Whether you are setting up a field radio station for communications or a monitoring post for SIGINT operation, the antenna is the linchpin of your setup. The best radio in the world is useless without a decent antenna.
Let’s take a look at a common antenna design, one I’ve used with much success over the years:
This is a discone antenna. I have one at my eastern QTH. For a first antenna it’s not bad. It makes an adequate wideband receive and transmit antenna for the VHF and UHF bands. It’s a unity gain antenna, but its advantage is that you can get on the air with multiple VHF and UHF bands with a single antenna. For permissive urban and suburban environments it’s a good choice.
However, it sticks out like a cow in church. Anyone with a modicum of RF knowledge will know what you’re doing when they see one on your roof. Not a problem in permissive environments like the U.S. today, unless you live in place that has a H.O.A. which restricts antennas, or for whatever reason(s) you want to keep your RF activity under wraps.
Antennas are one of those things that you can easily roll your own out of whatever stuff you have lying around your workshop, homestead, or wherever.
Sparks31 is bringing some classes to Washington state in 2019. Sign up to get the early bird rates. Communication monitoring and SIGINT comes to Seattle on June 22-23, and Get On the Air Field Radio is in Yakima on Aug. 17-18. Check it out and learn some useful skills.
Following are some messages received via amateur radio for the AmRRON readiness exercise. Errors are as received.
a DRINKING WATER RESEVOIR IN SUTHERLIN OR HAS BEEN CONTAMINATED, THERE ARE DEAD ANIMALS IN THE WATER.
SAN FRANCISCO – ONLY THOSE WITH ALTERNATE POWER ARE OK.
***EXERCISE***EXCERCISE***EXERCISE*** THERE HAS BEEN A CYBER ATTACK TO THE POWER INFESTRUCTURE NATIONWIDE. POWER WILL BE SPORATIC FOR THE FORSEEABLE FUTURE. INFECTIOUS DISEASE HAS HIT OREGON. THE DISEASE IS SPREADING FROM ANIMALS TO HUMAN AND VISA VERSA. ALL COMMUNICATIONS OTHER THEN RADIO ARE DOWN. PLEASE CHECK YOUR AMRRON SOI FOR COMMS SCHEDULES AND UPDATES. ***EXERCISE***EXERCISE***EXERCISE***
The Pre-Exercise Breaking News and Pre T-Rex Message Traffic are used as a ‘build up’ to set the T-REX training exercise scenario. We are also providing resources to help you with your preps! We look forward to training with you! The “Grid Down” portion of T-REX 2018 officially begins Friday, July 20th at 1900 zulu.
Note: We will be simulating GRID DOWN for T-REX beginning at 1900z (12:00 noon pacific time). AmRRON Operators will be running practice nets using the Communications Signal Operating Instructions. Hope to see you on the air! 73!
///Exercise Exercise Exercise/// The AmCON level has been raised to level 2 due to overload of emergency systems.
The spread of Disease X has began to result in travel restrictions as the president has declared martial law and brought in the National Guard to provide quarantine in some large cities. Anyone who is planning to relocate to another location should do so immediately as the window of opportunity is closing quickly, possibly already closed depending on your individual location. Public areas and gatherings should be avoided if at all possible. Limit contact with individuals and do not consume meat products that have been obtained within the previous 3-4 months to reduce risk ofcontracting Disease X through the food supply. Avoid meats or use long-term supplies. NC SIGCEN
The Radio Telephone Operator (RTO) Course is designed to take the individual of any and every experience level and teach them the basics of effective small unit communications in a field environment. Students will learn what it takes to set up a plan and implement communications in an improvised setting be it anything from a retreat to a security patrol to regional communications networking groups. A heavy emphasis of the course is on improvisation and antenna building- each student will construct antennas from improvised materials which they keep. This is NOT a “ham radio” class. No equipment or previous experience is required; only a notebook and a good pair of shoes. It is the only course of its kind offered anywhere, in a friendly, laid back and respectful environment.
This class will teach students the basics of communications at the Team or Squad Level in the field. Topics of instruction include:
Identifying Equipment Requirements
Writing a Signals Operating Index
PACE Planning for Communications
Basic equipment capabilities
Improvised antenna types, uses and construction
Setting up and running an NVIS HF station
Setting up and communicating from a Hide site
Two day course will culminate in an field training event running a TOC station and Hide site in the field. Students will each build an antenna and demonstrate competency in team communications basics during the field exercise. Amateur Radio license qualification is helpful, but not required. This is NOT a ‘ham radio’ class but each student will come away with a basic understanding of a team’s communications needs in a tactical environment and how to best meet them under less-than-ideal circumstances. No equipment is required for this course; however, if students want to get field practice with their own gear, it is highly encouraged but done so at their own risk. Instruction is completely off-grid.
