I had the awesome experience of being on with The Gunmetal Armory podcast last week. It was a kick-ass time and I’d like to give a big shoutout to Dane for being an excellent host and all around good dude. Its likely we’re going to have a course or two out in AZ this coming Fall- so if you’re out there, I’m looking forward to training with you.
NC Scout of American Partisan talks about the HF NVIS Antenna. Also check out a follow up post here.
In the last Radio Contra I discussed a simple way of rigging up an antenna for NVIS HF use. Its a topic that gets a lot of attention, and in turn, a lot of confusion. But trust me, its simple. The whole point behind HF is creating regional communications- anything that’s beyond line of sight– and while you can spend a heck of a lot of money in a hurry and not get a lot, you can spend just a few bucks and with a little knowhow I’m about to impart here, have a great setup.
NVIS relies on sending as much of your radiated energy skyward as possible, with as close to a zero degree takeoff as possible. So, this means a horizontal antenna close to the ground. In case you’re wondering, the takeoff angle is perpendicular to the orientation of the antenna- so, if the antenna is vertical, you’ll have a very shallow takeoff angle, aka groundwave, if its horizontal, the radiation goes vertical. NVIS generally works best between 1.8-8mHz, with the higher frequencies working better during the day and the lower ones at night.
I’ll also add to this that the direction finding threat almost exclusively comes from groundwave. So on HF, NVIS is what you’re looking for. As little groundwave as possible.
So with that said, let’s talk about this antenna.
The first thing to know is that its built out of dirt cheap materials. 128ft 14AWG stranded wire, a Cobra Head, and ten plastic electric fence posts. Less than $25 or so.
For an 80M dipole antenna, each leg is going to be roughly 64ft long. You can make a loop or use a ring terminal to secure the wire to each end of the cobra head. Stretch it out- now you’ve got a dipole. Those plastic fence posts serve both as a suspension for the antenna and as an insulator. All you have to do is wrap the ends in a loop, and boom, you’re ready to rock and roll.
The antenna itself is roughly 2ft off the ground. This creates a high amount of reflectivity from the ground, sending your radiation almost completely vertical.
And with that, you’ve got a dirt cheap antenna that works pretty well. If you want to see how it works and get hands on building one, come out to class.
Here is NC Scout of Brushbeater talking about Ontario’s Ranger Assault Knife: The Best Of All Worlds? Perhaps I’m a little biased because I have one of these knives and enjoy it myself. NC Scout mentions getting a better sheath, and I have a kydex sheath made by someone who doesn’t appear to be making them any more, but here’s a photo of the sheath. There are similar kydex sheaths sold by others available online.
What would be that ‘one knife’, that if the rest of the world went to hell, that you could strap on your side and do just about everything you’d need a fixed blade to do?
That’s a tough question and one I bet more than a few of you battle on a regular basis. I do, and I’ve carried knives I picked into hell with me, only to later find something that fit the bill just a bit better. It seems like with each wilderness trip, class, or hunt I end up with new wants in a blade. It hasn’t got any better since I got that first Air Force Survival Knife (aka the Jumpmaster knife) I borrowed from an AWOL kid’s kit so long ago. Doubt he missed it. That knife did everything I ever asked it to, is easy to sharpen, and doubles as a combat effective fighting knife. And for a long while it served me well, and still absolutely could had I not retired it when I returned from Afghanistan. But would it be my first choice today? Probably not; designs have evolved and I’ve got a number of knives that fit the general purpose bit a lot better, and one of them is Ontario’s Ranger Assault Knife.
Combat knives are always a fun topic of discussion and one that’s often highly personal. That old USAF design was meant to be a jack of all trades and it excelled at a few. Like most of its contemporaries, it is a stick tang short Bowie-type with an integrated handguard to prevent the user’s hands from slipping up the blade during a stab but also to protect against glancing blows. Mine slayed MREs, 550 cord and tubular nylon just like everyone else’s- even skinned a goat we picked up from a local village in Afghanistan. Its also made notches, battoned wood, made fire and processed domestic game with the best of them.
I’ve always loved tactical knives and fighter-type blades. But the reality is that most often a tactical knife, with many serrations, odd grind angles and ultra-hard steel is more a hindrance than an enabler for most mundane survival tasks. What’s basic and simple, at least in my experience, has become the preferred blade to a lot of the more tactical-oriented types. It’s a view that’s neither good or bad, its just personal choice based on what we call on our tools to do. Some of these tasks include:
Lets look at the list. Any knife can skin and process game- in fact I’ve skinned more animals with my decade-old Buck-Strider folder than any other knife I’ve owned. And likewise for feather stick making, any sharp knife with decent edge geometry can do that. But for the heavier duty tasks a good fixed blade is what’s needed. For battening through limbs, a full-tang knife is really the best option. I’ve done it with the old USAF knife, but a full tang construction is best. And when striking ferro rods, high carbon steel and a squared spine gets the job done without having to use the knife’s edge. Speaking of, the ability to bring back a good working edge in the field is paramount. S30V, 154CM and the like are excellent for edge retention, but what happens if your edge does take some damage during use? 1095 is easier to bring back even from severe damage while using a small field stone or diamond plate like we use in the First Line Course, along with a small piece of leather as a strop.
So that brings us to Ontario’s Ranger Assault Knife (RAK). Justin Gingrich, founder of Ranger Knives and Green Beret, partnered with Ontario Knife Company several years back to mass produce his tactical and survival blade designs. I’ve used an RD-7 for a number of years now as a general purpose woods blade and its a highly functional design. His knives are a no-frills, hard use utilitarian types over the elegance of say, a Randall Made or Blackjack. These are not exactly lookers, but they will do everything asked of them and probably much more. The Ranger Assault Knife was something of a crossover design; combining the attributes of a functional fighting weapon and qualities you’d want in a simple survival knife.
