My note: I originally wrote this article for Spark31’s Signal-3, appearing in the SEP-OCT 2015 edition. I don’t know if it’s still in operation(?), but the ‘newsletter’ had some decent info while it ran it’s course. In any case, the authoring of this article led to the creation of this blog. The ‘video’ referenced in the opening paragraph is in reference to an Army presser vid from Afghanistan, where a couple of trigger pullers are running an AOR AR-8200 with a doppler antenna. While not as sophisticated, my own experience in Afghanistan using my personal and rather rudimentary equipment are contained here. Certain parts have been redacted by myself for PERSEC/OPSEC reasons, and additional notes have been added for emphasis.
A video was posted along along with a question to the [REDACTED] group in regards to an antenna array a soldier was using in Afghanistan. In short, it’s a [LLVI] SIGINT DF array hooked up to a scanner [AOR AR8200], to both capture enemy transmissions and DF them, so that troops on the ground can get an idea where the chatter is coming from. If they’re using this now, they’ll use it when things go kinetic at home.
The Taliban had a rather rudimentary but effective communications system, anywhere from clapping pigeons, flashing lights in a sort of morse code between villages at night, to a VHF repeater system not unlike any standard domestic 2M repeater along the ridgelines. One of our missions was intercepting and dismantling this electronic network, which provided numerous challenges. Our AOR (area of responsibility) [REDACTED] was mostly open terrain interrupted by several mountain ranges which the Taliban relied upon for safety. At this point they knew ISAF SOF and conventional forces would attack in one of two ways- from vehicles or by air, both of which announce their presence long before they arrive on the objective. The last thing they expected was a small team roaming the mountains, and our tactics proved effective. Aside from the occasional tag-along SIGINT guys with dedicated equipment for those missions [NOTE: the SIGINT set referenced is roughly the same size as a standard SINGARS set, or Icom 7200 for those unfamiliar with military radios, along with a large sense antenna. The whole set together, with batteries to supply it for five to seven day’s mission, weighed over 60lb. That’s without water, calories, or any other team equipment. PT is pretty damn important, as is figuring out how to minimize load.] I carried my own receiver for a simpler purpose. Included in my own equipment was an old Radio Shack PRO-96, not to DF but rather to know when chatter happened or not, and use our best judgement from that point, handing it off to the terp given the chance we had one with us (due to the nature of our mission set, we rarely did unless conducting a joint mission with [REDACTED]).
One particular point to note here is that the Taliban had very little radio discipline. They broke squelch everytime they saw anything and everything, and explained exactly what they saw (or thought they saw) over the net. We heard it all, and figured out their network based not always on what they were saying but when they were saying it. Due to this, we knew and worked off of what we gathered in the field [on the fly], often with my simple analog scanner. I’ll state that even though we gathered what we needed, it was largely ignored by the big Army battlespace owners. In short, the repeaters mostly remained.Maybe there was a larger plan at work. Who knows, it was outside my lane. But from the Taliban angle, a simple SALUTE/SALT report format and rotating net schedule could have done them wonders, even with their simple, analog, unencrypted system of chicom knock-off HTs.
Enough of the story…what does all this mean? If we used it then, potential OPFOR will definitely use it in the future. Careful observation goes a long way [for] everything your opponent does. I listened simply for increased chatter, to either make to either make our element aware that our presence was now known or at the halt scan for patterns in their communications. All the standard Vietnam-era LRP commo rules apply when conducting transmissions on the small unit level (brief transmissions, ever changing callsigns, creating team internal codespeak, etc) and is much more important than that shiny new rifle in the flavor of the month caliber. This works both ways. It’s not always what they’re saying but when and how long or frequently they break squelch. The name of the game is innovation. Conventional military leaders rarely think outside the dimensions of their equipment. As an occupying force becomes complacent, they rely upon the same methods over and over. If they follow a signal to it’s source, there’s a potential strategy. Waste no opportunity, and ignore nothing. The same patterning rule applies to FREEFOR…understand not to set a pattern, unless deliberate, and always follow PACE. Think outside the box, and stay frosty.
So the takeaways are that even with little discipline and unsophisticated kit, successful communications can be achieved, as well as Communications Intelligence with very, very simple equipment. That being said, someone is ALWAYS listening. With discipline, better gear, and improved knowledge (all goals emphasized by this blog) your network can and will be quite effective. The Taliban seemed to have little care that we were listening and re3acting to patterns they set, even when it often resulted in their ambush. They really are that ignorant, in more ways than one. Hopefully you’re not, but in the year since I wrote this, some in the “Liberty” movement give me serious pause to wonder.
Seriously. But that’s another topic.