OH8STN: Zero Dependency Winklink

Justin, OH8STN, has a good post up about emergency communications, talking about Zero Dependency Winlink, or using communication modes that don’t rely on other grid-up resources like the internet.

Recently having a discussion with Dean K5MPG about Winlink Radio only networks. This topic is so important, I thought to turn my responce to his email into a blog post, albeit with a bit more context.

In emergency communications and communications for preparedness, we see the usual blogs and youtube vids talking about repeaters, winlink gateways, DMR, DSTAR, Fusion, … All of them are excellent for what they were designed for, but also heavily dependent upon the internet in some way, based of course on how we use them. They certainly work for simplex comms in a grid down, but with severe limitations. On VHF/UHF there is also a finite number of these services available, or in range of our stations. These are fine for soft events or “after the fact”, once grid power has been restored. This is the risk we take when basing our communications plan, on infrastructure dependent platforms. Not right or wrong, just not as robust as they could be.

Another approach, and one which brings the majority of hate to the channel focuses entirely on HF communications. Unlike its VHF/UHF cousins, HF communications has little to no dependency on infrastructure. If fact, other than station power, there is barely any infrastructure dependency at all! What we are talking about is Radio Only Winlink Networks. Networks with no services dependent upon the internet, not on cloud servers, and networks which can adapt to changing operational variables DURING THE DISASTER!

For personal preparedness communications, nobody gives a monkey butt about “disaster relief” while the hurricane is ripping the roof off, or forcing us away from our homes. That’s not a knock against emergency services, just a part of the puzzle which until recently, has been ignored. Disaster relief is what comes after the storm has passed. It is extremely important, but not until later. Most of us still require a layer of communications during the storm, after it has passed, and before emergency services arrives in the region. Even when disaster relief is on site, their equipment will be used for their own logistics and communications. Not for finding out where your loved ones are. This is where personal communications for preparedness becomes important. It is the layer which allows us to get in touch with family, friends, or coordinate meet ups while primary infrastructure is still down, congested or somehow unavailable.

MPS settings can be found in Winlink Express under Hybrid Network Settings. These settings allow a station to set primary secondary and a third alternate station to pick up messages, without connecting to the CMS.

The last week of March 2021, Finland had a emergency grid down communications training exercise. The exercise focused on creating a Winlink radio only network to handle message traffic, WITHOUT “any dependency on the internet”. Winlink Radio Only networks are not using cloud based services to store email for retrieval. Instead they act more like store and forward hubs, forwarding and storing messages on a primary MPS, secondary MPS, or a Third alternate if one is configured. This means messages come in from their senders, are forwarded to the recipients configured MPS (Mail Pickup Station) where they are stored. The recipient then retrieves messages from one of the MPS stations he or she configured. This works just as it would from the CMS, only without the need for the internet. Even if one of the configured MPSs go down, messages can still be retrieved from one of the others configured mail pickup stations. These mail pickup stations also synchronize mail between themselves, routing messages between them, when receiving a message intended for a recipient registered to another hub. It is actually quite ingenious.

History has taught OH-Land that some or part of the grid will eventually go down. This will happen either from a mishap, attack, or from mother nature showing us how small we really are. This is odd since OH has a reasonably robust infrastructure. Still, experience has shown us the need to augment traditional means of communications, is real. A need which can fulfil disaster relief, personal preparedness, or augmenting communications for regional services alike.

We augment traditional commercial communications methods , with slower but more robust HF networks. Networks which are able to adapt to a fluid situation. For this reason many operators in OH-Land participate once or twice a year in grid down comms practice, on a national level. This is a deployment and operation of a radio only hybrid winlink network, routing traffic correctly, discovering any weak points or bottlenecks in the system, testing peer-to-peer connections, …. There are a combination of radio only hubs set up for collection, dissemination, and temporary storage of messages. Outside connections to individual stations are still possible through any remaining gateways, or in the case of Finland through gateways in bordering countries. Although Chat and file transfer mechanisms over HF were not tested, I do hope individual radio operators find interested partners to test Vara Chat for file transfers, and JS8Call for near real-time tactical communications, stations tracking and to augment asynchronous messaging. https://www.instagram.com/p/CNFms6PDmsH/embed/captioned/?cr=1&v=13&wp=500&rd=https%3A%2F%2Foh8stn.org&rp=%2Fblog%2F2021%2F04%2F05%2Femcomm-and-comms-preparedness-zero-dependency%2F#%7B%22ci%22%3A1%2C%22os%22%3A1199%7D

From a personal preparedness perspective, this should be our goal! A dynamic network made up of hubs. Some of them permanent, others field deployable as required. Then augment the hybrid radio only network with other tools like JS8Call for tactical comms, along with Vara chat for file transfers without unnecessarily congesting the hybrid network channels. This is how we build a robust communications layer, whether for emergency communications, personal preparedness or as a partisan communications network over HF.