Looking over the design you’ll notice the spear point of the 6 inch blade. It’s as great for stabbing as it is choking up on the knife and making finer cuts with the tip. Being 3/16in thick and having the full width go to the tip, its very strong for any prying task you might be called on to do in the wild. Fortunately choking up on that blade is made easy by the very large (yuuuge!) choil. It allows you to control the blade for power cuts but also to accommodate the guard as part of the design. It’s one solid piece of 1095 steel, hardened to 53-55rc, which is hard enough to retain an edge a reasonable amount of time while still soft enough to flex when prying or batoning to prevent chipping. And the knife has no issues batoning- hard wood, soft wood, anything reasonable it breaks down pretty easily.
The blade itself sports a thick saber grind with a short, flat secondary bevel. I prefer a full flat grind for pretty much everything I do with a knife, but on this blade it works to the advantage of the design by maintaining the knife’s strength. Since the parameters of the intended use include aircrew survival, that strength is required when possibly cutting through aluminum airframes or punching out glass. The pointed pommel serves as a glass breaker also, the same way the older RAT 5 and ESEE 5 knives do. And that leads me to my only real complain with it; that spike pommel is borderline obnoxious. Everything else about the knife is excellent, and since I don’t plan on needing to egress from an aircraft anytime soon, I’m thinking of grinding it down a bit. And the stock sheath is a flimsy nylon piece of junk. I threw it in the trash and had a kydex one made. But that’s it; the steel, the heat treat, the edge retention, and the flat out utility of this knife is excellent.
My Final Thoughts
For what this blade costs, around $65, it’s an excellent buy and well worth picking up a couple. You’ll need a better sheath but honestly I’m rarely happy with most stock sheaths. The design is definitely a jack of all trades and well thought out as a utility blade for those going into harm’s way. And as easily as it can be used in combat, it finds itself at home with a wide variety of survival tasks. Would it be that ‘one knife’ to use if the world went to hell? I think it could be. You could spend a heck of a lot more money and not come close to what you get out of this blade.
NC Scout at Brushbeater has another short article on boots, this time inspiration taken from an American guy who converted to Islam and fought in various places around the world. A Guerrilla’s Experience in Boot Selection. You can check out NC Scout’s previous boot post here.
I was sorting through some old stuff cleaning out a building- an odd collection of crap, mostly junk, from a stack of toughboxes holding my old gear from sometime in between deployments to the middle east. Its crazy just how much junk one bubba can collect, how you instantly are reminded of certain thoughts and feelings when you last used whatever it was, but most important, you come back to old gear with a different perspective.
Digging up a tattered old copy of Aukai Collins’ book My Jihad I had that feeling. Its been a couple of years since I last read it and that copy sits on my bookshelf. But this copy is different. Its a hard cover and was given to me by a pubic affairs guy I was drinking buddies with way back when, who knew Aukai through Robert Young Pelton’s Dangerous Places forum and had stuck up a friendship after living in southern Arizona near him. Back then I was fascinated by the story of a guy who, probably as a product of a rough upbringing and a renegade attitude against the world, converted to Islam in a California youth prison and took up arms in Bosnia, Afghanistan, and then Chechnya. Despite the religious aspect, he didn’t go fight for anything other than himself. He just didn’t know it at the time. And maybe that was the part that intrigued me the most. The story sounded familiar then and far more so now.
Even still, Aukai’s story is a telling one. despite his bungling across eastern Europe and Central Asia culminating in the Caucasus, its full of valuable lessons for a anyone reading it. It is a brutal yet entertaining tale of lessons learned in an asymmetric conflict. A big one is footwear. A man can go without a lot of things but proper footwear is the one thing that will either keep you going in miserable conditions or make you miserable in decent ones. And as anyone who’s trained with me knows, what’s on my feet is what I’ll always recommend.
For those of you browsing my website or blog who hail from the San Diego County area I have an interesting side note for you. In my book I mentioned that during one of my original adventures overseas I had to hike up a steep, muddy ravine that would allow us to by pass one of the bad guy’s firebases. This turned into an all night ordeal, hiking/crawling up steep ravines in the dark and mud. Upon exiting the ravine this was followed by another hike through a thick muddy field until we crossed the border and realitive safety.
Our guide took us to the first of a series of safe houses. Keeping with the local custom we took our boots off before entering the “home” (it was actually a man and his wife and four children living in a Conex shipping container because their house had been blown into a pile of rubble). My associates that had made the trek with me took of their wet boots caked in mud and then their socks had to come off also because these too were soaked. Although there were far greater problems to come during the war, like for example out of the four associates who had made the muddy trek with me that night, I am the only one left alive, at that moment soaking wet cold feet with blisters seemed to be quite a catastrophe.
I on the other hand was in relative luxury. My feet were bone dry and didn’t have a blister on them. I actually said a silent little thank you to the man that had sold me my beautiful Danners. My feet would continue that way on through the rest of the war until the day shrapnel from a POM-50 directional mine would tear through the boots like swiss cheese making holes in my legs that would eventually lead to the amputation of the right one.
Sounds awful familiar. Experience may be a cruel mistress but she is a good teacher. Danner is good to go and a pair of Elk Hunters are what’s on my feet as I type this. But then again I also have former Marine Raiders who brings a deer he killed in the back of his truck to my Alumni weekend and am trying to find time to get in the woods to kill my own this year…so it shouldn’t come as a shock.
