by Ron Perron (Rapbep@aol.com)

About two weeks after the World Trade Center tragedy I was playing golf in the Washington suburb of Bethesda.  I could hear the continuous sound of the US Air Force jets overhead as they flew their combat air patrols (CAP) over DC.  My golfing partner remarked that he was used to hearing jets in this neighborhood, after all, BWI, Reagan National and Dulles are all close to DC.  Then he added that he wasn't used to those sounds being made by military aircraft on combat patrols; it made him feel uneasy.  I reminded him of a slogan I had seen in the past at the entrance to some air bases, "The sounds you are hearing (jet noises) are the sounds of freedom."

I guess we're all wondering who those aircraft are overhead and from where they come.  Since shortly after the WTC was attacked there have been USAF fighters, both F-16s and F-15s overhead 24 hours a day.  The first patrols were airborne and in place, manned by F-16s from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia.  These particular F-16s were actually from the North Dakota Air National Guard.  Since Langley doesn't have any F-16s assigned, several F-16s are rotated from the North Dakota ANG into Langley for airspace protection.  Until September 11th that's how airspace protection was carried out in the U.S.-by interceptor aircraft dispersed at certain air bases.

Who is Who

So who is running the show?  That would be the North American Aerospace Defense Command, NORAD, at Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado (http://www.peterson.af.mil/).  The NORAD is a bi-national United States and Canadian organization charged with the missions of aerospace warning and aerospace control for North America.  Aerospace warning includes the monitoring of man-made objects in space, and the detection, validation, and warning of attack against North America (whether by aircraft, missiles, or space vehicles) utilizing mutual support arrangements with other commands. 

Aerospace control includes providing surveillance and control of the airspace of Canada and the United States.

The Air Combat Command (ACC) has provided the F-16s and F-15s and the Air Mobility Command (AMC) provides their supporting AWACS surveillance and tanker aircraft.  The F-16s have come from the 121st Fighter Squadron (FS) of the DC Air National Guard (ANG) at Andrews; the 149th FS of the Virginia ANG at Richmond; Detachment 1 of the 178th FS of the North Dakota ANG from Langley and, from the 119th FS of the New Jersey ANG at Atlantic City.  Other ANG units have also participated in the CAPs, including the 176th FS Wisconsin ANG at Madison; the 134th FS Vermont ANG at Burlington; and the 138th FS New York ANG, Syracuse.  A little known fact is that 100 percent of the airspace defense of the U.S. is tasked to ANG fighter units across the country.

The F-15s were initially from the 27th, 71st and 94th FS at Langley. Late in October they were relieved by F-15s from the squadrons of the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour-Johnson AFB, North Carolina.  The AWACS aircraft rotate into the DC CAP area from Tinker AFB, Oklahoma.  In mid-October some NATO AWACS aircraft were dispatched to the US from their bases at RAF Waddington, England and Geilenkirchen, Germany to relieve some of the Tinker-based aircraft for duty overseas.  Some of these NATO aircraft have been working in the DC area.

All of these aircraft require a lot of fuel to keep them on station and the refueling efforts are a continuous rotation of KC-10s from the 2nd and 32nd Air Refueling Squadrons (ARS) and the 76th & 78th ARS of the Air Force Reserves, both located at McGuire AFB, New Jersey; KC-135s from the 183rd ARS of the Pennsylvania ANG at Pittsburgh; the 145th & 166th ARS from the OH ANG from Rickenbacker Airport, Columbus OH; the 151st ARS of the Tennessee ANG, at Knoxville; the 77th ARS at Seymour-Johnson, North Carolina; and the 106th ARS Alabama ANG at Birmingham.

What To Listen For

The fighters are flying two combat air patrols; one over DC proper and another over what I believe to be the Camp David

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tern & Mattern, Inc. and its communications subsidiary, CTA Communications Inc.  CTA is providing radio engineering consultant services and prepared the STARS request for proposals.  CTA will oversee the installation and integration, and assure system performance and vendor compliance for the proposed STARS system.

In its 2,690-page solicitation, the state asks bidders to describe how they intend to mount VHF (high and low band), CB, cellular and UHF antennas next to each other and to explain how they would accommodate those vehicles equipped with LOJACK!  Now for the specifics...


The existing Virginia State Police (VSP) radio and microwave systems are the basis for the STARS project.  VSP is divided into seven divisions.  Each VSP division is responsible for dispatching and coordinating the radio communications within its area of responsibility.  Each VSP division for this project, with the exception of Division 7, has been subdivided into two "communications zones."  Each communications zone is allocated a set of channels, which may be re-used elsewhere in the state.  VSP's Division 7, which is Northern Virginia and is the smallest division geographically, will not be subdivided as are the other six divisions.  All of Division 7 will lie in Communications Zone 13 with a single set of assigned channels.

VSP presently communicates on a statewide VHF high-band radio system interconnected by a 2 GHz and 6 GHz microwave network.  The state describes them as "mature architectures that have been operationally and technically refined over the years."  Together, this system provides approximately 90 percent of the state's troopers with mobile radio coverage using 47 VHF sites interconnected by 87 microwave sites.  Portable radios are used through the use of vehicular repeaters on 458.35 to extend coverage when officers are out of their cruisers.

The majority of the state police mobile radios are approximately 20 years old.  The present conventional four-channel system, originally installed in 1977, supports approximately 3,235 users (2,375 VSP personnel and 860 other federal, state and local users).

