Deployed Signallers Take Highest Spot in International High Frequency Competition

December 29, 2020 - Defence Stories
Author: Maj Mark Peebles, Task Force Latvia


Members of the winning team pose for a group photo after victoriously competing in the multinational Exercise NOBLE SKYWAVE competition.

Image taken on November 10, 2020 in Camp Adazi Training Area, Latvia by enhanced Forward Presence - Latvia Imagery Technician, Canadian Armed Forces Photo © 2020 DND-MDN Canada

In an era dominated by terms like “WiFi”, “Broadband” and “Satellite uplinks”, signallers deployed with NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group in Latvia proved last month that they can excel when it comes to ‘old school’ radio communications.

A team of nine signallers in Adazi won first place in the annual Noble Skywave international High Frequency (HF) radio competition on 28 October. Their skill and expertise in this competition showed their ability to link deployed troops with elements back in Canada, and around the world, even if they can’t connect with communication satellites.

Noble Skywave is an international military HF radio competition that started in 2013 to test, strengthen expertise and compete in a friendly atmosphere. This year’s competition saw 166 teams compete by attempting to make the most HF radio connections over the longest distances during the 48-hour event. Points were scored for number of connections and the distances between stations.

The signalers deployed to Latvia with the Battle Group and the Communication and Information Systems Squadron on Operation REASSURANCE submitted two teams: Team “Savages” and Team “Sigs Beast”. Despite some early challenges, Team “Savages” managed to get to 3rd place in the 20-150 Watt category with one hour left in the competition. By the time the competition was finished, they moved from 3rd to 1st place with 288.5 points, winning not only their category but also finishing 1st Overall. Team “Sigs Beast” experienced some technical difficulties but were still able to finish 60th out of 166 teams.


Master Corporal Stephen Armitage, currently deployed with Operation REASSURANCE – LATVIA and a member of the NOBLE SKYWAVE team, demonstrates how to transmit using the Harris AN/PRC 160 High Frequency radio on November 10, 2020 in the Camp Adazi Training Area, Latvia.

Team “Savages” leader MCpl Steve Armitage was no stranger to Noble Skywave, having competed twice before and winning in the 0-150 Watt category with a team from the Canadian Joint Signals Regiment in 2018. Even so, he said that winning while deployed in Latvia proves what signallers from the various occupations can achieve together.

“As a Lineman I relied heavily on the expertise of my fellow Signalers. High Frequency is where our two trades merge (Sig Ops, Line Tech), using both radios and antennas,” he said.

Teammate MCpl Michael Balasevicius said that trying to communicate across the globe using antennae is always a challenge. There are matters of trying to find frequencies that work for both sides, time differences, equipment compatibility, not to mention weather.

“There are a multitude of factors that come in to play when trying to talk half way across the world. If you get all these factors right then you can listen through the static and hopefully you hear the other call sign,” he said.

For Signals Technician Cpl Xuyen Lam, the most challenging part was getting a response at all.

“Trying to reach Net Control and then with the other North American stations/call signs was a struggle, and our location and our time zone difference didn’t help,” she said. “Luckily, we had a great collection of people who knew what they were doing and made it possible for us to take the lead and win the competition.”

Skill in using HF radios may seem retro, but HF radios still offer communication ability in areas where satellite and other communications do not have the range or ability to reach.  It is particularly useful in areas such as the polar region, where geostationary satellite coverage is not directly accessible. HF radios can be quickly deployed into theatre and provide local and rear-link command and control to deployed and moving assets.

Being able to communicate in an environment which could be degraded by adversarial actions is critical to the eFP Battle Group’s mission to defend Latvia and deter threats to Allied sovereignty. The signallers in Camp Adazi have proven that this year, they are the best in that business.

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