Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Aaron Kuhn, who notes that author Matt Zullo will give a free online presentation about his novel, The US Navy’s On-The-Roof Gang, Volume One tomorrow (Thursday October 8, 2020, at 16:00 UTC).
THE US NAVY’S ON-THE-ROOF GANG: VOLUME I – PRELUDE TO WAR is an historical novel based on the unknown true-life story of the “On-The-Roof Gang,” the U.S. Navy’s fledgling radio intelligence organization in the years leading up to World War II. It is based on the real life of Harry Kidder, a U.S. Navy radioman who first discovered and deciphered Japanese katakana telegraphic code while stationed in the Philippines in the 1920s, discovering that he was listening to Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) radio communications. Kidder strongly believed in the future of radio intelligence and a chance meeting with Lieutenant Laurance Safford led to the birth of the Navy’s Radio Intelligence community. Kidder taught others the nascent art of intercepting IJN communications on the roof of the Main Navy Building in Washington, DC. From 1928 to 1941, 176 Sailors and Marines attended this training and were then stationed as radio intercept operators around the Pacific. These men would become known as the On-The-Roof Gang and were charged with keeping track of the IJN as they prepared for war with the United States. The circumstances of America’s entry into World War II hinged on success or failure of the On-The-Roof Gang, and Harry Kidder knew this. On-the-Roof Gang: Prelude to War concludes with the “date which will live in infamy,” December 7, 1941
Matt Zullo is a retired U.S. Navy Master Chief Petty Officer who has more than 35 years’ experience in Radio Intelligence, now more commonly known as Communications Intelligence. He holds a Master’s degree in Strategic Intelligence from the National Intelligence University, where he researched and wrote his master’s thesis on the On-the-Roof Gang. He has published numerous articles on the On-the-Roof Gang in the Naval Cryptologic Veterans Association’s Cryptolog magazine and on social media platforms. As one of only a few quantifiable experts on the subject, Matt has spoken at the 2009, 2011, and 2013 Cryptologic History Symposiums, as well as at several Navy events around the world. He recently (Nov 2019) attended the induction of Harry Kidder into NSA’s Cryptologic Hall of Honor and spoke about Harry Kidder at a subsequent event for the sailors of Cryptologic Warfare Group Six. Matt continues his research into the On-the-Roof Gang as he writes and edits his two-volume history about the group.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributors Michael Guerin and Dennis Dura who share the following story from C4ISR.net (my comments follow excerpt):
LONDON — Special operations commands across Europe are ramping up their capabilities with high-frequency communications to ensure connectivity on the battlefield. Leaders there are turning to high frequency communications as a way to optimize properties that provide a low probability of interception and detection.
Special forces in France, Germany, Poland and Ukraine continue to receive high-frequency, or HF, systems as a way to diversify communications plans, industry sources confirmed to C4ISRNET.
Some special operations organizations have selected L3Harris’ AN/PRC-160(V), industry sources said.
Enhancements in HF come at a time when NATO members and partner forces are suffering from a disruption of satellite communications, particularly along the alliance’s eastern flank where Russian armed forces continue to conduct electronic warfare.
In an online presentation to the Association of Old Crows on Aug. 6, Paul Denisowski, product management engineer at Rohde and Schwarz North America, described how communications satellites are vulnerable to antisatellite systems as well as ground-, air- and space-based “kill vehicles.”
“China, Russia and the U.S. have all carried out ASAT tests and many other countries are developing ASAT capabilities,” Denisowski said, using an acronym for anti-satellite. To boost resilience, some commands are turning to high-frequency communications.
During the presentations “Lost Art of HF” and the “Rebirth of Shortwave in a Digital World,” Denisowski explained that HF is making a comeback in local and global communications. This renaissance comes as the result of improvements in a range of fields, including antenna design, digital modulation schemes and improved understanding of propagation.
The market is also helped by reductions in size, weight and power requirements as well as the introduction of wideband data, enhanced encryption algorithms and interoperability with legacy HF sets, he said.
“This means end users are now benefiting from easier-to-use and cheaper solutions featuring improved data performance, audio quality, availability and operation. And because of a lack of infrastructure, HF is less expensive and relatively robust, although solar events may temporarily disrupt HF communications,” he said. Specific upgrades include “Adaptive HF,” which comprises automatic selection of frequency and the establishment of communication through automatic link establishment, or ALE, technology.
The latest technology of its type — 4G ALE — is capable of supporting wideband HF communications, or WBHF for short, providing end users with the ability to “negotiate bandwidth, modulation type, error correction and the number of sub-carriers,” Denisowski explained.
“ALE selects frequencies using link quality analysis, which allows it to listen and determine if a channel is in use and adapt if conditions change,” he said.
He added that HF can now support data rates up to 240 kilobytes per second on a 48-kilohertz channel, particularly useful for more robust communications in hostile environments.
“WBHF has already [been] used in military trials. It’s a technology which is most definitely here and now,” Denisowski said.