I first discovered Radio Only Winlink messages by mistake. I sent a radio only message (by mistake) to an OE station, which actually made it through. We talked about how that was possible for weeks. I understand technically how it worked, but still find it amazing.

IMHO, Radio only email is most effective for “regional “communications, when “hubs” can find a path to one another. Naturally “regional” in HF terms can span multiple countries, so we need to zoom out a little in comparison to VHF/UHF. The more hubs deployed, the the more robust our network. Still, once we start crossing plains, oceans, … it becomes more difficult. Even so, this is the beauty of HF. In part, it is also why my own focus is on NVIS/HF comms, over the infrastructure requirements of VHF and above.

Recently I mentioned on Patreon how the channel is stepping up the technical content once again. One of the projects mentioned was the RMS gateway. Since Dean brought up that topic, I suppose it is ok to let the cat out of the bag. The goal is to deploy a Radio Only network hub for the Northern Gulf of Bothnia region between Finland and Sweden. Naturally it will also route winlink email to the CMS, but that is a secondary function. In our world, many operators mistakenly believe Winlink works like Google mail, eg cloud based email server and storage. It certainly does have that cloud component, but it also has a robust network layer, based entirely on moving email along from hub to hub, until it reaches the Mail Pickup Station the mail is addressed to. I am hoping this change in direction will inspire other operators, bloggers and YouTubers in setting up their own “fill in” stations whether VHF/UHF or HF.

ARES, RACES and the like have this part covered, but Survivalists & Preppers often focus on buying gear, protecting gear, maintaining gear, … We rarely if ever see any videos or blogs about “deploying services”. There is talk about AREDN networks, which are very infrastructure intensive, but a nice attempt at recreating a fast, wide area network. Like VHF/UHF services, I’ll have to pass for now! My personal belief and strategy sees a basic traffic net as a critical requirement, before we start sharing “Nice to have” naughty videos over 5Ghz links. (I digress).

Bottom line, and the reason for the post.
Radio Only Network would work extremely well, if more of us put up our own Radio Only Hubs to pass messages through the network or on to other networks. If we start providing services to the network rather than just consuming resources from the network, we can create a much more robust radio only system. This approach will end up being more valuable to everyone. Think of it as a grass roots radio only traffic net. One which adapts to adding or removing hubs, balances congestion, and easily adapts as it grows or contracts. This as opposed to simply consuming resources as a user eg repeaters, gateways, … all of which have weaknesses most of us already understand. This is where the channel is headed!

Xiegu G90 oh8stn

Today we have good choices for reasonably priced low current draw, CAT controllable rigs like the Xiegu G90. We can combine them with any one of the increasing number of micro computers on the market today. Add a battery, solar power or wind generator, and we have the makings for own Hybrid Network Hub.

Let’s get off grid capable together!

73
Julian oh8stn

Comm Academy, Apr. 10 & 11, 2021 – Online

The 2021 Comm Academy will be held online this year on April 10 & 11, 2021. In the past this has been an excellent venue for learning more about emergency/disaster communications, especially with amateur radio.

Two days of training, talks, and information on emergency communications on this year’s theme:
Disasters Here, There, and Everywhere – Are We Ready?

Headquartered in Seattle, Comm Academy is two days of training and information on various aspects of emergency communications. Organizations attending include:

Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES©)

Auxiliary Communications Service (ACS)

EOC Support Teams

Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES)

Civil Air Patrol, Coast Guard Auxiliary

REACT

CERT

All those interested in emergency and amateur radio communications are welcome. Learn, network, and share your experiences with others.

As it has in all of its 22+ previous iterations, the conference will feature expert speakers on a wide variety of topics, from radio and messaging technologies to communications techniques to tales from the “trenches.”

More than just a collection of online presentations, Comm Academy 2021 will be an interactive event, with participants able to converse with presenters and other attendees.

Registration link.

Link to schedule

HRCC: Explaining Tactical Communications With Mike Glover Fieldcraft Survival

Ham Radio Crash Course has an interview up with former US Army Special Forces SGM, former Office of Global Affairs and founder of Fieldcraft Survival Mike Glover wherein they are Explaining Tactical Communications. The interview begins with an overview of SF communications and gear, but the moves in communication planning, PACE (primary, alternate, contingency, and emergency) planning, direction finding, comms preparedness and more. Mike Glover is also behind American Contingency, an organization designed to create a trusted network of support and teach people training they might need to survive in today’s uncertain times.

