News: Communications training, radio upgrades enhance AFL’s operational capability
Story by Master Sgt. Brian Bahret
MONROVIA, Liberia - With a “Lima Charlie” response followed by an operational update from Armed Forces of Liberia soldiers deployed to Mali, the Headquarters AFL staff successfully employed a new radio communications system Sept 15, 2013.
The phonetic translation confirmed a “loud and clear” transmission and signaled a new era for AFL communications as soldiers tested the force’s new suite of CODAN radios.
“The basics for every deployment are: you have to move, you have to be able to navigate and you have to be able to communicate,” said AFL Maj. Prince Johnson III, Headquarters AFL chief of operations. In each element, “communication is crucial.”
U.S. service members serving with Operation Onward liberty, in coordination with the U.S. Embassy’s Office of Strategic Cooperation, delivered a package of CODAN radio equipment base stations and portable radios.
“The equipment will definitely enhance our communication,” said Johnson, who is responsible for planning and overseeing current and future AFL operations. The HQ staff uses radios to communicate daily with AFL soldiers deployed to Mali.
Before operationally testing the equipment, 25 communications specialists attended a course at the Armed Forces Training Command, Camp Ware, Liberia. During the course, instructors taught lessons on basic radio maintenance, programming and operation, said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jonathan Crouch, OOL radio noncommissioned officer.
Crouch, who is from Medina, Ohio, said the instruction focused on the CODAN 2110 Manpack Transceiver, a rugged, portable radio soldiers can mount in vehicles or carry in a backpack while on patrol. The base stations have similar interfaces, but are larger and offer much more power, which increases the distance they can communicate, he said.
According to Crouch, the radios offer the AFL extended range, encrypted communications and a capability to integrate communications with United Nation partners. Also, when communicating verbally isn’t an option, radio operators can use the radios to exchange information through text messages.
Additionally, the manpack can store up to 600 channels and 20 networks and feature a user-friendly interface which simplifies data entry, said Crouch.
“You can program frequencies and channels a lot easier,” he said. “You can program channels into a network and specify what channels are in what network. If [the AFL] wants a high priority network, they can isolate it, so everybody’s not hearing what is said.”
As a result, the soldiers can coordinate much better, said Crouch.
AFL Pfc. Augustine Nyumah, who attended the two-week course, said the new radios are a significant upgrade to the AFL’s previous system.
“The [new] radio is taking the Armed Forces from one stage to another,” said Nyumah. “With the new system of communication, we’re entering an advanced area. When we are given a task, we’re going to do it in a professional manner. People will see we are professional soldiers.”
According to U.S. Army 1st Lt. Jeremiah Aberlich, OOL communications advisor, before the upgrade, the AFL soldiers used a legacy radio that was adequate for the force’s initial needs. But, as the AFL increases its operational capability, having the new radios will enable the AFL to integrate communications effectively with international forces, he said.
The AFL’s first deployment as a restructured force was in 2012 when they deployed to the border of Liberia and the Ivory Coast supporting Operation Restore Hope. As part of a joint task force, AFL soldiers, Liberia National Police officers and Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization agents conducted patrols to improve security.
While no joint communications network was available, the operations were effective, said Johnson adding that a direct cross-flow of information would have enhanced the operations.
“Before we deployed, the Government of Liberia closed the entire border along the Ivory Coast. Since our deployment, the border is open,” said Johnson. “Since we went in and began joint operations, the level of security in that area has improved.”
In addition to communications within Liberia’s borders, the AFL relies on radios to regularly communicate with its deployed forces.
Their first international deployment in more than 50 years, AFL soldiers deployed to Mali in June as part of a United Nations peacekeeping force to promote regional stability, he said. The HQ AFL staff receives operational updates from the deployed soldiers daily. Integrating the radio network with the United Nations forces would enhance AFL operations in Mali as well, he said.
Whether for operations in Mali or within Liberia’s border, Johnson said he relies on radio communications to monitor AFL activities and direct soldiers as needed while informing the AFL chain of command of their progress.
“We now have a radio that is compatible with [the equipment] all troop-contributing countries in Mali are using,” said Johnson. He said that, added with the potential to develop an internal communication network with other Liberian security agencies, will help improve Liberia’s security environment.
In addition, the CODAN radios feature an encrypted link capability, which will help protect sensitive information about mission objectives and troop movements – something not possible using the older radios, he said.
Johnson said the AFL will continue its work in West Africa and its efforts with the Liberian police and the BIN agents to secure Liberia’s borders. Considering the security threats in West Africa, he said it’s important for national security agencies to continually communicate.
“Having proper communications and establishing a communication link with other security agencies in Liberia will definitely help us to be ready,” said Johnson. “In case anything happens … collectively, we will be able to respond as the Liberian security agency.”