Spend the coin and get a good pair of boots- its the lone deficiency that you can’t make up for in other ways in the field.
NC Scout at Brushbeater spends some time talking about what is good in a boot that you can stalk well in versus a boot made for hiking/rucking with heavy gear in Stalking Boots.
Growing up, nearly everyone I knew hunted. Whether it was white tail, rabbits, dove, pheasant, and even hogs back when we had them in central NC. And in all those years, you had three general types of boots- Cowboy boots for dressing up, work boots in the field, and hunting boots in the Fall- and that was about it. It wasn’t until I went into the Army that I gave much thought at all to footwear or even knew the value of a good pair of boots, much less different boots for different tasks. Fort Benning fixed that.
Back when I was in High School I saw a movie called The Hunted with Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio Del Toro, about a ex-Special Forces or something-guy having some mental issues and looking for his old mentor from a SERE school, because…reasons. It hasn’t aged well, but, there was a few decent takeaways from it. Most notably was the fact that Jones’ character, LT, wore moccasins everywhere. It might have seemed like some hippy-back-to-the-land BS back then, but, its one of the few things about that movie actually rooted in reality. Light, soft soled shoes are critical for stalking in woodland environments. He used moccasins to effectively stalk, having little more than rawhide and a thin rubber bottom for basic tread.
Years later, when I was learning to do the same, one of the issues all of us ran into was using boots that either had too hard a sole or limited our ability to feel the terrain under our feet. Literally all of the qualities you don’t want when you’re carrying a heavy ruck on your back are the ones you do want when stalking. Thick soles designed for load bearing and stability also limit what you feel under your feet. This in turn leads to guys making errors in their stalking lanes- crunching deadfall sticks and limbs, rustling leaves and knowing what type of terrain you’re leaving too much spoor or trailsign in. Thin and light works well.
These days I’m doing a lot less heavy rucking and a lot more stalking work in the woods. The reality is that I’m likely not going to carry a 100lb ruck like I did back in Afghanistan for a lot of reasons, but it boils down to: a) my fighting kit selection is lighter now that what I had no option to use back then; b) a lot of my support gear, ie commo equipment, is far smaller & lighter now than before and c) I know a heck of a lot more now than I knew back then. Above all, my mission is entirely different today. A lot of what people are showing off as their “bugout bag” or third line patrolling kits is flat out unrealistic. But on the other hand, learning to effectively stalk in your operating environment will carry you a heck of a lot further down the tactical path then having a bag full of crap to leave for the guy who actually knew how to hide.
You’re a hunter of men, start thinking like one.
What makes an animal as larger as the Black Bear in eastern NC such an effective stalker? You’d think that due to its size it would make tons of noise, and yet it doesn’t. As any bear hunter familiar with eastern NC can tell you, its not just thick underbrush, but that a bear will be on top of you in no time if you’re not completely aware of your surroundings. Bear, like all effective predators, understand how to move in their terrain. They use their senses first before committing to make the movement, smelling and watching while moving slowly and deliberately. For a human, once we’re re-awakened our senses in the wild, the next step is to understand how to actually move.
Do not rush to be over-encumbered. If you’re carrying more gear than you can effectively remain quiet while moving with, then you’re carrying too much gear. This was the same philosophy of two of the best special reconnaissance units in modern history- the Selous Scouts and the South African Recces– with first hand accounts from both units frequently favoring blacked-out Converse Chuck Taylors in the field. While that made plenty of sense for the time, our options have gotten better today.
There’s a lot of good brands for lightweight boots out there- Solomon makes a good one, as does Rocky (what I wore in the winter months in Afghanistan) and even Nike with the SFB. A couple of solid options that have served me well in recent years have both come from Danner. I’ve become a big fan of their boots over the years because of their consistently high quality as well as their overall designs. One of the big selling points for me has been the lace-to-toe layout that allows me to control exactly how much tension the boot has on the sides of my feet; road marches, let them out because your feet are going to swell, for field work, tighten them up for greater dexterity in lateral movement. I’ve worn other brands over the years for field use that have been decent, but I keep coming back to Danner for a reason.
The first pair are a newer design they call the Reckoning- a lightweight boot that I’m assuming is their modern take on the jungle boot by its drain holes and breathable design. Its been a great boot so far in the two years I’ve worn them and is completely flexible from heel to toe. I’ve beat the living snot out of this pair and aside from a small tear in the outer nylon from getting hung up in some heavy briars, they’ve held up well. They’ve been on my feet for every Scout Course and most other classes I’ve run for the past couple of years and while they’re definitely military-looking boots, they’ve done everything I’ve asked them to do and more.
Stalking Footwork 101: Step with the outer edge of the foot, dropping the heel first then rolling the foot to the toe. As your first foot rises, do the same with the opposite foot. Get into a rhythm of walking like this in the woods- it’ll greatly mitigate your noise signature.
The second pair is in many ways a polar opposite- the traditional looking, excellent Elk Hunter. Mine are uninsulated and are definitely old school in appearance. But that said they work, and work well. The soft suede is very much like a moccasin and molded to my feet nearly immediately. The soles on the other hand took some time. While they were soft on the outsole like many hunting boots I’ve worn in the past to mitigate noise, they were definitely on the rigid side and took about 25-30 miles of walking before they had enough flex to effectively roll the feet while moving. Since then though, they’ve been great in the woods. These are some of the grippiest boots I’ve ever worn as well, which also takes some getting used to- wherever you place your foot, its staying there. But they’re quiet and feel a heck of a lot lighter on the feet than the listed 59oz in the specs.
