What follows is a belated response to a recent comment regarding Morse burst devices.
Most folks don’t realize that international Morse Code (IMC) is a very early form of binary communications; Dits and Dahs or ones and zeros.
All Amateur (Ham) license holders before 2007 and every Special Forces 18E (Communications NCO) before 2002 were required to learn IMC. Why? Because prior to Satellite communications and the advent of some of the newer software based data transmission methods now available, it was the preferred method of making reliable long haul HF Communications. IMC is more reliable by magnitudes than voice communications across the HF spectrum. It still remains, in my opinion, THE method requiring the least amount of fragile (breakable) equipment. Since the code requirements have been dropped on the civilian side, very few ham operators are willing to invest the time to learn a new language (IMC). In my day, most 18Es could send and receive Morse at 18-5 letter groups-per-minute (GPM) . I knew some that could regularly tap out 24 GPM with a leg key. But comms guys, being the techno geeks they are, were soon experimenting with ways to speed up the method of delivery. More speed meant less chance of intercept and DF. But more importantly, it meant less time someone had to crank that damned G-76 generator.
And in Army SF, why bother with a mode of communication that requires the apparent use of special, secret incantations muttered by the senior comms guy hovering over the AN/PRC-74. He was usually seen conducting this ancient rite while the junior comms guy twirled the appropriate analog knobs and flipped some switches that were labeled on the same heavy green radio in some archaic hieroglyphic script known only our secret sect. It is much easier and faster to throw out that TACSAT antenna, point it at the bird, punch in the freqs, load the fill and talk. So easy in fact, that even an 18B like Mosby could do it….. I digress…. Back to IMC.
One of the first high-speed, low drag code burst devices I had the misfortune of working with was the AN/GRC-81 Coder Burst (took some real imagination to come up with that name, huh). Basically, by doctrine, the Team Commander (in actuality, one of the Echos) encrypted the message on a one-time-pad (OTP), recorded the message onto a tape using what looked like a modern Dyno embossing machine, hooked the device to the transceiver and sent it. The receiving station recorded the message to a tape, played it back and broke it out with the other half of the OTP. It generally sped transmission up to 300 WPM. If you are interested, here is a link: http://www.militaryradio.com/spyradio/gra71.html
Next came the Racal DMDG designated the OA-8990/P (or KY-879/P). The DMDG weighed in at about 9 lbs and had a send/receive rate of about 266.6 baud or 27 characters a second when used with HF. The message was still encrypted using a one-time-pad (OTP), then was typed into the DMDG using the top mounted keypad and displayed on a then state-of-the-art LCD display. The DMDG was connected to the radio and the message was sent. The receiving station used the same device to record and display the message. Again, it was manually decrypted using the other half of the OTP. A typical 120 group message took about 38 seconds to send or receive. It could also be used with the early AN/PSC-3 Satellite Communications Transceiver. Manual link here: https://books.google.com/books?id=z9UXAAAAYAAJ&pg=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
Finally, we were issued the tiny (by 1980 standards) TRW KL-43. The message was typed into the device using the front mounted keyboard. In most cases we used the eraser end of a lead pencil, since the keys were easy to fat finger. The key was pre-loaded into the device (goodbye OTP!) using the same keypad and could be updated remotely. The KL could be used to send/receive over multiple devices including telephone, satcom and just about any radio transceiver. Transmission rate was about 30 characters-per-second on HF. http://www.jproc.ca/crypto/kl43.html.
Nowadays, it seems that the majority of SF comms guys could care less about HF comms. Not nearly as sexy as that TACSAT or world-wide computer network. That being the case, you will now find that almost all HF data transmission innovation comes from the civilian amateur radio arena. And I have to say, most of them work as well, and a lot faster than IMC. So let’s look at what’s available.
Rather than list every available program out there, I’ll list a link that provides a fairly detailed description of the most popular: http://www.hamuniverse.com/hfdigitalmodessoftware.html A side note: most of these programs require a modem between the computer and the transceiver. Some of these modems are specialized and can be very costly. I have limited my discussion to programs that I have used and that can be interfaced with the Tigertronics Signalink USB. The Signalink can be had at their website for about $120.00 to include the cable for your type of radio.
Which ones do I prefer? Depends on what I’m trying to accomplish.
DigiPan is a pretty good place to start. Easy to install, run and won’t overwhelm a new operator. Don’t expect your messages to have any anonymity if that’s what your after. Everyone on the freq with the program can read what you send. PSK has it’s limitations, but it can be a lot of fun for the beginner. Free.
Airlink Express is DigiPan on steroids. Lots of new features and easy to use if you are familiar with DigiPan. Free-donations accepted if you are happy with it.
RMS Express is probably my favorite. Replicates email on HF/VHF/UHF radio with Peer-to-Peer (P2P) and Bulletin Board Services (BBS). You can set up your own private network or join several existing networks. Fairly secure comms set up in a nearly bullet proof format. Free, but donations are accepted. Set up with a NVIS antenna and you’ve got your local-to-mid distance network.
The next 2 programs only require a computer with a soundcard and the radio.
IZ8BLY Hellshreiber is an easy to use, very reliable system that works well in noisy conditions. Free, will take donations.
TruTTY – lots of modes, somewhat complicated. $39.00
MultiPSK – The Mother of All Communications softwares. Pretty complicated for the newbie.
Bottom line: IMC will usually get through when voice comm fails due to HFs inherent noisiness. For those who don’t care to learn IMC, a digital program will probably do just as well if not better. However, it’s pretty hard to beat the equipment simplicity of an IMC key.