My friend NC Scout recently put out a book that I think you should be aware of. While it’s officially titled, The Guerilla’s Guide to the Baofeng Radio, the actual contents of the book involves a lot more than just the Baofeng. Scout uses the Baofeng UV5r as a common reference point that many people have since they are so cheap, but the bulk of the book is actually about good communications practices in times of emergency. As such I think it’s one of the most valuable pieces of content yet written for everyday marksmen like you and I.
Operating at a Disadvantage
I want to preface this review a bit by talking about the general approach NC Scout takes with his content. I tend to focus on community preparedness in times of emergency using Scenario-X. In general, I make the assumption that allies and adversaries alike are generally operating on a similar level of technology and know-how, with a goal for my readers to bring more skills and knowledge to the table to have a slight advantage.
For me, particularly with radio, that means I do not assume that adversaries are readily equipped to perform direction finding, decryption, jamming, or are ready to launch artillery or a rocket into a location identified as a transmission site. I do assume that transmissions can be intercepted and acted upon, though.
In all, I’m mostly prodding you to think about a peer threat.
Scout comes from the perspective of partisan operations, and an implicit assumption that the adversary is far more technologically capable and equipped to take action against a target. He is prodding you to think like someone at a disadvantage. This means that his advice is geared towards maintaining the highest level of communications security (COMSEC) possible in order to protect yourself and your survival group(s).
It’s a valuable mindset. If you’re already prepared to operate at a complete disadvantage, than the practices you develop will far outclass a peer adversary who doesn’t even come close to what you’re actually prepared to compete with.
I bring this up only because I know that people not initiated into the world of COMSEC might find a lot of this overwhelming at first. That’s fine, take it one piece at a time and process through it.
The Guerilla’s Guide to the Baofeng Radio consists of seven chapters and three additional appendicies.
- Introduction to the Baofeng Radio
- Functions and Field Programming
- Communications Planning
- Traffic Handling and Reports
- A Crash Course in Field Antennas
- Communications Operations
- Digital Encoding and Encryption
- The Baofeng Repeater
- Sample SOI and Report Formats
- Sample Trigram List
Of all of this, the only chapters that directly deal with the Baofeng radio are chapters 1 and 2 as well as Appendix A. Even then, the contents of chapters 1 and 2 have a lot of information that applies to any radio, such as the definition of a VFO, the importance of locking keypads, and the spectrum breakdown for various radio services like GMRS, FRS, MURS, and others.
Highlights and Key Takeaways
There is a lot of information packed into Scout’s book, and I’m certainly not going to rob him by giving it all away. There were a few things that stood out to me as really important tidbits that I had never considered before, and they are definitely going to make it into my future plans.
Not Everyone Needs a Radio
This is a point that comes later in the book, but it’s one that I don’t think most people think about. Most of us assume that more radios are better, and that we want everyone to be able to talk.
In a non-hostile environment, that makes sense. However, Scout points out that if you’re in a competitive environment against a technologically superior adversary, then any transmission made by anyone around you is a potential threat. Just like flashlights in the dark, any undisciplined use of a radio is a liability that can get you killed.
For that reason, Scout takes the position that only key people like team leaders and communications specialists should have radios, and they must be proficient in their use. Communications specialists go above and beyond with additional tools and training to keep transmissions secure.
Split Transmission and Receive Frequencies
This was an interesting point that I was wondering about before reading the book. Months before release, Scout put up a social media post showing an example SOI (Signal Operating Instruction). I noticed in the example that the transmission frequency was in the VHF spectrum and the receive frequency was in the UHF spectrum. I had been wondering what was going on there, and how that would work in a team environment.
Thankfully, scout went over this concept well in the book.
Imagine two teams operating in close proximity. The team leaders each have a dual band radio capable of listening simultaneously on two different frequencies. Team 1 transmits on 147.650 and listens on 462.550. Alternatively, Team 2 transmits on 462.550 and listens on 147.650.
Taken together, these two teams can readily communicate with one another. However, someone who is scanning around the airwaves not knowing what they are looking for might only stumble onto one of these. If they listened in, then they would only get half of the conversation.
Skip the Programming
This was another interesting point I had not considered. Being a radio nerd, I naturally want to program my radios for ease of use with all of the frequencies and shortcuts that I find useful for day-to-day activity.
Scout makes a point to implore you to avoid programming the radio memory. His reasoning is sound, and explains that when he was in the military a programmed enemy radio was an extremely valuable piece of intelligence. It showed all of the frequencies, and depending on the naming conventions would also tell you a lot about the structure, organization, and competency of the adversary.
On the other hand, a radio that had no memory and only a frequency manually punched into to the VFO was pretty much useless.
Your communications plan, the SOI, should be committed to your memory and not your radio’s.
Digital Work with Analog Radios
One last point, and probably the one that I’m most impressed with. Scout goes out of his way to talk about using digital equipment like a tablet to send messages over the Baofeng to someone listening with their own digital equipment. In fact, he pretty much declares this is the best way to go about things because the radio transmission will be short, obscured, and more difficult to pinpoint.
Another portion of this was the section on encoding message traffic using trigraph and one time pads. I have some background with encoded messages using some of these techniques and it’s pretty much impossible to break without the cypher. I thought this chapter was extremely interesting.
One caveat, and I thank Scout for pointing it out, you need to know that it’s already sketchy to send encoded messages over amateur radio. If you start sending trigraph messages and encoded with one time pads, you are definitely going to draw the attention of intelligence agencies. They may not immediately know what you’re saying, but the fact that you’re saying anything and how you’re saying it will be enough for further scrutiny.
I don’t want to give too much away. There’s a lot of really valuable information in Scout’s book, and you should definitely pick up a copy. Some of the information, like building antennas, might feel overwhelming at first- but it’s a worthy skill to learn in a pinch. Aside from the technical stuff, though, this is probably the best resource I’ve ever seen for teaching everyday folks how to build communications plans for the long haul.