AIR FORCE MARS: Providing the Reins of Command--in Emergencies
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MARS Information


Learn About the MARS Seal
About the MARS Seal

What is MARS?

The Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS) - formerly known as Military Affiliate Radio System - is a Department of Defense (DOD) sponsored program, established as separate managed and operated programs by the Army, Navy, and Air Force. The program consists of licensed amateur radio operators who are interested in military communications. They contribute to the MARS mission providing auxiliary or emergency communications on a local, national, and international basis as an adjunct to normal communications. The MARS program is authorized under DOD Instruction 4650.02.

MARS History

In November 1925, the Army Amateur Radio System (AARS) was formed by a few dedicated pioneers in the United States Army Signal Corps. This organization continued until the start of World War II when operations were suspended. Army amateur radio was authorized to resume operations in 1946 and the Army Amateur Radio System was reactivated and functioned as such until 1948 when the Army and Air Force established the Military Amateur Radio System, later renamed the Military Affiliate Radio System (MARS). In 1962, the Navy-Marine Corps MARS program was launched making MARS a joint service program. In 2009 the program was renamed to the Military Auxiliary Radio Service retaining the MARS acronym.

MARS Mission
  • Provide Department of Defense sponsored emergency communications on a local, national, and international basis as an adjunct to normal communications.
  • Provide auxiliary communications for military, civil, and/or disaster officials during periods of emergency.
  • Assist in effecting normal communications under emergency conditions.
  • Create interest, and furnish a means of training members in military communications procedures.
  • Provide a potential reserve of trained radio communications personnel.
  • Handle morale and quasi-official record and voice communications traffic for Armed Forces and authorized U.S. Government civilian personnel stationed throughout the world.
  • Conduct an appropriate Amateur Radio program as a part of the annual celebration of Armed Forces Day.
Eligibility to Join USAF MARS

The applicant must:

  • Be 18 years of age or older.
  • Be a United States citizen or resident alien.
  • Possess a valid amateur radio license issues by the Federal Communications Commission
  • Operational digital capability using either TNC or soundcard. Currently USAF MARS uses PACTOR I and the several computer sound card modes, MFSK16, Olivia and MT 63 are most common.
  • Possess an operational HF station capable of operating SSB on at least two of the USAF MARS HF frequencies assigned to the North Central Area.
  • All new members must have equipment that meets a frequency stability of +/- 20 Hz prior to joining AF MARS. Current FCC type accepted amateur equipment and NITA compliant equipment meet these specifications. All VHF radio equipment must have a channel spacing of 12.5 kHz (or less).
  • Not join or belong to more than one MARS service at the same time.

MARS members must agree to operate in accordance with the rules and regulations governing MARS as follow:

  • A minimum of 12 hours participation per calendar quarter with 9 hours in their primary HF assignment.
  • Participate in a training program designed to acquaint the member with military communication procedure.

Benefits of MARS Membership
  • Add to the enjoyment of your amateur radio hobby through the expanded horizon of MARS.
  • Become part of the Air Force MARS worldwide communications system.
  • Increase your communications skills and capabilities. Selected correspondence courses in communications-electronics subjects are available free to MARS members from their respective affiliated service after completion of six months active membership.
  • Operate on specially assigned military radio frequencies in voice, teletype, PACKET and other digital modes of communications.
  • Join a group of dedicated fellow radio amateurs participating in meaningful public service.
  • Gain a feeling of being associated with a military mission and contributing to the welfare and preparedness of the nation.
  • Participate in regulated, disciplined radio nets with structured lines of organization and very specific operating rules.
  • Participate in the MARS Excess/Surplus Equipment Program after 6 months active membership. Issue of equipment is based on availability of equipment, and possible assigned mission of individual activity. The granting of MARS membership to an individual or activity does not in itself convey an automatic right or entitlement of the recipient to receive or demand MARS property.
Typical MARS Networks

MARS members stations meet periodically in scheduled networks on military frequencies outside of the amateur bands. There are various types of networks and each accomplishes a specific goal. For example, administrative networks to take care of much of the day-to-day management of the program; traffic networks which exist solely to pass third party traffic; and of course, emergency networks which are established to provide for communication needs during periods of emergency. There are also technical nets and training nets. MARS nets operate in different modes. Although high frequency (HF) single sideband (SSB) voice is predominant, there are PSK31, VHF, PACKET, other digital modes and even slow scan TV nets.

Typical MARS Frequencies

MARS networks operate on frequencies assigned to the U.S. military. These frequencies are often far removed from the Amateur bands. Most commercially available equipment must be modified to transmit on these frequencies. Information and guidance on making modifications to many commercially available units is available to licensed MARS operators. North Central Area MARS activities are normally conducted on frequencies near 3.3 MHz, 4.5 MHz and 7.3 MHz. The primary operating mode will be USB. Various digital modes such as MFSK16, MT63 and Olivia will also be used.

How to Join MARS  

To join USAF MARS in North Central Area complete the electronic application form or send a request for application forms to:

or,  (Conventional mail)
Richard S. Jenson
Chief Air Force MARS
203 W LOSEY ST RM 1200
SCOTT AFB IL 62225-5222

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