OH8STN: Grid Down Ham Radio Texas

Amateur Radio operator OH8STN, Julian, talks about grid down ham radio and the recent Texas winter/ice storm and power outages.

Hello Operators.

Today we are talking about grid down ham radio communications, while the Texas power outage is fresh in our minds. This short film should add some much needed context about our grid down communications preps, training, and ultimately sustaining ourselves while supporting our group, during a grid down scenario.

73 Julian oh8stn

For more preparedness related content about the power outages in Texas, also listen to the Survivalist Prepper podcast Lessons Learned From Texas With Sara

OH8STN: Effective Communications

Amateur radio operator and vlogger Julian, OH8STN, has a short post up on Effective Communications, especially in emergency communications.

Hello Operators.
As the field of content creators increases each day (a good thing), it is still important to separate the bull-hockey, from what’s real.
Here are two areas any preparedness comms related content creator, should be able to demonstrate:

  • How can we as a community, measure the effectiveness of our communications plan?
  • Are you able to get messages in or out “at will”,, without grid power, from any location, at any time of day or night?

The fact is, It may be a nice and fun to watch distraction, but we can’t bet our lives on buzzwords, the “I’m not an expert” disclaimer, or on content created solely for entertainment purposes. Preparedness communications related content should be educational, and MUST add value to the discussion. If it doesn’t, we certainly shouldn’t be modelling our own comms strategy, based on what we see in a staged video or post.

So how can we combat this? I believe most content creators come to this topic, with the best intentions. However, to keep us on the straight and narrow, it is important that you the readers, viewers, followers consuming this content, constantly (but politely) call out creators. Challenge us to explain, to demonstrate, to show the process of discovery, and to answer the questions “how & why?”. Any honest Elmer with good intentions will welcome the challenge, since it helps us improve our own communications preparedness, over the long term. Anyone showing resistance to this idea is probably just a parrot, emulating what he or she sees from those who are actually putting in the work.

A true measure – Someone recently said their comms gear was “effective”, because they were able to have a QSO with a random operator. An operator who probably did most of the heavy lifting, for the modest QRP station. In this example, station effectiveness is a misconception.

A random, unplanned QSO will never be an example of station effectiveness, unless that contact can be consistently repeated, any time of day or night, from any location, without pre-scheduling. This is our number one goal for EMCOMM & Preparedness comms.

This is the reason I don’t rely on Parks on the air, Summits on the air, RaDAR, or contesting field days as a measure of communications preparedness. They are nice as a method of practice for setting up or tearing down a field station, but not for preparedness. Even this might be a stretch, since these events are rarely done in poor weather conditions. We can tweak these events to make them more effective, for our own needs (recommended).

The reality is, Ham radio as a “hobby” is generally about meeting other operators by chance, over the air. In contrast, communications preparedness or EMCOMM is more about reaching out to a specific station, from any location, despite the time of day or night. Reaching that specific station is much more difficult, than having a QSO with someone you happen to meet on the air. We might not even know which station is “the station”, until we are knee deep in mud, trying desperately to get those messages in or out. When we can do this with a great percentage of success, we are on the right path.

So, make us work for your views. Content creators will thank you for it down the line.

73
Julian oh8stn
YouTube http://www.youtube.com/c/oh8stn
TipJar https://paypal.me/oh8stn/1USD

NC Scout on The Gunmetal Armory Podcast

NC Scout of Brushbeater and American Partisan recently appeared on The Gunmetal Armory Podcast.

https://www.spreaker.com/user/prepperbroadcastingnetwork/tga-live-with-nc-scout-of-american-parti

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.

OH8STN: Portable Ham Radio Motivation

Julian, OH8STN, has a new video created to try to inspire radio operators to create their own portable/off-grid stations in Portable Ham Radio Motivation. Julian has written and vlogged a lot about off-grid emergency radio communications as well as portable radio operation as their much overlap between the two.

Hello Operators.
These are a series of portable ham radio station clips. Their purpose is inspiring and hopefully motivating ham radio operators, to build & ultimately deploying portable off grid ham radio stations for themselves.

With increasing limitations placed on our ham shacks, freedom of movement, personal liberties, … operating an off grid ham radio station might just be one way to take back our passion for ham radio emergency communications, and communications preparedness.

American Partisan: HF NVIS Antenna

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.

Off Grid Ham: Learning From Off Grid Mistakes, 2

This article comes from Chris Warren at Off Grid Ham – Learning From Off Grid Mistakes, Part 2.

