Band Conditions

29 November 2018

New Class - Lynchburg, VA June 1-2, 2019

Due to popular demand, I'm happy to announce that I will be doing a Communications Monitoring and SIGINT Class in Lynchburg, VA on June 1-2, 2019.



This is a two day class focused on the needs of the 3%er, survivalist, or prepper. It teaches the basics of intelligence versus information, electronic communications monitoring, signals intelligence (SIGINT), and open source intelligence (OSINT) in support of SIGINT. It has been my observation that these skills are important and needed. Until now instruction was unavailable in the 3%, survivalist, and prepper communities. This class has been developed to provide access to this valuable information, and help those who would like to learn. It is based upon my 30 years of experience in communications monitoring, and work in the electronics , radio communications, and security industries. It has been distilled into the essentials from the best military, private sector, and hobbyist sources. Much of the material is new and has never before been presented in one course, including my previous grid-down/down-grid communications classes.

The first day of class will be a course of instruction where the following topics will be taught and discussed:
  • What is intelligence?
  • Intelligence versus information.
  • What is SIGINT, COMINT, ELINT,and OSINT, and how do they all work together.
  • Legalities of civilian SIGINT.
  • Area studies.
  • What do you need? Equipment types and figuring out its selection for your area.
  • Electronic interception, communications monitoring (low level voice intercept) and COMINT techniques.
  • Setting up a listening post in different situations.
  • Police scanners, communications receivers, SDRs, antennas, and other gear.
  • Constructing an electronic order of battle for your area.
The second day of class will be a field exercise in which the techniques taught the previous day will be demonstrated, and students who have brought equipment will have the opportunity to engage in a monitoring exercise. A listening post will be set up, communications monitoring activity will be conducted, and further practical instruction provided.



Due to the intense, technical nature of this class, (I have a well-deserved reputation for giving a lot of material to students over the course of the class. Be prepared to take extensive notes.) enrollment size will be limited.

The cost for this two-day class will be $300. Deposits ($50) are now being accepted at https://squareup.com/store/sparks31/.


Vintage Radio Swap Meet This Weekend - 12/1/18 - Windsor, CT

https://www.vrcmct.org/news-and-events.html

Vintage Radio Swap Meet
(at the museum)
115 Pierson Lane.
Windsor, CT
12/1/18 @ 0800

The ultimate list of New England hamfests is available online at:
http://web.mit.edu/w1gsl/Public/ne-fleas
 

This might be a good place to find that EMP-resistant tube radio.

26 November 2018

Dr. Strangecomms, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying, and Love the Return of the Cold War


Via our FB hangout, from QAnon.

"NOT CONFIRMED AS OF THIS TIME. Russian forces conducting electronic warfare operations in Europe. Most milcomm being jammed. UPDATE 3:15 PM --
JAMMING OF MILITARY COMMUNICATIONS IN EUROPE HAS BEGUN. MASSIVE and I mean MASSIVE Jamming of EVERYTHING from USB 8990 to 9010....Nothing coming through...Been a Long time since I have seen this!

PRESIDENT TRUMP RETURNING TO WHITE HOUSE EARLY . . . DEPARTS MAR-A-LAGO AT 4:00 PM EST.
U.S. PENTAGON CALLING-IN ALL SORTS OF PEOPLE FOR URGENT MEETINGS. NOT SOMETHING YOU SEE ON A SUNDAY UNLESS THINGS ARE HUGELY BAD. . .
Ukraine have asked for urgent military support and calling for UN intervention.
Ukrainian President is calling an emergency session of his war cabinet in response to the Kerch Strait
UKRAINE ARTILLERY BOATS BERDYANSK AND NIKOPOL HIT BY ENEMY FIRE, SEIZED BY RUSSIAN SPECIAL FORCES -- UKRAINIAN NAVY STATEMENT
3:23 PM EST -- Ukrainians are briefing that they are now launching counter fire at OTHER Russian vessels.
3:27 PM EST -- The Ukrainian Navy says one of its small armored artillery ships has been hit after Russia opened fire in the Black Sea
Ukrainian air force and land forces on full combat alert. Possible reserve call-ups.
CONFIRMED: all Ukrainian naval vessels have departed bases and put out to sea.
3:35 PM EST -- All military and security services in Ukraine have been mobilized tonight.
3:41 PM EST -- Artillery boat Berdyansk and tugboat Yany Kapu are seized, being towed. Artillery boat Nikopol is blocked and escorted by Russian Navy. 6 servicemen suffered injuries
UPDATE 4:03 PM EST --
Shipping has come to a halt between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. The image below is a screen shot of online ship RADAR TRANSPONDERS showing their location. Traffic jams at both sides of the Kerch Strait. Nothing is moving.

