Sunday, September 3, 2017

A Simple Tutorial on the What and How of Understanding a Message on HFGCS.

I've been noticing a huge increase in traffic to this blog since the Nork Nuke Test, so I thought an update is needed. Sorry I don't update more often but I make very little from here and am focused on projects that keep food on me table (barely).

Firstly, if you're new to this, learn the NATO Phonetic Alphabet.

Why? It will be easier to understand what is going on. "Alpha" means A on a radio. Because of static, if people used ABCD it could be really easy to mistake C for E or D, or M for N, or S for F. Now, if you use a known phonetic word that begins with the required letter needing to be said and when said is very different from any other phonetic, it's easy to know Foxtrot means F and Sierra means S.

Good start? Golf Romeo Echo Alpha Tango! If you just read that as "GREAT!" you now understand Phonetic Alphabets!

So let's understand the typical messages we will hear on HFGCS.

There's basically 5 parts to any message. Preamble, message, time stamp, authenticator, and sender.

Preamble. This is the part of the message that contains the needed information for the intended recipient to know it is for them.

Message. This is the information the recipient needs from the sender. An "Order of the Day," if you will.

Time stamp. This part is the minutes of the hour anywhere in the world (save for those weird time zones off by a half hour in Canada and North Korea). Consider this part fixed to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), or Universal Coordinated Time (UTC). In the U.S. Military, this is known as "Zulu" time.

Authenticator. A two alphanumeric phrase that verifies the message is true and real from the sender to the recipient that can be verified by the recipient's code book.

Sender. Who is sending the message. This can be either a fixed station such as Andrews Air Force Base or Offutt Air Force Base (as examples), or a Call Sign Station such as "Operator" or "Economic" (also examples). The latter Call Sign Stations could be anything from a fixed base such as Andrews using the Call Sign for a specific mission, or an Aircraft assigned to a mission.

Alright. Let's breakdown a common call. For the sake of saving time, the Phonetic Alphabet is translated into its intended letters.

Let's say we hear: "All Stations, All Stations. This is Andrews, break. SJ7UK, SJ7UK, message follows. SJ7UKKJHNY6T44T. Time: Zero Four, Authentication WN. This is Andrews out." (this will be repeated once more). This is a fictional call.

To break it down:

The Preamble is "All Stations, All Stations. This is (Joint Base) Andrews, break ("break" = pause in transmission). SJ7UK, SJ7UK, message follows." This means "All stations, I have a message for SJ7UKT, please allow me to send it without interruption unless you have priority or urgent traffic."

The message is "SJ7UKKJHNY6T44T." This is the code/message sent to the intended receiver. Notice the first 5 alphanumerics are the same as the intended receiver.

Time. This is the minutes of the hour of the broadcast (in UTC time).

Authentication. Two Alphanumerics. The code book of the recipient will verify this is the correct authentication for the message.

Sender. This is who is sending the message to the asset. They will identify themselves.

So let's say we hear, "Skyking, Skyking, do not answer: Golf Cart. Time: Two Six, Authentication WW. This is Mandrake, out." (This is a fictional example.)

What do we make of this?

Preamble: "Skyking, Skyking, do not answer." This means, "I have a priority message to a unit (aircraft) that should not acknowledge or it will give away its position. Other stations, please do not interrupt this urgent call unless you have Emergency Traffic."

The message: "Golf Cart." This directs the aircraft to do something VERY specific through a pre-determined "Go Word."

The Authentication, Time and Sender are the same as above.

I hope this little tutorial is helpful.

If this has helped you to understand what's going on a little better and made you appreciative and you can spare it, I'd be grateful if you can afford to hit that little button to the right at the top  \and donate a buck or two.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Some Updated Info On Skyking Traffic Meanings

Sorry I haven't updated in a bit. I've been devoting my time to some personal matters.

I have been given information that affirms some speculation and dismisses some others about Skyking traffic. One source was a video (see below) and another was from a message I received from someone a little more familiar with the subject than I.

HFGCS typically transmits two types of messages: "All Stations" and "Skyking." A third message is possible but rarely (if ever) heard. (There are the occasional oddball calls where someone has the radio patched into a telephone to make a call home, radio checks and other such things but not relevant to what we listen for.)

The interesting thing I have learned is "Skyking" is not a singular entity or some Doomsday Plane command craft like many (including myself) have speculated. Skyking is a message priority.

