An AAR on NVIS from an EMCOMM group in Kentucky

Recently in the Grid Down Communications FB Group,  an editorial/AAR was posted pointing out certain failures or inadequacies of NVIS. Aside from the “complaints with no solution” attitude exhibited, there’s some key takeaways. Read for yourself:

First things first, the author lists three faults as he sees it:

  1.  Over dependence upon and improper application of HF that led to several significant communication failures.
  2. Inability to properly and efficiently handle message traffic.
  3. Poor choice of digital modes and related software for the task at hand.

There’s only one fault as I see it. Poor Skill resulting from infrequent use and Complacency.

There you have it. Most Hams work from a tower equipped with a rotor, beam yagi up top, with a nice power supply and all the bells and whistles. That’s fine if you’re into contests and such; it is a hobby after all and a fun one at that. They get out once a year for Field Day and put up similar antennas or ready-made dipoles…and have an outdoors radio contest.

I’m not a “Ham”…I’m an Amateur Radio Operator who did this stuff professionally; my success or failure entailed my buddies and my lives on the line.

This exercise is not training; it’s a demonstration or dress rehearsal for what you’ve been training for. Think PT test here. It’s not a workout; it’s a demonstration of your workout program. This exercise apparently just demonstrated complacency which leads to failures; and now you get your counselling statement. Hams getting out once a year and finding out their equipment doesn’t work. It’s sloppy.

The author points out a G2 solar storm hits during one of the exercises and blacks out HF. Well that’s life, Bud. Suck it up. Nothing is 100%. This is where training comes in…had you got off the swivel chair in your shack once in a while, you’d learn a few work arounds. Operate QRP in a solar storm. I have, recently, and have been regularly in this very active period, and still manage contacts fairly reliably. I use my gear religiously and keep it simple. Just because you suck at using HF in a less than ideal setting doesn’t mean HF sucks- it means you do.

“In June we had the KY COMEX exercise. Many of us (hams) affectionately refer to it as JOKEX.” -WHY? That’s on you. If your training is a joke to you then change the way you train.

“A LOL moment was when a friend emailed me laughing that the satellite stuff they so often dismiss the value of during solar storms, was yet again the only “radio” thing working well.” –I suppose you’ve never had TACSAT go down in Kandahar. Maybe the reliance on a floating celestial repeater that’s easy prey to the Chicoms and the Russians(and possibly the Iranians now) is a good idea to you. Not for this guy.

“Back to the 8-land exercise. It looks like their NTS and local voice nets did well, but their HF digital net was a disaster. They planned it around 80 meters during a time of day when the MUF should be floating around 60 meters (5-6 MHz) and it was. This meant absorption on 80 was high and would only get worse as the morning progressed. 40m was unusable for NVIS and apparently 60m wasn’t even considered. Thus they were stuck down on 80 meters struggling with getting messages through intact using NBEMS. Hours and hours were spent retrying a handful of messages. Sound familiar?” –So…your operators yet again are not experienced enough to determine a usable band simply by monitoring it for a while? You know, for the noise level, beacon propagation, whether anyone is even sending messages on it, etc? Yep, you guessed it, operator failure. Real joke this exercise is.

“Hand editing of error ridden messages?

Okay, let’s tackle this hand editing of error ridden messages as it is NOT appropriate message handling even for an exercise. Train right or stay home. You either got a 100% accurate copy or not. Screwing around trying to interpret, hand edit message content, and ignoring digital message CRC failures in the real world of EmComm is a good way to make a royal mess and could easily be dangerous.” –If you don’t get a usable product, ask for a re-send till you get it right. That’s simple, bare bones basic stuff every Long Range Patrol type-Unit RTO learns when dealing with digital modes. End of story.

“There is a good reason why the military has a communications term called “message fragment” and how they handle such messages.” –Yep. See above. And now the question is, what are YOU doing to rectify these training failures other than whine, cry, and mock? 