Ukraine Leader Poroshenko meeting with military cabinet still ongoing, it's one hour now.
UPDATE 4:14 PM EST --
RUSSIA WARNS THE WORLD:
"Any attack on Russia from Ukraine or it/s allies will result in a dangerous situation...Russia warns Western allies to not interfere in crimes committed by Ukraine or there will be consequences."

4:18 PM EST -- Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine: Ukraine to declare martial law"

So we have a mode and frequency range: USB 8990 to 9010 (KHz). 20 KHz. of spectrum centered on 9000 KHz. 8992 KHz. is a USAF frequency. This is the type of stuff my classes are meant for. 


A quick OSINT check shows that there has been interesting activity on 9000 KHz. for at least the past 2 years.

A good, albeit perhaps somewhat dated, reference on Russian Communications by Tom Roach (who was on of the experts on Russian HF comms) is available at http://ominous-valve.com/ussr.txt. Perhaps not as dated as one might think.

Of note is that there no mention of this activity on my usual go-to source for HF Ute monitoring, or my secondary one. One thing you can count on is that HF Ute monitors are quick to find any wierd stuff on the bands.

The take-away on this is that as we return to the good old Cold War days, we can expect to see increased activity on the HF bands, and that with some basic equipment you can keep an ear on things.

See you in class!

25 November 2018

FREE CLASS - Intelligence Preparation of the Neighborhood - 12/15/18 - Watertown, CT

  • What do you know?
  • What don't you know?
  • What do you need to know?

Intelligence Preparation of the Neighborhood (IPN)
December 15, 2018 - 1400-1800
CT Hackerspace, Watertown, CT

IPN is a systematic, continuous process of analyzing the threat and environment in a specific area. It is designed to support estimates and decision making.
Applying the IPN process helps you selectively apply and maximize your capabilities at critical points in time and space.

This free course will provide an introduction to the IPN process, and how it applies to individuals and small groups or voluntary associations.

RSVP via FB event page or via email.

Another Must Read

https://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/

I've been following John Robb since he started blogging. If you're not periodically visiting Global Guerrillas to read his latest, you need to correct that deficiency.

24 November 2018

Via a Reader: Commo Wire

On FB:
"The Sportsmans Guide (MilSurplus & outfitter store) is having a sale on NEW field phone wire, in 1/4-mile spools. They also sell field phones too. I purchase several miles of the wire, and it is very good quality. https://www.sportsmansguide.com/.../us-military-surplus..."

Expedient Wired Comms




http://expedientwiredcomms.blogspot.com/

Don't know what happened to this fellow. Hope he's still around. I'd like to see him post more stuff.

In the meantime, download the information before it disappears.

See also http://sipseystreetirregulars.blogspot.com/2012/06/praxis-field-wire-field-telephones.html from the late Mike V, http://www.6thcorpscombatengineers.com/docs/FieldManualsWWII/FM%2024-20%20(%20Field%20Wire%20Systems%20).pdf, and http://www.survivalebooks.com/free%20manuals/1960%20US%20Army%20Vietnam%20War%20Field%20Wire%20&%20Field%20Cable%20Techniques%20289p.pdf


More Colorado Class Pictures

Back in October, I held a class in Northern Colorado on communications monitoring and Signals Intelligence (SIGINT). One of the attendees, MREDACTED, took extensive pictures of the class, which I'm sharing with you to show you what to expect if you decide to attend one.

I will do classes as long as I am able to do so, and continue to provide updates as my open source C4ISR R&D for potential CIDG, self-reliance, and preparedness hobbyists finds better and smarter ways of doing things. However, if events progress in a certain direction, this blog may find itself switching over to the Dark Web and implementing extreme vetting for access privileges. I was running my usual OSINT feed this morning, and these gems found their way into my in-box:


https://www.cnn.com/2018/11/23/health/climate-change-report-bn/index.html

Those of you who want to reach the actual report can visit https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/.

https://www.foxnews.com/us/gun-purchasers-may-need-to-submit-social-media-history-under-proposed-new-york-legislation

The actual bill text can be read at https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/s9191.

While I don't believe in the whole TEOTWAWKI WROL scenario as it is usually presented, I am convinced we are in an alternative that is much worse. That would be a slow decline into third-world totalitarianism that creeps up on you while your attention is diverted elsewhere. In this case, TEOTWAWKI has already occurred, but people just haven't noticed yet.