Both boots have two critical qualities in common- a lace-to-toe design and flexibility of the soles. The lace-down allows me to adjust the tension on different parts of my foot. Loosen them up for a longer movement (your feet will swell) or tighten them when you need more precision in stepping during a stalk. The second factor is the lack of a defined heel. No heel allows the foot to roll from your natural heel to the toe, greatly mitigating noise and making an overall better stalking technique.
They’re not quite as feral as wearing moccasins everywhere, but they’re comfortable, durable, and have served me well. As alumni from the Scout Course know, your proper selection of footwear are the tools that make or break your ability to successfully move undetected. Shooting is either a failure of bad tactics or the culmination of a really good one- remaining undetected and fighting on your terms will always win over an adversary dressed for door kicking in thick woodlands.
Almost as predictable as the rising of the sun is the issues of keeping a guerrilla group supplied. In every historical account I’ve read and personal encounters training and patrolling with the Kurdish Peshmerga and even the Afghan Border Police (which is little more than a government sanctioned militia) the number one issue boils down to logistics. In all cases, its not even having a combat load of ammunition for a patrol- they barely have ammo to even train, much less sustain a firefight for long. Such is life. Today many are finding themselves in a similar situation. Ammo, for the most part, is short and expensive where you can find it. The guns don’t seem to be the problem- 5.56 and 9mm are the new 22 Long from the era of Obama. Taking that into account, how many here in the States actually have a realistic picture of how much equipment it’ll take to remain supplied for any amount of time?
I’ve always had a fascination with Cold War era conflicts- partly because I’ve known many who were involved in them and still look to the ones alive for advice, but also because there’s so many lessons that inherently go overlooked in terms of the realities and challenges a guerrilla force will face. Reality, always, is far different from one’s expectations and a far cry from the fantasies many espouse.
The Cuban Revolution is a great example. Early on, the primary challenge that the various factions faced was not finding motivated people but establishing a standard for arms and ammunition, followed very closely by a coherent training plan to evolve the motivated would-be guerrillas from randomly successful fighters against a far superior military force to a force to be feared using the Escambray mountain range as a natural base of operations.
Such is the interesting story of Frank Sturgis in Cuba. It was Sturgis, a WWII Marine Raider, who was largely responsible for first recognizing these needs then starting his own airlift to supply them with surplus WWII arms and ammunition. The M1 Carbine became a very popular arm for the tight jungle terrain and became the weapon of choice among many. It was light and fast, had decent stopping power within the relatively close distances jungle fighting entails (an opinion shared by Philippine Guerrillas a decade earlier) Sturgis used his lessons learned fighting in the Pacific in WWII to make the guerrilla band a force to be reckoned with, later being instrumental in the training of Assault Brigade 2506 that landed at the Bay of Pigs and then continuing to train the survivors until just before he died in the 1990s. And somewhere in that timeline he found himself breaking into Watergate. But the larger point to be made is that without outside support, the Cuban Revolution would have been crushed- a reality that forced them to work with outside sources that were often cagey at best.
Taking that lesson into account, there’s a few lessons that bear noting, and have repeated themselves over time. The first is having a standard weapon that is both easily supplied, repaired, and simple to teach others to use. Many times, several of us have probably heard the questions “why do you have more than one of those? You can only shoot one…” and while that last bit might be true, it neglects the reality of the need to arm others. We don’t exist in free space, and the notion of ‘I’m just going to bug out to my retreat and they’ll leave me alone!’ is a pipe dream. Further, the ability to arm others infers control and inherent authority. I armed you, you work for me. If there is no authority, there is no cohesion.
You need one standard of ammunition and magazines. Having a multitude of random specialty calibers or proprietary magazines for those weapons means that you’ve added a layer of complications to your logistics plan that will at best cause that weapon to be an expensive club later on down the road. Further, a guerrilla’s personal choice of weapon is more often dictated by what ammo he can source rather than what he would like. Last, and this is one that my personal experience mirrors, is that the so-called ‘battlefield pickup’ is not a reliable plan to resupply your group. That doesn’t mean it won’t be viable in some instances, but the reality of combat is that in fluid and volatile conditions, you don’t always have time to pick up weapons and supplies off your adversaries alone. Despite the popular internet tropes in survival circles, there won’t just be guns laying around everywhere. I’ve operated in two different warzones, and aside from a few inert shells here and there, I didn’t see any weapons laying around and not in the hands of people ready to use them.
Finding yourself as the potential leader of a guerrilla band, one of your principle challenges then becomes keeping a healthy stockpile of munitions to both accomplish your needs in combat while recognizing your training goals. It would be remiss to point out that ammo is currently experiencing a major shortage in the US from the very real looming threat of domestic instability. The two most common calibers in the US, 9mm and 5.56, are nearly non-existent and expensive where found. On the other hand, 7.62×39 can still be found with minimal price gouging. And while AK prices are higher than in years past, the weapon is still not extremely expensive to get into. The learning curve on the AK, at least from my own perspective, is far shorter to build a competent shooter, especially within its intended range and role.
Whatever the future holds, the reality is that no matter how much ammunition you have today, you really don’t have enough for a potential future. The world is changing rapidly and with it, the United States. Look at where we are today compared to just six months ago…let alone four years…and gasp- two decades. Let it be a sober reminder of the urgency of the times.