Skyking means, "This is urgent traffic."

Alright, so we hear a message like this: "All stations, all stations, this is Andrews, standby. NV6YI, NV6YI, NV6YIH6D9TTSA3B. Time: 34, Authentication: FY. I say again: NV6YI, NV6YI, NV6YIH6D9TTSA3B. Time: 34, Authentication: FY. This is Andrews out."

It basically means: "Attention all receivers listening, I am Andrews Air Force Base and I have traffic for (a certain unit, usually a 5 character code repeated twice). Please stand by and not broadcast while I send my message (to certain unit) unless you have urgent traffic. (Certain unit), (coded message for that unit). The time is (minutes in the hour), this message is authenticated that this is me by the two-digit code that will match yours."

This is routine traffic for HFGCS. Normal broadcasting for this station. Could be a lunch menu, could be a message that some guy's wife left him while he was stationed in Guam. Who knows.

Now, if we hear something like: "Skyking, Skyking, do not answer. NV6YI, NV6YI, NV6YIH6D9TTSA3B. Time: 34, Authentication: FY. I say again: Skyking, Skyking, do not answer. NV6YI, NV6YI, NV6YIH6D9TTSA3B. Time: 34, Authentication: FY. This is Andrews out."

It means: "Attention all receivers listening, I have URGENT traffic for (a certain unit, usually a 5 character code repeated twice) and (certain unit) should not respond as it will give away their position. Please stand by and not broadcast while I send my URGENT message (to certain unit) unless you have EMERGENCY traffic. (Certain unit), (coded message for that unit). The time is (minutes in the hour), this message is authenticated that this is me by the two-digit code that will match yours."

Skyking just means whomever the message is intended for should get it quickly.

This video should educate you a bit on that. (Start at 58:40 if it doesn't start there.)

So, what's the third type of message?

It's a "Flash" broadcast. Absolute emergency. America is under a Pearl Harbor like-attack broadcast or very serious emergency.

It's called a "Foxtrot Flash" message. As far as anyone I have talked with knows, one has never been transmitted, not even on 9/11.

Based on regular and Skyking traffic on HFGCS, the message would likely start with "Foxtrot, Foxtrot" or "Foxtrot Flash, Foxtrot Flash" or something very similar. What would follow would probably a passphrase or a brief alphanumeric character set.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

List of Known Transmitting Stations on the SKYKING Channel.

SKYKING is not the name of the transmitting station, it is the generic name for the broadcasts heard on 8992 and 11175 kHz USB. In fact, many transmissions aren't even directed at SKYKING. Many are directed at stations assigned alpha-numeric codes, usually 5 or 6 letters & numbers long (Four Whiskey Foxtrot Niner Kilo or something to that effect).

NATO (The North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and US Military (among others) use a phonetic alphabet when they say letters over a radio channel. It makes it easier to understand the letter being said through static by saying a word, distinct from anything else, that begins with the letter being transmitted.

To say "A," a military user (and in many cases, law enforcement) would say "Alpha." It's unmistakable to the recipient -even with heavy static- that "Alpha" was sent. "A."

The most common phonetic alphabet in the English and European world is the NATO Standard.

Transmissions come from two distinct sources on SKYKING; base names and code names.

Known Bases:

  1. Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. HQ to the American Air Force's nuclear arm. A commonly heard broadcaster, typically sends messages to SKYKING. "Offutt out" at the end of transmission.
  2. Andrews Air Force Base (Joint Tactical Base) in Maryland, not far from D.C. and home to Air Force One. Typical messages are sent to SKYKING, (also leaning the theory of SKYKING being TACMO elements further). "Andrews out" at end of transmission. 
  3. Edwards Air Force Base in California (near Rosamond). Uncommon transmitter. "Edwards out." 
  4. Reykjavik. This is a NATO base not commonly used since the Cold War. It has, however, been very frequent in broadcast in the last week as of the time this blog has been posted. "Reykjavik out." 
Code names. Unsure if these are bases, stations or vehicles (aircraft) transmitting:

  1. MAINSAIL: Common transmitter. Typically sends the messages to SKYKING specifically. Many of the longer codes heard in the last year have been sent through MAINSAIL. "MAINSAIL out." 
  2. TOY SHOP. Uncommon. Heard in the late 1990s and began transmitting again in the early 2010s. Typically a weak signal through WebSDR, suggesting it is West Coast in America or possibly in Japan or in the Southern Hemisphere (Diego Garcia?) "TOY SHOP out." 
  3. FUZEBOX. Again, a code name not heard in many years that is recently transmitting again, but some speculate it is NORAD's Cheyenne Mountain Complex which has recently been re-activated to active duty (2014) instead of reserve. Signal quality on WebSDR would suggest either a very powerful transmitter or something on America's East Coast (Mount Weather?) as opposed to Central North America. "FUXEBOX out." 
  4. COLLAPSE. A rather ominous code name that began transmitting again when Russia started supporting Assad in Syria and a code name that has not been heard in many years. COLLAPSE has a signal strength similar to FUSEBOX when listened to on WebSDR.  Female voices have been heard on this callsign on several occasions in recent days along with male voices."COLLAPSE out."
  5. FLAT TOP. I cannot find any sources on this name being used before. Since SKYKING is an USAF channel, it is unlikely FLAT TOP means an Aircraft Carrier, but rather is an ode to the flat top haircut common to the military in the 50s-90s. "FLAT TOP out." 
I'm sure I am forgetting bases and code names, but I'm starting the list here.

Sigmira: A Fully Featured and Advanced SDRadio (and Free!)

Sigmira is my personal go-to SDR. Much like Twente's WebSDR described in the first post here, it is an SDR, but you download it (Windows is supported, and an unsupported Linux version exists) and your computer becomes the station instead of using the Twente website.

PLEASE NOTE: I am in no way affiliated with Sigmira nor do I receive any compensation for my review of this program. As with any software, use it at your own risk. I have never had an issue with it and I know of no one who has, but I am not liable if any harm comes to your system with its usage.
Using 2 monitors. 

Sigmira gives you some significant advantages over WebSDR.
  1. There are many antennas people have set up to allow you to log onto. You can choose an antenna closer to the broadcaster you wish to listen to whereas Twente's antenna is fixed to the Netherlands. This means if you locate an online antenna closer to, say, America when you want to listen to SKYKING, you can do so and the signal should be better. Sigmira antennas are all over Europe, North America and Central Asia. 
  2. There are several more modes of reception not found on WebSDR. It will demodulate several rare and specific modes such as SITOR-B and NFM. 
  3. It displays local and UTC times. 
  4. For those that wish to get into more technical aspects of SDRadios, there's phase array controls and other aspects of fine-tuning the signal not found on WebSDR. 
  5. The Waterfall, and this is just opinion, is much more sensitive and detailed.
  6. The Squelch Control is MUCH better than WebSDR's. You can manually adjust it until it's where you want it.
Some disadvantages.
  1. It is far more complex than WebSDR's site. Straight-forward band and mode selection is easy enough, but novice users may have issues with logging onto antennas or using the advanced features. 
  2. Recording transmissions is also not as straight forward. At this time, I find using another program (for me, VLC) is the easiest way to record a broadcast. 
  3. Many online antennas have an automatic time limit, usually an hour to 2 hours. While it is generous of those with SDR receivers to allow us to consume some of their bandwidth for free, time limits may be problematic for those who want to listen to a station for longer. You can typically log back on right after your session has ended with no problems. 
  4. There is no chat box. Not a serious issue, but WebSDR's chat box does allow you to know what others are hearing and gives you a chance to tune in. There is an IRC chatroom out there that works the same way, however. (I'll update this when I find it again,) 
The Sigmira website has a .pdf instruction manual you should download and read first if you are considering using this more advanced program. This will help you to understand Sigmira's more complicated systems and help you decide if you wish to download it or just stick with WebSDR. For the novice just looking to amuse themselves from time-to-time with SKYKING or other transmissions, WebSDR is probably all you need. For those who are curious to explore more, Sigmira might be a new and interesting option. 

If anyone has questions about Sigmira or anything on my blog here, feel free to ask. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

SKYKING, SKYKING, DO NOT ANSWER. Here's some answers.

You're surfing SDRadio and you tune pass 8992 kHz or 11175 kHz in USB and suddenly you hear:


A series of phonetic letters and numbers follow in some ominous leftover from the Cold War. Spooky.

So what the heck is it? 

To be honest, most of what we know about SKYKING messages is limited and most conversation about SKYKING is just speculation.

