Read any tactical manual and it will tell you that good communication between squad members is key to winning the fight.
That’s a little academic for me, as regular readers will know I generally operate as a Billy-no-mates lone wolf. But one day I might go to a proper event where I’m teamed up with a squad (or ‘section’, in Brit milspeak). This admittedly remote possibility has given me the perfect excuse to splash out on some comms kit.
Core to my comms set-up is a Motorola XTN 446 two-way radio. This is an entry-level commercial radio, as used by elite mall security teams worldwide. It has since been replaced by a model with more bells and whistles. Which means nearly-new examples are available for around £30 on ebay. This modest sum buys you quite an impressive piece of kit.
Its cheap and shiny plastic case belies the ruggedness of its basic construction. You can imagine this thing soaking up some pretty heavy abuse and still powering through. It is the Kalashnikov of two-way radios. By contemporary standards, its feature-set is quite modest. Even so, it boasts enough complexity to require me to re-read the instruction manual every time I use it. Though that could be something to do with my early-onset Alzheimers.
Like most PMR radios, the XTN features eight basic channels, each with 38 analogue interference eliminator codes and an additional 83 digital interference eliminator codes. It also has three voice scrambler codes, just in case your opposition has an electronic warfare capability to rival a small country.
More importantly for me, the XTN is compatible with even the most basic radios the rest of your team might be running. You can operate it on any of the basic channels without an interference eliminator code or a voice scrambler code engaged. For simplicity’s sake, that’s probably best. It is after all very bad manners to snoop on the opposition’s chatter.
The XTN runs on either a rechargeable NiMH battery cell or a stack of ubiquitous AA batteries. It’s claimed that it will run for at least 24 hours between charges or battery replacements, though I’ve never tested this.
A neat feature is that calling and acknowledgement sounds can be disabled, so you don’t suddenly start sounding like an 80s video game as you creep up on the enemy.
It’s not the smallest of radios, but it fits neatly in a universal radio pouch round the back of my belt kit. Which may prompt you to wonder how exactly I plan to use it in the field if it’s dangling over my arse.
The answer is my ex-British army PRR headset. The PRR (Personal Role Radio) was originally part of the Clansman battlefield radio project. However, thanks to the unparalleled efficiency of the MoD procurement system, it was subsequently decided to develop it as a separate system. Otherwise its in-service date would have been some time in the 22nd century, just in time for use in the war against Martian colonial separatists.
I’m sure the PRR is a great piece of kit, but looking at its spec on Wikipedia, I reckon my Motorola is superior. Whatever its failings, it has proved its worth in the latter unpleasantness in Afghanistan, probably saving lives by allowing infantry fireteams to co-ordinate their movements more effectively.
The PRR headset is a very compact and lightweight unit. Like the old 18-hour girdle, you barely know you have it on. It fits under a helmet or boonie hat, or over a beret. There’s a single earpiece and a flexible boom mic. My example has been fitted with a civvy press-to-talk switch, which is very rugged and big enough to be hard to miss, even in a panic.
I bought mine about 10 years ago. It’s an ex-military item adapted by a specialist radio company and it cost me an arm and a leg. Equally good knock-off items are now available for a fraction of the cost via your favourite Hong Kong airsoft retailer. You can also get look-alike PRR radio units. However, their replica shells conceal low-quality PMR radios which lack both the features and the ruggedness of a decent commercial radio like my Motorola. I’d give them a miss.
So there you have it. My personal comms kit, ready to go the moment full-scale airsoft war is declared. All I need now is a few like-minded team-mates to talk to with it.