The Baofeng UV-5R is an excellent radio, but possesses serious deficiencies for the purpose of dedicated tactical comms. These include:
- PTT button which works even with external PTT connected, leading to hot mics (accidental transmit)
- Accidental reprogramming while worn
- High light and sound signature
- Lack of waterproofing
- Kenwood plug which can come unplugged in use
- Volume knob too easy to accidentally adjust
All of these problems can be solved, either through hardware modifications or tweaks to settings. This guide will walk you through the settings and modifications necessary to optimize the Baofeng radio for tactical use. While the radio in this demonstration is a UV-5R, these mods can and should be applied to other models as well.
I have a full guide on Baofeng programming for tactical use here, which I recommend implementing. Even if you don’t want to program the whole radio, there are still a few settings you must change. This can be done without a programming cable. Turn the radio on, press MENU, and change the following settings:
|8||BEEP||OFF||Disables keypad beeps|
|14||VOICE||OFF||Disables UI navigation voice|
|24||AUTOLK||ON||Automatically locks the keypad after inactivity. Hold # until the key disappears to reactivate.|
|29||WT-LED||OFF||Disables backlight activation from button presses and UI navigation. Optional.|
|30||RX-LED||OFF||Disables backlight activation while receiving|
|31||TX-LED||OFF||Disables backlight activation while transmitting|
|32||AL-MOD||SITE||Prevents the alarm from broadcasting over the air|
|39||ROGER||OFF||Disables the annoying roger beep|
Disabling BEEP, VOICE, and ROGER reduces noise signature, and disabling the lights prevents detection in low light or through night vision. If there is no chance your adversaries will have night vision, you may leave the general backlight on, but disable for Rx and Tx as the light on the radio body makes them superfluous. In the case that the alarm is accidentally activated, having AL-MOD set to SITE prevents it from being transmitted over the air. And most importantly, AUTOLK prevents accidental reprogramming from pressure against body or gear.
The following modifications will be performed:
- Disabling the speaker
- Disabling the PTT
- Removing the flashlight
- Removing the lanyard loop
- Waterproofing the circuit board
To accomplish these mods cleanly, you will need the following tools:
- Torx T9 driver and #00 Phillips driver (or 2.0mm)
- Soldering iron OR wire cutter
- A sharp knife
- Thin needlenose pliers OR snap ring pliers OR old flathead screwdriver
- Silicone conformal coating (only if waterproofing the board)
- Bowl or magnet tray to hold small parts
If you don’t have any of these, you can still accomplish a lot by cutting out buttons from the outside and wrapping the body with duct tape to cover the holes. There are also 3d printed button guards available both as files and commercially, such as this one.
Make sure the radio is off, and remove the battery and antenna.Pull straight up on the volume adjustment knob. It should pop off. Next, place the knob over the brass-colored ring on the antenna connector. The nubs on the volume knob should line up with the cutouts on the ring. Apply pressure and turn counterclockwise until the retaining ring comes off. Next, use your needle-nose pliers, snap ring pliers, or flathead screwdriver to remove the other retaining ring, and set it aside. If you use a flathead, apply pressure to the edge of the slot on one side with the corner of the blade rather than the length of it.Turn the radio over. There are six screws you need to remove: two long torx screws (bottom), two short torx screws (top), and two phillips screws (top). Make sure to properly seat the bit and apply firm downward pressure while turning these screws. They are small and you do not want to strip them.After you remove the top screws, the rear cover, spring, and catch responsible for retaining the battery will come off. Now you can remove the lanyard loop to streamline the radio. I happened to remove mine during reassembly.Flip the radio to its front, open the PTT port cover, and push on the keypad. This should cause the rear of the radio to separate from the shell, as shown. If nothing happens, you probably missed a screw or retaining ring–go back and double-check.
After pushing on the keypad or prying the backplate a bit, it should hit a wall and stop moving. This occurs because the lower Kenwood jack port is blocked by the edge of the PTT hole on the shell, as shown. Place the fingers of one hand under the lip of the shell and gently pull up, while pushing the lower jack port forward with thumb of the other hand. It should pop under the lip of the shell, at which point the shell and the internals should be easy to separate. You can use a flathead to pry this if it’s stubborn, but I recommend doing it by hand.Now simply separate the two halves. Do this carefully, as there is a small wire inside leading from the circuit board to the speaker, which is housed in the shell.
Remove the sticker on the back of the speaker. Snip or desolder the speaker wire at the points where it connects to the speaker and the circuit board, and replace the sticker. This will prevent the radio from giving away your position if the Kenwood connector comes unplugged. If you ever need to use the radio without a headset, just plug in a speaker mic.Now it’s time to perform the most important mod of all: disabling the PTT. Pull the side buttons out of the shell, they should just pop out (the plastic PTT button stays in place). Now, place your thumb on the outboard side of the rubber PTT button, and push it inside-out. You should see a rubber nub on the other side, which is what is pushed into the button on the circuit board when you press the PTT button.
Take your knife and shave that button completely flat. If you angle your edge slightly inward, it should shave flush on the first try. Now, when you push your PTT button, there won’t be any material to activate the switch on the PCB.
NOTE: you can do this for the CALL and MONI buttons as well, to disable the alarm and flashlight, respectively. However, if you do this, you lose FM radio and open squelch monitoring capabilities. Just be aware that shaving them is an option, and that auto-lock does not disable them.