We'll start with what we do know.
  1. SKYKING is operated by the United States Military. Some of the messages are transmitted from Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska (the ones that end in "Offutt Out"). This is the headquarters of U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) which is charged with space operations (such as military satellites), information operations (such as information warfare), missile defense, global command and control, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR), global strike and strategic deterrence (the United States nuclear arsenal), and combating weapons of mass destruction.
  2. SKYKING messages have been transmitted since at least the early 1980s. 
  3. During times of tensions, or unusual behavior by Russia, China or North Korea, SKYKING messages broadcast more often. In March of 2015, Russia launched surprise military exercises near the borders of Finland and Norway (the latter of which is a NATO Member). When this happened, a SKYKING message lasting 34 minutes was broadcast. Unprecedented by most previous transmitted messages, and, as of the date of this post, none have been nearly that long. 
You can listen to that SKYKING message here. It is long.

And that's about all we really know. The rest is speculation.

(Please see updated information HERE)

Speculation that is probable. 

Based on publicly available and common information, "solid guesses" are listed here.

  1. The transmitted codes are likely One Time Cipher Pads. This is a set if codebooks held only by the transmitter and recipient of the message and they have the only two copies of the codes and know which letters and numbers mean what. Once it is used, it is never reused. 
  2. That means it's nearly impossible to crack the transmission's meaning. Simple fact: the US Military would not broadcast it on something you and I could pick up if they though their code could be compromised. We cannot decipher these SKYKING messages. Don't try. 
  3. SKYKING messages are probably sent to nuclear elements of USSTRATCOM and maybe intelligence units. Most of the messages are probably benign; "Nothing new, all is well." Occasionally, it can be assumed a "Something odd is happening in Russia, we will let you know if it gets worse," message is sent. 
  4. Most likely, since SKYKING messages seem to be part of the Air Force, some of these messages are directed at TACAMO (TAke Charge And Move Out) stations or aircraft. It is still common practice of the US Government to maintain a National Command Authority Chain of Succession and Command should a terrible event strike the US Government. An important redundancy for a nation as powerful as the US. 
  5. You won't crack the cipher. Seriously, no you won't. 
  6. Longer messages probably mean something. What the "something" is, I'm not sure. Maybe it's "I'm on R&R this week so you will hear a different voice but it's authentic," or "China has a new aircraft circling the South China Sea and Japan is worried. Pick up its radar signature." We'll never know.
Speculation that we have no idea if it's true or not.

  1. The amount of times "SKYKING, SKYKING DO NOT ANSWER" is repeated correlates to the urgency of the messages. Or, for that matter, how many times the Authentication Code is sent. This could be arbitrary or it could be a warning to anyone messing with NATO. The One Time Cipher would solve that question but we don't have it. 
  2. We're not going to crack the cipher. 
  3. SKYKING is a Boeing E-6 Mercury "Looking Glass" NCA circling somewhere over America ready to TACMO in the event of a nuclear strike. It would make sense, but it can't be proven.

Things you need to know to listen for SKYKING.

  1. You will occasionally hear "Pac-Man" and "farting" sounds on 8992. This is an Australian Over-the-Horizon-Radar making a sweep (Known as JORN). That's it. It bounces off the ionosphere and somehow makes it to Europe. 
  2. French language voices. They show up on 8992. It's the French Navy chatting close to the WebSDR antenna. 
  3. Oddball English language transmissions. They might be SKYKING listening stations checking their equipment. You won't know their identities and if they are calling, they're certainly gone from their position after they check in.
  4. You won't crack the SKYKING messages.Don't dream you can.
  5. It will take hours if not days to hear a SKYKING call. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

WELCOME. This is the VERY basic tutorial to WebSDR.

Q: First, what is SDR?

A: Software Defined Radio. You are basically using the site to tune in radio stations as if it were your car radio. Most SDR sites are limited to a specific number of users. (More on that in a bit.) Depending on where their antenna is located, it will effect the quality of what you are listening to.

Q: What can you listen to with SDR?

A: A lot of stuff. News broadcast from across the globe, music in India, secret coded messages to spies, coded military messages, "mystery" broadcasts, HAM Radio operators, and much more. The frequency range for most SDRs is 170 kHz to 30,000 kHz.

Q: What are CW, USB, LSB, AM, and FM?

