Warning: Quite a bit of jargon in the following. If you don’t understand, please ask.
This is about my platoon’s primary mission–providing extended range for radio communications–It is one of a number of areas where I believe that the Army doesn’t use its resources as well as it can.
I don’t know how many RETRANS (Retransmission–Like a radio repeater) teams there are in the Army, but given the overreliance on VHF/UHF communications there are almost certainly a lot. In my opinion, very little thought has gone into the formulation of these teams and how they are supposed to operate. I’ll describe what I think is the ideal RETRANS team. Anyone with any RETRANS experience please feel free to jump in.
Currently our RETRANS teams are three 31Us (31U is the Military Occupational Specialty code for the Signal Systems Support Specialist–I am a 31U) armed with M-16s/M-4s and a softskin cargo HMMWV with a VRC-92 (two radios with amplifiers) and two OE-254 antennas. To begin with 31U is a low density MOS. Is it really a good idea to place three of these hard to replace eggs in a basket that will easily become an artillery registration point? I don’t think so. I think a RETRANS team should only have 1 31U, or at *most* 2. I’m going to stick with one for the time being unless someone has a compelling reason for a different number.
The 31U should be 1 of a 5 man team. Of the other 4 one of them should be a 13F (MOS Code for Artillery Forward Observer). Why not? RETRANS is usually posted on or quite near a good vantage point. How much damage can he do to the enemy from such a position? Its also a matter of site defense. When the hordes start coming for the RETRANS site, He can get his TRPs hit in short order. The other 3 should be either 11Bs (Infantry), 19Ks (Scout), or 95Bs (MPs). Again the idea here is site defense. I’m not suggesting that 31Us can’t do site defense, much the contrary. I am suggesting that enough 31Us to *do* site defense is too many of them too close together. At least 3 of these 5 should be Combat Lifesavers too. That’s the team composition I recommend.
Why the incerase in the number on the team? Again the answer is site defense. On a RETRANS site the radios *must* be monitored. Its all about cusomer service; if the chatter stops, something is wrong and it must be fixed, *now*. So you have someone at all times on the radio. You also have to have a sleep plan so everyone gest some rest. If all you have for your team is three men, you now have one on the radio nad one asleep, only one left. How does one man pull 360 degree security effectively? He doesn’t. He can’t. So add two more soldiers to the team. Now you have a radio monitor, two on security and two sleeping, by staggering shifts, you can get three on security at alert times and not sacrifice the sleep plan and get everyone some sleep. Sleep is part of the site defense plan. (Food is a crutch, but sleep is a weapon.)
Think of the benefits of this team. If we make the team part of the TO&E (Table of Organization and Equipment–its how units are organized and equiped are described, standardized and documented), so they are a real team that works together regularly, the 31U learns the 11Bs job and assists with defense more readily (and we want everyone to be Warriors now anyway), everyone learns to call for fire from the 13F, and all the team learns more than the basics of radio troubleshooting.
So that’s personnel, now equipment: The truck is a problem. We took the initiative and converted our two seat cargo HMMWVs to 4 seaters. Not just so we could give the 3rd man on the team a seat, but because of that configuration’s lower profile. The RETRANS teams’ motto is “Hide with Pride.” Its easier to do if you can hunker down a bit instead of having to stand up. It also makes getting in and out under low branches (or rock overhangs, or any overhead obstacle) much easier. I’d recommend something with a bit more protection than the softskin–a track if possible, or just a hardshelled HMMWV. Probably too much to ask for an up-armored HMMWV. A vehicle with a gunring would be good and I’ll say some more on that in a minute.
So we’ve got a whole vehicle just for this mission, its all it does. Why only put one VRC-92 in it? It’ll easilly accomodate 2. Then you have 4 radios and one site can accomplish two missions. Makes much more sense than co-siting two vehicles (though that can help with the site security problem). Of course, now you have 4 antennas and as mentiond that’s one fo the things that draws attention to RETRANS sites.
Or do you? RETRANS have to be given FHMUX. The Frequency Hopping Mutiplexer will allow you to operate 5 radios on one antenna. You do lose some range, but good planners will be able to determine when that is unfeasible and adjust by not using it and setting up the additional OE-254s. And they may not even be needed. One thing I have noted on sites manned by new 31Us is the automatic use of the OE-254. But, if on reaching the site, the team can establish good comms with both client stations on the vehicle whips, why set up the OE-254s? This is part of our TACSOP; do not set up additional equipment unless you have to. We have also employed superwhips (there’s another thread out here on that subject). The superwhip is a specialized arrangement and without going into too much detail, I’ll point out that it will only help the reception of the radio it is being used on. It will not enhance range or transmission.
There’s also the issue of the OE-254 antenna itself. There is a piece of equpment in the invnetory called QEAM (Quick Erect Antenna Mast). The shortcoming of the OE-254 is the number of pieces and the time it takes to set it up. QEAM solves those problems. Its a telescoping mast that cranks up to height. RETRANS teams need this equipment.
This is starting to look like a lot of stuff, but as I said we have a truck for this, its not like we have to ruck all this into position–or don’t we? Actually, when considering contingency planning, you have to give thought to the possibility that the team might have to abandon the truck in order to save themselves. It would be good to have the ability to continue the mission too. Dismounted radios can be connected in a retrans configuration. Batteries will be necessary and they won’t have the range that the vehicle mounted radio will, but… My platoon’s motto is “Transmission is the Mission.” If we can continue the mission we must. The properly equiped RETRANS team will also have, then 4 PRC-119 (manpack radio sets) radios. In case you don’ think a contingency is enough justification, there’s another reason as well.
The truck is the RETRANS team’s biggest liability. It is the biggest single thing on the site. It is the hardest to conceal and it is the dead giveaway to those that come across it that there is something going on at the site. RETRANS teams that stay at their truck while operating are taking their lives into their own hands. The radios we use have the capablility for remot operation. By using wire, you can connect a vehicle mounted radio to another radio. THe remote radio can control the radio in the vehicle. The high-speed team will have dug a hole somewhere, run the wire and connected to the radios in the vehicle, where they can overwatch the vehicle, far enough to get away if the vehicle is discovered, but close enough to get to the vehilce and bug out if necessary. This is the second reason for those manpack radios.
Finally, the team has to be armed appropriately. RETRANS aren’t usually near anyone they can call for help in a hurry and they aren’t supposed to stand and fight if they come under attack. They are, again, supposed to hide with pride. The team that has really performed is the one that can allow the bad guys to pass through without being detected. But they can’t always do this and it can’t be counted on. In the five man team you need a SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon–a machine gun). Remember the gunring I was wishing for? You can really iscourage someone chasing you wiht the amount of lead that a SAW can lay down and a gunring makes it easier to do that from a vehicle. All members of the team should be familiarized with it. Qualification isn’t required for all, its not going to be used in a stand up fight. Its going to be used to break contact and RTB (Return to Base). Also two team members need M-203s (grenade launchers that attach to M-16/M-4 rifles) and a combination of HE (Hight Explosive) and Smoke rounds for it. Again, the idea is to break contact and get away.
So that’s my idea of a RETRANS team: 5 men (1 31U, 3 11Bs –or 19K, or 95B– and 1 13F), 2 grenadiers, one machine gun, 2 rifles, a minimum of 3 CLS bags, a low profile harder than canvas vehicle, 4 OE-254s, 4 QEAM sets, 2 VRC-92s, 4 PRC-119s and a FHMUX. Now, we just have to get the TO&E changed.