U.S. Marines with Information Group, II Marine Expeditionary Force participated in a HAM Amateur Radio General Licensing Course as part of the group’s High Frequency Auxiliary Initiative on base, Jan. 27-31, 2020.
The course, taught by members of the Brightleaf Amateur Radio Club, out of Greenville, N.C., helps Marines learn the principles of high frequency radio operations as a contingency against a peer-to-peer adversary in real-world operations.
Throughout the duration of the course, Marines learned HAM radio frequency and propagation theory, frequency band allocation, conventional and field-expedient antenna theory in addition to HAM radio operations and control.
U.S. Marine Corps Col. Jordan Walzer, commanding officer of II MIG, created the High Frequency Auxiliary Initiative after recognizing the need for utilizing more options in a combat environment. He wanted the Marines to familiarize themselves with older technology to ensure their lethality in any situation.
“Embracing technology is great but overreliance leaves us vulnerable,” Walzer said. “In a peer-to-peer conflict, our space-based capabilities will be attacked. The next war will look less like ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and a lot more like ‘Ghost Fleet’.”
Contrary to Saving Private Ryan, which was fought utilizing traditional land-based maneuver warfare, Ghost Fleet is a book set in the near future and includes the addition of space and cyber warfare.
So wars of the past were fought in the air, on land and at sea, whereas future wars will likely include the addition of space warfare, explained Walzer. U.S. forces need to create a cohesion of modern technology and analog throwbacks to mitigate hackers and drones.
HAM radios make effective alternate communication because they do not rely on satellites or internet, but instead, radio waves. They can travel directly or indirectly, along the ground or by bouncing the radio waves off of the ionosphere or troposphere layers of the atmosphere to communicate.
“Right now, our adversaries are aggressively pursuing counter-space weapons to target our satellites and ground stations,” Walzer said. “If our satellites get knocked out, what do we do then? [High Frequency] radio has been around for well over a century and is still used today. Why? Because it’s a reliable, low-cost alternative to satellite communications. With the right training and education, a Marine with a radio and some slash wire can communicate over-the-horizon for long distances, even between continents.”
HAM radios, also known as amateur radios, are communication devices created in the late 1800s. Depending how much an individual is willing to spend on equipment, someone can talk to others across town or across the world, all without the need for an internet connection. Although most people use HAM radios as a hobby, II MIG views them as potential lifelines in a highly contested environment.
There are three courses taught on HAM radios by the Brightleaf Amateur Radio Club. The entry level class is called the technicians course, which gives people frequency privileges in very high frequency and ultra-high frequency bands and some privileges in the high frequency range. A frequency privilege is just another meaning for permission to use a specific frequency. The HAM Amateur Radio General Licensing Course is the intermediate level course, which allows spectrum privileges on almost all spectrums that the government gives amateur radio operators. The expert class license, also called Extra Class, gives users full privilege on any frequencies allocated to HAM radios.
“I think the course was very informative,” said Sgt. Matthew Griffith, an intelligence surveillance reconnaissance systems engineer with 2nd Radio Battalion, II MIG. “It’s good to learn the things that make our equipment work. In my area of this field we use the equipment but don’t [always] know how the equipment works on the inside, which sometimes makes it harder to troubleshoot if a problem arises. Leaving the course with this knowledge will be invaluable for my Marines and me in the future.”
Dave Wood, the president of the Brightleaf Amateur Radio Club and instructor of the course, plans to conduct the first expert level course in the future after enough Marines have graduated from the intermediate course. The club plans to host the next entry level course during the summer of 2020 and train more Marines.
“The volunteers who make up our High Frequency Auxiliary are absolutely vital to us building a world-class capability,” Walzer said. “We’re drastically improving our skill by pairing experts with Marines who have a passion for HAM radio. They may not wear the uniform, but they’re American patriots serving our country in a different way.”
Whether the next conflict is fought in air, on land, at sea, or in space, one thing is clear; Marines will adapt to face those threats whether it is with the technology of today or equipment of the past.