Data Relay Sites near Rachel and in Railroad Valley

In January 2015 two new mobile radio sites appeared in Sand Spring Valley near Rachel and in Railroad Valley. We first reported these sites on January 17, 2015. They were first used during Red Flag 15-1.

The Rachel site is located next to a well travelled dirt road not far from the highway. It is surrounded by concrete barriers for protection. The more remote site in Railroad Valley sits out in the open. Both sites are mounted on trailers. They tend to appear just before Red Flag or other exercises, and are towed back to TTR when the exercise is over.

We were reluctant at first to publish details on these sites, but now that the sites have been in use for almost three years on public land we feel that publishing the information below is no longer a security concern.

The main components of the Rachel site are an antenna tower that is designed to extend when the site is in use as well as a power generator and a fuel tank. The Railroad Valley site has solar panels and a battery pack for a power source instead.

The sites went through several modifications during a testing phase in 2015. Between exercises they were modified as needed. Since 2016 the design and configuration has not changed much. In the testing phase a different antenna configuration was used, as well as an external power generator and fuel tank. Also, when the sites were in use personnel operating it were present. Since 2016 the sites are completely self-contained on a single trailer with a fuel tank and power generator mounted on the same trailer as the antenna mast. The sites now operate remote controlled.

The design as described below seems to facilitate communication with ground units such as mobile SAM sites as well as various types of aircraft, including the F-22 and F-35. Newer mobile systems rely heavily on networked virtual reality components for situational awareness, telemetry data etc. However, the various systems are not always designed to talk to each other. The new radio sites appear to be test platforms for newly developed, field deployable communication hubs. They serve to integrate the various data and communication networks, as well as to network them to the command and control center via fast microwave relay in the DoD-reserved C-Band (4.4-5.0GHz). The final sites are designed for easy deployment in the battlefield as needed as well as possibly in airborne platforms.

The two sites on public land cover Sand Spring Valley and the southern Railroad Valley. Both valleys are used heavily during aerial exercises, primarily by the Blue Forces. It is quite possible that similar sites exist in the valleys inside the ranges.

Without going into too much detail, the sites include the following antennas:

Black omni-directional antenna at the top: Full duplex Ethernet link to mobile ground and possibly air units

Gray omni-directional antenna on the side: Full duplex mil air comms and data (2x 225-400MHz)

Black omni-directional antenna on the side: Simplex 1710-1880MHz air data comms (used by NACTS system)

Microwave panel on the side: Full-duplex ethernet data link to Cedar Peak (Rachel site) and Ragged Ridge (Railroad Valley site) (4.4-5.0GHz, panel)

In addition the sites include a weather station and security features, including a 360 degree security camera and motion sensors.

A small directional antenna, pointed in the same direction as the microwave panel, was added in 2016. This is likely used to remote-control the site.

Update 05/2019: The microwave panel of the Railroad Valley site that was pointed to the Ragged Ridge ethernet backbone relay has been removed. Only the omni directional antenna on top of the tower remains. It is possible that due to the short distance to Ragged Ridge and improvements to the system the directional high-gain panel is no longer needed for the ethernet data link to the backbone. The system still appears to be in use.

Update 01/2020: The Rachel site was removed in 09/2019 before the Alienstock event. In 11/2019 the site was back and running in the same configuration as before. Only the external electrical junction box that provided power from an external generator is gone. It appears that due to improvements to the system external power is no longer needed. The site is powered by the integrated 7kW Whisperwatt generator.

Site near Rachel in its current configuration
Railroad Valley site; powered by solar panels
Original configuration with three 120 degree
elements for communication with ground units,
similar to a cell site

Base of the Rachel site; it is powered by a Whisperwatt 7000 generator
Microwave panel of the Rachel site, pointed at Cedar Peak

New omni directional antenna at the top for comminication with ground units
Omni directional antenna for simplex 1710-1880MHz air data comms

Omni directional antenna for full duplex mil air
comms and data
Microwave panel on the left, weather station,
camera and motion sensor on the right

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