CAP uses radio frequencies assigned by the US Air Force. We also use tactical radio call signs assigned by the Air Force Voice Call Sign Program Management Office. Some 20 years ago, we went through a major reorganization to bring CAP into compliance. We were in compliance then, but changing requirements updated most recently by the Air Force in 2014 (AFI33-217) mean stricter limitations on call sign management.
Now that CAP is part of the Air Force Total Force, there is significant new interest in the CAP Communications Program from both 1st Air Force and AFNORTH. We have a growing expectation of new missions in which we will inter-operate with stations from other parts of the Total Force. In fact, we already seeing such Total Force stations check in to our National Traffic Net.
What needs to change?
Current Air Force rules limit numerical suffixes on tactical call signs to two digits. In addition, they may not include any reference to Civil Air Patrol (CAP), acronyms, any part of a wing or unit name, abbreviations, phonetic alphabet, or spoken numbers (not including the authorized suffixes). They must consist of no more than two English words with a minimum of four and a maximum of 15 characters, including the space.
Note that the Air Force does not use tactical call signs on VHF-FM at all, so we MAY still use tactical call signs with up to four-digits on VHF-FM and ISR frequencies.
How are we going to make these changes?
We have several wings that include “CAP” in their tactical call sign today. A couple of wings have already taken steps to change their tactical call sign to remove “CAP”, including Iowa CAP and CAP KittyHawk. DOK will be contacting those wings that need to change. These wings will be invited to submit several proposed compliant calls. The Voice Call Sign Program Management Office will start at the top of the list and work down until it finds an available tactical call sign.
The requirement to use no more than two-digit suffixes (emphasis is mine-LVH) on tactical call signs used on HF is going to require serious planning in most wings. There is no magic answer, but here are some suggestions and considerations:
- We are well aware that the Air Force requirement for two-digit call signs on HF will disrupt many wing call sign plans which have blocks of call signs assigned to groups and squadrons. We will need new ways of managing our call signs.
- On HF, it is more important to know what station you are talking to than what member is holding the microphone. Therefore, we do NOT need to assign a two-digit tactical call sign to everyone who might ever need to use and HF radio. Our HF call signs need a lean focus.
- Most of our new generation of HF call signs will likely be assigned to stations, as opposed to individuals. We should plan to minimize the need for multiple call signs to be used on a single station/radio.
- An individual who has reason to have a two-digit tactical call for HF may still use it on VHF-FM channels. Similarly, at a given station, the two-digit station call can be used on HF, VHF-FM, and ISR. We discourage the idea of using different suffixes on different frequencies (but we know this may disrupt existing procedures that assign blocks of calls to units).
- Remember that a “squadron station” does not need to be located at the squadron headquarters. It could as easily be across town at the home of a member who can check into nets regularly, but also have VHF connectivity to the squadron location.
- Remember that in operational missions and ANY formal CAP activity, functional designators may be used instead of tactical call signs. This means that some locations, special Comm vehicles, Comm trailers, etc. may not need tactical call signs at all.
- The two-digit suffix rule also applies to ground-to-air and satellite use of CAP tactical call signs.
- If a large wing absolutely cannot make HF work with only two digits, there is a possibility of a second tactical call for the wing. In order for this to be approved, the wing will have to document persuasively why it cannot function with only one call sign.
- There is no magic formula for solving this compliance issue that will work for all wings, but wings should think mainly in terms of HF stations and not people.
Yes, there may be challenges, but remember – full compliance with Air Force the requirement opens the door for new and important high-end missions for the CAP Communications Program.
Contact DOKO or DOKP for help working through these transitions.