(JOHNNY ENGLISH) Nestled in the rolling hills of Clinton County, Iowa you may expect to find farms, livestock and small rural towns like Oxford Junction. What you may not expect to find is several acres of land dedicated to an array of 100 foot tall antennas, transmitters and receivers used to transmit/receive AM frequencies over a large area of the country, possibly the world. That’s exactly what this reporter found Sunday March 3rd, 2013. A large fenced in area with a big sign that read ” Rockwell/Collins”. First, a little history behind this company.
Photo: Johnny English
Collins Radio Company was founded by Arthur Collins in Cedar Rapids, IA (about 45 miles west of where the array is now) in 1933 for the purpose of designing and producing shortwave radio equipment as well as equipment for the AM broadcasting industry. The company gained worldwide attention when Collins supplied Rear Admiral Richard Byrd the necessary equipment to establish a communications link with the South Pole in the same year. Later, during WW2, Collins quickly became the the principal supplier of radio and navigation equipment for the U.S. military. Post war, Collins’ equipment was used in the “Space Race”, most notably Projects Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and the SkyLab. But soon, Collins would encounter financial difficulties. Enter: Rockwell International.
Rockwell International purchased Collins Radio Company in 1973. In 2001 (Ironic?), the avionics division of Rockwell International was spun off to form Rockwell/Collins Inc to concentrate mainly on defense and commercial avionics markets and no longer would market receivers to the public. However, the Collins Mechanical Filter is still in production and does find commercial and consumer use. Along the way, Rockwell/Collins has acquired several companies, including Hughes-Avicom’s in-flight entertainment business, Sony’s in-flight entertainment business (Sony Trans Com), Intertrade LTD., Flight Dynamics, K Systems INC (Kaiser companies), Communication Solutions INC, Airshow INC, NLX (SIMULATION Business), portions of Evans & Sutherland, TELDIX, IP Unwired, Anzus INC, Datapath INC, SEOS Displays LTD., and Air Routing International. Most of these acquisitions allow them to be a major supplier of in-flight entertainment among the nations’ airlines. But this particular array has NOTHING to do with entertainment.
After more research, it seems that Rockwell/Collins equipment is capable, and used for, much more than providing bad movies to frequent flyers. According to their website, Rockwell/Collins also provides worldwide communications and networks (SATCOM), aircraft computing, HDD and HUD displays, Intelligence gathering, navigation and GUIDANCE, precision targeting and GUIDING for weapons, radar and surveillance, space components, and the most interesting of all, CONTROLS for DRONES and simulation equipment. Interesting that a company that once concentrated mainly on transmitting AM radio signals is now a major defense contractor. Also interesting is the fact that Drones are controlled by Radio Frequencies (RF) on the AM band. Bands that are rarely being used today in the range of 3-30 MhZ. Let’s break down the equipment at the Oxford Junction, IA site in question. In order for us to determine if it is even possible for this array to be able to do what I think it can do, we must analyze the capabilities.
Taken from this .PDF document online
On site are the following: 6 LPH-0506 Log Periodic Curtain 100 foot antennas with a frequency range of 3-30 MhZ and 12 dBi gain (short-medium range), 2 CMV-330 Vertical Monopole 73 foot antennas with a frequency range of 3-30 MhZ and 5 db gain separated at 1000 feet, 2 Collins 237B-3 RLP antennas and 2 HF-80 receivers/transmitters rated at 1 KW along with a modified MDM-Q9604 Modem. Also included are 11 HF (high frequency) radios ( 1- 10kW Transceiver and 10- 1kW ALE (Automatic Link Establishment) Transceivers). In 2008 Rockwell/Collins applied for a 6 month “testing” license from the FCC to test the link between OJ (Oxford Junction), CR (Cedar Rapids) and Richardson, TX. 29 frequencies were allocated at 12 kHz bandwidth in the 3.1 to 14.5 mHz range. As a reference, the lower the frequency, the farther you can control a remote controlled object. Most hobbyists operate at 35 mHz or higher, simply because the frequencies are regulated by, you guessed it, the FCC. So looking at the equipment on this particular site, it is entirely possible that it could be used for far reaching remote controlled UAVs within our own borders. I provided the model numbers so you, the reader, can search them yourself. We have the capability. But they only tested for 6 months and between 3 sites you say? Lets look at their future plans, although these .PDF documents are older, thus it could be in use as I write this.
This is the future coverage of the network. Why would defense agencies need a grid of this size within our own borders? And why would they need one that uses such low frequencies (3-30 mHz) in the AM band? According to another document, the Oxford Junction site is being used as a relay for HF (high frequency)-EMAIL, HF Modem Waveforms, Propagation Data Collection and the most interesting of them all, HF ALE. What is ALE? Automatic Link Establishment. ALE is used for many things, but most interestingly, used by Air, Land and Sea forces. Read through this PDF document from 2003. Yes, 2003. This is a document describing ALE and one of it’s many uses involving the military. Not only is this site in Oxford Junction part of a broad grid inside the U.S., it is also part of a network of HF stations that include Melbourne, FL, and 2 locations in France ( Blagnac and CREIL). Oxford Junction is listed as the “Comm Central” in the network.
What we know so far:
- Rockwell/Collins is a major defense contractor that just happens to provide UAV controls and support.
- The site in Oxford Junction is more than capable of using the on-site equipment to transmit/receive AM signals in the 3-30 mHz range over long distances.
- Drones are controlled by these same frequencies.
- The lower the frequency, the farther a UAV can be controlled.
- The site in Oxford Junction is part of an extensive network spanning the globe.
- The site in Oxford Junction specializes in HF ALE
- HF ALE is used by the military for a wide range of communication/surveillance operations.
There is much more research to be done to determine if this is an actual drone control site. But so far, we have established the capability. I will further my investigation as the days and weeks pass, reporting here on FederalJack with my findings.