Thursday, December 07, 2017

CBP Captures Smugglers TRBO Radios

A recent posting by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reports the capture of a group smuggling marijuana across the southern Arizona border with Mexico. The Yuma Sector was involved in the arrest:

Photos that accompanied this report on the CBP Twitter feed showed the radios and batteries that were seized during this arrest.

The CBP photo shows several models of Motorola TRBO digital radios, probably UHF. I'm wondering if they will do any forensic radio analysis and see what frequencies they were on.

The drug cartels in Mexico have long been known to use radios, and not just portables. A while back, there was a wide-area radio system with linked repeaters that was reportedly build by a company in Houston, Texas. It was operating in an unusual part of the UHF military air band and was fully encrypted, of course.

Which brings me to a recent discovery when I was in Arizona. I left my radio searching unattended while parked at a fairly high altitude near the Mexican border. I recorded a number of encrypted DMR hits on unusual UHF frequencies. I caught quite a bit of traffic on 403.2500, 403.3500 and 403.4500 MHz. All the communications I recorded were using the same talk group number (116), so this might be part of a trunked system. Is this really related to drug smugglers? Who knows, but an interesting catch none the less...

Monday, December 04, 2017

Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington

   Fairchild Air Force Base, located near Spokane, in eastern Washington, started out life as the Spokane Army Air Depot back in 1940. Local business owners and citizens raised the money in order to bring the base to Spokane. The base was renamed in 1951 in honor of General Muir S. Fairchild. 

   Fairchild was at one time home to the 92nd Bomb Group, flying the B-29 Superfortress. The base also supported the B-36 Peacemaker for a time in the early 1950’s. The base became home to B-25 bombers in 1956 and KC-135 tankers in 1958. During the Cold War, a ring of nine Atlas intercontinental ballistic missiles silos surrounded Spokane and Fairchild Air Force Base. These were operational from 1961 through 1965, as part of the Air Force’s 567th Missile Squadron. The bombers moved away in 1993, making aerial refueling the base’s primary operational function.

   In addition to the tankers, Fairchild is home to the Air Force Survival School. The 336th Training Group teaches SERE tactics, Survival - Evasion -  Resistance - Escape. Some of the real-world training takes place in the nearby Coleville National Forest.

   The base itself is served by a VHF P-25 digital trunked radio system. This system was a Motorola system years ago (the last time I was at the base), but has since been upgraded to a true, P-25 system. Base personnel that I spotted with radios seemed to be using mostly Motorola APX radios. The system appears to be a single site with no networking to anywhere else, but with the recent trend of military base radio systems being networked with other bases, I would not be surprised if that happened in the future here at Fairchild. Here are the specifics of the base trunked system:

Fairchild Air Force Base
System ID       5E1
WACN            BEE00
Site 001

   In addition to the trunked system, there are a number of VHF and UHF conventional frequencies allocated to the base. While on base for the 2017 Skyfest air show (more on that later), I spotted a variety of antennas on hangers, buildings and small towers located all over the base. I have confirmed a few of the UHF air band frequencies, and have information that some of the VHF channels are being used for the USAF Survival School training. Here is a compilation of my database of conventional frequencies for Fairchild Air Force Base, as well as some Washington National Guard frequencies from nearby Spokane International Airport (KGEG):

