One of the common questions I get before, during and after the RTO Course is “how in the heck do you remember all those different connectors?” Well, the answer is nothing more than repetition- I know them because I’m built so many antennas over the years and needed the various connectors you come to know what they’re called.
Its a good idea to have a large number of spare connectors and adapters on hand. If you’re making external antennas for your equipment, they’re an absolute must have item. And unlike pretty much everything else we make our antennas from in the RTO Course, they’re the hardest to source in a working environment, so knowing what they are and having a bunch on hand now makes too much sense.
The Cobra Head
A story I tell in class is exactly how I discovered the real name for what I always knew as a Cobra Head. The Split Post BNC Adapter, or BNC Banana Jack Adapter, is widely known to Army guys as Cobra Heads- in fact, I never knew they were called anything else and couldn’t find them for a long time after I got out. I found them at a Hamfest in a big tray of connectors and felt like an idiot when I was told what they’re really called. It didn’t matter- I found them.
Why they’re important is that its the easiest connector to use when building improvised wire antennas. We were given them by the bagful in the Army to practice antenna building, and I came to really appreciate it. Simply cut your wire, match the radiating wire to the red end and ground side to the black, loop it around and you’re good to go. If you want to get the most secure with it be sure to use some ring terminals to connect the wire to the connector. Attaching BNC coax can’t be easier and more secure…
Johny Mac at American Partisan has an article up at American Partisan on making your own NVIS antenna. A near-vertical incidence skywave (NVIS) antenna is used in the high frequency (HF) spectrum from around 1.8MHz to 10MHz in order to cover an approximate radius/range of 300 miles. HF is usually used for long distance communication around the world, and most antennas are built to maximize range, but those antennas can often cause the radio signal to skip or make a gap in the range from about fifty to three hundred miles. The NVIS antenna redirects the radio signal in such a way that it covers that gap at the sacrifice of the longer distance contacts. This makes the NVIS antenna ideal for communications during a regional disaster.
If you do not know what a NVIS antenna is and why it is a great addition to your antenna farm, go and read these four articles. The first being from NC Scout titled, Near Vertical Incidence Skywave – Simplified, then NVIS I, NVIS II, and NVIS III authored by Key Pounder and published on NC Scout’s site, Brushbeater.
At a 100,000-foot level though, a NVIS antenna is a dipole antenna that has a steeper transmit angle than a traditional horizontal flat-top dipole antenna and is located closer to the ground at between 8 to 15-feet Vs. a traditional 1/4λ height; let’s say 30 to 60-feet over tera firma. This allows you to transmit to other stations closer to your AO that you may skip over using a flat-top horizontal dipole antenna. Think of the skip bounced off the ‘F’ layer of the ionosphere being 25 to 50-miles Vs. 200 to 300-miles. The German Army developed this procedure during WW II to communicate with troops via the airwaves closer to the transmitting station.
I started out building my NVIS antenna using the directions posted on the DX Engineeringsite as my blue-prints for the project. Although you can buy a kit from DX Engineering, I had plenty of hardware around the redoubt so I decided to save a few bucks. Below is my Mise en place for this build. Hams are the true scroungers of this earth…
NC Scout at American Partisan has started a series of articles on antenna theory called Directional Antennas for the Small Unit. If you’re just getting started in radio communication, or you’ve been using it for a while but haven’t spent much time getting to know your antennas, this is a good start.
One of the biggest misconceptions behind communications security revolves around misunderstanding not just the role of the equipment but also how it functions. A big part of that is the basics of antenna theory. For most radio seems to be a plug and play kinda deal- it either works, or it doesn’t. Antennas are a type of voodoo magic and the solution to security is electronic encryption. Except it isn’t, and doesn’t do anything except mask what you’re saying, but not the fact you’re saying it. Guerrillas must rely on not being detected- and no matter how high tech you think you are, it’ll not solve a tradecraft issue.
The reality is that we’ll be working with equipment that is common and off the shelf- no matter how much we want those microwave NSA-encrypted troposcatter radios made of unobtanium, a big part of local networking is done via plain old VHF and UHF amateur and commercial gear that’s common. Guerrilla communications have to be harder to detect. And at the strategic level when building an underground network, you have to understand how to plan. Even with the cheap equipment most of you likely have, incorporating a level of planning into your local communications will yield a much higher level of security and success. Knowing and understanding directional antennas becomes a key part of that planning, and as we cover in the Advanced RTO Course, there’s several options that each get the job done.
