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Radio systems real heroes of new series "The Last Resort"

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Everyone who grew up in the 1960s seems to remember only the good stuff, like the famous “Life” photo of a GI with a daisy in his gun barrel as he talks to a co-ed somewhere. They also seems to remember only “hippies,” “free love,” “peaceniks” and “flower power.”

Ham radio was a bit in the doldrums. We were experimenting with radioteletype and some media burst, but there were still diehard AM aficionados, though there Amateurs out there advancing the “radio arts” with huge (20 to 30 long UHF antennas) who were regularly using the moon to transmit and receive data and messages from all over. All they worried about was local moonrise and moonset. Actually, the military became quite interested in this form of communication

Dark side

Maybe it is a conscious attempt to push a darker side of the 60s out of our minds. For example, if you lived through the famous 16 Days In May, better known at the Cuban Missile Crisis, when very vulnerable 14- and 15-year-olds expected ICBMs to start dropping from the sky at any moment. Having been there, one can say that it was the direct opposite of the “love, love, love” of just a few years later.

It did serve as the catalyst for a mixed satellite/wireline “red phone” early warning system that was supposed to put the then-premier of the Soviet Union and President in touch in case there were tensions or an “accident happened.”

This same period spawned a series of dark moves like “Seven Days in May,” about the takeover of airbase that would have let a slightly mad general attack the “Red Menace.” The same era spawned the move “Dr. Strangelove,” where the radio system was actually put to use by a nebbishy president played by Peter Sellers, who also pays about six different parts and then there's the “Bedford Incident,” much like the new ABC-TV series Resolve where an Ohio-class attack sub receives a firing order from the National Command structure.

Wrong way about it

It's not so much that the Ohio-class nuclear submarine wouldn't have followed ordered delivered by the “Antarctic Network.” It is just that since about 1996, the National Command Authority (ie President or Vice President or Secretary of Defense) would have delivered an EAM (Emergency Action Message) via a very low frequency (VLF) radio/computer system.

Operating below 500 kHz, this system sends and receives tightly restricted an code that is next to impossible to break. The only problem for a sub at 1300 or 1400 under the surface is that they need antennas about that long to make the system work

To make them work from a hover (where a sub seems to sit in one place for along time), they have to “float the buoy.”

Normally, the main emergency military radio traffic network is, as noted, digital and analog radio with few access points. Indeed, it is really an Intranet and not an Internet because someone in authority has to authorize a Radioman or Petty Officer to access the system.

Bogus traffic

This is why the command team of the Ohio-class Boomer attack sub wondered what was happening when the “Antarctic Network” was activated to send an EAM. Andre Braugher, one of TV's finest actors, playing Capt. Marcus Chapman and is Executive Officer, played by Scott Speedman, late of “Kerry” fame and later a werewolf in love with a vampire, actually quite a fine actor in his own right, led a crew of fine small screen actors to the point where you thought the whole thing was real (recalling “Crimson Tide” in 1996) as the captain read “I have a properly formatted order to fire here, spin up missile tubes 1 to 4” and Speedman, looking at his own concurrence card agrees.

This, then, is when Capt. Chapman to begin to question to legitimacy of the order. He orders his radioman, not a Ham today as there is no requirement for it, (although, believe it or not the last we heard it is still a requirement for Navy airmen) and he gets on a scrambled Satellite uplink radio – it was either a Collins or some other hardened radio and he asks plainly for someone in authority to give the “fire command.”

Flunkies, flunkies everywhere

Meantime, the junior level assistant secretary of something or other, who is a flunky for the person running the show, gives the Captain a direct order, which Capt. Haynes refuses to recognize as valid.

The “Meet Mr. Flunky guy” then takes out his sword and (must be something like that) and dubs Speedman captain. Speedman also challenges “Mr. Flunky” on the same satellite radio and asks for a properly formatted EAM message on the front-side radio system.

This must be too much Mr. Flunky guy or someone else because smoke must be rising from his ears when he orders, again via radio, the USS Illinois to sin the Ohio with two cruise missiles. Fortunately for the writers and actors, the attacked sub survives and begins a long trip to safe haven.

In reality, this move peeved a couple “patriots” who were reporting, also via satellite radio that they had three people with them but that they would get things back in motion.

The “peeved patriots” tried to get the drop on Speedman, who heard the words via radio and he immediately got the drop on the mutinous muninteers, but a guy, who obviously had some sort of problem with the Executive Officer got the top on Speedman who, had to drop to the floor.

Up pops a hero

It looks like the second officer “Gracie” to the Captain and “Chief of the Boat,” drops the bad guy like a 14-point buck with a couple of shots, which is when the Illinois fires and the Ohio dances on the bottom. The “Chief of the Boat” calls Gracie, the daughter of an admiral, now suspected of treason, a bitch to which the First Lieutenant, simply says: “You'll address me from now on by my rank and by the way, its Miss Bitch” to you. As the patriotic chief who wanted to destroy the world on orders that were never really confirmed is marched to the brig, he grumbles.

In all of this and the quality Sunday night ABC television show “Last Resort,” the real hero, though not seen, but heard, the radio system.

Show's real hero

Though not many would think so, the radio systems in use (radar and radio), not only give the sub the first warning that something was amiss when the wrong VLF system was used for the firing order, but it also allows Capt. Chapman to ask his question of authority and then the radar shows the Illinois firing on its own sub. Finally, we have Exec, Lt. Cdr. Sam Kendall, whose lovely young wife is being questioned by this old cretin, questioning orders and suddenly the radio comes to life with jets sent to since. First it's the wrong system for an EAM and then a satellite system for use by the captain and his exec. Then, when Capt. Chapman's brilliant ploy of firing a Trident over DC to show them he meant business, even as the radio speaker's are shouting for him to abort.

Speedman said it made the captain looked “just crazy enough.”

Let's em go off

The captain, who has found a small island he can defend with his sub, announces, via satellite radio a 200-mile no-fly zone around the island as he not only worries about his boat, but also the island which just happens to be a NATO tracking station with radios that cover spectrum from DC to daylight and with radomes, one-meter dishes, three-meter dishes and so on.

The captain, by the way, let the bird he flew toward DC go off and then did a video that again made him look just nutty enough.

Hopefully, “Last Resort” will last, but only time will tell. Meantime, the acting was uniformly good but the real star – for me, anyway – was still the radio hardware.

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