In the August issue of MRT, correspondent Doug Mohney filed a story detailing radio problems suffered during Operation Iraqi Freedom. As part of that report, Mohney touched on Icom’s “Soldier’s Intercom,” the Icom IC-F3S VHF radio.
Icom America Vice President Chris Lougee offered the following clarification to MRT:
The Soldier Intercom (SI) is a special version of our popular F3S commercial handheld transceiver. It has short range because the Army ordered it that way! It comes from the factory with .1W (one-tenth) output power default capability.
This was an Army requirement for the following reasons:
Frequency Usage – Their footprint: is one SI per squad member – (9 radios per squad) with 400-800 meters diameter range (hence the name “intercom”). One channel per squad is allocated (4 per platoon; 12 per company, 39 per battalion). Obviously the opportunity for collision on any one channel is high with so many soldiers operating on the same frequencies. The short range reduces the chances of “stepping” on each other (Note: they rejected group assignments of CTCSS or DCS to prevent a soldier from thinking a transmission had been sent when it was actually blocked by another).
Threat Analysis — Inexpensive hand-held scanners can detect signals at 400-800 meters.
The most likely military threat ground interceptors perform comparably. Ground detection would require being within range of some organic weapons, or too late to do anything with the intercepted information. Another reason for the limited range.
Security — The SI is not a secure radio. NCSC 8: states “… all military radios must be secure” and AR 380-19 states “…commercial non-encrypted radio systems will not be used in support of command and control functions.” The DCD Infantry decided the Soldier Intercom ORD did not require secure capability and ASD-C3I approved a waiver for the Soldier Intercom provided it was operated at .1W. Actually, all soldiers using FRS in the European theater were required to turn them in because they did not have this waiver.
Although the commercial version of the F3S is much more powerful (5W), the Army directed that the factory default power settings be restricted since it’s a non-secure radio.
Lt. Colonel Smith is correct in reporting what Soldiers are saying. Soldiers do not like the low factory power settings from the factory. The average Soldier doesn’t know that the radio is capable of five watts, and that the Army told ICOM America to limit the default settings for security reasons. The Soldier has a need for a radio to communicate at greater ranges and for purposes that the Soldier Intercom was not intended.
The PEO Soldier and the TSM Soldier know what the actual requirement is, and that “operation mission creep” has occurred. Soldiers are using the Soldier Intercom for functions not intended. The Army has given us permission to provide instructions to units that ask about increasing power. At this time however, they do not intend to change the factory settings.