Directional antennas accomplish two goals for us. First, generally speaking, if you’re not in the direction of the transmission you’re not going to hear the traffic. Because of this it offers a big advantage in the security department. If two directional antennas are transmitting toward one another, they’ll be able to communicate with the only people hearing the full conversation being in the middle of the two people. The second advantage is that instead of all our energy going in all directional at once, as with an omnidirectional antenna, a directional antenna sends the same amount of radiated energy in one direction- greatly increasing our range and signal strength in that direction, so we won’t need nearly as much power to accomplish to reliably communicate over a distance you might not have thought otherwise possible…
NC Scout at American Partisan has written another article discussing the jungle antenna – The Jungle Antenna Revisited: Task and Purpose for the Partisan and Prepper. NC Scout has written about this antenna and its usefulness previously.
Going back to the early days of the Brushbeater blog, the Jungle Antenna post has been and continues to be one of the more popular posts I’ve done. And for good reason- I wrote it to be used. It’s the antenna every student in the RTO course builds and one of the designs they get hands on with, and it’s the one that they know works from the demonstrations we do with them. But often, as with everything, a context for the task and purpose has to be clarified.
Many preppers who contact me fall into a similar trap. I have a goal and recognize a need. What can I buy that does for me what I want it to do? How do I do this in the most cost-effective way? And finally (but what should be first) how do I obtain the skill to best use the gear I’ve purchased? It’s a problematic point of view for a lot of reasons but one I get frequenct questions about nonetheless. And that’s ok. I’ll normally answer it the same way- Use your stuff. Learn to use it even better, and never stop!
One of my objectives bak then, as it remains in my classes and writing today, was emphasizing the skill of building your own equipment…
Earlier this month I attended Brushbeater’s RadioTelephone Operators course taught by NC Scout. Other people have done reviews of the class (see here and here), so I am going to structure this a little differently. Rather than give a blow by blow of the course as others have already done, I’ll try tell you why you, as a prepper, or member of a Neighborhood Protection Team (NPT), or member of a Mutual Assistance Group (MAG), should take this course.
The purpose of the RTO course is to teach you how to communicate via radio and do so effectively as a member of a communications team. Communication is the act of transferring information from one place to another. Successful communications means that the information has been correctly and effectively transferred from the sender to the receiver. How many ways can that go wrong in radio communication? You may be surprised. The RTO class attempts to identify and rectify some of those common problems.
First, you may not be talking to the right person in the right place. For this, you need a communication plan, or Signals Operating Instructions (SOI). The plan tells you how to identify/authenticate to whom you are talking. It tells you where (what frequency) to contact them. If you can’t speak to them on that first, primary frequency, then you have an alternate frequency and then a third, contingency frequency. Finally, the plan lays out an emergency method of communication. You may have one plan that you use week in and week out for practice with your team or for supporting public service events, but you should practice changing it as well. And if you are preparing for some sort of TEOTWAWKI SHTF WROL WTFBBQ where your NPT is fighting off the golden horde type of event, you’ll want to change it every day.
Choosing the correct frequencies for the location and distance across which you need to make contact is a part of this planning, too. Will line-of-sight frequencies be appropriate or are beyond-line-of-sight frequencies required? What frequencies do everyone’s radios cover? To what frequencies does any possible adversary have access? If our radios cover a frequency, is the antenna on the radio sufficient to make the contact? If not, can you build a field expedient antenna that will be better?
Make sure you can talk to the person you want, and that it actually is the person you expect – check.
Next, you need to transfer all of the information without forgetting or leaving out anything important. Here the RTO course emphasizes standardized report formats. Most of these have come from NC Scout’s prior military experience. You can modify these for your own group or make up new ones; the important thing is to standardize them and to not modify them to leave out anything important. Many experienced radio operators or prior-military service personnel are familiar with the SALUTE report (size, activity, location, uniform, time, equipment) for reporting enemy information, but there are many other useful reports as well.
