When it comes to field communications, there’s two hard and fast rules. First, your equipment is only as effective as its antenna. Second, whatever that antenna is, it needs to be robust. A joke among us Infantrymen, both Army or Marine Corps, is if you want to know how tough something is give it to us and come back in an hour. If it survives, it’s rugged enough. And although a little facetious, the joke points out that second rule. Your equipment in the field, especially handheld radios, are going to get beat up pretty hard. In my experience the first thing to go is the antenna- it’s normally the least robust component and if it gets broken as often happens when we least expect (or need) it to, a better design is a must. Enter Smiley Antenna Company and their ultra-rugged HT antennas.
In the RTO Course I teach people the basics of antenna theory and how to build their own out of next to nothing. We rig one up and demonstrate its capabilities with a Baofeng UV-5R right then and there. That point in training serves two purposes. The students gain the confidence that something they built can take bottom shelf equipment and make it work that much better, and second, its a great primer on repairing the most common fault in your communications equipment…antenna breakage. When, not if, something breaks in the unconventional environment, you have the skills to fix it and drive on with the mission. And building that Jungle Antenna beats the heck out of buying an overpriced strip of ladder line and calling it good. But then again that’s me. Stringing up that antenna is great but it ties you to that one transmitting spot once its rigged up. What about communications on the move?
As I said above, the first thing that’s gonna break on your radio you’ve strapped to your kit is the antenna. I know, I’ve broken plenty of them. Military whip antennas on the MBITR were routinely broken, and usually the commo section guys would just end up giving us the stubby antennas to work with. They didn’t have as much range, but they were much tougher- and we didn’t have to fold them out of the way. A lot of times the body of the antenna would be fine, but they’d break down by the connector. Since I’ve been on the civilian side I’ve found the same to be true for all of the commercial gear on the market, both low end and top shelf.
That was until I found Smiley Antenna. Their handheld antennas are every bit as rugged as anything used by .mil, maybe even more so. They are more stout than anything else I’ve found on the commercial market and through many commo and small unit classes, hunts, and private training sessions, I’ve run them on my kit with a few different brands of radios. The biggest thing to note, aside from the thick, overbuilt nature, is their flexibility. Stock whip antennas, even the higher quality 14-inch whips many people upgrade their Baofengs with, only have so much flexibility before they’ll snap. And the base is not made for a rugged environment. To be fair it wasn’t designed to be either, but if you’re planning on possibly needing that radio in a tactical role, the most basic upgrade is a more robust antenna. I’ve broken two of the chinese-made long whip antennas, while the long whip VHF from Smiley has survived a long while just fine.
Reception and transmit-wise, the Smiley models do not disappoint. While they were made to be the most rugged, they give up nothing in capability. Everything that I could do with my other antennas I’ve been able to do with most of the models from Smiley, except the ultra-stubby UHF antennas I have. But my reasons for having those is to limit the range of the signal…keeping a very low electronic profile in the woods of maybe only a couple hundred meters on low power. So even if I’m on a team that may not have digital / encryption / high tech cool guy enablers, I can still make the best use of my equipment in a tactical environment while coordinating teams. They are built to be frequency specific, and while that might turn some of you off, their ruggedness is unmatched.
There’s no doubt Smiley builds high quality antennas and I’ve got great use out of mine since I discovered them. But the best part is that they’re American owned and American made. They are the best on the market and a bargain for the cost. It’s a basic upgrade that can take even that basic Baofeng and make it that much tougher- something which may very well pay off in the long run.
If you’re looking for off-grid and austere environment communications training, or just looking to expand your skillset, come check out the RTO Course. I’ve got one more on the schedule for the spring in NC and another in Montana. I’d love to train with you.