Amateur Radio, Federal Government Engaged in Joint 5 MHz Communication Exercise
Amateur Radio operators and federal government stations are engaged in a 12-day nationwide test of their capability to communicate with each other on HF in the event of an emergency or disaster. The High Frequency Interoperability Exercise 2014 (HFIE-2014) is running concurrently with the federal National Exercise Program (NEP) 2014. Activity is taking place on two of the five 60 meter channels. The primary center-frequency channel is 5358.5 kHz, and the secondary center-frequency channel is 5373.0 kHz. Amateur Radio is secondary to government users on the band. The joint readiness exercise that began March 27 will continue through April 7 and include all areas of the US. Participants will use Automatic Link Establishment (ALE), a standardized digital selective calling protocol, to establish communication between stations.
“The HFIE has been a semi-annual exercise for some years,” explained HFIE-2014 Coordinator Bonnie Crystal, KQ6XA. “Previously, HFIE has been a ham-only exercise. This year, we scheduled HFIE so it coincides with the NEP.”
Participation in the interoperability exercise is open to all ALE-capable federal government radio stations and to all ALE-capable US Amateur Radio stations. A Special Temporary Authorization (STA) has been granted, giving permission for radio amateurs to communicate with federal government stations for the duration of the exercise.
Crystal said ALE signaling “sounds like turkey gobble,” adding that ALE calls last about 15 seconds. Stations listening “may also hear the operators then start talking on USB voice,” she said. “The signals can be up to about 40 seconds long, if there’s texting riding on it, using a very rapid type of ARQ [automatic repeat request] handshaking.”
“Once someone links with another station, they have the choice of using SSB voice or sending/receiving up to about 80 characters of text,” Crystal said. “Or they can switch to some other mode, such as CW or PSK or PACTOR.”
ARRL Regulatory Information Manager Dan Henderson, N1ND, said the exercise offers an excellent opportunity for those amateurs with ALE capability. “It is a good exercise that highlights one of the key elements under which US amateurs were granted secondary status on the 60 meter band,” he said. "The amateur community's ability to participate in an interoperability exercise with governmental communications is a great way to assess where things stand in this area — and to explore the next steps to take. We encourage those amateurs familiar with the ALE protocols and have the station equipment to participate in a meaningful way to do so.”
Crystal said that in past years some hams who work for federal government radio systems have participated in HFIE during their off-hours as Amateur Radio operators. “We got together with some of them and worked out a way to enable federal stations to do some ALE interoperability testing on the 5 MHz channels with hams, since they already are authorized on the exact same channels as hams.” Crystal said it was just a matter of getting the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the FCC to allow hams and government stations to communicate. The STA was approved on March 24.
Federal government station HF radios stations have the ALE capability built into the hardware. Amateur Radio operators implement ALE protocols using computer software with their ham gear. “The STA allows for on-the-air testing of interoperability between the hardware and software-generated ALE implementations,” Crystal said.
The HFIE is a semi-annual ham radio readiness exercise coordinated by the HFLINK organization and the Global ALE High Frequency Network It is open to all ALE-capable ham radio stations. Technical and operational guidelines for ham and federal government stations are available on the HFIE-2014 website.
The National Exercise Program is a complex emergency preparedness exercise with activities sponsored by government departments and agencies, designed to educate and prepare the whole community for complex, large-scale disasters and emergencies. As part of the National Preparedness Goal, it enables a collaborative, whole community approach to national preparedness that engages individuals, families, communities, the private and nonprofit sectors, faith-based organizations, and all levels of government.