I wasn’t planning a “part 2”. learning from off grid mistakes

Last May’s article about off grid mistakes received a surprising amount of attention. Many months later, it’s still a very popular piece. As a follow up, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit the issue and go over a few points that were not discussed last time. I encourage readers to send in questions and comments because most of the articles that appear on Off Grid Ham are derived from reader input. learning from off grid mistakes

Mistake 1: Mismatched batteries.

Batteries are very exclusive. They don’t like other types of batteries. Just because two batteries are of the same voltage, and maybe even the same capacity, doesn’t mean they play well together. If you are using multiple batteries, they should be the same make and model, and roughly the same age. Most batteries will have a date code on the outer casing for determining age. learning from off grid mistakes

When I went shopping to replace my large storage batteries two years ago, I brought my battery analyzer with me to the store. They had a huge pallet of deep cycle batteries, so I had plenty to choose from. I dug through the pile and picked out a few that were manufactured within a month of each other. From that cohort, I tested each until I found a few batteries that had the same or very close to the same internal resistance. That was the matched set I ultimately bought and took home. Yeah, I must have looked a little weird picking through batteries and running tests, but I got what I wanted. learning from off grid mistakes

When you mix dissimilar batteries or batteries of different ages, the weak one will pull down the strong one. Always Install and remove your batteries as a set. If you must mix dissimilar batteries, wire a battery combiner between them.

Mistake 2: Mismatched solar panels.

This mistake needs some clarification. You should not mix/combine solar panels of differing voltages at any time. Solar panels that produce the same voltage but not the same wattage can be used together, but only if they are wired in parallel. Solar panels are often wired in series to increase efficiency and make better use of MPPT solar controllers. This works only if all the panels in the series are the same voltage and wattage.

If you wire solar panels of the same voltage but different wattage together in series, you will not damage anything or create an unsafe condition. What will happen is that the total power output of the system will not exceed the capacity of the smallest panel. For example, you have one 100 watt panel and one 50 watt panel wired in series. It might seem reasonable to think you’ve got a total of 150 watts capacity. Sorry, but you’ll never get more than 74 watts out of this system.

The reason why is fairly simple: Kirchoff’s Law states that current will always be the same at all points (nodes) in a series circuit. A 100 watt panel will produce about 5.75 amps. A 50 watt panel maxes out around 2.85 amps. Our 12 volt example panels below are wired in series for a system total of 24 volts (in reality, it would be closer to 26 volts).

Since Kirchoff says the current is the same at all points in the series, and the 50 watt panel will never exceed 2.85 amps output under any conditions, the system total is limited to 2.85 amps. Doing some basic math, 2.85 amps x 26 volts= 74 watts. These numbers will vary due to differences between loaded and open voltages, what specifications are used for your calculations, etc., but this gets us pretty close. Think of it like a convoy of ships: The entire convoy cannot go any faster than the slowest ship.

learning from off grid mistakes

ORIGINAL GRAPHIC ©2020

Mistake 3: Using automotive batteries.

If someone gives you a car battery, or a car battery is all you have (such as in a SHTF situation), then certainly go with it for your off grid ham radio power needs. But no thoughtful ham would purposely choose a car battery.

Car batteries are designed to deliver a large burst of current over a short period of time, which is needed to start a car. Off grid hams need batteries that can deliver smaller, steady amounts of current over a long period of time. Using a car battery will not hurt your equipment and is not a safety hazard, but you will not see the the level of performance that a correct battery would provide, and the car battery will have a shorter service life too.

Mistake 4: Using automotive “jump boxes”.

Those inexpensive portable battery boxes made for jump-starting cars seem like an easy, ready made power system for ham radio. They are not recommended for ham radio use for the same reason as standard car batteries. They are made for a short power burst, not for a lighter, continuous load. Some hams do use them with modest success, especially for QRP, but they’re not a serious way to power your radio.

Mistake 5: Buying the best, most expensive gear available.

Just as buying cheap junk because it’s cheap is a mistake, so too is insisting on only “the best”. More expensive does not necessarily mean a device has better build quality or will last longer than a less expensive device of the same type. In many cases it only means you get more cool switches and pretty lights. If you cannot justify the extra cost with some clear purpose or practical benefit, buying “the best” is a journey of vanity.

In my experience, mid-grade equipment has always given me the most bang for the buck. Early in my off grid career I spent over $500 on an ExcelTech inverter. They are made in USA. They are practically indestructible. The American military and US embassies around the world use them. They’re the Rolls Royce of inverters. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was unnecessary overkill. As nice as my ExcelTech is, my Samlex inverter is just as suitable for my application. It cost half as much as the ExcelTech and gives excellent performance. I still use both inverters, but if I were doing this over I’d get two Samlexes and spend the extra money on other useful upgrades.

