Blast from the past: Service members compete in Noble Skywave

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Stephanie Longoria
  • 435th Air Expeditionary Wing

In a world that revolves around advanced technology, U.S. Air Force and Army radio and satellite communication operators showcased the power of legacy communication systems during an international high frequency (HF) radio competition at Chabelley Airfield, Djibouti, on Oct. 27-29.

The joint team of seven operators, also known as the CADJ Spartans, from the 776th Expeditionary Air Base Squadron and Company B, 1-157th Infantry Regiment (Mountain), Task Force Iron Gray, Colorado Army National Guard, competed in the Noble Skywave Global HF radio competition.

“This is an annual competition hosted by the Canadian Armed Forces to test [skills], strengthen expertise and compete in a friendly atmosphere,” said Tech. Sgt. Stephen Paice, 776th EABS radio frequency NCO in charge.

The competition was broken down into four phases designed to demonstrate the global capability of HF radio transmissions: ‘establish the net’, ‘free play’, ‘team play’ and ‘back to the future’.

During the first phase the team needed to establish communication with a main station in an allotted amount of time. Once the connection was established the team then moved on to phase two, which included contacting other stations using a single channel or multiple frequencies. The third phase required the teams to contact other single channel teams. In the final phase, the team focused on making the furthest single-channel and multiple frequency calls.

“The biggest challenge we had to overcome was being the only team in Africa,” said Paice. “A good majority of the other teams were located in the U.S. and Canada. Yet our team was still able to push through the odds and establish communications with many stations, which were not ideal connections.”

This year 247 teams participated in the 60-hour event, attempting to make the most and furthest HF radio calls. Points were accrued for the number of connections and the distance between the stations.

“It was beneficial for us to be stationed in Africa, because we were max points for most stations, so all the other teams tried communicating with us,” said Paice. “This is where we generated the most points.”

The Spartans ranked 32, accumulating 141 points for successfully making high frequency radio transmission voice calls to other sites globally.

“We were able to communicate with players in Peru, Australia, Greece, Latvia, east and west coast of the U.S,” said Pace. “This was huge because there was a less than 21% chance of hitting any team on the west coast. [The Spartans] were able to establish and maintain communications with a team in Washington State.”

The Spartans worked around the clock making radio calls, honing operator skills and learning how to improve radio communications.

“The competition allowed us to train in a fun and enjoyable way, while gaining confidence in talking on the radio and learning new things along the way,” said Paice. “We got the most enjoyment and experience when we were able to talk to multiple teams, exchange knowledge and learn how to break-off and establish new lines of communications with others. Working with other branches gave us a clearer picture of how we operate when it comes to supporting the mission.”

With a landmass that is three-and-a-half times the size of the United States, Africa introduces unique challenges for command, control and communications. As warfighter demands for real time data continue to increase, the speed and accessibility of modern technology requires a comprehensive, survivable and redundant backup that HF radios can provide.

“Since Wi-Fi, 4G, 5G and satellite communications became available, the Air Force hasn’t had to use HF, but the problem with the new technology is it isn’t [very resistant to disruptions],” said Paice. “HF is unique because if the enemy wants to disrupt communications they would have to invest a lot of time, resources and effort to do so.”