How do you prepare for something like this? One way is to set up alternative communications and information (intelligence) collection systems. I can help with that.

Those of you who missed my last class still have the opportunity to do so next year. The complete 2019 schedule is available at https://www.sparks31.com/p/2019-classes.html. For those of you in the Northeast, I will be holding a class in January at Watertown, CT. Details for the Connecticut class are at https://www.sparks31.com/p/blog-page.html.

And now, the pictures from the October class:

Hallicrafters S-53 shortwave receiver, a novice station staple during the 1950s and 60s.

Arborist throw bag used for putting up wire antennas.
Throw bag in action.




Coax cable adapters.

DIY center insulator used in dipole, inverted V, and sloper antennas.


Radio direction finding in action using a yagi antenna, and then with a stock rubber duck and your body as a reflector.

One of the most valuable pictures taken: class notes.

A crystal radio set.


Using an antenna analyzer.

Wind-up antenna for portable shortwave receivers.


Reference material.


Charging batteries in the field. (GoalZero products shown.)

A very old-school lineman's butt-set that another student brought to class.

See you in class!







15 November 2018

Considerations

  • The lack of viable broadcast news media even at the present situation mandates that you conduct communications monitoring activities in order to get an accurate picture of activities in your area of operations (AO). During certain scenarios, this capability will become even more important. If you do nothing else in the way of radio communications, you must at least have a good communications monitoring setup.
  • Your communications equipment will need to be capable of operating independent of the power grid.
  • The lack of consistent reliable electric utility service in many scenarios means that you will have to produce your own power for communications.
  • The limited quantity of electricity from self-generation means that you should use the lowest amount of RF power needed to establish reliable communications.
  • Many scenarios will have you operating in field locations. Your equipment should be portable or at least easily transportable.
  • Commercial electronic repair facilities will not be available in a long-term grid-down scenario. At best you may have access to a retired electronic repair technician or advanced hobbyist with a small collection of parts and basic test equipment. Some of your equipment should be capable of being repaired under these conditions.
  • Socio-political effects of certain scenarios may make it necessary for you to implement some form of communications security (COMSEC). Depending on the specific type and severity of the scenario, you may be facing threats ranging from bandits with a police scanner to a professional signals intelligence (SIGINT) organization/agency.

Class Review

Via http://wyowanderer.com/sparks-31-down-grid-communication-class/:

This class has been the most useful information I’ve received since I received my amateur radio operator’s license. I took the class in April of 2016, and attended a refresher since.
I was woefully ignorant of communications when I took the class, but learned a lot in the class, and much since then.
I took all the notes I could, and wish I’d taken more. Fortunately, that’s all you need-and an ability to learn.
If you’re hungry to get communication skills for the bad times coming, sign up. You’ll be thankful you did
Thank you Wyowanderer for the review.

The next class is January 6th, 2019 in Watertown, CT, and there are others scheduled across the country as well.

12 November 2018

Clipping the Diode

Two official .gov/.mil organizations hams get involved with are Civil Air Patrol (CAP) and Military Affiliate Radio Service (MARS). Historically, MARS and CAP were allocated frequencies just past the edges of the ham bands, such as 142-144 and 148-150 MHz. Hams in MARS and CAP would use their existing radio equipment on their organizations' frequencies. Typically, there was a jumper or diode on the radio's circuit board that would open up the TX frequency coverage and enable operation outside the ham bands. While CAP has adopted technical standards that preclude the use of most ham equipment for their comms, MARS still allows the use of ham gear. Most radios are still being made with a jumper or diode that will enable transmitting out of the ham bands when clipped. We call this the "MARS/CAP" or "freeband" mod. Most radio places will give a ham the mod info, or perform the mod for a small fee, if they present a MARS or CAP radio license. This would give an HF rig TX coverage from 1.8-30 MHz., and a dual band HT 136-174 and around 400-470 MHz. Some of the Chinese HTs come already opened up, which is what got that Baofeng in hot water with the FCC.

In the early 1990s it was considered a title of passage among radio hackers to "clip the diode" on their recently purchased HT. Many non-hams found themselves bootlegging on 151.625 MHz. and other low-power/itinerant frequencies where there were thousands of licensed users and no one paying much attention. This was before the creation of Part 95 services like FRS and MURS. CB skip shooters would buy a used Kenwood or Yaesu HF rig, clip the diode if not already done, and run 100 watts on 11 Meters and the 27.415-28 MHz range which is still a free for all today.