A: Basically, this is how the signal is transmitted and how you should set the SDR to receive depending on what you're listening for.
  • CW stands for Continuous Wave. A continuous wave or continuous waveform (CW) is an electromagnetic wave of constant amplitude and frequency; and in mathematical analysis, of infinite duration. Continuous wave is also the name given to an early method of radio transmission, in which a carrier wave is switched on and off. Rarely used for anything other than Morse Code. 
  • USB stands for Upper Side Band, and LSB stands for Lower Side Band. In radio communications, a sideband is a band of frequencies higher than or lower than the carrier frequency, containing power as a result of the modulation process. The sidebands consist of all the Fourier components of the modulated signal except the carrier. All forms of modulation produce sidebands. This is commonly used in modern radio broadcasts.
  • AM stands for Amplitude Modulation and is still the most common form of broadcast. AM was the first method of impressing sound on a radio signal and is still widely used today. Commercial and public. AM broadcasting is authorized in the medium wave band worldwide, and also in parts of the longwave and shortwave bands.
  • FM stands for Frequency Modulation. FM provide high-fidelity sound over broadcast radio.

Q: Got it, so how do I listen?

A: The easiest way to listen -and most popular- it by using University of Twente's webSDR. This is a popular SDR from the Netherlands whose antenna has excellent reception and very easy to use.

The SDR Page.

One disadvantage to this site is that it is limited to 420 users at a time. Normally, there is not that many users, but in the event of tensions between The United States and another country, users from Reddit and 4chan come en masse to monitor "SKYKING" (this tutorial was made to assist them to do such during "The Happenings") and the site might be overloaded. If this is your case as you read this, be patient and try again in a few minutes.

Additionally, I will be discussing "Sigmira" in a later post. It is a free to download and use software that allows you to connect to many different SDR antennas through the world (so you can listen even if the above WebSDR is at capacity).

For a quick guide to listen for SKYKING, follow these easy steps:
The rough and easy way to get started.

For Skyking you can also try their other primary frequencies: 24 hours - 11175 USB (usually a weaker signal than 8992 USB). Daytime (in the US) frequencies of 13200 USB & 15016 USB. Nighttime (in the US) frequencies of 4724 USB 6739 USB.
For those who want to explore more, keep on reading.

The basics.

  1. The Waterfall. This shows what frequencies are active. White denotes stronger signals and dark blue means there's no propagation on that frequency beyond static. You can place your mouse arrow on the waterfall and use your wheel to zoom in and out in order to find a signal's exact  frequency. 
  2. The Dial. It shows you what station you're on as well as what bandwidth you are using (more on that in a bit). 
  3. Tuner. You can type the frequency you wish to listen to or you can use the buttons to tune up and down the dial. 
  4. Band selector. This is where you select USB, LSB, CW, AM, or FM. 
  5. Volume and recording. You can record and download things you hear! You can also Squelch the signal from here, to avoid listening to static while you wait for the signal you want (such as HAM radio operators talking to each other). 

Let's Get Started!

Type "9730.00" into the tuner and hit enter. You should be hearing an English-language broadcast of Radio Romania International, or possibly a Chinese broadcast depending on the time of day. Now this is an AM broadcast, so press AM on your Band Selector. It should sound pretty good.

Zoom in on the signal in your waterfall. It will show your dial is in the center of the signal with its "arms" spreading in both directions.

Typical AM signal
You've just mastered the basics of SDR Radio. Zoom back out and look for strong signals (white on the waterfall) and zoom in on any one of them. click below its number and your dial will move over to it. Additionally, as you can see in the above pic, many stations are labeled. Just click on it and it will be selected for you.

So, what if your signal is not AM? Garbled, flooded with bleed over from other frequencies or just sound like noise? Well, we may need to select USB, LSB, or FM. Let's tune to 9745.00 kHz (Radio Bahrain). Notice it sounds odd?

Zoom in closely on it on the waterfall.

The signal has a strong line and the rest "bleeds" to the right. This is an Upper Side Band broadcast. Press USB on your band selector. Sounds a lot better, right? Notice your dial has one arm extending to the right instead of just centered like AM.

Now, if you come across a signal with a solid line and it "bleeds" to the left, that is a Lower Side Band broadcast.

As for FM, if you find a signal that propagates like AM but is nearly twice as wide, that's an FM signal. FM is not very common on the frequencies an SDR picks up, but you might find it.

You are now ready to explore the world of radio via your computer.

The next article will specifically deal with SKYKING and its unusual purposes.