Civil Air Patrol Communications Program
When commercial communications systems are unavailable or overloaded, the Civil Air Patrol radio nets are ready to keep command and control (C2) channels open, keeping CAP’s aircraft flying, and relaying urgent traffic for federal and other customers.
CAP's HF/VHF system includes over 500 High Frequency Automatic Link Establishment (HF-ALE) base stations, close to 750 non-ALE HF radios, and about 260 ground vehicle mobile HF units, plus an extensive Very High Frequency (VHF) network with over five hundred 100-watt analog/digital (P25) repeaters and thousands of VHF portable, mobile, and base stations. The CAP system also includes nearly one hundred and fifty low power portable repeaters for temporary ground or air-mobile use. All equipment operates on federal frequencies assigned to CAP, and is compliant with National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) standards and thus capable of inter-operability with military and federal agencies.
Over 19,000 CAP members are trained in use of these radio systems, including close to 4,500 holding, or in training for, advanced communications qualifications. Many, but by no means all, are amateur radio operators.
CAP's radio systems are well-prepared to provide contingency communications when commercial communications systems are unavailable or overloaded. CAP holds 15 national voice nets a week on multiple HF frequencies with close to 120 daily check-ins. All 50 states plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia are represented in the national nets. There are many region and state-level HF nets on various schedules. Some areas conduct local VHF nets. CAP also maintains duty station watch on a national suite of dedicated ALE frequencies, ready for unscheduled relay of internal and external traffic, and is developing an infrastructure of MilStd 188-110 data communications, which will have HF modems installed at all levels of the organization.
Formal traffic is passed daily, with procedures based on meticulous implementation of military ACP-125 procedures. Members use Air Force-assigned tactical call signs, but in inter-agency operation may also use functional designators, in accordance with ICS/NIMS standards. Strict operational security is maintained on-the-air.
CAP participates in Department of Defense (DoD) communications exercises, in preparation for actual national emergency taskings. CAP also tests its capabilities via pre-authorized international exercises.