Military survival radio systems are a completely different beast than normal survival radios, and they’re not exactly easy to navigate.
If you want to take the time to learn, you’ll be able to master this type of radio, and reap the benefits that it poses.
But is it something you really need? Will a normal survival radio work anyway?
There’s a few distinctions between them, and depending on how far away you live from major cities and POIs, you might actually do better with a military radio.
We’re going to break it down so you know your options.
What Are Military Survival Radios?
Military survival radios became an internationally recognized form of radio after the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, where small lifeboats were equipped with radios capable of transmitting morse code.
Obviously, it’s come a long way since then, but the idea remains the same. A military survival radio is something that’s still given to pilots and personnel in various branches of the military.
Older military survival radios simply transmit information via voice or morse code to other channels approved for military use, but modern radios are compact and less complex.
They feature DMEs and GPS transmitters so that if a plane goes down and a distress signal is sent out, the rescue team knows the exact coordinates of the downed plane and can save them in record time.
Military survival radios have an entirely different and very high set of frequencies that they operate on, and if you’re keen, you can tune into them properly.
This is one of the key differences between military radios and other forms that we’ll talk about in a minute.
Are They Different From Normal Survival Radios?
Modern ones absolutely are.
These are designed for military use only, although military radio channels can still be accessed with military survival radios that can be purchased from surplus stores.
However, two of the most reliable forms of survival radios are HAM and CB radios.
These are what a lot of people around the US are using for survival radios.
Let’s break them down a bit so you can see how they operate differently from military survival radios.
CB or citizen’s band radio is basically just a free range set of frequencies that are specifically left alone for people to talk on.
These are shortwave radios, meaning they’re using low MHz frequencies. While the military may use 440+ MHz, you can find channels at about 27 MHz on CB radios.
Before telephones were what they are now, the FCC made CB radios something you could own and operate on in 1945.
This serves as personal communication between you and another person, so if you wanted to essentially phone a friend (before that was really a term), you had the power to do so.
Nowadays, CB radios have a very essential use in disaster preparedness.
You can use them to talk to other people in the area, hear local weather updates if you’re in an area that’s being hit by hurricanes or wildfires, and there are plenty of other uses.
You do need a license to operate a CB radio, but thankfully, these are simple to get an relatively inexpensive to acquire in the first place.
CB radios are often thought of as the underdog to HAM radios, and when we explain those functionalities in a moment, I’ll explain why.
HAM radios used to be massively popular, and if you pay attention, they still have a widespread community.
As recently as 2016, it was estimated that there were about 3,000,000 HAM radio operators throughout the entire world, so it’s still relevant.
HAM radio is just a quick acronym that means amateur radio. These frequencies are no FM, not AM, and not dedicated to anything at all.
That’s kind of the point. It was believed that amateur radio would fizzle out with the way we communicate online, but it’s still going strong.
You can use this application to do more than just talk to someone like a telephone or voip call.
In fact, HAM radio signals can actually be bounced off of the back of asteroids in space to redirect that signal back to earth.
There are even games that radio operators can partake in and earn trophies. It might not be the most interesting thing in the world, but it’s definitely fun to mess with.
These radios are super simple and direct, so you don’t have to be on a radio grid or hooked up to any landline. It’s totally off the grid.
In the event of a major disaster, cell phone signals are usually overrun with chatter and can really mess up comms with friends and family.
You can use HAM radio to help pilot drones and remote control RC cars or small remote controlled boats.
It’s versatile, so you can just do what you want with it if you put your mind to it.
Don’t Get It Confused With AFMARS Radio
Military survival radios are often misconstrued with AFMARS or simply MARS radios.
These radios are split up into different sectors of the United States, and it’s used as the Air Force Military AUxiliary Radio System, which is designed for military use.
These radios are used for national security by the Department of Defense and other US bureaus, so it’s not something you should actively seek out to use.
Some people will get an AFMARS radio (I don’t know how they get their hands on them, but they do) to listen for military activity in the event of a takeover or hostile situation, and in theory, that provides great utility.
Split up into ten sectors of the United States, these radios are used by Region Emergency Coordinators, Region MARS Directors, MARS Members, and National Operations Directors.
It’s not a civilian kind of thing.
What Frequencies Do They Pick Up And Transmit At?
There’s an insane range that you can expect from military radios.
You have to think that there are so many different military functions out there that they need separate, isolated channels of communication for, so you could run into dozens of military stations before finding one that you particularly had in mind.
These are some frequencies and what they’re used for:
- 126.20000 / BM / Military Tower
- 242.40000 / BM / Army Helo Common (Two Four-Two FOur)
- 242.50000 / BM / Army Helo Common
- 255.40000 / BM / Military Flight Service Station
- 282.80000 / M / Military Search and Rescue
- 323.80000 / M / Airborne Command Post
- 349.40000 / BM / Air Mobility Command CP Common
- 384.55000 / BM / USAF Common [Pistol 5]
There are dozens more than what is listed here; they go on for quite some time. Those are specifically aeronautical frequencies that we can find online.
However, there are also ISR channels you can scan:
- 396.87500 / M / ISR Channel 1
- 397.12500 / M / ISR Channel 2
- 397.17500 / M / ISR Channel 3
- 397.37500 / M / ISR Channel 4
- 397.42500 / M / ISR Channel 5
(Channels continue up to ISR Channel 14)
Last but not least, there are also three search and rescue stations used by the military. These are channels dedicated primarily for Coast Guard use more than anything else.
- 40.50000 / M / Military Search and Rescue
- 138.45000 / M / Air Force Search and Rescue (Primary Channel)
- 138.75000 / M / Air Force Search and Rescue (Secondary Channel)
Should You Opt For A Survival Radio Or Military Surplus Survival Radio?
Having a military survival radio isn’t really necessary with the amount of advancements we’ve had with CB and HAM radios in recent years.
Military radios are available from surplus stores and absolutely have their utility.
If you’re in a worst-case scenario and you have sensitive information that needs to be passed on to the military in some facet, these are the channels that you can use to do that.
However, HAM radio channels and a powerful HAM radio can also fit the bill.
There’s no harm in going for a military surplus survival radio, so long as you have a homestead.
These things take a lot of know-how to work the right way, and you definitely want to know what you’re doing before you try to pass on information or contact the National Guard through one of these.
If you have the time to learn the skill set required to operate one, and you have a good spot in your homestead to set up shop, then I say go for it in addition to your survival radio(s).
Comms Preparation No Matter What
Do you need a military radio?
Is it useful?
Absolutely. There’s no rule in prepping that says you can’t have multiple radio types.
If you’re homesteading in the middle of nowhere (first of all, kudos to you), it pays to have multiple forms of communication with the outside world.