing, rather than overcoming, the enemy air defense. First, active radars were detected (an easy task, considering their powerful radiation), and then destroyed by various means. In other words, the Iraqi air defense systems were built on the principle of active radiolocation only, so the best they could do was warn of an air raid, because the attacking side destroyed them within a couple hours.

And when the newly independent Ukraine that had only just survived a severe economic crisis, developed an advanced passive radiolocation complex, it was a severe blow to the Americans, who were so sure of their domination in the air thanks to their stealth planes. On the one hand, the advantages of the attacker’s “invisibility” were reduced to zero. On the other, passive radiolocation, i.e., the absence of the radar’s own radiation, radically reduced the disadvantage of insufficient secrecy. Besides, an attacking object detected by a passive radar is never aware of its detection and so has no reasons to activate its own defenses. It means that the most important advantage is now in the hands of the air defense, especially considering the impression produced on experts by the latest Kolchuga modification.

- A complex consisting of three Kolchuga radar stations makes it possible to spot ground and surface targets and trace their movement within a radius of 600 km (air targets at the 10 km altitude – up to 800 km), which makes an effective early warning air defense system;

- The Kolchuga station is equipped with five meter-, decimeter-, and centimeter-range aerials, which provide for high radio sensitivity within a 110dB/W – 155 dB/W swath, depending on the frequency;

- A parallel 36-channel preset receiver makes it possible to spot instantly, identify, and classify signals from any source with unlimited input density within the entire frequency range from 130MHz to 18,000MHz;

- All radio objects are spotted and identified automatically, a powerful computer digitizing and identifying targets by comparing their parameters with the available databank, results being shown on a field display;

- Special inhibitory sorters omit up to 24 interfering signals, and tracking sorters make it possible to synchronously sort out and track signals from 32 targets;

- All normal operations require only one operator (two other operators work on a shift basis for 24-hour duty), who controls the station through dialog with a PC.

Since the whole U.S. non-nuclear military power hinges on stealth technologies, the prospect of worldwide proliferation of the unique Ukrainian radar systems definitely runs counter to U.S. interests. They were first demonstrated at the SOFEX-2000 arms expo in Jordan. That is, probably, why such close interest, especially from the United States, catalyzed the notorious “Kolchuga scandal”.

Competitors Lagging Far Behind

Such a promising trend as passive radiolocation is certainly of great interest to highly developed countries. But the Ukrainian Kolchuga radar, with all its technical and operational characteristics taken together, has no analogs anywhere in the world. And in its basic parameters it surpasses all known means of the same or similar purpose.

The 800-km detection range has been achieved only by the Ukrainian Kolchuga. The best the U.S. AWACS can do is 600 km, while the ground-based complexes Vera (Czech Republic) and Vega (Russia) can reach out up to 400 km – half what the Ukrainian complex can reach. The Kolchuga’s lower limit of the working frequency range is 130MHz and is the lowest of all analogs. For the AWACS it is 2,000 MHz, for the Vera it is 850MHz, for the Vega it is 200MHz.

But where the Kolchuga has the greatest advantages is its ability to identify accurately radio objects thanks to unique algorithms and hi-tech equipment. In particular, the mean square deviation in frequency measurement – the most informative parameters for identifying types of spotted radio objects – is 0.4MHz in the Kolchuga. It is 0.5MHz – 1.0MHz in the Russian Vega, 1.0MHz in the U.S. AWACS, and as much as 3.6MHz – 21.0MHz in the Czech Vera. The maximal duration of detected impulses, measured by the Kolchuga, is 999.0 microseconds, versus 99.9 microseconds for the AWACS and 200 microseconds for the Vera. And the impulse repetition period can be measured by the Kolchuga up to the maximum of 79,999 microseconds, while no analogs can perform such measurements longer than 10,000 microseconds. As a result, the number of detected radio objects that the Kolchuga can classify is practically unlimited, which can not be said about any known analogs. The Ukrainian station has advanced algorithms and software programs for analyzing, systematizing, generalizing, and storing information about all radio objects and parameters of their signals. And the data already collected in the database can be used to identify newly detected radio objects and can be correlated with data obtained from other reconnaissance sources.