In regard to modified gear, the following provisions of Part 97 are of interest:


§97.403 Safety of life and protection of property.
No provision of these rules prevents the use by an amateur station of any means of radiocommunication at its disposal to provide essential communication needs in connection with the immediate safety of human life and immediate protection of property when normal communication systems are not available.

§97.405 Station in distress.
(a) No provision of these rules prevents the use by an amateur station in distress of any means at its disposal to attract attention, make known its condition and location, and obtain assistance.
(b) No provision of these rules prevents the use by a station, in the exceptional circumstances described in paragraph (a) of this section, of any means of radiocommunications at its disposal to assist a station in distress.
It is legal for an amateur radio operator to have a ham transceiver that will operate outside the ham bands, and in certain emergencies, it is legal to transmit out of band. Your typical HF-UHF amateur radio station, with the appropriate diodes/jumpers in the radios clipped or otherwise reconfigured, should be able to interoperate on CB, MURS, FRS, GMRS, and conventional analog LMR systems.

While this is legal under §97.403 and §97.405, in reality YMMV and keying up on the local PDs' repeater (assuming they still have an analog conventional system up and running) may result in you getting a rash of s**t if their idea of what constitutes an "emergency" is different than yours. I wouldn't expect the FCC to go to bat for you if that happens. Put aside a couple thousand bucks in case you need to lawyer up.

Realistically, you can expect most 2m radios to stay in original spec from around 140 to 160 MHz., and 70cm radios from ~400 to 470 MHz. Past that you can expect progressively worse transmit power output and receive sensitivity the further you get away from the ham bands. TANSTAAFL. Furthermore, running them regularly on Part 95 or 90 allocations is a regulatory no-no as they aren't "certified" for those services. Again, this is what got that Baofeng in hot water. Yes, I know everyone does it, and for the most part the FCC doesn't pay attention until they get a few complaints.

For what it's worth, my opinion is that if you want to run on Part 95 bands, you should run Part 95 gear as it is generally simpler to operate than Part 90 gear. I've met many a no-code, single test session Extra who despite being able to memorize all three test pools was still unable to program and effectively operate his Baofeng HT. I expect his clueless Aunt Matilda would be even less successful if handed one, and that's not taking into account what might happen if the wrong button was pressed. The simple CBs and FRS handhelds I pass out to non-techies have a minimum number of controls to get confused on, and are simple enough for everyone to operate.

11 November 2018

HTs and Cars

An HT is not the most ideal choice for a first radio, especially if you want to be serious about running simplex, which you should be. A VHF/UHF repeater is an unknown when it comes to reliability in austere conditions, and they have been known to fail when TSHTF. A good rule of thumb however is that ARES/RACES affiliated machines are more reliable in disasters.

Running a stock HT in a vehicle sucks. You start with an inefficient rubber duck antenna, and add the attenuation from transmitting inside a vehicle. I knew a few hams back in the day who would run a 25-50 watt amplifier and external antenna when operating mobile. That setup will give you the equivalent of a regular mobile rig, although the ergonomics won't be as nice.

Running a mobile antenna is probably the easiest way to increase the performance of your HT when operating from a vehicle. Since most amateur radio mobile antennas use a PL-259 connector, you will need an adapter to connect it to the BNC or SMA antenna connector on your HT.

Here is a Weierwei V1000 2m amateur radio HT, one of the higher-tier radios coming out of China. Opening it up, we were pretty convinced its design was "borrowed" from an EX600 or Visar.

Looking at the antenna connector on the radio, we discovered it was an SMA male, which is pretty typical for commercial LMR and Chinese ham radio HTs.

The HT with a generic dual-band (2m/70cm) cellular look-alike magnet mount antenna. It's a quarter-wave on VHF and 5/8th wave (or so) on UHF. Cheap hamfest find. It uses a PL-259 connector, so we need an adapter.

SMA female to SO-239 adapter cable. I prefer using cable adapters as they place less strain on the HT's antenna connector.

Everything all put together and ready to go.

You can expect a noticeable increase in communication range with this setup because you are eliminating attenuation from transmitting through a vehicle body, and running a higher-gain antenna than the stock rubber duck on the HT.

10 November 2018

Finding Your Local VHF/UHF Net

So you just passed your Technician class license, and bought one of those <$50 HTs that covers the 2 meter and 70 cm bands. Your next step is to check into a VHF/UHF net on a local repeater (network). This is useful because it lets you know that your radio is working well enough to reach something, even if the repeater is doing most of the work for you.

