The Evolving Concept for Communications

As Conceived in 1966

At the beginning of 1966, there were two Army divisions and three separate infantry brigades in South Vietnam as well as a larger number of combat support and combat service support units. Headquarters, I Field Force, Vietnam, under the command of Major General Stanley R. Larsen, controlled the U.S. Army combat units deployed in II Corps Tactical Zone. The 1st Infantry Division controlled those in the III Corps Tactical Zone. At that time except for signal and aviation units, there were no U.S. Army combat units in the I and IV Corps Tactical Zones, although the 1st and 3d Marine Amphibious Divisions were in the I Corps Tactical Zone. The major U.S. Army units in Vietnam by January 1966 were the 1st Infantry Division with its 121st Signal Battalion, the 1st Cavalry Division with its 13th Signal Battalion, and the 173d Airborne Brigade. U.S. Army strength in Vietnam was to more than double in the course of 1966, increasing from approximately 117,000 to 245,000 troops, with most o£ the buildup occurring in the last five months. Commensurate increases took place in the other services; total U.S. armed forces in Vietnam were to grow from 184,000 to almost 400,000 by the end of 1966.

The planning that had been undertaken in late 1965 for an additional field force headquarters culminated in the activation of Headquarters, II Field Force, Vietnam, in early 1966, located with its assigned corps signal battalion, the 53d, at Long Binh. This new combat headquarters controlled the U.S. forces in III Corps Tactical Zone. Joining the 1st Infantry Division in III Corps Tactical Zone that year was the 25th Infantry Division with its 125th Signal Battalion from Hawaii and the 199th Light Infantry Brigade, which was based at Long Binh. The 4th Infantry Division and its 124th Signal Battalion joined the 1st Cavalry Division in II Corps Tactical Zone under the control of I Field Force. The extensive logistics base that was established to support the continually increasing combat forces, combined with the military empha-


sis during 1966 on search and destroy operations, had a distinct influence on forecasting communications requirements and molding the concept that evolved to satisfy those requirements.

Determining Communications Requirements

Prior to the major buildup phases in 1965, communications planning was based on a rather primitive, yet necessary, methodology. The communicator, not being able to determine requirements from any other sources, was literally required to draw circles or "goose eggs" around a population center or a land area and then estimate the probable troop density within that area. With these figures in mind, the planner then calculated the number of telephones which were needed. This logically led to local switchboards needed and to long-distance circuitry, for which larger multichannel systems would naturally be required. This process went on much like the words in the old song "foot bone connected to the ankle bone, the ankle bone connected to the knee bone, the knee bone connected to the thigh bone. . . ." Considering the circumstances, the communications planners did well, for no precedent existed and little doctrine was available to tell commanders, at any level, what their communications requirements would be in a counterinsurgency situation, particularly in support of administrative and logistic operations. However frustrating this method was for the signal planner, it did furnish the means to determine the needs for signal troop units that arrived in 1965 and 1966 and was the basis for the planning of the large, fixed wideband communications system.

Such "crystal ball" methods inevitably resulted in a practice that unfortunately persisted throughout the Vietnam years-the practice whereby the communicator was forced to determine his own requirements and then present them to the commander for approval. Since the communicator, the man who works in the communications field, is responsible for service, it was only logical that he did not want to fall short of the commander's requirements, which were generally unknown until his dissatisfaction was expressed. This practice, then, contributed directly to uncontrolled inflation of communications requirements. Excessive requirements, in turn, contributed to continual requests for additional resources to satisfy the requirements.

In short, the faucet had been turned on, and it was rather difficult to turn off. Colonel Frank K. Gardner, a senior Army commu-


nicator intimately involved with the early planning, put it this way in an Army War College study he wrote in 1969:

Most of the problems in Southeast Asia were caused by the great quantities of communication channels requested . . . and required by the users. For example, it was common practice in Southeast Asia to provide 32 channels of communications to a combat brigade. During the Korean War, it was standard practice to provide eight channels of communications from a Corps to a Division, while in World War II the objective was to attempt to provide four channels of communications from a Corps to a Division.

It was in the dual environment of relatively stable base camp existence on one hand, and with the massive search and destroy operations during which combat commanders often located their headquarters at remote jungle sites on the other, that the mingled fixed plant and mobile military communications facilities, the original "make-do" arrangements, were feverishly unscrambled, improved, and integrated. The first hastily improvised terminals were gradually replaced by permanent fixed facilities of the highest quality. The entire communications plant began to be upgraded and enlarged since much greater capacity was everywhere demanded. All the systems had to be interconnected and brought under better management and control to insure the utmost in service, even amid the hazards and destruction of war.

