Communications exercise’s good reception

Published on CPL Max Bree (author), MSGT Todd Kabalan (author and photographer)

Location(s): Brisbane, Queensland

Topic(s): Exercise PACIFIC ENDEAVOUR

Vice Admiral David Johnston, Chief of Joint Operations, addresses Participants of Pacific Endeavour 2016. (photo: Master Sgt. Todd Kabalan)
Vice Admiral David Johnston, Chief of Joint Operations, addresses Participants of Pacific Endeavour 2016.

Imagining homes are shattered, trees are uprooted and the Brisbane CBD is flooded after a massive cyclone smashes Queensland’s south coast is part of the scenario for Exercise PACIFIC ENDEAVOUR, a multinational communications exercise to test equipment and develop procedures for use in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. 
 
In such a scenario, a state government would call in the Australian Defence Force to help communicate with disaster-stricken remote areas, and the participants from 20 nations came together at Brisbane's Gallipoli Barracks with their radios from 22 August to 2 September.
 
This year’s exercise focused on sending data over the High Frequency (HF) spectrum, with participants transmitting file pictures of damage from their equipment back to a control centre through another country’s radio system.
 
Scenario chairman Navy's Lieutenant Commander Andy Staker said HF transmissions could still be useful in a digital age, despite their long history. 
 
“In typical disaster relief situations, telephone wires could be down and ground stations might be without power or destroyed,” he said.
 
“HF doesn’t need ground infrastructure to reach long distances.
 
“There have been significant advances in HF technology in recent years, which bring this communications method into the 21st century.”
 
Sending images or data over HF wouldn’t normally be needed thanks to Wi-Fi, mobile internet and satellite technology. But, United States Army Major Mitchell Lester, of 311th Signal Command, said when a disaster or humanitarian crisis occurred, that same radio could be a lifeline when normal communication systems were no longer available.
 
“If you’re at an outside location and I need you to send me a picture of the damage in a certain location, I can actually see what it looks like,” Major Lester said.
 
Multinational Communications Interoperability Program Australian lead Lieutenant Colonel Michael King said the exercise was aimed at making sure different nations’ radios were able to speak to each other.
 
“You can’t do that without making sure you’re realistically training for it,” Lieutenant Colonel King said. 
 
“For that you need to set up your full systems; you need to set up all the equipment and doing it at Gallipoli Barracks allowed for that space.
 
“We have forward operating bases we’ve set up to allow for a more realistic training environment and to validate the interoperability between our radio systems.” 
 
The exercise was also an opportunity for senior communicators to meet with participants to develop information sharing and operating procedures.
 
A number of representatives from non-government organisations and the communications industry were also on-hand to provide input and advice. Most participating countries were able to establish contact with the control centre via internet protocol using their latest HF radios.
 
“The fact we’ve managed to push images over the HF medium with a group of multinational representatives using their own radios has proven the success of the activity,” Lieutenant Commander Staker said. 
 
“The knowledge sharing that helps us understand real-world situations has been fantastic.
 
“And in a real event we have already shaken hands with people we will need to work with from a communications perspective.”