A good example is the arrival report, used to tell the command element that you have arrived at the location where you were sent. In my own experience with public service and emergency response, your arrival is typically only sent with something like, “Net control, this is Wxxxx. I have arrived at Spokane Memorial.” While having an entire report for arrival, may take more air time, it can convey critical information. For example, you can add that there was a rollover accident blocking interstate 90 so take the 5th Ave exit to get to the hospital. Or you were sent to the Red Cross building on McClellan, but they had moved services a few blocks away to the high school at 5th and Stevens and you taking up your post there. Deviations in final position as well as deviations on your route the location can provide important information for higher up decision makers and shouldn’t be left out.
The RTO course covered and practiced sending and receiving several different types of eports. Just as important as sending all of the information is receiving all of the information accurately. NC Scout emphasized that the receiver should repeat back the entirety of the report to the sender to ensure accuracy. Just saying, “Report received” doesn’t cut it and results in time wasted, or worse — lives lost, because a response was sent to the wrong location or the wrong assets were delivered.
Make sure that all important information is accurately delivered – check.
Finally, if your group or team is going to run efficiently and effectively, your command and control must be organized. Units being sent out must know why they are being sent and what they are expected to accomplish. The command element/post must remain available and actively monitor any operations in progress. Enough radio operators must remain with the command element to communicate with all of the remote units without being overwhelmed. How many radio operators that is will depend on your specific circumstances, including your size, the number of remote units to be sent out, the type and size of the situation to which you are responding, the capabilities of the radio operators and so on. For example, a command center for a peacetime parade may have one radio operator, communicating with twelve remote radio operators, but a large marathon may have several different teams operating on their own frequencies with their own net control. Similarly, a Neighborhood Protection Team with one control point and one roving patrol can operate with one RTO in the command center, whereas a community under siege in a civil disturbance scenario may have several scouting teams out and a need for a command center RTO for each remote team.
The RTO course again uses some military procedures to help with the command function. Warning orders and operations orders are briefly discussed as methods to impart the goals and mission-specific procedures to the teams being sent out. Similarly, NC Scout briefly discusses what are intelligence and intelligence requirements and the inclusion on the requirements in mission briefings.
Control your communication teams effectively – check.
The RTO course teaches to all levels of experience. If you are new to radio communications, the class will cover the basics of radio operation, antenna theory, and propagation for line of sight and beyond line of sight communications at a level that is understandable for a beginner, yet provides insights to more experienced radio operators as well. The class I was in had people from no prior radio use at all the way up Amateur Extra ham radio operators and ex-military radio users. Everyone appeared to have gained something valuable from the class.
In a disaster or SHTF scenario, you will need to talk to someone. That someone likely won’t be standing right next to you all of the time. How are you going to talk to them when they aren’t in talking distance? Why might you use UHF instead of VHF to talk to them? Why might you need HF? Why might you want to use a digital mode instead of FM or SSB? What’s the best radio for my team? Who needs to have a radio? Who needs to know how to use one? Should you use FRS or MURS? Should you get an amateur radio license? Is burying a box of Baofengs enough to cover my communications needs in the future? If you’re not sure about the answers to any of those questions, or are confused about what some of them mean, then you should take this class.
Occasionally I teach classes for people to get their Technician amateur radio license, and I plan on using some of NC Scout’s antenna explanations in the next class. The training about reports has made me re-evaluate how our radio communications should be conducted. I drove seven hours for the class, and it was worth it.
Dialtone: Puzzle Pieces – Gear to have in your kit for field expedient antennas.
Sparks31 has a brief article up on Covert and Hidden Antennas.
Whether you are setting up a field radio station for communications or a monitoring post for SIGINT operation, the antenna is the linchpin of your setup. The best radio in the world is useless without a decent antenna.
Let’s take a look at a common antenna design, one I’ve used with much success over the years:
This is a discone antenna. I have one at my eastern QTH. For a first antenna it’s not bad. It makes an adequate wideband receive and transmit antenna for the VHF and UHF bands. It’s a unity gain antenna, but its advantage is that you can get on the air with multiple VHF and UHF bands with a single antenna. For permissive urban and suburban environments it’s a good choice.
However, it sticks out like a cow in church. Anyone with a modicum of RF knowledge will know what you’re doing when they see one on your roof. Not a problem in permissive environments like the U.S. today, unless you live in place that has a H.O.A. which restricts antennas, or for whatever reason(s) you want to keep your RF activity under wraps.
Antennas are one of those things that you can easily roll your own out of whatever stuff you have lying around your workshop, homestead, or wherever.