Never buy any piece of off grid amateur radio equipment based solely on high or low price point…(continues)

American Partisan: Commo Questions Answered

NC Scout at American Partisan answers some radio communication questions from readers, including one about terrain/vegetation and the effect on signal in Commo Questions Answered.

I’m starting up a regular post series where I field your questions on communications-related topics. There’s a TON of questions I get emailed every week that normally revolve around the same concepts or topics, so this is going to be a good way to get them out there for more people to index and use. Keep in mind none of this is a replacement for what you’ll get in the RTO Course, where I literally take you from basement-level knowledge and build you up to creating communications infrastructure where there otherwise would be none, taking it up a notch in the Advanced RTO Course teaching you techniques on operating in non-permissive environments.

MT01 asks:

I know we practice the jungle antenna in the scout course, and course graduates talk a lot about using it. I’ve attached a photo that shows they type of terrain and vegetation that covers the majority of the area where I live, aside from agricultural fields/orchards. It seems like the jungle antenna is not the ideal choice in this terrain. Should we consider ourselves lucky that our signal won’t be blocked by trees? Should be use portable yagi antennas like the Elk antenna line? Is it better to just keep with the rubber ducks? My assumption would be rubber ducks for intrasquad comms and yagi for squad to HQ. We’re also experimenting with some AREDN mesh for certain digital/computer network communications, but aren’t to the point of using it portably, yet. Just wondering your thoughts. I know that most of your posts are going to be tilted toward your local terrain and vegetation, but if you need an idea for a post maybe one on radio or scout operations in more open terrain.

This is an outstanding one. Taking it from the top, vegetation absolutely has an impact on your signal. The higher in frequency you go, the worse it gets. (reference: PRC-64 report in Jungle conditions and tactical jungle communications study) This is one of the reasons why VHF is a better choice in rural terrain over UHF. But then again, that might also be a reason to choose UHF in a rural area. Your signal won’t be blocked completely, but it will get scattered, and possibly to the point it won’t be readable. This makes a big difference when using digital modes, especially DMR. Either way, as you know from the RTO Course, a 4-5w handheld radio can do much when coupled with an antenna purpose-built for the frequency. Jungle antennas are omni-directional, meaning they transmit in all directions at once (as well as receive), so they’re best suited for two tasks:

  1. When you’re needing communications over an entire area, such as a retreat setting.
  2. When your patrol is literally lost (can’t get a fix on your location) and you need to make communications with a Recovery team.

Regarding directional antennas, this is ALWAYS the preference when transmitting to mitigate the DF threat. Not to jump on a rant here, but there’s a reason patrol planning takes as much time as it does in the real world (usually a week, sometimes longer). Among those tasks is mapping out transmission sites and planning the azimuths to transmit your communications. Yeah, its a lot of work. Yeah, its hard. This ain’t for everyone. And if your life depends on it you learn to do it right. You know this, but a lot of other people reading this probably don’t (and will LOVE to comment about exactly how much they don’t know). But long story short you should always be communicating with directional antennas provide you have the ability to do so. In your environment (sagebrush), it’d be a good idea to add a cheap camera tripod to the mix and run your antennas off that.

Inter-team communications are at the Tactical Level– meaning they’re immediate in nature, coordinating fire and maneuver in real time. The range needed is usually short, less than 1km or so, and the standard duck antenna is fine in this role. And contrary to popular belief, only one person on the team needs a radio- the element Leader. That’s it. Anything more than that leads to a breakdown in the command and control capabilities. When you’re going beyond that, to relay critical information to and from a central command point, such as a Tactical Operations Center (TOC) in a Guerrilla Base, this is where the directional communications become a requirement.

On the mesh networking topic…this is a good one. For a local use setup, its good for linking. Just keep in mind you’re not gonna get a ton of range out if it- its meant for a local area, such as a retreat or G-camp. And the second someone attempts to link it to the regular internet, its potentially compromised.

YT asks:

Check the answer in the last paragraph above.

Another topic that I would like to learn about: covert antennas (at home and on vehicles). I live in a subdivision that has nosy neighbors and a restrictive home owners association, so Ham antennas aren’t allowed.

Are there relevant use cases for remote transceivers? If we don’t want to radiate from home, but our gear’s at home, how can we transmit without undue DF risk?