So you’re out there on a patrol, the commo window is open and you need to make a Cyril Report back to your TOC. Your RTO sets up the yagi getting ready to make contact, checking and rechecking the azimuth. He glosses back over the transmit and receive frequencies to make sure everything is set, double checking the report to make sure nothing was missed, and getting the approval from you, the Team Leader. You notice one small thing- the Yagi is horizontal, not vertical, and a slow grin grows on your face.
You’ve got a good man on the Team who paid attention.
There’s one element to small unit communications that usually gets zero attention- antenna polarization. Let’s take a look at our most common denominator at the basic level- the Baofeng UV-5R. Its a VHF and UHF FM two-way radio. FM nearly always uses vertical polarization, meaning in simple terms, the antenna is straight up and down.
In a conventional environment we do this for two reasons. First, pretty much everyone else is vertically polarized when communicating via FM, and second, there’s 9db of loss between a vertical polarization and horizontal polarization. Wait, what?
Like how we measure light in Lumens, signal strength radiating from an antenna is measured in decibels (db) of gain or loss. With each 3db of gain, we double our effective radiated power (ERP) in terms of signal strength. With each 3db of loss, we cut our strength in half. This is measured in orders of magnitude, meaning that with each 3db, the strength doubles on itself (4w x 2= 8w x 2= 16w, etc). Taking that into account, the difference in strength between horizontal and vertical polarization is 9db- quite a difference. If someone is using a vertically polarized antenna to attempt to intercept my transmission, they’d likely be using vertical polarization. After all, why wouldn’t you? Nearly all FM transmissions are vertically polarized, its common practice. But if I change my operating practice to account for this, now they’re going to have a harder time both intercepting and getting a bearing on me.
Not impossible, mind you. But much harder. And that’s on top of my other operating practices, such as transmitting on one frequency and receiving on another, keeping my transmissions as short as possible, and making sure I’m always using directional antennas. It goes without saying that your intended receiving station should be matched in polarization. Its a basic practice that, when coupled with my other techniques, turns inexpensive equipment into much more formidable gear for clandestine or unconventional forces operating in the field.
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 an 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? Its a problematic point of view for a lot of reasons but one I get frequent 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 back then, as it remains in my classes and writing today, was emphasizing the skill of building your own equipment. With communications that’s improvised antennas, because it’s one of the better skills to have. Taking common and cheap components and using them to boost your capabilities is a great talent to have and makes you a force multiplier for your team or group. Those skills have served me very well and for the great people I’ve had in class, it’s went on to help them too. The end goal is getting the most bang-for-buck out of a piece of equipment as possible and with radios, that always means focusing on antennas.
The Jungle Antenna, 292 Antenna, Groundplane, OE-254 or whatever else you wanna call it, are vertical antennas designed to boost range from the relatively inefficient antenna on your radio while using the same power. It does this through efficiency; an antenna has to match, both the ‘hot’ element and the ‘cold’ element (positive and negative, respectively), in order to be resonant. Resonance is another term for an antenna’s electrical match to a particular frequency. And that resonance is measured through wavelengths– with each leg of the Jungle Antenna being one quarter wavelength long. It’s an incredibly simple antenna but it’s one that improves your transmitting and receiving ability- something you definitely want.
The Jungle Antenna gets its name from an interesting time in American military history. During the interwar period of the 1920s-30, the Army Signal Corps was experimenting with antenna designs to boost the range of their SCR (Signal Corps Radio, pre-A/N PRC designation in case you’re wondering) in jungle environments. Testing the designs in Panama, they found that if you take a vertical dipole and add two more negative elements, it boosts the radio’s signal in all directions even when the thick vegetation would otherwise absorb the signal. It found its way into use with groups fighting in the island campaigns and in Burma. Even though the crude radios would eventually fail from the humidity and harsh conditions, the antennas worked. Imperial Japan was also experimenting, with two engineers named Yagi and Uda coming up with a directional antenna that still bears their name. Both became very popular designs, with the Jungle Antenna saw extensive use in Vietnam and is still being taught to unconventional warfare RTOs today- because it’s simple, rugged and it works. This history provides us with a bit of context for the antenna and its intended use. It’s an omnidirectional antenna, creating a stronger signal in all directions, optimized for heavy woodland and jungle environments where much of your signal might be lost.
Why you want an Omnidirectional Antenna?
The Jungle Antenna does two things really, really well. It takes even a small amount of power and squeezes more range out of it, by getting your actual antenna higher, meaning more line of sight, while doing it much more efficiently. It also allows your radio to listen to other traffic much better. Because of it transmits and receives in all directions, this is a great antenna to have up for networking now– and when put up in the trees, the thin wire and natural materials make it virtually disappear. So even if all you’ve got is that $25 Baofeng, you can still get an impressive range out of that 4 watts that the UV-5R puts out. Not too shabby for something you can build out of a split post BNC adapter (the real name for what us Army guys call a Cobra Head), lamp cord and electric fence insulators.
Another, more tactical reason to have an omnidirectional antenna is in a retreat setting where a tactical operations center may have to communicate with multiple patrols simultaneously, and an omnidirectional antenna would increase the range of the radio at the base. I strongly suggest radio operators on a team carry one for their Contingency frequency also. People get lost, routes become compromised, plans change. When those plans change, it’s likely that a team in trouble needs their radio for personnel recovery, with the better range and reception from their Jungle Antenna helping them get found (along with a sound recovery plan).
But the most important reason that transcends all the others is the fact that you’re using something you learned to build yourself. You built it, you learned it works, and now you have that confidence in yourself and your equipment you wouldn’t have any other way. That confidence is earned through training.
