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MARS and C-FARS Join Hands:

Bill Sexton (N1IN) on April 1, 2013
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If there’s one characteristic shared by hams, it’s their affection for challenge—whether last weekend’s CQ Worldwide SSB contest, a storm named Sandy last winter or complicated new digital software just coming on line. For MARS members there’s a historic one shaping up next Sunday: the long-awaited inauguration of formal interoperability between Army MARS and its northern partners, the Canadian Forces Affiliate Radio System, better known as C-FARS (as in see-fars).

Five years and more of patient spadework by the amateurs in both organizations were culminated Monday (1 April 2013) by a terse but vibrant message to the U.S. side from Bob Mims (AAA1RD), joint net manager: “The details of the joint MARS/CFARS nets have been resolved . . . MARS stations are asked to support this national interoperability effort.”

MARS operators who join the initial twice-a-month introductory nets on first and third Sundays (time and frequency available to members from State Directors) should be impressed by their new emcomm partners. Established by the Royal Canadian Air Force after World War II, C-FARS or a predecessor has been providing HF links to the Canadians deployed on U.N. peacekeeping missions around the world since the 1950s. That’s on top of defense support in the vastness of Arctic Canada, where polar conditions sternly limit propagation. Now the equivalent of a unified MARS, C-FARS reports to the Ministry of National Defence (Canadian spelling with a “c”,).

From the strategic outlook alone, the new connection is long overdue. Quebec, the world’s fourth or fifth largest source of hydropower is a significant supplier of electricity to the northeast U.S. In the past its transmission lines have experienced terrorist activity. And few border residents will forget the shared 1998 ice storm that left millions in both countries without power for weeks including Montreal, Canada’s second largest urban area. The two amateur auxiliaries have a support role in both kinds of contingencies. Now they will share the operational affiliation both countries’ armed forces already have within the joint North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).

The initial joint net is labeled “long haul,” to be followed later by an “NVIS” net (for Near Vertical Incidence Skywave, or short haul.) This architecture harks back to the first cross-border test on April 20, 2008. U.S. net manager Mims recorded afterward: “The frequency was long, requiring a lot of relays. Stations in the East could not copy other eastern stations, nor could western stations copy each other, but relays were made east to west as is the normal procedure for C-FARS.”

The Canadians provided the frequencies and the net control station. Four U.S. stations checked in (three in the Northeast, one in Montana [AAT8AU]) and three Canadian. One Pactor connect supplemented the voice exchanges. Both sides followed NATO net procedures but the call signs took getting used to at first (CIR681 in the case of the first NCS, Cliff Fairbank, then C-FARS net manager and still a key player).

“This net was a one-time experiment,” Mims said in his net report. “[It] proved to be (in my opinion) a complete success.”

More trials followed. Fairbank calculated that 135 different stations joined the 27 nets over a 90-day test period. Then international bureaucracy intervened. Washington regulators determined it as was illegal for the government-licensed MARS stations to operate Canadian frequency. The MARS members’ hopes of opening some U.S. frequencies met no response.

Given the two nations’ collaboration on North American defense, a partnership on backup communications from the two amateur communities made perfect sense alongside the activation of the new Army MARS National Operations Net last year. Following the NORAD/NORTHCOM model, the opnet and U.S. cross-border ham contingent will share a single manager.

In Monday’s announcement, Mims included a call for help. “Stations are needed to act as net controls,” he wrote, adding an under-stated reminder just how big an undertaking this project will be: “Several NCS stations are needed for each net to cover the continent.”

Member Comments:
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MARS and C-FARS Join Hands:  
by VE1PGC on April 5, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
This is to become a great asset to both countries and shows the co-operation than can exist between good show guys
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