Very low frequency or VLF is the ITU designation for radio frequencies in the range of 3 kHz to 30 kHz and corresponding wavelengths from 100 to 10 kilometres, respectively. The band is known as the myriametre band or myriametre wave as the wavelengths range from one to ten myriametres. Due to its bandwidth, audio transmission is highly impractical in this band. The VLF band is used for a few radio navigation services, government time radio stations, since VLF waves can penetrate at least 40 meters into saltwater, they are used for military communication with submarines. The main mode of long distance propagation is an Earth-ionosphere waveguide mechanism, the Earth is surrounded by a conductive layer of electrons and ions in the upper atmosphere, the ionosphere D layer at 60 km altitude, which reflects VLF radio waves. The conductive ionosphere and the conductive Earth, form a horizontal duct a few VLF wavelengths high, the waves travel in a zigzag path around the Earth, reflected alternately by the Earth and the ionosphere, in TM mode. Therefore, VLF transmissions are very stable and reliable, and are used for distance communication. Propagation distances of 5000 to 20000 km have been realized, however, atmospheric noise is high in the band, including such phenomena as whistlers, caused by lightning. VLF waves can penetrate seawater to a depth of at least 10 to 40 meters, depending on the frequency employed, VLF waves at certain frequencies have been found to cause electron precipitation. A major practical drawback to this band is that because of the length of the waves, vertical antennas must be used because VLF waves propagate in vertical polarization, but a quarter-wave vertical antenna at 30 kHz would be 2.5 kilometers high. So practical transmitting antennas are short, a small fraction of a wavelength long. Due to their low radiation resistance they are inefficient, radiating only 10% to 50% of the power at most. With the rest of the power dissipated in the antenna/ground system resistances, Very high power transmitters are required to radiate enough power for long distance communication. Transmitting antennas for VLF frequencies are very large antennas, up to a mile across. They consist of a series of radio masts, linked at the top with a network of cables. Either the towers themselves or vertical wires serve as monopole radiators, high power stations use variations on the umbrella antenna such as the delta and trideco antennas, or multiply-tuned flattop antennas. For low power transmitters, inverted-L and T antennas are used, a large loading coil is required at the antenna feed point to cancel the capacitive reactance of the antenna to make it resonant. To minimize power dissipated in the ground, these antennas require extremely low resistance ground systems, the high capacitance and inductance and low resistance of the antenna-loading coil combination, makes it act electrically like a high Q tuned circuit
"Trideco" antenna tower array at the US Navy's Naval Radio Station Cutler in Cutler, Maine, USA. The central mast is the radiating element, while the star-shaped horizontal wire array is the capacitive top load. About 1.2 miles in diameter, it communicates with submerged submarines at 24 kHz at a power of 1.8 megawatts, the most powerful radio station in the world.
Another type of large VLF antenna: the "valley-span" antenna, consisting of multiple horizontal topload cables spanning a valley, fed in the center by vertical radiators. This example is at the US Navy Jim Creek station near Seattle, which transmits on 24.8 kHz at a power of 1.2 MW.