Electronic Weapons: April 7, 2005

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The Afghan army finally got equipped with modern radios. For the last three years, the Afghan troops have been using mostly old Russian radios (for which few spare parts were available) and some American Vietnam era equipment. The Afghans have been re-equipped with American commercial radios that are based on equipment used by the American military. For tactical use, they have several models of Datron radios that are civilian versions of the U.S. Army AN/PRC 77 platoon radio. This is a 12 pound radio that the operator carries on his back. Each two pound battery lasts about 30 hours, and there is a hand cranked generator for recharging the batteries, if no source of electricity is available. This recharger is an important item for Afghanistan, where most of the country does not have electricity (except from those flush enough to afford a generator.) The platoon radios have a range of 5-8 kilometers. The Datron 1070 is a four pound radio used by squads or smaller units and have a range of up to four kilometers. The truck mounted, or stationary Datron 7000 can reach anywhere in Afghanistan, and is used by battalion and higher headquarters. These radios are digital, and can use encryption and other security measures. But in Afghanistan, the big problem with radios is just keeping them in working order, especially in the many valleys that interfere with reception. 

What the troops would really like are satellite phones, but those are more expensive than the tactical radios, and involve time charges (usually by the minute.) Except for a few senior government and military officials, there are no satellite phones. Before the new military radios were delivered, the only new equipment were off the shelf walkie-talkies. Motorola hand held radios were very popular, and still are. Pairs of these Motorola radios will remain in military use for a long time. 

Some $70 million was contributed by the United States, Britain and other NATO countries to buy the radio equipment, and spare parts to keep them going for about ten years. The new radios began to arrive last March, with delivery, and training, completed earlier this year. While many of the Afghan troops are illiterate, they are mechanically adept and quickly learn how to use and maintain the new digital radios. The operators learn enough written language to read the controls on the radios, and the numeric data on the radio displays.

 


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