The use of Directional Antennas are the most basic way to improve communications security even if all you’ve got is a set of inexpensive radios. In Part 1 we talked about the theory of use and why they’re important to have for the dedicated RTO of a small unit. Sending your signal in one direction versus all directions does a couple of things for us- creates security through only sending a signal along the necessary path and second it greatly improves the range along that path. In this section we’re going to discuss the antennas themselves and how they work.
UHF Yagi in the field during the Advanced RTO Course.
Remember just a few years back when every house had those funny antennas on its roof? The ones you had a rotor (or if you were poor you had an set of big channel locks on the pole) to turn to get a better signal on the TV stations you wanted to watch? They’re mostly gone these days but that was a type of Yagi antenna.
Named after two electrical engineers in Imperial Japan during the interwar period, Yagi and Uda, the antenna was a solution to two problems. First, it sent a signal in one direction much further with a lot less power. Second, it listened much stronger in that same direction. It enabled directional communications links with even the very crude radio gear of the day, and found itself in service with the primitive radar systems just coming into use.
Yagis work through having a basic dipole (called the driven element) connected to the radio, with one dipole slightly longer just behind it (called a reflector) and one or more dipoles out front (called directors) that have no electrical connection to the driven element. They work on magnetic harmony- in other words, the reflector reflects the energy from the driven dipole forward, and the directors further pull that energy in the forward direction. The more directors you have, the tighter the beam. In addition, the more directors you have, the higher the decibels of gain you have in that direction- keep in mind that with each 3db of gain, you’ve effectively doubled your radiated power output in that direction. Since gain is in orders of magnitude, for each additional 3db you’re doubling your gain again.
Wait, what? Think about it like this. If you have a three element Yagi antenna, like the one picture above in from the Advanced RTO Course, which has 7.5 decibels of gain, you’ve taken the 4 or 5 watts from a handheld and increased its radiated power to over 20 watts just based on the gain of that antenna, in the direction that antenna is pointed. You’ve taken a very basic tool (the humble handheld) and made a potent communications device while using the same amount of battery power. Not bad. Not bad at all.
But the Yagi also has gain on reception, meaning it hears better in that given direction over a single omnidirectional antenna. That’s why going back to our old over the air TV antenna example above, you’d rotate the antenna towards the direction of the TV station, and why hams use the same antennas on towers to listen in a given direction. Its a heck of a lot of capability in a relatively small package for line of sight (VHF/UHF) use. And since they’re small, they should be part of every patrol loadout.
The last directional antenna is known as the Longwire. The Longwire antenna was best known to the Vietnam generation as LRP team members used them for directional communications back to their bases of operations while evading the Signals Intelligence assets of the NVA. As the name would imply, it’s one really long wire that runs to a resistor placed in series with the wire and then driven into the ground. The long wire itself radiates with the ground end running along the earth ground. The resistor works to pull all of the current in its direction and with it most of the radiated energy.
The Longwire antenna rigged up for use. It’s incredibly simple and goes up fast.
Of each of the antennas discussed, the long wire is by far the simplest and most clandestine when used. And it also presents a very low Standing Wave Ratio (SWR) due to the residual energy being pulled to the resistor at the end of the line. Very little gets reflected back to the radio itself, But most of all, it packs up the most compact and is the easiest to build or repair in the field. All you really need is a long run of wire and a high Ohm carbon resistor- just make sure you have a lot of them.
Summing It Up
These three antennas are each fairly easy to build on your own and present a huge advantage over omnidirectional antennas. The security offered through using directional communications is not to be overlooked. For a team of guerrillas communicating critical information, its the only option. But that said it takes a bit of work and training to get right. In part three we’ll be discussing exactly how to do that, covering the basic planning requirements and how to incorporate them into your patrolling equipment.
NC Scout of Brushbeater has an article on Directional Antennas for the Small Unit. Using directional antennas for radio communication can increase the range of communication and decrease signal interception outside the beam path.
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.
Directional Antennas such as this Yagi seen here offer security by ‘beaming’ our transmission in the direction its pointed.
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.
Antenna Theory For Non-Technical People
Radio waves travel at the speed of light. So with that said think about your antenna as a type of lightbulb. The more efficient your antenna, the brighter the light (your signal). The more power plus efficiency, the brighter the light and the more range you get. While we measure light in terms of candle power, we’ll measure our signal strength in decibels (db) and our efficiency in terms of gain. Here’s where it gets tricky, but we’ll break it down simple.
A light in the darkness- it the same visual as you would see if an omnidirectional antenna emitted light. That light is a lot like your signal.
Picture yourself in a dark room with no windows. What most people consider antennas could be thought of like lightbulbs in the center of that room. They light it up, but there’s shadowy corners and nothing is as bright as it could be. Where that light goes is just like your signal. And everyone in that room with a set of eyes will immediately know where the lightbulb is. So maybe you don’t want a bright light in the middle of the room, maybe you just want a flashlight to see one corner- to “see” the person you’re trying to communicate with. You’d want a flashlight- and that light directed in one direction will go much further with the same amount of power (or much less) while not lighting up everyone else in the room. That flashlight is a directional antenna.
The antenna you see here is really only half of the picture- the body of the vehicle serves as its groundplane, otherwise known as a reflector. Being in the center of the roof it provides an equal reflection in all directions.