118.3000         AM     Spokane (GEG) Tower
120.3500         AM     Fairchild (SKA) Tower
121.9000         AM     Spokane (GEG) Ground
122.9500         AM     Spokane (GEG) Unicom
123.6000         AM     Fairchild (SKA) Ground
123.7500         AM     Spokane (GEG) Approach/Departure
124.3000         AM     Spokane (GEG) Approach/Departure
124.3250         AM     Spokane (GEG) ATIS
124.7000         AM     Spokane (GEG) Approach/Departure
126.2000         AM     Fairchild (SKA) Tower (alternate)
133.3500         AM     Spokane (GEG) Approach/Departure
134.1000         AM     Fairchild (SKA) Radar Approach
139.3000         AM     Pilot-To-Dispatch
139.3500         AM     Survival School helicopter
139.6250         FM      Survival School
139.8250         FM      Survival School
142.2250         FM      Survival School Operations
149.1750         FM      Survival School Operations
150.2000         FM      Survival Operations Repeater
233.7000         AM     Fairchild (SKA) Tower
234.8000         AM     PMSV Weather
236.0000         AM     Survival Training
238.3000         AM     Maintenance
239.0250         AM     Washington Army Guard helicopters
240.1500         AM     SOF - Supervisor of Flying
240.5000         AM
251.9000         AM     Survival Rescue Training
253.4000         AM     Maintenance
254.3750         AM     Spokane (GEG) ATIS
254.7000         AM     Survival Training
257.6250         AM     Fairchild (SKA) ATIS
263.0000         AM     Spokane (GEG) Approach/Departure
269.2500         AM     Fairchild (SKA) ATC
275.8000         AM     Fairchild (SKA) Ground
278.3000         AM     Spokane (GEG) Tower
282.2500         AM     Spokane (GEG) Approach/Departure
289.6000         AM     Fairchild (SKA) Tower (alternate)
293.7000         AM     Maintenance Operations
301.6000         AM     Survival School Training
314.3000         AM     Training
311.0000         AM     Command Post STRIKEHAWK
321.0000         AM     Command Post STRIKEHAWK
339.3000         AM     Fairchild (SKA) Radar Approach
348.6000         AM     Spokane (GEG) Ground
359.0000         AM     Training
363.8000         AM     Fairchild (SKA) Radar Approach
372.2000         AM     Pilot-To-Dispatch
372.5000         AM    
375.2000         AM     USAF METRO
381.3000         AM     Command Post
384.9000         AM     Fairchild (SKA) Radar Approach
385.0000         FM      Army Guard
387.4875         FM      Army Guard
388.8500         AM     Maintenance
389.8000         AM     Fairchild (SKA) Radar Approach
389.9125         FM      Army Guard
396.9000         AM     ANG Command Post 141ARW
407.4500         FM
413.0000         FM
413.4500         FM

2017 Solar Eclipse NASA Frequencies

   A rare natural phenomenon that occurred on August 21st, 2017 brought a lot of attention. A total solar eclipse, where the moon blocks the suns light for a short time, was visible across the United States. This was the first total solar eclipse that had been visible in the continental United States since 1979. I was fortunate enough to be very near the “path of totality”, that is the line along which the eclipse crossed the United States, plunging a narrow strip the earth in near total darkness for a few minutes in the middle of the day.

   There was tremendous media buildup prior to the eclipse, and there was concern by public safety agencies in the areas where the eclipse was going to pass, that the large crowds would be an issue.
In addition to the huge crowds, there was a large response of scientific researchers on hand to observe and record the eclipse. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had multiple aircraft flying, including their WB-57 high-altitude research planes, up “chasing” parts of the eclipse as it crossed over the country. NASA provided continuous media coverage of the eclipse as it moved from the Pacific Ocean on to the Oregon coast. NASA has an excellent web site set up with all things about the eclipse and what they were doing with it:

   Here is a list of likely VHF and UHF aircraft frequencies that would be used by NASA aircraft. Listeners in other regions of the country have confirmed some of these as in use by NASA aircraft, particularly by the NASA fleet aircraft that fly between NASA facilities in Houston, Florida and California. Keep these in your scanner and see what you hear:

230.5000         AM                 NASA WB-57
259.7000         AM                 NASA Gulfstream III doing live TV reports

   Besides NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) flew some aircraft to observe and record the eclipse. I did not have any luck catching the NOAA air traffic on any agency specific air-to-ground frequencies, at least in the Portland, OR area. 

VA IDAS Trunking System

New Federal IDAS Trunked System

   Recently, a friendly source in the Seattle, Washington area passed along information on what appeared to be a new, three-site IDAS trunked system in the Puget Sound area. IDAS stands for Icom Digital Advanced System, which is an Icom trunked protocol using the NXDN open standard developed by Icom and Kenwood.  

   The frequencies that have been identified with this system are 408.0375 MHz, 408.4250 MHz and 410.3250 MHz. So far, the system has only revealed these three original site frequencies that were first noted. The frequencies are all using NXDN digital mode, so they can be monitored with the TRX models of Whistler scanners or using SDR radios with the appropriate software. The three sites all seem to carry the same voice traffic simultaneously.

   By listening for several days, it was determined that the likely user was the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers. There are two VA Medical Centers in the Seattle area – the American Lake facility in Tacoma, Washington and the Seattle facility in Seattle, Washington.

   So far, the IDAS trunked system appears to be used by maintenance and shuttle transportation. VA Security has been reportedly using UHF P-25 repeaters at the Seattle area VA facilities, but has also been reported to have talk groups on the federal VHF Integrated Wireless Network (IWN) trunked system that supports a majority of federal agencies in the region.