RTO Course: $300 per Student in advance or $350 at the door
The Advanced Course picks up where the RTO Basic Course leaves off, with training focused on:
Field Day is ham radio’s open house. Every June, more than 40,000 hams throughout North America set up temporary transmitting stations in public places to demonstrate ham radio’s science, skill and service to our communities and our nation. It combines public service, emergency preparedness, community outreach, and technical skills all in a single event. Field Day has been an annual event since 1933, and remains the most popular event in ham radio.
Field Day is a picnic, a camp-out, practice for emergencies, an informal contest and, most of all, FUN! It is a time where many aspects of Amateur Radio come together to highlight our many roles. While some will treat it as a contest, other groups use the opportunity to practice their emergency response capabilities. It is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate Amateur Radio to the organizations that Amateur Radio might serve in an emergency, as well as the general public.
Field Day is always the fourth full weekend of June, beginning at 1800 UTC Saturday and running through 2059 UTC Sunday. Field Day 2018 is June 23-24.
HF radio wave propagation can be shot nearly straight into the Ionosphere, hence the name Near Vertical Incidence. What goes up, must come down. Knowing that all things have equal and opposite reactions, the angle coming down is also nearly vertical. Then it goes back up, and down again, and over and over. Like this:
And it gives you a range Beyond Line of Sight, at the tactical level, like this (minus the TACSAT in the photo):
With a regional picture looking something like this (which goes along withPlanning your Footprint) pictured below.
So what does this give us? We now have Beyond Line of Sight Communications that do not rely upon repeaters. Once operators are decently trained and have a good amount of time working in this method under their belt, it can be very reliable.
Important to note is that not all HF bands work well for this. Generally speaking, 160-40M work best due to the way the frequencies themselves refract off the ionosphere. Experience as a Radio Operator should tell you when to use which band based on noise level, the amount of heard traffic, and beacon propagation near your operating frequency will give you a good idea if your traffic will be successfully transmitted or not.
Several people have asked what our recommendations are for radios; not only amateur radio equipment, but also scanners and shortwave monitoring. Communications are a vital aspect of our every day lives. Communication will be just as important, or more so, in a disaster or emergent situation. Having reliable equipment relieves the end user of much frustration and could be a life saver.
First, a very brief discussion of radio frequency is in order for those readers who have not made any study of radio previously. Radio waves are a type of electromagnetic radiation which moves at the speed of light from the transmitting antenna. This radiation takes the form of electromagnetic waves. Higher energy waves have a higher frequency (number of waves per second) and a shorter wavelength (distance between each successive wave peak). Lower energy waves have a lower frequency and longer wavelength. Frequency is measured in megahertz (MHz) or millions of waves per second. Different portions of the entire frequency range are grouped together and given shorthand names to aid in their discussion.
The portion of spectrum which interests us for purposes of this article runs from approximately 3 MHz up to 3,000 MHz. This range has been grouped into three sections. High Frequency (HF) runs from 3 MHz to 30 MHz. Very High Frequency (VHF) goes from 30 MHz to 300 MHz, and Ultra High Frequency (UHF) runs from 300 MHz to 3,000 MHz.
HF is primarily used for long-range communication. HF signals are reflected from the ionosphere which allows them to propagate beyond the horizon. HF signals may take several reflections off the ionosphere and off the earth to travel great distances. This kind of atmospheric reflection is referred to as skywave propagation. VHF and UHF are considered line of sight frequencies. VHF and UHF are limited to distances not much greater than the distance to the horizons, assuming no obstructions to the line of sight. In certain atmospheric conditions, VHF signals may be reflected by the atmosphere, allowing for greater range, but this happening at UHF is exceeding rare and neither should be relied upon for communication. Most VHF/UHF signal propagation is direct wave or surface wave propagation, and reflection.
Sparks31 put up a couple of posts on running a monitoring exercise (MONEX) designed to use basic radio receiving equipment, get you experienced in listening, test your gear, and give you an idea of who is operating in your area and their frequencies. The first exercise in part 1 uses a portable broadcast FM radio and the second an AM radio, which just about everyone has. These are exercises that you can do on your own and only require the ability to receive. You do not need a license to receive radio communications.
MONEXes (Monitoring Exercises) are important because they help you understand what your listening equipment is capable of doing, they help you improve your skills in both COMINT and OSINT, and they help you figure out what frequencies in your area are useful for keeping an ear on events. Communications monitoring equipment is not something you can purchase and toss in a go-box for when the balloon goes up. You need to get proficient with the equipment before the s[tuff] hits the fan. Information gathering is as important a survival skill as firearms proficiency, or growing your own food. MONEXes are the way to COMINT proficiency.
As anyone who’s taken the RTO Course knows, the actual equipment itself doesn’t matter that much with some solid foundational training. One VHF analog radio, functionality-wise, does the same thing as any other VHF analog radio. Students are usually surprised by the neat things you can do with a few bucks spent in wire and electric fence insulators along with guiding hand. We wring the absolute most out of whatever you have. But that aside, I do have some suggestions for the prepper just starting out and the more seasoned survivalist who’s graduated to the jack of all trades phase. Since many folks are asking about current production gear, let’s talk about it- specifically, what gets the job done for the money, and what’s really good for a little higher end.