Now let’s explore antenna theory a bit more, now that we have a frame of reference. What most consider an antenna- that thing sticking out of the top of your HT or off the top of your truck, for example, is actually half of an antenna. It is the radiating element- where the signal energy from the radio actually comes out. You could also call this the “hot” side. That radiating element is exactly one half of your antenna. The other half is what’s called the ground plane, which reflects the radiated signal. This would be the “cold” side. So if you’re looking at a flashlight, you’d see the bulb and the mirror behind the bulb. Just as the mirror is a type of reflector, so is that cold side of your antenna. And now the trick is to get that reflector to reflect in the direction we want the signal to go.
Tying the Concepts Together
A directional antenna’s signal would look like this, versus the lightbulb example above.
So just as our flashlight takes a small amount of radiated light and sends it much further than a simple lightbulb in the center of a room would, so does our directional antenna. A lot of folks frequently ask “how much range will this thing get?” when asking about individual radios, and with line of sight gear such as the basic Baofeng, you’re going to get a heck of a lot more in one direction than you would with omni-directional antennas, while greatly improving your own communications security. If you can master the basics while thinking a little bit outside the box, you’ll be surprised at what can be done.
Since I started the Brushbeater blog project back in late 2015, a constant question I’ve got in emails has been about communications security and very often how to use encryption over the radio. Back when I got into the civilian side of operational communications and I no longer had uncle sugar providing my equipment, I had all those same questions and none of the answers. Encryption and communications security is generally verboten among the old-time Ham crowd. Asking about it immediately can gain a novice the cold shoulder- it’s just one of those things that’s best left unasked, figured out on one’s own, or asked once you’ve got in the good graces of the locals (community building, anyone?). For me it was and is a creative outlet, allowing all the fun stuff I did in the Army to be a useful skill and one I teach others.
Since communications in general, like patrolling, like TC3, and like basic survival are all topics woefully misunderstood by civilians, an area as complicated as securing analog transmissions can go way over people’s heads in a hurry. It’s a different skillset than what you’re either used to seeing or doing. It requires a little understanding about radio theory, a little understanding about the planning process, along with some other skills like how to use a compass and basic awareness of your operating environment. Above all, it takes experience; you can’t just talk about it, you gotta do it. That said, we also have to recognize that the equipment we have is the equipment you’re going to be working with when things go sideways. No magic gear fairy is going to drop you a bundle of PRC-152s, much less the working knowledge to use them. So learning to use what you have in hand to its maximum capability is a heck of a lot more important than hanging out in fantasy land with stuff pushed by hobbyists.
Communications Security Begins With You, or, Encryption Won’t Save You
In a recent conversation with a friend and fellow well-seasoned vet, we brought up some of the obstacles facing would-be partisans that many preppers don’t take into account. Logistics being a HUGE one (if I burn through 500 rounds doing “supporting fire” aka just making noise, who resupplies my ammo?) but also the enablers a lot of the contemporary veteran crowd are used to having but cannot expect in the near future. NSA Type 3 AES encryption comes to mind here. We took a lot of resources for granted, especially in the commo department. We had/have an enemy who generally lacked any real electronic warfare (EW) capability, with the result being incredibly sloppy communications practices. The reliance on electronic security left a lot of the old common practices in the dust, many of which are once more very relevant today. Since about 80-90% of the prepping crowd’s electronic signal devices are limited to VHF/UHF dual band analog handhelds, you have to stop thinking in terms of simply press n’ talk if you want to even begin to be secure. The presence of a pattern of signals, even if encrypted, digital, analog or whatever, will give you away if you lack basic discipline. The saying everything that’s old is new again comes to mind, because a lot of the old hand practices developed in Vietnam for rural patrolling are the first place to begin. What was high tech for them is dirt cheap today. And the training value in their blood soaked lessons shouldn’t be lost on you.
But first, why do you need a radio? A lot of folks buy gear just for the sake of buying something. The first thing you should be asking yourself is exactly what your goal is and then work towards that instead of buying a whole bunch of something, because someone told you to, only for it not to be used. If that goal is talking with others in your group on the back forty, that’s one thing. If it’s rural patrolling, that’s another. Electronic communications, of any type, are the least secure method of communication. Messengers are the most secure. When getting started you’ve gotta figure out what it is you need to do. You might find you don’t need as much as you think; keeping it simple goes a long way. And for those of you only concerned with a homestead right now, COMSEC (communications security) is a very real issue for you whether you know it or not. A common surveillance mission for us was called “patterns of life”, where we watched a place for several days. Surveillance means everything, including the signals coming from the target, which in turn can provide a high amount of intelligence value due to shoddy practices. If you’re lazy, someone who learns a few signals intelligence techniques can not only find you very easily but listen to all your voices, get your names, know your timelines, and finally, disrupt you to the point of shutting you down, usually once they’re ready to attack. I know, I’ve done it in real life. So all of you only relying on those walmart FRS radios are very easy prey.
Contras on patrol hunting commies. Notice the handheld radio (HT) on the RPK gunner’s chest. Inter-team radios should be placed among the leaders of maneuver elements, including force multipliers such as your machine gunner / Automatic Rifleman / Support By Fire and Designated Marksman (DM).
It’s important to point out the difference between tactical communications and clandestine communications. Tactical communications require immediate action and either give short orders or brief reports and are local in nature. For preppers, these are for retreat security and short duration patrols; snoop n’ poop around the woodline to make sure nobody is waiting on us to go to sleep. The RTO Basic course focuses almost entirely on tactical communications. Clandestine communications are long term, far more in depth messages that usually use multiple layers of encoding- this is where the One Time Pads come in– and are sent to cells working over a region. These are referred to as cables in the intelligence field. Numbers stations come to mind, and that’s a whole other conversation entirely…(continues)
NC Scout at American Partisan has written a short Radio Quick Start Guide, covering line of sight and over the horizon radio equipment to get you started if you’re asking “just tell me what to get, already.”