Whenever you do anything, anything at all, you perform an After Action Review(AAR, or Hotwash). All participants discuss what went well, what went wrong, sustains, improves, and sets the timeline for the next event. It’s what the pros do. And you keep it as professional as possible, coupled with a very thick skin. It’s now big boy units work, and it works very well. By this author’s attitude in his article, I’m certain this did not happen.

Now that I’ve pointed out the training failures apparent as well as the lackluster failure-ensuring attitude of the author, let’s look at some things.

Near Vertical Incidence Skywave is actually pretty simple; but does take a lot of practice to get right. It takes a standard wire dipole, hoisted between 1/4 and 1/10 of a wavelength above the Earth, and sends the radiating energy straight up and straight down, creating a large radiation pattern and eliminating skip zones that occur with HF. (That’s a way too brief version of this… a longer post will come later). It is what’s known as a Beyond Line of Sight method of communications. NVIS in particular is great for regional communications, and much closer, when properly implemented, to 100% reliability than any other system for the 0-300 mile range. Say it again with me: Regional communications. The bands that work for NVIS are between 40M(7mhz) and 80M(3.5mhz). Yes math wizards, this includes the channelized 60M band. Sometimes these bands don’t work very well. Sometimes they work great. It’s on the operator to know when, where, and why, and to have a solid PACE plan. Like I pointed out above, nothing is 100%, ever. Figure out a plan for when things inevitably go south, before they go south.

It’s on you, the operator, to figure it out. This takes experience to gain knowledge, which leads to success.

Commo is the one place SGT Murphy always loves to show up and demonstrate just how much you suck at what you do. This is why it takes so much practice and why I have recently devoted much attention to it in my writings and training. When your commo fails you’re really gonna want to crawl in a hole and die in the tactical environment. Which you probably will. Bravo Two Zero. Red Wings. Qala-i-Jangi Prison.

NVIS works, and works well, in my experience. But then again, I train with and use my gear at least a couple hours, as I have time, every single day. I take this stuff seriously because I’ve seen live and in person what happens when it fails. It’s not fun recovering your buddies.

As I’ve pointed out in an earlier post, SATCOM really is not an option. Sure, you can make contacts with your UV-5R on one of the floating celestial repeaters. It’s not reliable, Stud. Who’s also listening? Can they talk back? How do you know? YOU DON’T. Iridium phones are completely out of the equation. Triple canopy vegetation shuts them down. Rapid foot movement shuts them down. Anti-sat missiles shut them down. The company that owns them and listens in on you…pulls the plug whenever they want. YOU DON’T OWN IT.

Last points-

If your training is a joke, guess what stud- so are you. You either take it seriously or you don’t. I’d rather train the working class guy struggling to get his Tech license and get a handle on this stuff with a Baofeng and a will to learn than a 350lb Extra-class know it all with $1000’s of dollars worth of gear and a shit-show attitude. Experience rules the day, every day. Only one way to get it. To do it, religiously. Finally, don’t bitch about stuff and offer no solution. This means you’re a very large part of the problem, whatever it may be, 100% and then some.

Get out and train. NOW. Figure out what works, and ask a lot of questions. Talk to others; learn; email folks like me if you can’t find any help. It’s really the whole point of this blog. Find deficiencies and fix them; it will matter soon. Patton put it best…the more you sweat now the less you bleed later. And that time might be coming fast.

5 thoughts on “An AAR on NVIS from an EMCOMM group in Kentucky

  1. Good editorial. I agree 100%

    Poor band conditions happen, but usually when one band is down, another is open. When HF starts getting squirrelly, look at 6 Meters, especially Meteor Scatter and Auroral CW.

    Digital modes are where they give CW a run for its money during lousy band conditions, but they require planning and practice.

    VHF weak signal ops can sometimes substitute for NVIS when providing regional communications. Your mileage may vary, but it’s one more tool you can use.

    Most of all, keep practising and learning new stuff.

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