The Coast Guard Auxiliary Radio System (CGARS) CG Sector Hampton Roads VA
The “Coast Guard Auxiliary Radio System” (CGARS), is a Coast Guard Auxiliary effort initiated by “Division 5” of the Fifth Southern District of the Coast Guard Auxiliary. It is an effort to directly support USCG Auxiliary & USCG Sector Hampton Roads Communications Contingency Preparedness. CGARS started as a single VHF repeater placed on the BSU-Portsmouth Communications Tower. It has since grown into a wide area Communications network. Currently with a total of three interconnected repeater sites. In addition to the ISC Portsmouth Repeater, VHF Repeaters operating on assigned USCGAUX Frequencies were also installed at the CGAUX Virginia Beach Oceanfront (Blackbird Radio) and the USCG TRACEN Yorktown Facilities. The ISC Portsmouth & VB Oceanfront CGARS sites also have a “remote base” capability that allows linking of the CGARS repeater network into USCG Marine VHF and Local Mutual Aid Frequencies. The next phase of the CGARS project was the standing up of a Communications Center Capability at the CGAUX Blackbird Radio site in Virginia Beach where the CGAUX repeater is located.
The Virginia Beach Oceanfront CGARS site initially started as a location to house the CGARS Repeater. A 72 foot tower was installed at the site to host the CGARS antennas. It also became the home of ”USCGAUX Blackbird Radio” a CGAUX Fixed Land Radio Facility with both High Frequency(HF) and Very High Frequency(VHF) capability for long range and regional communications respectively. The site was also used to design and construct four portable “Go-Kits” For Sector Hampton Roads that have VHF, HF, and email over HF capabilities. These kits are deployed at designated sites throughout Sector Hampton Roads as part of Contingency Preparedness, and also in support of Sector Hampton Roads Continuity of Operations(COOP) activities. The CGARS VB site also has, co-located, several Amateur Radio repeaters that operate on the Amateur Radio bands supporting the local Amateur Radio Community. Working closely with the local Amateur Radio Community has proven to be an invaluable asset in operations, planning, & setup as well as promoting local awareness and goodwill. The CGARS VB site has evolved from a mere repeater site into full fledged communications facility and continues to grow.
The CGARS VB facility is a main hub in the CGARS Network. It houses both the CGAUX UHF & VHF repeaters. These are linked to the rest of the CGARS Wide Area Repeater Network providing a seamless voice link over most of the Hampton Roads area. The CGARS VB site also has a “Remote Base” Capability. This allows the local “remote base” radio to be linked in to the repeater network and function as a bridge between the repeater network and any another desired frequency. For example a USCG VHF-Marine or Local Mutual Aid Frequency. This radio is also “Frequency Agile” meaning it can change frequencies remotely if desired through commands given remotely over the repeater network or via telephone. If needed it could also function to allow an asset anywhere in the CGARS network coverage area to communicate remotely with an on scene asset on normal VHF or mutual aid frequencies when normal line-of-site communications are not possible. In a contingency situation, this provides capability roughly similar to the Rescue 21 RFF site operation.
The CGARS VB facility also has on hand a Raytheon ACU-1000. The ACU-1000 is a communications interoperability device that can connect up to 12 individual radios or communications devices. The ACU-1000 can simultaneously cross-connect different radio networks and also connect radio networks to telephone systems and other voice systems. CGARS is also in the testing process of interconnecting this device to a Voice over Internet Protocol(VoIP) system. When completed this will allow interconnection of remote sites to the CGARS voice network via VoIP. CGARS is using this unit to support Sector Hampton Roads Contingency Preparedness activities. This unit provides robust interoperability capability when tied to corresponding radio hardware allowing communications with local public safety and mutual aid. The ACU-1000 can be remotely controlled off-site via Internet TCP/IP using the control software. The unit is also in a portable rack-mount configuration and is available to be deployed remotely if necessary.
The CGARS VB facility also houses a Coast Guard Auxiliary fixed-land Radio Facility(Blackbird Radio). The facility has Marine-VHF, Government UHF/VHF, and HF capability. It has extra dedicated receivers to facilitate full time “guarding” of important distress and/or working frequencies while allowing the stations transceivers concurrently pass message traffic. There is also a MOU in place with the FAA to allow communications via VHF-AM in the Air Band frequencies with USCGAUX and USCG air facilities. CGAUX Blackbird also has access to two local mutual aid frequencies through another MOU. Blackbird has full time live Maritime AIS monitoring and the ability to provide live AIS data off-site upon request. AIS reception range has shown to be on the order of 30-50nm with reception up to 90+ nm during periods of atmospheric ducting. Automatic Direction Finding(ADF) capability equipment is also on site and will soon be installed. The site has redundant internet connections and backup power capability. The facility is set up to facilitate watch standing and/or to function as a communications command center with multiple operator consoles and computers. There are multiple wall mounted flat panel displays that can be reconfigured to display a multitude of available data. Blackbird also has Winlink HF email capability which allows the reception and sending of email over HF radio without the need for internet. Through its affiliation with ARMY MARS it will also be hosting a Winlink RMS server site. This will serve as an access hub for other MARS Winlink users and provide a valuable service to the MARS community. The Go-Kits constructed for Sector Hampton Roads will also make use of this capability. CGAUX Blackbird Radio is also a member of the The National Communications System - SHAred RESources (SHARES) High Frequency (HF) Radio Program.
Several of the CGARS members also hold active FCC Amateur Radio Licenses and as such the site has co-located several Amateur Radio Repeaters including three DSTAR digital voice and a Digital Data repeater. The facility when staffed by a member with an amateur license has access to Amateur VHF, UHF, and HF frequencies. The equipment and facilities have been used to support several local amateur events and activities in recent history including participation in the National Association for Amateur Radio(ARRL) Annual Field Day and two recent local marathon events where the repeaters were used to support communications for safety volunteers during the event. Cooperation and interoperation with the local Amateur Radio community has fostered a sense of teamwork between the involved organizations.
CGARS has been involved in several successful tests and a simulated hurricane exercise event earlier in 2008. The CGARS Stations, Repeaters, & Go-Kits were used. USCG & USCGAUX Mobile and Fixed Stations, CGAUX Operational Air Assets, USCG Operational Marine Assets, Norfolk Airport Mutual Aid, and the Sector Hampton Roads COOP Site at TRACEN Yorktown, were all linked using the CGARS system and able to successfully communicate over a single shared voice network. The Winlink HF-email capability of the Go-Kits that were located at the Sector Hampton Roads COOP site and CGARS sites also successfully demonstrated the capability to pass email traffic over HF Radio by passing multiple exercise traffic messages during the event.
All CGARS equipment is for the most part Common Off-the-Shelf(COTS) Commercial equipment and is supported by USCG Auxiliary and Amateur Radio Volunteers. It was mostly either privately purchased or USCG government excess. CGARS has been very successful and continues to grow with new capability as need arises. CGARS is dedicated to serving the USCG Auxiliary, the USCG, and the community EOC.
USCG AUXILIARY COMCEN
COOP SITE FOR USCG SECTOR HAMPTON ROADS VA
Richard D. Dunnington, W4RDD CGAUX CALL SIGN RAVEN RADIO NF54FE
Robert W. Dunnington, KI4VCT CGAUX CALL SIGN BLACKBIRD RADIO NF54YF
William P. Photinos III, W4RVN CGAUX CALL SIGN LINKHORN BAY RADIO NF54VI
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