The military radio debacle
A fairly decent piece by David Axe for the Center for Public Integrity. Not usually an Axe fan, but this is a good piece:
As several dozen soldiers from the U.S. Army's Task Force Rock drove into Afghanistan's Chowkay Valley one morning in March 2010, Taliban fighters immediately began moving into ambush positions along a higher ridge. The force's mission was to protect a U.S. reconstruction team as it met with village leaders, but it was stuck in place as the Taliban reached their fighting posts.
What tied the soldiers down were their radios: a forest of plastic and metal cubes sprouting antennae of different lengths and sizes. They had short-range models for talking with the reconstruction team, longer-range versions for reaching headquarters 25 miles away and a backup satellite radio in case the mountains blocked the transmission. An Air Force controller carried his own radio for talking to jet fighters overhead and a separate radio for downloading streaming video from the aircraft.
Some of these radios worked only while the troopers were stationary; others were simply too cumbersome to operate on the move. "Not good," Spc. Geoff Pearman said as he watched farmers scurry indoors from their wheat fields, a sure sign that fighting was imminent.
Task Force Rock's vulnerability that morning is routine for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. But it was never supposed to happen.
For a while in Afghanistan I was the company RTO, a job in retrospect I wish I had never had. I thought being on QRF the whole time would mean more action, it turned out I did a lot of sitting around and filling radios. As an infantryman I had sort of a love/hate relationship with the radio; as RTO it turned to just straight up hatred. This article lays out some of the fundamental issues, that you needed 3 radios to communicate with anyone (short range for Squad, another for company, and the SATCOM for anyone not in line of sight.) I won't go into that, because Axe lays it out fairly well, but worse to me was anytime we had to deal with other nationalities in the area, and of course their radio fills were different than ours, so you had to call higher and communicate through a 3rd (and often 4th, 5th or 6th) person to talk to the NORDPOL guy that was 400 meters away.
It always struck me as absurd that we should have so many issues with the radios. I remember reading about Michael Patrick Murphy (MOH, SEAL) who went down talking on a Sat Phone to call in strikes. He had to walk out into the open to get it to work. Granted I am not the most technologically apt human being of all time, but there has to be something better that the braintrust at DARPA could invent, no?