MIL COMMO FTX: Field Day 2023

UPDATE 7/9/2024 In an effort to encourage more field operations by Hams, especially with military field radio gear, the following After Action Report is posted.

This was my Military Communications Field Training Exercise: (ARRL Field Day 2023). Need emergency PACE “back channel” E-Mail comms while deployed?

(PACE = Primary Alternate Contingency Emergency communications plan and equipment.)

Ham radio Field Day is an annual, National emergency communications preparedness exercise. Typical Field Day draws upwards of 30,000 participants in the US and Canada.

My operation class was “1B EB” (1 transmitter, off-grid, battery powered, located in the ARRL East Bay section). Effective training for everyone.

I set up a hasty field station on Saturday at the location of the former NIKE SF-25 Surface-to-Air missile battery and operated for a few hours. This NIKE site was operational from 1956-1959 providing air defense to the San Francisco bay area from Russian bomber attack.

My location was in the park that now occupies the site near the air search radar system on “Rocky Ridge”. The setup was on a picnic table in a leafy glade (drone countermeasures !) alongside the creek at the bottom of the canyon. This site is surrounded by 200-250 meter high hills on 3 sides. Near Vertical Incidence Skywave operation was the plan of the day.

The main goal was to exercise my equipment for portable, battery powered field ops using the 20 watt PRC-174 HF Manpack set mounted on the ALICE backpack frame; I was running CW and SSB voice. The antenna was a 20 meter long Inverted L wire tossed up in the trees over a ground counterpoise wire. Simple quick.

Note: NIKE missile batteries had AN/GRC-9 HF field radios for network site-site comms.

Another goal was to exercise this system on the Winlink HF / Internet EMail system. It worked well sending and receiving my test EMail via an automated HF-Internet Gateway node in Reno NV, a 275 km shot from here. There are scores of these nodes around the world. You can always connect with many of them

Lacking an actual military terminal, my setup uses a PC Notebook “Glass Terminal” running Vara HF software through a Signalink interface to the PRC-174.

It worked well and is very handy from “The Bush” if local or regional Internet, WiFi, Cell coverage or utility power is down. There was none of that at this FOB.

I also exercised the setup on radio-teletype “RATT” with a pre-planned sked with a buddy doing a similar “military” Field Day operation near LA using his PRC-47, CV-2455 and a UGC-74 teletype terminal. I was up on 7087 kc, 850 cps shift, Space High at 20, 21 and 2200Z as planned, calling CQ Clatternet.

Alas, he was having equipment problems, so no joy on RATT this time although we have done this before. This is training – better to uncover the Gremlins now.

Comm works 100% of the time 50% of the time.” Murphy’s Laws of Combat.

I also did not hear any Ham RTTY (170 cps shift) on 40 meters that day. However there were LOTS of CW and SSB field stations on the air then.

A few photos of the highly portable setup. Nothing to see here, move along:

Another crappy day in the Woods. That dark green ground cover in the background is poison oak – an excellent perimeter-defense system. Don’t drag your antenna or ground wires through it.

Below: The complete CW/Voice/RATT/RTTY setup. The Notebook USB drives the Signalink interface; it sends/receives Mark/Space audio tones to the radio Audio connector. The radio then operates in Upper Sideband, Audio Frequency Shift Keying mode to generate and decode that Baudot waveform.

PRC-174 HF RATT System

The FLDIGI software runs this and nearly every other mode including CW, Packet, various PSK modes, MT-63, SITOR and many other “digital” waveforms. It even displays analog Weather FAX satellite imagery sent by the Coast Guard on HF channels. Very versatile. But Morse Code with the J-45 Knee Key is still my favorite – always works!

Below: I also had the RACAL TRA-967 (formerly owned by Saddam Hussein’s army in Kuwait) along guarding 52.525 mc FM Simplex for local Ops. As expected, I heard no 6 (or 2) meter Ham activity down in this canyon but I could listen to the local California Highway Patrol and Parks and Fire Depts low-band repeaters down between 42-47 mc. Handy for situational awareness.

RACAL TRA-967 VHF Low Band FM Transceiver for 6 meters

This set has good interoperability with PRC-6, 25 and 77 sets as well as the VRC-12 series vehicle/fixed-base sets. It is also interoperable with modern, commercial Ham equipment. For all your tactical Commo needs!

Below: All the HF station accessories besides the PRC-174 on the ALICE pack frame fits inside that little day pack for transport. Including the PC Notebook, various dipole and other wire antennas, coax, handset, key, headphones, the whip antenna and mount, speaker, notebook, small solar panel, coax adapter kit etc. Ready to go anywhere.

Over a few hours I was easily able to work many field stations in Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada on 40 meters, mostly on CW with some SSB voice.

Got Comms? Yes.

Mission Accomplished.


Field Day 2024: I used this same equipment from Mt Diablo State Park this year as well. POTA: “Parks on the Air” although very unofficial and unannounced. A hasty setup to exercise the equipment on a nice day under the trees. Man-portable military radio gear makes this simple (and effective). The Picnic TOC – BBQ not included:

Below: I made a number of CW contacts on HF using the PRC-174 manpack set; seen here with the whip antenna tilted downward to enhance the NVIS effect for regional contacts. I had good results inside central California on 40 meters with the antenna deployed like this (also running a quarter wave ground wire). Propagation was otherwise good, it won’t out perform a low dipole, but this is easy and works.

As before I also ran some HF Winlink test messages back to the home QTH. This is very handy Internet EMail connectivity from The Bush!

The AN/PRC-127ef handy talkie was along for monitoring the local simplex and repeaters on 2 meters. This is the 3rd generation of the PRC-127; the “ef” model is made by EF Johnson and is keypad programmable. These were designed for use by Combat Support units and not technically “tactical” equipment. They can include DES encryption as an option as needed.

(For more information on the PRC-174 and field ops, take a look here)