First you have to find a repeater you access. In New England, we have the excellent New England Repeater Directory which you can reach at http://www.nerepeaters.com/. For other regions, you can try https://www.repeaterbook.com/, https://www.artscipub.com/repeaters/, or a search engine.

To get into a repeater, you will need to program in the receive frequency, transmit (TX) offset (which is usually +/- 600 KHz. on 2m or +/- 5 MHz. on 70 cm), and probably a PL/CTCSS tone. For example, my local repeater in Terryville, CT is on 147.315 MHz. with a TX offset of +600 KHz. (147.915 MHz.) and a transmit PL tone of 88.5 Hz. It is also part of a networked repeater system.

For ninety percent of you, finding which repeaters are active is simply a matter of doing a little OSINT research, and performing a point search on a few frequencies. If you are living someplace that lacks the proper OSINT material, then a band/sector search of 144-148 (2m) and 440-450 (70 cm) MHz. over the course of a few days will find what you need.  Even when idle, most ham repeaters will identify themselves every 10 minutes or so.

Once you have some repeaters identified, program the specifics into your radio, key up, wait a second or two, and simply say "<your_call> testing." If successful, you will hear a carrier from the repeater, maybe a courtesy tone, and maybe someone will come back to you with a signal report. If you want to rag chew a bit, just key up, wait a second or two, and say "<your_call> listening (or monitoring)." You usually don't call CQ on a repeater. if someone is listening and wants to chat, they'll come back to you.

So now that you've found a local machine or three, you need to find out when the nets are being held.  The ARRL has a net directory at http://www.arrl.org/arrl-net-directory, and there are, as always, search engines to help you. Usually VHF/UHF (repeater) nets are held in the evenings after dinner. Some nets may not be listed in the ARRL Directory. My local repeater's swap net (Fridays at 8PM) is not. I found it by listening.

When the net starts, listen closely for instructions from net control. Nets all have different check in procedures, and the net control station will tell you everything you need to know. For example, the WyoComm (Wyoming) weekly net on Sunday evenings does check-ins by region (Wind River, Big Horn, et al). The Donkey Dusters (CT) Swap Net takes Echolink check-ins first. RACES/ARES nets usually take emergency and low power (QRP) stations first.

Nets are a good source of information about the local amateur radio community, and something you should participate in even if only by listening. They are also good for setting a specific time to check your equipment.  I'm not normally a VHF/UHF repeater operator, yet among the first things I did  after moving back to New England was dig out an HT, program in the local repeater frequency and start listening.  Last night I heard the swap net start, checked in, and after the net had a quick QSO with a friend who lives in central Massachusetts and can also reach the same repeater network.  When I get some HF gear set back up, and try a sked with the same friend, we'll probably coordinate our HF comms on the same 2 meter repeater network.

With that said, the same local repeater network also has 10m and 6m nodes. When the bands start opening up, feel free to jump on and toss your call out.

09 November 2018

NEW Class - Basic Grid-Down/Down-Grid Communications, Communications Monitoring, and Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) - Watertown, CT

Sparks31 returns to New England.
Basic Grid-Down/Down-Grid Communications, Communications Monitoring, and Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) Class
January 6th, 2019, 0800-1800 EST
Watertown, CT
This is a one-day class that covers all the basics you need to set up your monitoring post, collect signals intelligence (SIGINT), get on the air with amateur radio and personal communications services (FRS, GMRS, MURS, CB, Part 15), and establish communications networks and interoperability with other like-minded individuals.

Topics of instruction include the following:
  • Learning about Electronic Communications - A Primer
  • Communications Monitoring HF-to-UHF
  • Intelligence versus Information
    • Intelligence Requirements
  • SIGINT - Signals Intelligence
  • Listening Posts and SIGINT Operations
  • Communications Services
    • Amateur Radio
    • Part 95 & 15 (license-free or "license by rule" services)
  • Communications Networks
    • Interoperability - What it is, and how to make it work.
  •  Increasing System Performance
    • Antennas
  • Grid-Down versus Down-Grid Realities
  • Basic Crypto Systems and When It Is Legal to Use Them
  • Alternatives to Radio Communications
Cost for this class is $100. Please enroll via our storefront at https://squareup.com/store/sparks31/.
See you in class!

06 November 2018

Connecticut Intro Class - January, 2019

We'll be doing a one-day intro to communications and SIGINT class next January in Watertown, CT. Cost will be $100. More specifics once we finalize the date.

04 November 2018

Gab Deplatforming

What is the one thing that I've said since starting Sparks 31?

Never trust anyone else's infrastructure.

The recent deplatforming of Gab is the latest reason why.