Communications is a broad term to describe anything that's used to pass along a message. Communications is one of the core things you should be planning around that is often overlooked. Remember, "Move, shoot, communicate." Your communications plan should be layered, and there are many things that people either don't do, or do and shouldn't. Most people in this circle have a $1200+ rifle setup, $800+ body armor setup, a few thousand rounds of ammo, and consider buying $600 belt kits, but then look for a $100 communications setup. Ask yourself what you're more likely to do; pass information to somebody, or get in a heavy firefight? This article won't be "which radio should you buy" but more of considerations when planning for comms.
The most basic form of tactical communications is the hand and arm signal. This is extremely crucial to any team, whether everyone has radio setups or not. The hand and arm signal is battery free, silent, and the only real limitation to it is line of sight or light conditions. The next form is whispering. Obviously this requires noise and close proximity, but if in a hide site, or trying to pass complex word quickly, whispering and passing along a message is always an option. The LRRPs in the Vietnam war would often cup their hands around their buddy's ears and whisper to keep the overall noise down.
After that we have radios. Radios are obviously a huge rabbit hole, but generally the best bet is digital, encrypted communications. While I won't be going into that in this article, there is a ton information out there for programming your group's radios to do this.
Lastly, we have applications like ATAK with various methods of creating mesh networks to share information, text, and in more advanced applications you can pass call for fire requests. Obviously these require service if you don't have a mesh network, and they will create light signatures to some degree. They are the most cost heavy, and screens don't always work well when wet/wearing gloves. Also heavy battery considerations. Look at all of these as separate tools. These are NOT replacements for each other. Do not make your primary method of communication ATAK, and find yourself scrambling to send a text message on 2% battery in the freezing rain to say you're being shot at. On top of all of these methods, you have the standard methods of your cell phone. iMessage and other applications like Telegram and Signal are encrypted, and phones are the lowest profile method of undercover communications. A bluetooth earbud/airpod and phone in your pocket looks a lot less suspicious while walking down the street than a radio and in ear setup.
When planning for a mission, consider your options, group setup, capabilities, and your mission itself. Let's say that you are planning a mission for an 8 man vehicle infil to an area, movement to a hide site, observation over a period of time, and exfil. Within your 8 man team, you have a 3 man recon team, 4 man security team, and your squad leader. You have 4 men throughout the team of 8 with night vision capabilities and will be doing a nighttime infil and exfil. While 6 of the men have radios, only 3 are capable of having silent setups with in ear/over ear headsets and PTTs. There is a half moon with light cloud cover, and your path in and out will have some sections of overhead canopy, and the rest of the way has low overhead cover. What is your plan? These are all factors that should be taken into consideration. Group size and team make-up will determine how you utilize your capabilities. In this case, 3 of your men have silent radio setups, only a handful will be able to see hand and arm signals passed at all times due to night vision, and the visibility will help the rest of the members see hand and arm signals most of the time. Since you have 2 main elements, they likely won't be right on top of each other the whole time, and it may be beneficial to have a watch/rest rotation during your surveillance, with your rest element behind by a slight distance.
While using your radios on a patrol, keep non mission essential chatting to an absolute minimum. Your transmissions should be short and concise. Cut unnecessary words. Do not mention names or any other personally identifiable information over the net. Use callsigns for initial contact, and drop them after that. Your transmissions should be as efficient as humanly possible. Use brevity codes to pass large bits of information at once without giving any indicator to possible unwanted listeners.
Example of full transmission: "Alpha 2, this is Bravo 2 over" "Bravo 2, this is Alpha 2. Send your traffic"
"Alpha 2 be advised, we have reached checkpoint charlie, how copy"
"Bravo 2, I copy you have reached checkpoint charlie, over." "Alpha 2, Roger, solid copy. Bravo 2 Out"
Example of cleaned up transmission: "Alpha 2, this is Bravo 2"
"Pineapples" "Roger" "Out"
The overall time required to pass the second transmission is much shorter, no indication as to your activities are clear to uninformed listeners, and the proper information has been passed clearly to informed listeners. In this case, pineapples is the brevity term for reaching checkpoint charlie. Roger is used to indicate you have received the message, and then the initial caller ends the transmission.
If you are passing information on an encrypted channel, still be aware that every time you key your radio, there is a signal being broadcasted that can be detected and triangulated. The information may not be received, but your presence and possibly location are both known. Planned comm windows can help mitigate this as well. If you have a mandatory comm window at the top of every hour, with any changes being passed at the bottom of the hour, you would turn on your radio to get a radio check every hour, and turn it on at the bottom to listen to any changes to the last status update. If there is no update, then no transmissions will be passed. If you are in a static position for a long period of time, a radio check every few hours is also acceptable. Do what makes sense.
All of your communications should be reviewed before you step. You personally should pre program your radios, and op check them as soon as possible. Ensure you have fresh batteries, all your connections work, and your radio is able to transmit and receive. The best way to do this is to pass a radio check between every member of the team. To pass an individual radio check, it should go like this:
"Bravo [You] this is Alpha [Me], radio check" "Roger" "Roger out"
The idea is that both members transmit and receive to ensure that somebody isn't receive only, and somebody else isn't transmit only. This is very important to not just say to the person "yeah I hear you" without keying in or passing the response on the radio. The most effective way to pass a group radio check would be like this:
"All stations this is Alpha 2, radio check over"
"Alpha 1, roger"
"Alpha 3, roger"
"Alpha 4, roger"
"Roger on all, out"
If somebody comes in garbled or fuzzy, let them know. If they come in all clear, do not tell them "loud and clear" or anything like that. The default is loud and clear, and you should only add in more transmissions if something is not default.
This will be a multi part series about communications as a whole. Overall this was a primer to understand the concept of communications with a few radio basics put in. Comment below to discuss your comm plan for the above scenario. I will comment my plan as well.