Evolution of Three Systems in Vietnam

Within Vietnam three types of communications systems evolved during 1966. All were eventually interconnected and, as far as possible, technically integrated. Each system, however, was controlled and managed separately before the creation of the 1st Signal Brigade and its dual-hatted commander. The three systems were the Defense Communications System, the Corps Area Communications System, and the Combat Communications System.

The Defense Communications System, which provided long-distance, jointly used telephone, teletypewriter, and data facilities throughout the republic, was controlled in Southeast Asia by the Defense Communications Agency, Southeast Asia Mainland Region. This joint service, regional, communications operations center in Vietnam was unique in that it exercised "operational direction and management control" over a communications system within a combat zone. One of the functions, often considered the primary function, of the agency was to respond to the communications requirements of the commanders of the U.S. Military Assistance Commands in Vietnam and Thailand. Accordingly the De-


fense Communications Agency, through the regional operations center in Saigon, controlled the Defense Communications System in Vietnam for General Westmoreland and later for General Abrams.

It should be noted, however, that while this regional element of a joint service agency was thus responsive to the joint U.S. commander in Saigon, its communications management philosophy and command came from the top level Defense Communications Agency in Washington, under the Department of Defense. Further, in the exercise of its management functions, the Saigon office was authorized to deal directly with the lowest communications operation levels of the operating command-the technical or facility controller. To compensate for this out-of-channel procedure, a coordination channel was established between the agency in South­east Asia and the 1st Signal Brigade in order to keep each informed as to what the other was doing.

Except for a very few facilities operated by the Air Force and Navy, the entire operation and maintenance of the Defense Communications System in Southeast Asia rested with the U.S. Army's 1st Signal Brigade. In order to operate the system effectively, it was apparent that the brigade must also exercise the function of management. The Department of the Army letter of 25 February 1966, which approved the signal brigade concept, stated that there would be a single Army manager for the Integrated Wideband Communications System in Southeast Asia.

From the outset two organizations, the Saigon office of the Defense Communications Agency and the 1st Signal Brigade, were thus set up to manage the fixed communications in Vietnam. The extent and intensity of management differed between the two organizations and there was no gross duplication of effort, although the possibility was certainly present. Brigadier General Robert D. Terry attributed the harmony to the vigorous control exercised by the staffs of the top military commands in Vietnam and Thailand and the cooperation of the Defense Communications Agency's elements in both countries.

The Corps Area Communications System supplemented combat communications, provided extensions for the fixed Defense Communications System, and interconnected geographical areas not served by the wideband system. Over-all management of the Corps Area System was exercised by U.S. Army, Vietnam, through its operational control over the 1st Signal Brigade. In December of 1965 two signal battalions, the 39th and the 41st, had had sole area communications responsibility throughout Vietnam. But as U.S. com-


bat forces continued to build up in the Republic of Vietnam, additional communications were urgently required to supplement the organic communications of field force, division, and separate brigade. The nature of the combat operations required the establishment of communications between division and brigade base camps as well as between the actual combat command posts located at remote landing zones and fire bases. The wide dispersion of both logistic and combat forces increased the need for interconnecting communications facilities.

One of the most pressing tasks for the 1st Signal Brigade was to insure that the rapidly growing area communications system was installed and operating effectively. In the spring of 1966, this task was virtually impossible because of the accelerated rate of the deployment of combat forces to Vietnam and the delay in the deployment of separate signal support companies and battalions. The 1st Signal Brigade was at first hard pressed to provide even barely adequate base camp and area support. In many cases organic signal units of the combat forces were required to provide base camp support, thereby reducing their ability to support combat operations. But this potentially serious problem was eased as area communications support continued to improve throughout the latter half of 1966.

The arrival of signal units from the United States during this period increased the 1st Signal Brigade's capability to the point where, in late 1966, the brigade had enough battalions to provide and manage adequately area communications support in Vietnam. The Saigon and Long Binh area of responsibility was shared by two battalions and the remainder of Vietnam was divided among nine area support battalions of the brigade. In the course of one year, area communications support had skyrocketed from the limited capabilities of only two battalions in 1965 to the total resources of two signal group headquarters and eleven battalions in late 1966.

The combat systems, which provided communications for the fighting units using organic communications equipment, were of course controlled by the tactical commanders. At one time there were sixteen interconnected U.S. Army combat communications systems in Vietnam: those of the two field forces, one corps headquarters, the Capital Military Assistance Command in the Saigon area, the seven divisions, and the five separate brigades or regiments.


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