When people think of radio communications, they want a replacement for a cell phone. You’re not getting a replacement for a cell phone.
Alright, with that out of the way, I’ve been getting a ton of emails asking about jump-starting communications capabilities for an area. Since that’s something I’ve written a lot about over the years and teach two classes for building that capability, I’m going to cover the bare-bones basics to getting a local network squared up and running.
It’s a 25 watt tiny little mobile radio that plugs into a 12v outlet. You can run it in your truck very easily. I have one mounted under my dash and another in my shop for making local contacts. Mine is programmed with all of the local repeaters and it’ll also do all of the license free bands (FRS/GMRS walkie-talkies, MURS and marine band).
To get it rigged up, you’ll need a run of 50 ohm coax that you can get in any truck stop. I just call it CB coax. Next you’re going to need an antenna. I run an aluminum J Pole as my fixed base station antenna and I have it just drilled into the eve of the roof of the shop. On my truck I run a 2m firestick which is pretty much the same as my CB antenna and its mounted to my toolbox.
The nice thing about this setup is its portable to nearly anywhere and works really well. With a couple of deep cycle batteries you can run this little rig for a LONG time. I have.
You’re also going to need a tuner for your HF radio. I use a short run of coax (8 inches) between the back of my radio to the tuner then run the antenna coax into the tuner. What this does it use two matching relays to create an electrical match for the antenna length to the frequency you’re using. Think of it as an insurance policy for your radio, since there’s too many variables with an HF antenna to make a perfect 1:1 SWR match every time. The tuner takes up the slack and protects your rig. It protects in other ways as well. I had mine take a lightning strike three years ago. Sent it into LDG and they sent me a new tuner, no questions asked. You’re also going to need a 120v power supply since all amateur radio gear runs off 12v. The one I use is an MFJ 28 amp switching power supply. Its got a 12v power plug to run that QYT mobile radio as well as your Icom.
This is an expensive list- but its one I’ve recommended to a lot of other people starting out and my own home station is not too much different. Everything I’ve got is kept pretty simple. But that said, having the gear is one thing, having the skill is a whole other animal.
NC Scout at American Partisan has written an article on signals intelligence and how to exploit it to disrupt an enemy’s communications. Please note that disrupting someone’s radio communications during peacetime is usually illegal. The FCC can fine you thousands of dollars, revoke any radio licenses you have, and confiscate your radio equipment.
It’s not enough to simply have a scanner, however nice it might be, and call yourself good on signals intelligence. Situational awareness, maybe, maybe, but none of it will do you much good without a means to exploit what ever it is you’ve collected.
The purpose of intelligence is exploitation.
What that means in practical terms is that unless I can do anything with what I’m hearing, its completely useless to me. So what if I hear some traffic on a random frequency. Did I take the time to record it? What did they actually say? What is their level of training or discipline? Who’s the person in charge on the mic?
We can listen to all the traffic we want, but if we have no way of exploiting that, then we’re wasting our time.
Some of the equipment you’ll need for a signals collection package at the small unit level includes a decent scanner capable of decoding P25, a communications receiver, an inexpensive analog radio, a recording device, a Yagi, and a frequency counter. Most of the higher end scanners on the market have up-gradable firmware that is enabling the decoding of P25 modes in use with public service as well as DMR which is very common today in the US as well as being used in Ukraine and Syria among guerrillas. A communications receiver, while similar to a scanner, will tell us the exact frequency the traffic is on, unlike most digital scanners today. We need to know this in order to have the operating frequency- its not enough to know what they’re saying, but we need to know what frequency they’re on so that if we decide to shut down their communications, we can effectively attack.
Our inexpensive analog radio enables us to not just have additional redundancy in our kit, but it’s also a useful exploitation tool. Depending on what type of gear your opponent has, something like a UV-5R can become our weapon in shutting their communications down. Using a Yagi to first get a bearing on their direction and then focus our signal in their direction, overloading their radios. This is beginning what’s known as isolating the target…
Watching a recent media piece on the FARC, I noticed a few shots of their radio equipment they were using to communicate between camps.
Look familiar? Its a Yaesu 817 being run from a Sealed Lead Acid battery. Here’s a better shot:
Interesting layout by one of their RTOs:
The old 817 appears to be very popular among the communist guerrilla group, and if I had to guess (based on their geography) they’re using VHF single sideband and HF NVIS to relay camp-to-camp through the mountains where they operate.
There are only three ways that I know of to generate a truly random One Time Pad – for the “regular guy”: 1) The old-fashioned way with a set of dice (preferably 10-sided) and paper/pencil; 2) purchase one of AmRRON’s ADL-1 units from AmRRON.com (https://amrron.com/2018/03/18/amrron-dark-labs-otp); 3) The following method outlined in this how-to. Maybe there are others. I wanted to come up with a way for anybody to put one together with easily available components. So here it is. You shouldn’t need to procure any unobtainium to build it. (It was valid in May 2018 when I first put this together. It should be fine as Raspbian Stretch is still the current distribution.)
The script will print either numerical or alphabetic OTPs. Besides the standard OTP generating scripts, also included is a script for generating a DRYAD-type table (it does not have the formatting options of the OTP script) and a special, limited-use/audience OTP script for split keys and variants at the end of this how-to.
This how-to also includes a procedure for building an SD card from scratch purely for the production of secure OTPs. Prior to that is some helpful info for those who are interested. If you wanted to build a good OTP generator, then this is for you…