Other state agencies in Virginia operate separate mobile radio networks to support their operations.  Since VSP has chosen to replace its current system, the Commonwealth decided that a shared high-capacity network is the most efficient solution.


The Commonwealth seeks a top-of-the-line public-safety-grade high-capacity digital radio system with the most advanced digital modulation commercially available.  The documents only specify a "high-capacity" radio system, but it is

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unlikely that bidders will propose anything other than a trunked system.

The state specifically mentions Motorola's QPSK-C, four-level modulation, or Ericsson's GFSK modulation as candidates.  Bidding vendors are required to offer their most advanced voice encoder, e.g. Improved Multiband Excitation (IMBE) vocoder.  The system is required to have Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) capability with the ability to provide over-the-air rekeying of encryption keys. 

The Commonwealth reserves the right to purchase any combination of analog and digital radios, including all analog or all digital.  In any case, the system's infrastructure should be dual-mode so either analog or dual-mode non-fixed units may be accommodated on an ad-hoc basis.  The state says the general framework for the communications system is expected to be compliant with those standards specified by the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International's Project 16 committee in 1978.

The Commonwealth desires a 95 percent guaranteed area reliability for mobile radio coverage (geographically) and on the state's territorial waters.  The area of the capital buildings in Richmond is the only region in the Commonwealth where the system is to be designed for in-building (portable radio) penetration.  Reception in eight of the state's highway tunnels will also be included in this project.

The state desires that high-tier radios have the ability to be programmed for telephone interconnect.

The Commonwealth estimates an initial need for 12,034 mobile STARS radios, which includes 4036 for VSP and 5000 for VDOT.  Fewer than 25 percent of these VSP mobile radios will be encrypted.  Forestry and Game & Inland Fisheries have estimates of 610 and 720 mobile radios, respectively.  Less than 40 percent of the GIF radios will have encryption.  None of the Forestry nor VDOT radios will include encryption.  Overall, the state's projections show only 12 percent of the initial mobile radios having encryption.

State agencies will continue to retain, or install, new mobile repeater systems to allow personnel outside of their vehicles to communicate through the mobile radios.  State estimates show an initial need for 2423 vehicular repeater systems for use with the STARS system.  By comparison, the state estimates an initial need of 3249 STARS portable radios, of which 10 percent will feature encryption.


The state encourages the winning contractor to plan the system using the Commonwealth's existing 87 microwave sites, of which 47 are also VHF sites.  If coverage is de

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Game & Inland fisheries.  Few talkgroups are designated for statewide use.  Thus, each communications zone will have its own set of talkgroups.

Each communications zone, for example, will have its own VSP emergency "9-1-1" talkgroup.  All radios will be equipped with this talkgroup so users many summon assistance from the VSP division dispatch center which serves that communications zone.

All radios in each communications zone will also have three interagency working "interop" talkgroups.  In addition, law enforcers will have access to a SIRS/interop talkgroup in each communications zone for communications among VSP and other federal, state and local law enforcement users.

The Commonwealth's goal is to connect Virginia's 95 county and 40 independent city dispatch centers and specialized/mutual aid networks such as COG-MARS (866 MHz), LOJACK (173.025), PMARS (866.3625), TCAP (453.8) and SIRS (39.54), directly or indirectly, into the STARS network.  Some municipal and county agencies are expected to move to STARS for their primary communication.

But for agencies who decline to join STARS, the state suggests two methods for interoperability:  Channels can be programmed directly into the STARS subscriber radios for agencies which continue to use conventional VHF frequencies, or a "locality network interface" could be employed.  Such an interface would allow a VSP dispatcher to connect federal, county or city public safety providers into the STARS radio system.  VSP would manually patch STARS users onto a common talkgroup that a municipal government dispatcher could then patch into the municipality's radio system.  VSP dispatchers would control all STARS network interfaces within their division.

All dispatch consoles, not just VSP's, will have the ability to interconnect an individual or a talkgroup operating on the STARS network into another radio channel.  Other channels could include conventional systems, retained agency channels, or various city and Commonwealth channels.  An optional APCO Project 25 interface for Federal Law Enforcement Wireless Users Group (FLEWUG) users is also under consideration.


These are the tentative statewide frequency assignments for the STARS radio network.  Mobile and portable radios will be programmed with at least one yet-to-be-determined simplex channel.  Some frequencies have not been licensed in the communications zone for which they have been assigned, and frequencies for some channels have yet to be determined.

Most of the frequencies have been recently licensed for narrowband (15 KHz) operation.  Several older frequencies,

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Tentative STARS completion dates by VSP division:
07/01/03 Richmond (Phase 1)
10/01/03 Richmond Area Commonwealth System Review
10/01/04 Appomattox and Chesapeake (Phase 2)
10/01/05 Culpeper and Fairfax (Phase 3)
10/01/06 Salem and Wytheville (Phase 4)

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The IMF/World Bank CHM special never made it in the mail, but is available online (http://henney.com/chm/).  It features useful frequency info for Washington, D.C. that should be helpful for future events in town.

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Please address all correspondence to Alan.  We encourage readers to submit material and write articles that relate to the hobby.  All submissions are subject to editing for style and content.  When submitting material please make certain we can contact you should we have any questions.  We welcome frequency and visitor requests, but please include a reply envelope.

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