REA Radio Branch in Joint Military Communications Exercise
Besides the regular Saturday net this weekend I made a late decision to take part in exercise BLUE HAM with the UK Air Cadets. This took place on Saturday and Sunday 18th and 19th June 2016, as part of their 75th anniversary commemoration. The aim of the exercise was to test the cadets ability to communicate using HF radio on a band of frequencies, shared with radio amateurs. The exercise was nationwide and competitive.
The aim of activating G3RE was to show support for this, have fun and see what I could learn.
Choose your weapons….
For the day I chose to use the UK\PRC320 and on low power, (5 watts) if it would work. I reasoned this would be a better test of operating skill both ways. I knew the approach would have two chances. Either it would work OK if shortwave radio conditions were good, or communications would be very difficult. As it happens, my own schedule was limited to a quick test on Saturday, late in the day. Also two sessions on Sunday morning (interspersed with shopping at the station commanders request.)
Results for G3RE
- Radio Conditions: Not optimal. The prediction chart was showing the maximum usable frequency for short range communications was depressed, somewhere below five megahertz at the time of day. This prediction was checked out by listening to the band for stations at various ranges and it appeared true. See receiving below.
- Transmitting; Of the three stations contacted, MRE80, MRE68 and MRE43 – 2 were worked on 5 watts and the last on 100w.
- Receiving; On the heard list were two stations in Scotland, MRE24 and MRE25 who seemed to be a touch louder than the nearer contacts which was consistent conditions. The average power available to cadets ranged from 30W to 100W.
- Station Organisation: I had opted to use a more difficult option rather than use a lot of power or a more sensitive radio set, one with a rotary tuning knob and digital display for example.
If you are familiar with the PRC320 you will know how difficult it is to tune across a range of frequencies and locate a signal. (After a few minutes your fingers will probably be sore and bleeding. (I exaggerate :).As it was, the cadet stations were spread across the entire band. I concede – the easy option would probably have increased my chances of more contacts, however to counter the problem of sore fingers, as an aid, I used a spotting receiver, the Software Defined internet Radio located at Hack Green in Cheshire. This also helped me to overcome local noise which has a deafening effect on my radio.
To report locations, both cadets and amateurs used the amateur maidenhead locator system (or QTH Locator) to send a grid reference. On the web I found a very interesting digital map to help me to decipher and pinpoint the stations I heard. So I also used that, as well as the usual websites, an aid.
Summary of Activity
For a potential total of 99 cadet stations I sensed cadet participation was quite low compared to what it could have been. I could only see a few stations active at any one time by reading the exercise website. G3RE was just one of a fair number of amateur stations on the air, and the data from their combined results – published here will make an interesting snapshot of the Five megs amateur band at the time.
The exercise web site made imaginative use of mapping to display locations and data to provide a running score but I felt this was one aspect that had more potential.
Overall this brief period of activity was a bit of fun and I learnt some lessons, especially about log keeping, spur of the moment decisions, station organisation, raising the standard of my receiver and putting up more power.
I am sure the Air Cadets and amateurs involved enjoyed it. My effort didn’t win any certificates, but my final comment is that contacts with military radio stations are quite rare these days, probably due to a move to UHF secure communications.
G3RE remains open for communications exercises on 5Mhz for both amateur and military training.
Thanks to the air cadets for the opportunity. If this exercise runs again I would be happy to participate for the duration.
73 de Stu