There's been a raging debate about the little cheap Chinese radio literally since the things started showing up in the US a little over a decade ago. It started with the "sad hams" that my friend and best selling author Joe Dolio affectionately refers to, quick to safeguard their own known and trusted brands. Certainly not without good reason; China is not always known for producing reliable goods at certain bargain pricepoints. But on the upside, the little radios DID lead to a boom in not just Amateur Radio but interest in communications from the preparedness perspective as well. And that alone is an indisputable fact.
Many of us with dirt time overseas encountered a lot of these radios in their early form being used by insurgents, most notably by the Taliban in RC South and RC East where much of the heavy fighting occurred. Back then we called them Icoms as a blanket label because we simply didn't know what we didn't know. Us trigger pullers don't like complications and the Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) guys tasked with exploitation really only knew what they were taught. Which was enough to accomplish the task...and leave much to be desired.
Like all Professional Soldiers I looked for understanding above all else. If you're not constantly engaged in learning new skills you're not sustaining that warrior's path, and communications always became a giant glaring hole in terms of capability. So when these little radios popped up I jumped on them.
That brings us to the "tactical" crowd...you know these types, and I at one point in my life was among them as well. Latest things that go bang and all the gear to go with it. These days that's got a healthy representation of young guys just getting into this stuff and consuming knowledge from social media, for good and bad. While I won't comment on that, I will say that when it comes to communications this gives way to the second point of contention some have with the Baofeng in its most basic form: it lacks any native (built in) communications security (COMSEC) capabilities. What do I mean when I say that?
COMSEC to us on the dot mil side of the house meant the frequency hopping algorithm and the encryption key loaded into the SINCGARS family of radios. We only knew our equipment and were generally discouraged from asking questions, but in a nutshell, this would prevent eavesdropping on tactical communications. What it didn't do was mask the signature of our presence, as I discussed in the book, but it would mask what we were saying. That certainly has value.
I wrote The Guerrilla's Guide to the Baofeng as a manual for the would-be Freedom Fighter in an Unconventional Warfare (UW) environment. Not a conventional force, not a well funded force, and certainly not the flannel shirt wearing cheese dick crowd that only latches on to the latest trends. I wrote this book as an ode, of sorts, to the lessons the Taliban taught us. They won, by the way, in case anyone was wondering. All you have is what you have, and when it comes to communications that's most likely the Baofeng UV-5R. Love it, hate it, or indifferent, that's the reality. You must fight with what you have.
In Afghanistan those same inexpensive Chinese radios were in the Taliban hands, and while interception was often times simple enough, radio direction finding (RDF) wasn't always so. This was mainly due to the terrain itself. So while pattern analysis of the radio chatter was important and even critical at the tactical level (at times), it could also easily be defeated just based on physics. Not only that, you can't intercept what's not being transmitted. Simple rules like keeping your transmissions short, and even utilizing data bursts, go a long way in preserving COMSEC for the would-be guerrilla.
The nice thing about plain old analog radios is that the end user has complete control over exactly what's transmitted - and that goes for everything from voice communications to utilizing your own digital protocols. I break this down step by step in The Guerrilla's Gudie to the Baofeng Radio utilizing free software and inexpensive tools sourced nearly anywhere on the planet - just add the radio.
Had the Taliban done what's covered in the book, our SIGINT teams would have had an incredibly hard time dealing with them even more so than we did. It doesn't work the way it does in the movies or on an airsoft field, even though some will tell you otherwise. Combat is very much a continuum extending well beyond the glitz and terror of a gunfight. And the reality of communications is very much a key part of that.
So while the online flaming back and forth won't likely ever cease, from the sad hams bemoaning anyone crowding their beloved repeaters to the tacticool kids lecturing us poors on the realities of combat against IPSC targets, the rest of us can focus on understanding the nature of the potential UW environment here in the US and taking the appropriate measures to build the aggregate levels of capability.
The book's aim was to do just that. And the Brushbeater store is going to be expanding that capacity in a very big way. Stay tuned.