Friday, May 15, 2015

US Navy/Marine Corps MARS Program To End

"MARS" in this case means "Military Auxiliary Radio System", a radio network of non-military stations (Hams) allowed to communicate on military frequencies.

I was encouraged to join the MARS network, but the requirements for actually operating on-the-air are pretty stringent as to the amount of time required, so I declined the invitation.

MARS station have very unique callsigns, as in the case of the Battleship Iowa, NNN0CIA. No idea how we managed the "CIA" suffix, but it always gets a chuckle when radio people visit the Comm Center on the Iowa.

Besides handling routine traffic such as "Health and Welfare" messages, the MARS network is also a complete stand-alone emergency radio network with direct connection to the US Military. And the MARS stations get activated for the Armed Forces Day Cross-Band Test, which allows Amateur radio operators to communicate directly with the military radio stations by transmitting in the Amateur Radio bands, while listening outside the Amateur bands to the military frequencies.

We also have a MARS digipeater for the MARS packet radio network (yes, packet is still alive!) that get excellent coverage due to the antenna being on the top of the ship which gives an unobstructed radio view of the coast line from Santa Barbara to San Diego.

Back in 2009 the Navy/Marine Corps segment of MARS was almost shut down, but a change from "Affiliated" to "Auxiliary" status saved the money, and the Navy/Marine Corps segment of the program.

Well, this time it's for real. From The ARRL Letter:

US Navy-Marine Corps MARS Program to End:
The US Department of Defense is phasing out the US Navy-Marine Corps Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS) program. Its operational mission will transition to the other MARS service branches by the end of September. MARS volunteers are Amateur Radio operators who provide auxiliary or emergency communications to local, national, and international emergency and safety organizations, as an adjunct to normal communications.
"The intent of the transition is to best align the program to support national mission requirements," the announcement said. Chris Jensen of Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station Atlantic (NCTAMS LANT) told ARRL that the Navy no longer has any service-specific requirements for Navy-Marine Corps MARS and is working within DoD to transition the program into Army and Air Force MARS by September 30.
The announcement encouraged current Navy-Marine Corps MARS members and clubs to submit applications to the US Army MARS or US Air Force MARS programs as soon as possible.
"The US Navy greatly appreciates the thousands of MARS volunteers, past and present, who have been integral to the success of MARS," the announcement concluded.
An individual very familiar with the MARS program said the change was not unexpected and came to a head as the US Strategic Command embraced Army MARS as the lead branch for contingency communication and Air Force MARS began partnering with the US Army program on the operations side.
"The Army and Air Force MARS branches have an obvious role in providing contingency communications for the 50 states," said the individual, who preferred not to be identified by name. "Members are everywhere 'on the ground,' and experience in Afghanistan and Iraq has proven the tactical usefulness of HF on land. There was no similar role for the landlocked membership of Navy-Marine Corps MARS."
He said the MARS program can use all the volunteers it can attract. Read more

The Army and Air Force segments will continue to exist and operate, but "Navy MARS" and "Marine MARS" will be gone forever as of 30 September.

We'll probably be assigned a new callsign for the Iowa, and the digipeater will get reprogrammed, but it's good that at least a portion of MARS will continue to exist.


  1. That is truly a shame... Those folks did a great job for MANY years!!!

  2. Yes they did!

    I was never in MARS, but ran a lot of phone patches in the Chicago area back in the middle/late 60's. Most of the military recreation Ham stations were pretty active, and that's who I'd run the patches for.

    It looks like most of the Navy/Marine Corps people will go to the "new" Army/Air Force segment. Our MARS contact on the Iowa has already been issued his new callsign, and we're waiting to hear about new MARS callsigns for the ship.

  3. I was Navy/ Marine Corps MARS and loved it. I was assigned as the NCOIC (Sergeant) of the MARS station at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center or MCB Twentynine Palms, CA back in early 1977. The call sign there was NNN0MTP / K6MCA.

    The building had been designated but no station existed. Myself and a few other Marines went over to Barstow and acquired just about everything we needed to get rolling.

    We were able to put together five (5) individual operating positions using Collins S-Line equipment along with phone patch and one RTTY position. (Boy, did we ever go through that old yellow tape.) We used some large cabinet-style amps in each position. Don't remember what brand they were right off the top of my head.

    With the help of the Engineers on base we were able to put up a 100-foot tower with a nice log periodic on top. My Gunny hated heights so I had the responsibility to do the PM on the thing. That was actually fun for me.

    We then made and installed a rhombic antenna with a long feed line that kept getting snapped into by the tankers on base with their vertical whip antennas. We repaired that thing many times but it worked like a champ.

    I left the Marine Corps in 1979 and went on to be commissioned in the US Army in 1983 as a Signal Officer.

    It was a great to work there and I really miss those days.

    1. Hi, Matt!

      Thank you for your service. Most of the comments I get on a two year old post are spam, so I'm glad I checked yours out before nuking it.

      Sounds like you had a great time there. I was never in MARS, but I used to run phone patches in the Chicago area for military folks back in the middle 1960's/early 1970's when I was WA9THB. My Mom griped about the toll charges, but my Dad, a former SeaBee, told her to be quiet and to let me do it. He thought that was one of the neatest things I could do with Amateur Radio.


Keep it civil, please....