It should be noted that the Kolchuga’s undeniable advantages are not accidental or temporary. The Ukrainian product is head and shoulders above all American, Russian, French, Czech, or Brazilian developments in this field. But those who developed and made this unique product aren’t resting on their laurels. They continue to work.

Several contracts for exporting Kolchuga complexes have been fulfilled, but that is well below the export potential of this product, which already has numerous prospective buyers.

National Hi-Tech Complex: Positive Trends

The fact that Ukraine, for the first time since independence in 1991, has entered the world market of hi-tech radio electronics with its own serially manufactured product, which has no analogs, testifies dramatically to positive trends in the development of the national hi-tech industrial sector.

Among the domestic factors that have facilitated this symptomatic breakthrough we should note close cooperation between the Topaz holding and Ukrainian researchers, the Donetsk National Technical University in particular. The company’s substantial material support to the university did not only stimulate theoretical research in the field of passive radiolocation and data visualization systems, but also facilitated training of highly qualified technicians for Topaz and the Special Radio Device Design Bureau. The latter is incorporated in the holding and, unlike most Ukrainian research institutions, which have lost their qualified personnel and only make ends meet by leasing their premises, it has beefed up its personnel fourfold since 1996. The scientific school has not only been preserved, but has expanded the field of its applications.

Thus, we can see that Ukrspetsexport’s investment and Prominvestbank’s credits were sown in a fertile field and their managers proved to be farsighted. So the researchers, supported organizationally and motivated materially, did their best and produced commendable results.

In the course of long, painstaking, and persistent work on developing the Kolchuga complex and launching its serial production, a great number of unprecedented technical solutions were found. Hi-tech process lines were developed for manufacturing components for high-frequency and microwave electronics, mirror aerials, and other products, which determined the superb characteristics of the unique radar complex. Eight technical solutions to the design and twelve know-how innovations in the manufacture were patented.

Thanks to the stable demand for Kolchuga radar complexes in external markets, Topaz has not only retained its skilled workforce, but also has been able to reinvest in new research and development projects. Aware of their leading position in the field of passive radiolocation, the Donetsk specialists have embarked on improving the Mandat jamming complex, their basic Soviet-era product. Their new brainchild is expected to surpass all existing analogs.

Topaz also repairs and modernizes other types of passive radar equipment used by the Ukrainian Armed Forces, thus reducing budget spending. This scientific and engineering breakthrough has not only built a solid financial basis for further research, but has also contributed to the country’s defense potential.

It is symptomatic that the Donetsk tandem of industrial enterprise and the design bureau, with financial support from the state-run export company and the Ukrainian bank, has become a sort of “growth center” in radio-electronic and related sectors.

The global manufacture of science-intensive products is based on 50 macro-technologies. Seven most developed countries that possess 46 macro-technologies control about 80% of the highly profitable market of science-intensive products. Labor inputs have a considerable specific weight in the cost of such products, which certainly has a positive effect on living standards in these countries.

The fact that Ukrainian researchers, designers, and engineers have been able to enter the global hi-tech market with their product, which is superior to all foreign analogs, inspires optimism about Ukraine’s future place in the international division of labor. No successful market transformations, unless backed by technological breakthroughs, can result in what is called an economic miracle. And the Kolchuga proves that after a long drift in the rough seas of economic cataclysms, the Ukrainian scientific and engineering potential has begun to materialize in highly competitive products and yield tangible economic profits.

So it is quite logical to reward the pioneers on this thorny path, who have not only been able to preserve the scientific school and technological potential in the hardest economic crisis, but have also produced the world-famous Kolchuga radar complex.

Volodymyr HORBULIN