This is actually a very common question. Check out this reference: https://amzn.to/3pvVUQx
It was one of the references we used when learning about HF antennas in non-permissive environments and one that I still reference today. That’s the central idea behind teaching students to build antennas in class, so they understand the underlying concepts behind them. Couple that with John Hill’s excellent work on wire antennas: https://amzn.to/3mQZ4fC
And finally, Sandman sends:

So I’ve been thinking about adding a man portable 11m rig to my signal repertoire to add a way for field ops to establish comms with a fob or hq. Also been thinking about fldigi over 11m. Do you have any experience with this?

11m, also known as Citizen’s Band (CB) radio in the US, is quite a capable tool for use in the field and one that won’t attract a ton of attention when used for underground purposes. FL Digi absolutely is capable over it, especially with some of the narrowband modes such as PSK-31 or RTTY.

If I were rigging up a manpack, I’d bypass kludging a mobile unit into service and simply run a handheld. They fit fine in a surplus MBITR pouch. Just make sure you build a REAL antenna for it. The stock rubber duck on handheld CB antennas are garbage at best. To run FL Digi over them it can be as simple as holding the mic up to the audio on the mobile device and transmitting, but its much cleaner (and less headache) to rig up a dedicated audio output to audio input (on the radio). We so this in the RTO Course with Baofengs using the APRS K1 cable, which makes it pretty simple. I’ve never built one for a handheld CB (or any CB for that matter), but they’re plentiful for a MARS/CAP modded Amateur radio rig (and I have done that).

Anyhow- great questions and as always I look forward to hearing from y’all.

American Partisan: 2 Meter Radio – A Primary Tool

2 Meter Radio – A Primary Tool is a brief primer on the utility of amateur radio use in the 144-148 MHz range. It has considerably more utility than a phased plasma rifle in the forty watt range.

Son of Thunder: 2 Meter Radio: A Primary Tool

Originally appeared on Signal Corps Ministry. – NCS

2 meter band radio (referring to the electro-magnetic wavelength) for amateur radio operators are the frequencies between 144.000 mhz and 148.000 mhz. The modulation most commonly used today is FM. and packet (data). There are amateur radios that are capable of SSB which is permitted but not as widely used. The band (part of the VHF range of bands) is divided into segments for different uses phone (voice), packet, and repeaters being the most common. In emergency radio communications (referred to as ECOM) the 2 meter band is often called the ‘first mile/last mile’ band, meaning it is the communication link between local events and personnel on the ground to their command and control centers (2 meter band for public safety and first responders is more commonly referred to as the public safety spectrum, starting where the amateur radio band ends at the top end) . For local amateur radio operators and first responders, it is probably the most used and most valuable resource for communications in the community. It is also the one of the primary bands you get access to with the easiest and entry level Amateur Radio Technicians license. Most 2 meter amateur radios available today include the public safety spectrum along with the amateur portion but without the ability to transmit on the public safety spectrum unless the radio is modified for use by authorized persons. For situational awareness in your community, having public safety frequencies programmed in the radio’s memory allows one to monitor events, especially using the scan setting most radios today have. While a strictly 2 meter/public safety spectrum radio is highly useful, many people get radios that also include the 70cm band (in the UHF range, also typically used with FM and phone signals). These radios typically add a broader range of frequencies that can be received and monitored but not transmitted on, such the AM airband and other agencies and utilities that use the remainder of the upper VHF range and the lower end of the UHF, sometimes including the 1.25 meter amateur band which a small segment of frequencies from 222Mhz to 225Mhz. Radios that have 2m and 70cm capability are commonly called ‘dual banders’; less popular are ‘tri banders that include 2m, 1.25m, and 70cm.

Having a 2m radio in your vehicle is a must, a dual bander is even better. It is extremely popular and versatile. You can communicate and move in real time, an essential capability in responding to your community’s needs. Having one in your home is almost as important, to be able to make calls for assistance, and to be the reciprocal base station to the mobile stations. In fact I would highly recommend having 3 radios to fully take advantage of 2m and 70cm bands: a home/base dual bander radio, a mobile dual bander, and a HT dual bander (HT is short for handheld transceiver, also more well known as a walkie talkie.) With each household having a base station, mobile vehicle, and a handheld for each individual, you are more prepared to handle any situation by magnitudes. Repeaters for the 2 meter band and 70cm bands are quite literally everywhere (see the Repeater Directories entry on the resource library page of this site). If your interest in this site’s articles were to stop after reading this article, you would have awareness of one the most important communications tools available for maintaining safety, security, community interdependence and cohesion there is, one that is strictly maintained by the community and will work in a grid down situation which would deny cell or internet traffic.

