Control and Direction: Problems and Solutions

The size and complexity of the communications systems in Southeast Asia, along with the fact that the systems were frequently interconnected and superimposed, required the formation of special organizations, techniques, and procedures to furnish effectively communications engineering and technical control and direction for the systems. This is sometimes referred to as technical management.

Technical Management

Technical management of the combat systems was comparatively simple because of the generally uniform system configurations and small size of the networks. The engineering and technical control functions were built into the operating unit, and overall direction came from the unit's operations staff. Each signal battalion of the field forces and divisions had a systems control section, popularly referred to as SYSCON. The section was in operation twenty-four hours a day, usually with two men on each shift. The systems control section was responsible for engineering and controlling all of the communications systems and networks operated by the unit.

The chain of technical management of the defense and corps area communications systems, however, was long, and, like the Mekong River, followed myriad paths. The chain for both systems began outside Vietnam. That for the 1st Signal Brigade originated at the Army's Strategic Communications Command Headquarters at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. Technical control and direction for the Defense Communications System went from the Defense Communications Agency in Washington to its Pacific Area in Hawaii, then to its Southeast Asia Mainland Region in Saigon. The Army aspects of the communications engineering and controlling efforts, rather than those of the joint Defense Communications Agency, are emphasized here.
When it was formed, the 1st Signal Brigade inherited the engi-


neering and control tasks that always accompany any large headquarters charged with communications system installation and operation responsibilities. These tasks had previously been performed by Colonel Moran's 2d Signal Group systems control and engineering staff. To this small organization had fallen the chores of engineering and controlling all 2d Signal Group installations and operations at a time when the group consisted of about 3,000 men spread thinly throughout the republic.

In the spring of 1966 when Colonel Robert D. Terry was organizing the 1st Signal Brigade, the growing communications activity in Vietnam required separate, sizable, headquarters elements. Each engineering speciality would have its own headquarters element­one for fixed-plant projects, another for the Integrated Wideband Communications System under construction and still another for telephone management. Similarly, centralized control over both Department of Defense and Corps Area Communications Systems required a separate, complex structure in the brigade headquarters. Elaborate equipment was needed in addition to a large, highly specialized work force of skilled communications controllers.

Communications Engineering and Installation

On 23 April 1966, Colonel Terry addressed a memorandum to his brigade deputy, Colonel Gordon B. Cauble, to Colonel Moran, and to Colonel Riley, Deputy U.S. Army Vietnam Signal Officer, on the subject of plant engineering and installation functions. He proposed that a communications engineering management agency be established composed of seventy-five men. A month later, on 23 May, the organization was set up as the Communications-Electronics Engineering and Installation Agency, responsible for developing the required plans and programs and providing the management of fixed-plant projects, especially heavy cable construction in Vietnam. Lieutenant Colonel Clarence R. Driscoll came to the 1st Signal Brigade from the Pacific field office of the Strategic Communications Command's worldwide Engineering and Installation Agency on Okinawa. He arrived in Saigon in June 1966 to run Colonel Terry's engineering agency, bringing six engineers with him. By March 1967 he had sixty-six engineers at work in the agency. Before the end of 1967 the agency was enlarged still further and was renamed the Communications Systems Engineering and Management Agency. One of the most important elements of this agency was the project management office for the Integrated Wideband Communications System being installed in Southeast Asia. Originally headed by Lieutenant Colonel Patrick F. Kearins,


this office was the focus for coordination between the contractor and the military services.

Telephone Engineering and Management

Another managerial element, also involving engineering duties, was the brigade headquarters organization that supervised the installation of telephone switches in and around Saigon. To supervise the mushrooming number of telephone switches in the metropolitan area, Colonel Terry created the Saigon Telephone Management Agency. In the summer of 1965 the U.S. military telephone system in Saigon had consisted of two manual switchboards that served the two separate joint U.S. headquarters complexes in the Saigon area. The total telephone cable facilities, or outside plant, at that time consisted of approximately 400 circuit miles of combat field wire, spiral four, and rubber-covered 5- and 26-pair cables. In addition, three cables systems were leased from the Vietnamese Postes, Telegraphs et Telephones office to provide circuit­routing between Saigon, Tan Son Nhut Air Base, and the 1st Signal Brigade's terminal at Phu Lam.

The number of U.S. Army telephone switchboards in Saigon was increased during the fall and winter of 1965 to six local manual telephone exchanges, three other small manual exchanges called private branch exchanges, and one long-distance switchboard connected into the countrywide system. Two of the manual exchanges were made up of large, nine-position switchboards mounted in vans. The remaining switchboards consisted of components of an older model, manual telephone central office, with four to nine operator positions, depending on the location.

