Thanks to GEOFF SLOCOMBE APDR// NEW ZEALAND
Irirangi – NZDF HF radio station (Credit: Te Ara The Encyclopedia of New Zealand/RNZN Communicators) Te Ara The Encyclopedia of New Zealand
NZDF HIGH FREQUENCY (HF) RADIO REFRESH – COMING SOON
The NZDF communicates from New Zealand to its deployed aircraft and ships using HF radio or satellite communications. HF radio is the primary communications medium for smaller ships, aircraft, and for deployed forces when the satellite is unavailable. The NZDF’s need to retain the ability to communicate with ships and aircraft close to New Zealand and to access global communications when satellite links are unavailable has triggered an NZ Ministry of Defence project to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the NZDF’s high-frequency radio capability.
NZDF elements deployed around the world on ground operations, from Antarctica to Iraq, can be reached by choice through multiple communications bearers – geosynchronous satellites, low earth orbit satellites, HF radio, cable and telecommunications networks.
Each has advantages and disadvantages, but the most important high data capacity bearer for the NZDF is the satellite, with backup by HF radio when satellite communications are denied or inaccessible, for example, by platforms working below of 60 degrees South in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica. The NZDF HF radio capability is also used as an emergency standby for Maritime New Zealand.
The current fixed high-frequency radio system was installed in the 1980s and a limited upgrade was undertaken in 2005. As a result, the system is becoming more difficult to maintain.
The NZ Ministry of Defence’s Capability Delivery Division has initiated a Fixed High-Frequency Radio Refresh project. They state ‘HF radio complements satellite or terrestrial communications systems helping to manage the risk of communications
disruption or failure. NZDF’s current New Zealand based fixed high-frequency radio infrastructure was installed in the 1980s, with some parts of the infrastructure upgraded in 2005. The Fixed High-Frequency Radio Refresh Project seeks to upgrade and consolidate this infrastructure to deliver value for money HF capability that will support the NZDF’s deployed and domestic operations in a sustainable manner.
‘The scope of the project includes, but is not limited to:
• Upgrading land-based infrastructure in New Zealand (including transmitters, receivers, and other equipment);
• Updating the Joint Remote-Control System to control all NZDF HF equipment;
• The introduction of frequency management and prediction system;
• The introduction of Automatic Link Establishment/ Management;
• Integration of the new HF System into the NZDF’s network command and control system; and
• Installation of supplied cryptographic equipment.’ APDR has had the opportunity to access a redacted NZ Cabinet Government Administration and Expenditure Review Committee minutes, where the result of Minister of Defence Ron Mark’s submission was approval to release a Request for Proposal in the Government Electronic Tenders Service within a capital cost of up to NZ $0.445 million operating and an NZ $0.475 million allowance for pre-acquisition capital costs.
The Request for Proposals for the Fixed High-Frequency Radio Refresh project was released on 6 August 2018 and closed on 23 November. Recommendations are expected to be completed this quarter and it is anticipated that a contract will be awarded later this year.
At a time when alternative means of communication are required to counter potential adversary’s jamming radio signals, knocking out satellite systems, or cutting undersea cables, HF radio has assumed increased importance.
HQJFNZ need to be able to reach all deployed elements 24/7 so an analysis of available bearer options is quite revealing.
Cable can only be used from a fixed location, while cellular telecommunications need to be line-of-sight to cell sites. While high-altitude geosynchronous satellites have limited polar coverage and are not available to all force elements, they are the preferred primary channel because of their high data rates enabling a mix of data types to be transmitted and received rapidly. Low earth satellite orbits, for example, launched by Rocket Lab from New Zealand, can have excellent polar coverage, read the Southern Ocean, Ross Seas and Antarctica, but have the lowest capacity.
Where does this leave HF radio? It can offer global coverage depending on the time of day, the state and height of the ionosphere between transmitting and receiving sites, and while having lower data capacity than geosynchronous satellites is a great alternate channel although not always usable 24/7. Occasional solar activity, including solar flares, can cause problems.
The MOD’s project team position is ‘High-Frequency Radio is a critical communications capability for the New Zealand Defence Force’s smaller platforms, as an essential fall-back option for larger platforms and for platforms working south of 60 degrees South including the Southern Ocean and Antarctica. As such, this capability will be needed for the foreseeable future.
The NZDF’s Network Enabled Army Program is in the process of updating the Army’s communications equipment. The radios being purchased as part of this update allow the Army to be interoperable with Police, emergency services and the High-Frequency radio network, if and when they are deployed in a domestic emergency.
Currently, the NZDF HF radio network has assets in six locations. This project will consolidate two of these existing centres – Irirangi in the Waiouru area of the central North Island and Weedons in the Christchurch area of the South Island.