Generally speaking, the 2 meter frequencies are a ‘line-of-site’ radio wave which means exactly as it sounds: a FM 2 meter signal will propagate through clear air until topography interferes or it goes out into space. If you imagine a tangential line from a point on a circle, that point being your antenna and the circle being the surface of the earth, that is how this signal basically works. A FM signal can, potentially, follow the curve of the earth over the horizon by as much as 15% as the bottom of the radiowave drags on the surface of the earth. Transmitter height, signal strength and atmospheric conditions are always a factor as well. 70cm signals have less range, but do have a particular advantage of being more viable inside building and structures. They are a good choice for shorter range communications (shorter than 2 meter) which can be used for the advantages of security and privacy in conjunction with other practices. Antenna polarization plays an important role in FM transmissions: the vertical antenna transmitting a signal is best received by a vertical antenna. Although there is a significant loss in power, a horizontal antenna will better picked up by another horizontal antenna. It is not commonly done, but this technique also can create a security advantage. In an area with a lot of topographical changes, a 2 meter FM radio wave will drag, reflect, and bounce; this can result in an elliptically polarized wave. This can be best observed when holding a HT radio: while receiving a transmission, slowly rotate (up and down, left and right) your antenna to see if your reception improves. Also requesting the transmitting party to ‘better their position’ can improve how well their signal is getting out, the major adjustment is holding up the HT higher. A HT held directly in front of your body restricts transmission and reception by 180 degrees; this could be desirable, but if you’re trying to get help from anyone available, holding your HT high and using a speaker/mic can incredibly increase the reception of your signal.

Quick recommendations: the Yaesu FT-2980R is an incredibly robust and powerful radio. See my field deployment radio ‘Go’ Box:

It also has a packet TNC and USB interface but more on that later. It is a great mobile unit and base unit. Kenwood also makes a great 2 meter only radio: TM-281A

I also use the FT-60R and in my truck a FT-8900R Quadbander as well as the FT-7900R in my shack. Again, there are many good models out there, I just have used these mostly and can recommend them based on my use of them, not for any other reason.

As a member of the Body of Christ in your community, a person whose role is to acquire the skills and capabilities to serve, lead, and minister to your church, it is imperative to get the licensage and radios necessary. Action item: lead your community by studying for your Technicians license, get your license, and budget your resources to get radios. Then help others to do the same. Train and use these tools regularly. When you train, do not just chat on the radio; practice all the skills you would use in a very bad day scenario. As an autonomous communication infrastructure in your community, any member may have to respond to an urgent need, and so everyone needs to have the complete skillset at their fingertips and be able to use it competently. This is no light matter as radio use and net discipline (to be discussed further in another article) can be the difference between life or death, no joke.

If you are called to serve then let nothing stand in your way of being a proficient and professional radio operator (this applies to any role and function in your community; this is the fallen world and corruption abounds, the great opposer is always working to deceive and mislead. We must be out front. Put on the Armor of God and stand!). It is incumbent on each of us to acquire the skills and hardware, learn and train how to use it, and teach and train others how to use it. Then continue training regularly.

Brushbeater: Antenna Polarization and COMSEC

NC Scout at Brushbeater has an article on Antenna Polarization and COMSEC (communications security).

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.

Brushbeater: The Jungle Antenna Revisited

NC Scout at Brushbeater has a new article worth your time if you are into radio communications – The Jungle Antenna Revisited: Task and Purpose for the Partisan and Prepper

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.

Students in the RTO Course preparing an improvised Jungle Antenna for use.

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.

Jungle Jim operators in Vietnam getting a commo check before a patrol. Likely packed away in that ruck is a rolled up Jungle Antenna, ready to get strung up.

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.

The Jungle Antenna up and running. We’re standing right under it and it disappears- think about how it’ll vanish in just a few more steps.

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.

Off Grid Ham: When Things Go Wrong, What Type of Ham Are You?

Chris Warren of Off Grid Ham asks When Things Go Wrong, What Type of Ham Are You?

It’s all fun & games until the electrons stop flowing.

Operating amateur radio is a load of fun. Operating amateur radio off grid is extra fun, but adds a layer of technical complexity to your station. Have you ever thought of what you would do if your off grid system itself went off line? Do you have the skills, spare parts, and tools to correct the problem and get the electrons flowing again? Troubleshooting solar power system may or may not be hard depending on what type of ham you are.

What kind of ham are you? Troubleshooting solar power

There are basically three kinds of off grid hams. “Type 1” hams do not get very involved with the technical aspect of the hobby. Maybe they just want to run contests. Perhaps they got into ham radio only because their kids are doing it, or to be part of a community service group. Type 1 hams don’t see amateur radio as a stand-alone hobby, but rather, as a tool, a means to achieve some other goal. They have some basic tech skills but want everything to be as plug-and-play as possible.