[…]The report explained how the U.S. Army and European NATO partners explored such scenarios during a series of joint exercises in 2019 and 2020. “A new need arrives for alternative communication skills, justified through the increasing vulnerability from SATCOM jamming as well as the potential failure of SATCOM as a result of attacks on spacecraft or through the use of anti-satellite surface-to-air missiles,” the report’s author, Jan Pätzold, told C4ISRNET. “The development of alternative skills is important to reduce dependence on SATCOM.”
According to Pätzold, so-called Skywave HF, which bounces signals off the ionosphere, enables beyond line-of-sight communications across “thousands of kilometers” without requirements. HF communications is also ideally suited to supporting local network coverage. “This offers advantages over SATCOM in urban areas, but also in mountainous areas or far north latitudes where no line of sight to existing satellites is possible,” Pätzold said
The shortwaves–which is to say, the high-frequency portion of the radio spectrum–will never disappear, even though international broadcasters may eventually fade into history. I often think of the shortwave spectrum as a global resource that will always be here, even if we humans are not. But on a brighter note, I expect the shortwave spectrum will be used for centuries to come, as we implement various technologies that find ways to make use of the medium.
HF communications require so little infrastructure to be effective. It’s a global communications medium that carries messages and data at the speed of light with no regard for national borders. Sure, there are reliability issues with HF propagation, but even amateur radio enthusiasts employ weak-signal digital modes that almost seem to defy propagation. I’m certain with the backing of the military, even more robust digital modes will be used (above and beyond ALE).
Electronics Technician 2nd Class Anthony Juarez and Electronics Technician 3rd Class Codie Flanagan, assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB)1, adjust frequency codes on a GRC-234 high-frequency base station at Naval Base Guam July 27, 2017. (Source: DVIDS)
NAVAL BASE GUAM , GUAM
Story by Petty Officer 1st Class Torrey Lee
Commander, Task Force 75
Commander, Task Force (CTF) 75 successfully completed communications systems tests using high-frequency (HF) radio waves to broadcast voice and data 6,050 miles from Naval Base Guam to Port Hueneme, California, July 27, 2017.
The assessment tested the capabilities of expeditionary forces to use HF waves to deliver data over the Pacific. HF has become a viable alternative for military forces when more common forms of communication, such as satellites, are unavailable.
“In this particular back-up plan, we tested our ability to talk, and we were able to send text to one of our units that is across the Pacific Ocean,” said Lt. Cmdr. Timothy Carmon, a communications planner temporarily assigned to CTF-75. “The transmissions and receptions are not as fast as IP services, however we were still able to communicate in a timely manner with the distant end.”
Utilizing the assets of CTF-75’s Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 1, the command configured its antennae to broadcast to California. Once a successful voice transmission was received, communication directors at Navy Expeditionary Combat Command Pacific requested that CTF-75 try to send a data file.
“These data files allow us to save time,” said Electronics Technician 2nd Class Anthony Juarez, a communications supervisor assigned to NMCB 1. “We can send general diagrams, fire plans and points of interest. Instead of trying to verbally describe something, they [the recipient] have a graphic or a picture that gives them a better idea of the situation.”
Common communication devices used by the U.S. military incorporate satellites. CTF-75 has been testing HF systems in the case of satellite communication failure. HF is a frequency wave broadcast that is transmitted around the curvature of the Earth. Unlike other forms of frequencies, such as very-high frequencies and ultra-high frequencies, the transmission is not distorted by terrain or physical obstructions.
“We may not always have access to operational equipment or the latest assets, but as communicators we should have a backup plan that is ready to be executed,” said Carmon.
Guam is located in the western region of the Pacific. Having an HF range of 6,000 miles is equivalent to broadcasting from Japan to the U.S., or oppositely, from Japan to the middle of Africa. During this most recent test, CTF-75 was also able to establish communications with Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 1 in Hawaii.
“We can hop our communications from island to island,” said Juarez. “This test gave us the opportunity to know we can push our system to the absolute max from Guam. There are definitely different systems out there, but our system is really efficient at long-range HF. As new radios are incorporated in the Navy expeditionary community, I have no doubt it will get faster, more reliable and easier to set up.”
CTF-75 is currently testing its communication abilities with subordinate commands which include Seabee units, riverine squadrons, cargo handlers, explosive ordnance disposal technicians, and expeditionary intelligence forces.
“This achievement was an important step in an effort to increase our capabilities to be prepared to execute missions in austere locations around the globe,” said Carmon. “Our expeditionary commanders may never need to communicate over a few thousand kilometers, but if the need arises our communicators will be able to provide the connection for that commander.”
CTF-75 is the primary expeditionary task force responsible for the planning and execution of coastal riverine operations, explosive ordnance disposal, diving engineering and underwater construction in the U.S. 7th fleet area of operations.
As I’ve mentioned before, @K7al_L3afta lives in an urban area of Morocco and his shortwave radio listening is plagued with radio interference (RFI). Still, he seems to snag some interesting catches on the shortwaves just like this one which he said he caught by “turning the tuning knob randomly.”