As the need for more land for U.S. activities increased, so did the telephone requests. These six local exchanges no longer provided "on base" communications; instead, a U.S. Army metropolitan telephone system began to take shape. This system lacked an over-all manager and, as a result, several serious problems arose. Greatest of these problems were inadequate trunking, and in some cases none at all, between local exchanges; lack of an outside cable plant capable of meeting increasing subscriber demands; lack of unified cable and circuit records; and insufficient operator positions to handle traffic during the busy hours. At this time the nine-position switchboard vans were handling an average of 1,800 calls during their busiest hour. To further complicate the telephone communication picture, Saigon had two civilian and four Vietnamese Army dial telephone exchanges, a U.S. Air Force exchange at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, and three exchanges operated


Photograph: Signalmen Operating A Large Manual Telephone Switchboard at Saigon


by the U.S. Embassy. The U.S. Army telephone system was superimposed on these existing facilities. With this maze confronting it the Saigon Telephone Management Agency was established and began operations in April 1966.

The inadequate manual facilities had to be replaced. The 1st Signal Brigade performed this task by providing automatic dial telephone switches, mounted in huge vans and serving up to 600 subscribers. Later, fixed automatic dial telephone exchanges were installed. The latter exchanges were sophisticated modern facilities, serving several thousand subscribers. Since these modern automatic telephone projects were being installed in the capital area they had to be interconnected by large, high-capacity cable links or trunks of high quality.

In the spring of 1966 these projects were the responsibility of the telephone management agency and were largely confined at first to the metropolitan area of Saigon. But as 1967 progressed, the need for automatic telephone service expanded far beyond Saigon. Automatic dial telephone facilities were installed at many


outlying points, not only in Vietnam but also in Thailand. The 1st Signal Brigade found it necessary to set up a telephone management office in each numbered signal group. Since telephone service was required beyond the confines of the automatic dial service provided to local areas, automatic long-distance dialing facilities were needed also. These last military sophistications were called tandem switches by the Army, but were better known in the United States as direct distance dialing.

Obviously the telephone management agency, the over-all control in the brigade, had to redouble its engineering and management responsibilities. By the end of 1967, therefore, it was enlarged and redesignated as Southeast Asia Telephone Management Agency. The accomplishments of the telephone agency and the workers of the brigade were most immediately evident in the metropolitan area. During the first nine months after the agency's formation, 90 percent of the telephone system in Saigon was transformed from a manual to an automatic dial system. Although there had been many problems, they had been solved; and now the single-manager concept pioneered by the Saigon Telephone Management Agency was being broadened to include telephone management for the entire country.

Communications Control Means and Methods

Within the first week after the creation of the 1st Signal Brigade, Colonel Terry had issued a letter of instruction, dated 7 April 1966, concerning communications control. The objective of communications control as he defined it was "to provide daily operational direction of the communications circuits which collectively form the U.S. Army Communications Systems Vietnam and Defense Communications System (DCS Army) circuits in Southeast Asia." The organization that was created to perform this function was originally called the Command Communications Control Center Agency. It utilized the resources and the operating personnel of the 2d Signal Group systems control element.

These men of Colonel Moran's 2d Signal Group had been performing communications control duties in Vietnam since mid-1965. In August 1965, when the U.S. Army Strategic Communications Command had become responsible for the Defense Communications System in Southeast Asia, it also became responsible for controlling the circuits of the Defense Communications System. The 2d Signal Group systems control had then continued to watch over only the combat and corps area circuits. This split responsibility had produced problems on procedures for


reporting circuit failures, activations, and similar routine communications actions. Combining the communications control of the Defense Communications System and the corps area circuits was, of course, one of Colonel Terry's major objectives.

A crucial and central organization in this unifying effort was the new communications control agency, which was renamed in February 1967 the Army Communications Operations Center in Saigon. The center served as the primary control hub for all Army Southeast Asia communications. A secondary control center was established in November 1966 in Thailand at Korat. The center received up-to-the-minute information and data on all systems, their operation, and message traffic loads and flow. In particular, the center's operators watched for any breakdowns, or "outages" in communicator jargon, and insured that proper action was taken. This service was the Army's contribution to the Defense Communications Agency's management over the Southeast Asia Wideband System. Besides this major over-all center in Vietnam and a secondary center in Thailand, there were similar, smaller system control elements within the 1st Signal Brigade's numbered groups, watching over area communications. Within the signal battalions of these groups were still smaller watchdog elements. This was also true of the combat signal battalions of the divisions and corps.

These agencies of the communications community were all established to provide the essential engineering and control efforts necessary to manage the communications network as it existed in the spring of 1966. All the agencies were eagerly anticipating the long-awaited Integrated Wideband Communications System which would give the country the fixed-station, high quality backbone so urgently needed for effective command control.


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