“Type 2” hams see radio as an end in itself. They love to tinker and experiment and would enjoy radio even if it had no ancillary practical purpose. Type 2’s enjoy messing around with radio/electronics and have a high skill level but don’t necessarily do a lot of on-air operating. They will pursue all kinds of projects, many of which never work and might seem a little crazy. They have a great time anyway. Troubleshooting solar power

“Type 3” hams are a combination of the first two. I place myself in this category. I love DIY and home brew projects and that’s what attracted me to ham radio back in the day. Yet, I see that ham radio has real-world applications. Type 3’s have figured out the magic combination of skills and utility. Troubleshooting solar power

Why this matters. Troubleshooting solar power

The type of ham you are will determine what happens when your off grid system goes down.

For Type 1’s it’s straightforward. Unless it’s a blown fuse or similar simple fix, they either call a pro or replace the entire suspect device.

Type 2’s know their off grid systems forward and backward because they probably built the system themselves. They can resolve even complex problems and have a large personal inventory of spare parts. Many Type 2’s will use the opportunity to reconfigure and make major changes and may spend a lot of time dabbling with different ideas beyond the initial problem.

Type 3’s, like type 2’s, can handle nearly any malfunction themselves because they have extensive technical knowledge of their off grid systems. They also have an inventory of spare parts, but only as it relates to their needs. They do not keep a lot of extra unrelated supplies around just for the heck of it like Type 2’s do. Type 3’s are practical and goal-oriented. They will quickly correct the immediate problem and save the tinkering and experimenting for another time. Troubleshooting solar power

Attention to detail.

Hopefully you occasionally take time to verify everything is in order. This means checking cables and connections, topping off electrolyte levels and density in flooded batteries, looking for damage with outdoor components, etc. By the way, when is the last time you cleaned your solar panels? Troubleshooting solar power

If you’re a Type 1 you’re probably not doing any of this. You probably don’t keep any spare parts around either. If you don’t plan on fixing anything yourself then at least plan for the time and resources for someone else to do it for you. Type 1’s are seldom preppers/survivalists (and if they are, they’re delusional) so being independent in SHTF situations is not a priority to them. I’m not trashing on Type 1’s. We all gotta do our own thing, right? It’s all good. I just want them to understand that they will have very limited options when things go wrong.

Types 2 and 3 are best set up to go it alone if needed. Still, there are always areas of improvement. For example, do you have printed technical data and manuals for your equipment? Are your tools neatly arranged and easily accessed, or are you the kind of person who spends thirty minutes tearing through a heap of junk to find a screwdriver? Do you proactively maintain your system, or do you only react when something goes wrong?

It happened to me. Troubleshooting solar power

troubleshooting solar power

PHOTO COURTESY OF PCHACADEMY

A few weeks ago I noticed that my home solar was producing hardly any watts during strong sunlight. Still, the batteries were fully charged at sundown. I didn’t think much of it until the next morning morning when the batteries were much more deeply discharged than they should be… (continues)

Hurricane Watch Net Active for Hurricane Zeta

As of this morning, Oct. 28th, 2020, the Hurricane Watch Net is active on 14.325MHz for Hurricane Zeta, which is expected to make landfall in eastern Louisiana and/or Mississippi later today.

The Hurricane Watch Net will activate Wednesday morning at 11:00 AM EDT (1500 UTC) on 14.325.00 MHz for Hurricane Zeta. We will begin simultaneous operations on 7.268.00 MHz beginning at 5:00 PM EDT (2100 UTC). Once activated, we will remain in operation on 14.325.00 MHz for as long as we have propagation. We will remain on 7.268.00 MHz until after Zeta is downgraded to a Tropical Storm or we lose propagation, whichever occurs first.

Zeta is forecast to be a Category 1 Hurricane when it makes landfall somewhere in southeast Louisiana late Wednesday evening.

As with any net activation, we request observed ground-truth data from those in the affected area (Wind Speed, Wind Gust, Wind Direction, Barometric Pressure – if available, Rainfall, Damage, and Storm Surge). Measured weather data is always appreciated but we do accept estimated.

We are also available to provide backup communications to official agencies such as Emergency Operations Centers, Red Cross officials, and Storm Shelters in the affected area. We will also be interested to collect and report significant damage assessment data back to FEMA officials stationed in the National Hurricane Center.

As always, we are praying and hoping for the best yet preparing for the worst.

Sincerely,
Net Management