MARS Gets New Name As It Fine Tunes Mission

On Wednesday, December 23, the Department of Defense (DoD) issued an Instruction concerning MARS, effective immediately.

This Instruction gives the three MARS services — Army, Air Force and Navy/Marine Corps — a new focus on homeland security and a new name: Military Auxiliary Radio System.

 The Instruction is the first major revision to MARS since January 26, 1988 — as such, the first revision since the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina, two major events that changed the way Amateur Radio dealt with emergency communications.

The DoD defines a “military auxiliary” as “an organized body of volunteers prepared to supplement the uniformed services or any designated civilian authorities by provision of specialized autonomous services when called upon or when situations warrant,” and gives the Civil Air Patrol and Coast Guard Auxiliary as examples of auxiliaries.

In the past, MARS had focused primarily on emergency communications and health and welfare support. The DoD’s Instruction now directs the three MARS services to provide “contingency radio communications” to support US government operations, DoD components and “civil authorities at all levels,” providing for national security and emergency preparedness events.

MARS units will still continue to provide health and welfare communications support “to military members, civilian employees and contractors of DoD Components, and civil agency employees and contractors, when in remote or isolated areas, in contingencies or whenever appropriate.” MARS must also be capable of operation in “radio only” modes — without landlines or the Internet — and sustainable on emergency power (when public utility power has failed); some MARS stations must be transportable for timely deployment.

The Instruction, however, does not mention which of the three MARS services will take the lead when responding to events. According to sources, this has been seen as a critical issue in conforming to the National Incident Management System (NIMS) that calls for “unity of command.” As now constituted, the three separate MARS services are supposed do “interoperate,” but command-wise, each operates independently. Some MARS members had urged clarification on this issue to avoid confusion during an emergency, sources said.

Read the rest of the article here at ARRL.ORG


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