With that said I’ll state up front that buying a bunch of stuff and putting it in a bag or box and then never using it does you no good. You have to use your gear, whatever it is. Everything I own is used hard and heavy- not abused, mind you, responsible people care for their equipment– but used. I know the ins and outs of what I own, and you can be darn sure that if I suggest it, I not only use it, but I can show you the results. So for the folks that buy a case of Baofengs on Alibaba and then never take them out of the box, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Whether you’re buying a $20 Baofeng, a $200 Yaesu, or something somewhere in between, use your stuff and if it fails, you’ll know its limits. The next thing I’ll say is I definitely don’t require anyone to ‘be a ham’ or have any prior knowledge before coming to class. But having people to talk to is the most important part of the learning process, and like land navigation, marksmanship, and basically anything else, its very much a perishable skill. There is a learning curve to communications, especially emergency and field expedient uses, so having stuff just sitting around ain’t doing much for anyone.
NC Scout at the Brushbeater blog has an article up about using brevity codes in your communications and how to do it. These are like amateur radio Q-codes or police 10-codes, but tailored to your own needs. Here’s an excerpt from The Brevity Matrix.
…[O]ne of the common questions I get is regarding the length of the reports when they’re sent. If interception is a concern, and it always is, how do we shorten this up or obscure it to the point of being useless to listen to? There’s a few answers to this question, including going high tech/more complicated/more expensive with equipment, more efficient antenna construction for directivity, and finally, creating a BREVMAT.
A Brevity Matrix, or BREVMAT, is a randomly generated series of codes that are commonly understood by your group and shorten the transmission. In the amateur radio world we use Q codes, and 10 codes are the most widely known in both the CB and public service realms. Like I state in class, what you and your group do is up to you- if the basics are observed and everyone is on the same page, then it’s not wrong.
Tactical BREVMATs are created and included in your Signals Operating Index (SOI), they are recycled each time the SOI changes (which is usually a set period of time, and for missions, mission-specific). This information can then be encoded into a One Time Pad (OTP) message and sent to higher analysis and control element (ACE) if coordinated over a region.
The following is a sample BREVMAT sent in by a very well seasoned reader (it’s much appreciated my friend, stay frosty) and a template for you to follow:
Sparks31 has previously written Communications for 3%ers and Survivalists and also Down-Grid Communications.
Follows an excerpt from the introduction:
Imagine, for a moment, that right now the grid goes down, either accidentally or by design. Would you be able to:
• Communicate with family members to determine their safety/well being, and have them initiate contingency plans?
• Alert and mobilize the members of your group?
• Collect intelligence information to find out local conditions?
• Collect intelligence information to find out the geographical extent of a disaster or similar event/situation?
Now lets go to the actual present, our statusquo dystopian reality. Are you able to:
• Communicate with family and group members in a manner that minimizes your footprint?
• Collect intelligence information to find out local, regional, national, and worldwide conditions/events via alternative means?
• Minimize or eliminate your surveillance footprint when necessary for privacy reasons?
Communications skills in a downgrid situation, meaning both now and in an uncertain future, is an essential survival skill for anyone interested in maintaining control over their own destiny. You don’t need to be an electronics expert, although your group or tribe will
certainly need one. You do need to have a certain level of
knowledge, dependent on your aptitude and general skill
The cornerstone of why you need communications in the field is unit coordination. Teams must have a way to relay what they see and update the situation to other partner teams in the field and to a command location. This is what’s known as Inter-Team Communications and should be thought of as your lifeline for the Small Unit. One of the topics briefly covered in the RTO Course is how to integrate squad-level commo gear into your kit. After training with several groups I’ve noticed that this normally is an afterthought, so it’s something that I address through demonstration of my own gear during the second day. While I don’t require anyone to bring anything to class other than a notebook, pen, comfy shoes and a good attitude, on the FTX there is a little bit of team movement and scratching the surface on Small Unit Tactics (SUT) that I cover elsewhere. There’s a lot of reasons I do this, but its mostly to prove to the student they’re effective with almost nothing. Everything else is an enhancement to the skill they’re building. Basics never change, and proper adherence of the basics will get you through most situations. The point is not that its an SUT class- its that you’re using your training and gear in the intended environment and showing me that you can apply what you just learned. An RTO (Or RATELO for youMarines) is a critical element of the small unit and as a recent Scout class learned, can be the hardest job on the Team. Together we lay the foundation and provide a context, so that everything else becomes easy and you can add to it to suit your group’s needs. Among the takeaways through a hands on approach is how to integrate Inter-Team communications efficiently into your own personal Second Line or ‘Deuce’ gear (also known as ‘kit’). One of the biggest issues for those looking to conduct patrolling is how to effectively integrate basic communications equipment into their patrolling kits- there’s a right way and a less-right way, centered around making life just a tad easier while moving tactically…