The next step is to remove the display. There are two screws at the base of the display, unscrew them and tilt the display up and off. It hinges on at the top of the PCB, so don’t try to take it straight off.Remove all the screws from the front of the PCB, plus the two that were hiding under the display. There are 5 to remove in total: two at the base, one on the left edge, and two that were hiding behind the display. You do not need to touch the screw to the right of where the A/B button would be.
Almost done. There are two screws holding the antenna connector in place. Remove them……And you should be able to separate the backplate and PCB. Remove the top screw that retains the battery connector to the backplate, and the radio is completely disassembled. Note the location of any rubber bumpers present.To remove the flashlight, simply desolder or snip the connectors, the same as with the speaker wire.If you want to waterproof the board, now is the time. I used MG Chemicals 422C silicone conformal coating. Before application, clean the PCB with isopropyl alcohol and a microfiber cloth. DO NOT COAT THE FOLLOWING COMPONENTS:
- The black multi-pin port which the battery connector plugs into
- The Kenwood plug ports
- The antenna or potentiometer (volume knob) threads, or the potentiometer base
- The conductive strips that connect to the display
I masked the entire area around the display, from the top of the board to the bottom of the lower conductive strip, plus around the backlight on the right-hand side, and painted around the other parts when coating. If you get coating somewhere it isn’t supposed to go, don’t panic. Just finish coating that side and wait for it to dry, and then use a q-tip with isopropyl alcohol or acetone to remove it. You should clean the conductive strips after coating in any case to remove any adhesive residue left from masking. Once done, let the board cure completely overnight, and then reassemble.
I coated my entire board in this manner, minus the aforementioned components, with no apparent ill effect. That being said, I am not an expert, and cannot guarantee that this is the correct technique. Proceed accordingly.
- I don’t know how important the rubber things are, or what they’re for, so try to keep track of them. Different generations of Baofengs have different numbers of them, located in different places in the case, so don’t freak out if yours aren’t in the same place as mine. Different generations have different backplates as well.
- It is easier to put the PCB and backplate together, and then insert the battery connector, than it is to line the two up while the connector is still installed.
- Do not over-torque the screws. They are small, and only need to be snugged. If you go gorillamode on them you will strip the heads, even with good pressure and a seated bit.
- In the event that you do damage a screw, replace it with the one that held the lanyard loop in place. If you need to use a damaged screw, put it in a low-stress spot where it won’t constantly be screwed and unscrewed, and install it after installing adjacent screws, so it doesn’t require as much torque.
- Once you have the display back on, do not continue reassembly. Instead, turn the radio on, hold the battery to the contacts, and look at the display. If you see graphical glitches, try applying downward pressure to the display to see if they disappear. Pressure from the case pushes down on the display when the radio is assembled. If the glitches persist, the display is mounted incorrectly. Most likely, the elastomeric connectors are not correctly aligned with the conductive strips. Take the screen off and try again. You can also take a flathead and press the connectors into alignment, if they’re sitting too high. The other possibility is that the display isn’t quite snapped into place on the top and is standing slightly off the board–try gently pressing on the top of it near where it hooks on and seeing if it snaps into place. If neither of these help, just take it off and put it back on again, and try to have everything in alignment. Eventually, you’ll get it.
- When putting the radio internals back in the case, it is easier to put the keypad in the case and bring the internals to the keypad, rather than mounting the keypad to the internals and attempting to put the case on top of it all. The keypad falls out of alignment too easily with this approach.
- Start the volume knob retaining ring with needle-nose pliers–a screwdriver will tilt it to one side and prevent the threads from catching.
PTT button wobble
Without the pressure exerted by the rubber piece on the PTT button, the plastic PTT cover piece will have a slight bit of wobble, which some users may find annoying. To solve it, all you need to do is push the plastic cover to its outermost position and secure it by filling the gaps around its edge with adhesive. I tried Loctite gel control superglue and Sugru, and found the Loctite to be firmer and the Sugru to be more aesthetically pleasing while still sufficiently functional.
Plugging the flashlight hole
With the flashlight gone, there is now a big hole in the top of our radio. This hole needs to be plugged in order to prevent the ingress of water and debris. I used Sugru for this. The best practice is to plug the flashlight hole and fix the PTT button wobble after you coat the board, so everything can cure in one night.
Covering the Rx/Tx light
Above the A/B button there is an opaque square. This square turns red when transmitting, and green when receiving. If you are care about light discipline under night vision, it needs to be covered. You can use Sugru, epoxy, or even tape.
Fixing the volume knob adjustment
Putting a rubber o-ring around the volume knob will increase the tension on it and prevent accidental adjustment. I used a 14×2.5mm o-ring (OD x CS), just use something in that ballpark and it should work.
Retaining the Kenwood plug
Kenwood plugs can come undone easily, which will cut your comms and (if your speaker is not disabled) give away your position. They can be held in place through a variety of means. I use ranger bands, which are cut-up bicycle inner tubes. Another technique is to epoxy or shoegoo velcro to the back face of the plug and the inside of the PTT port cover, and let the velcro hold it in place. You can even tape use tape. Just make sure the PTT can’t easily come unplugged.