You are on page 1of 17

THE UNITED STATES ARMY

SIGNAL CORPS
OFFICER CANDIDATE SCHOOL ASSOCIATION
Home Page

OCS CLASSES

The Signal Corps During The Vietnam War


WWII Era ('40s)
Korean Era ('50s)
Vietnam Era ('60s)
General Officers

INFO CENTER

OCS Association - - - - - - -
OCS Notices
OCS Newsletter
- This is Part III in a Three Part Series -
Army News
This article originally published on our Home Page in February 2012
Class Coordinators
Reunion Info
Other Links
MAIL CENTER

Chief Locator
Web Submissions

OFFICERS' CLUB

Veterans' Salutes
Freedom Park
Bricks

Brief Histories

Memories
Scrap Book
PX
Chat Rooms
Charity Efforts
AWARD

[Please Note: Any opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the U.S.
Army Signal Corps OCS Association]

This article is the third in a series regarding the Signal Corps and its path of evolution from WWII through Korea to
Vietnam. The first two, The Signal Corps During World War II, and The Signal Corps During The Korean War, can be
found on our Brief Histories page. There is a quick link to them at the bottom of this page.

In each article we have tried to take a 50,000 foot


view of what the Signal Corps did during these
wars, and determine from such observation how it
affected the Corps evolution from the simple
mission it had when it first came to prominence
during the Civil War, to the complex mission
structure it holds today. If one looks back on those
early days and considers that at the time of the Civil
War the Signal Corps primary task was simply to
observe the enemy (usually from a hot air balloon),
report on its activities, and deliver messages via
pigeons or signal flags, one can see that today its
mission to do everything from manage strategic
DOA and DOD assets to being responsible for
Automation, communication, electronics and
network planning, design, engineering,
evaluation, management, installation, operation,
logistical support, and maintenance of signal
equipment and systems; to
Advising commanders, directors, and staff on
command and control signal requirements, capabilities, and operations, including computer systems, data
management, signals intelligence, signals monitoring, and network operation; to
Developing requirements for the design and implementation of local, regional and global data, mobile, and fixed
communications systems and networks; as well as
Establishing, preparing, coordinating and directing programs, projects and activities engaged in unit level supply,
logistics, maintenance, and life-cycle management of worldwide signal materiel; to
Integrating tactical, strategic and sustaining base communication, information processing, and management systems
into a seamless global information network able to support knowledge dominance for the Army as well as joint and
coalition operations; to
Directing and controlling of the units and
activities involved with the application of
electrical, electronics, and systems engineering
and management principles in the design, test
acceptance, installation, operation, and
maintenance of signal systems, equipment,
databases, networks, and facilities; to more
esoteric activities such as
Operating photo and video service
undertakings that run the gamut from
documenting combat activities to archiving the
same, performing radio, data and other signal
intelligence functions, to
Developing and implementing radio and radar
countermeasures, establishing airway
communications systems; and of course
Participating in all manner of combat activities
from support of joint-assault signal operations
through to the most simple but critical defense of
individual signal sites
we can see that much has changed in the Signal Corps.
The question we have been trying to answer through these three articles has been how did these changes come about
and why. The answer we found is that the real time pressures of war, followed (in most cases) by government
mismanagement of military budgets between wars, caused these changes.

In great part, the bulk of the changes in the Signal Corpss approach to its duties came about during WWII, Korea and
Vietnam... and the times between them. Its because of this that our focus over the past two articles has been on the
Signal Corps during the first two of these wars. In this article we finish our series by looking at how the Vietnam War
forced further change upon the Signal Corps.
Looking back over the prior two pieces, we can see
that one of the key lessons we learned in looking at
the Signal Corps during WWII and Korea is that
unlike most branches of service where the task is
singular, comprising little more than one of giving
combat in a manner that contributes to winning a
war, the Signal Corps has evolved during these
periods to fulfill two roles. In military speak, it could
be said that while other branches of service focus
narrowly and almost exclusively on their task at the
operational level of war, the Signal Corps found that
in order to meet its ever evolving mission, it needed
to expand its operational concept to take in not only
the application of military art and science to areas
within the operational level of war, but also external
to it.
In this regard, the first role the Signal Corps carries
out obviously relates to being a partner war fighter,
along with all of the other branches of the U.S.
military. Considering that over the past 60 years the
Signal Corps has been first a part of the combat arms, then not, and then later included again, being a partner war fighter
has not always been easy. Whether formally a partner war fighter or not, in this role the Signal Corps, like its sister
branches, puts its men on the lineengaging the enemy where and when needed, as it goes about its task of providing
any and all support required to deliver the communication capabilities essential to the other branches sharing the combat
field with it.
The second, as the reader can intuit from the list above, relates to providing the kind, type, and quantity of communication
and signal capabilities necessitated by the nature and characteristics of the war, situation, or conflict underway. And while
the glory in what the Signal Corps does may rest within the former role of a war fighter, it is the work done within this latter
category that earns the Signal Corps its stripes.

Two simultaneous missions: that of a war fighter, and that of the provider of any and all manner of communicationor as
we know it today, Information Technology (IT), Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Information Systems
(IS), Information Management (IM), Knowledge Management (KM), Technical Science Management and Application
(TSMA), and Data Management (DM)as may be required by the nature and characteristics of the conflict in question.

Without these two tasks being successfully performed by the Signal Corps, combatants from the other branches would
find themselves existing and fighting within a vacuum... a vacuum void of information about the enemy, his position,
intentions, status, and pattern of methodological behavior. For if the truth be told, these latter five elements form the
determinants of war in the modern age, and it is the Signal Corps that is first and foremost responsible for assisting in
their identification, documentation, and communication to the rest of the military.
One can see then that as both the foundation and the glue that makes possible an effective response to the numerous
war activities the U.S. military gets involved in, by enumerating to its sister branches an enemys position, intention,
status, and pattern of methodological behavior, the Signal Corps is the enabler that allows the sister services to act with
both precision and objective intent. In other words, because of the information communicated by the Signal Corps, its
sister services, such as the Infantry, are able to use this knowledge to their collective advantage. In todays modern world,
it would be said that the Signal Corps enables the Infantry to turn its troops into knowledge workers.[1] And yet while this
seems self obvious to us today, the reader should recognize that the calling to serve this purpose is not only a far cry from
the job the Signal Corps originally set out to do when it was founded, it is as equally far a cry from that which it did during
the second world war and Korea. The Signal Corps has evolved. As pundits would say today, its not your fathers Signal
Corps anymore.
As we saw in the previous two articles, WWII challenged the
Signal Corps to develop several capabilities that it did not
previously have, while the Korean War helped the Signal
Corps to figure out how to better deliver these capabilities.
One of the more important of these capabilities involved
expanding the role of the Signal Corps to support a method of
war-fighting originally developed by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, but
not fully applied since then until WWII. A basic tenet of how
America fights wars even today, Grants doctrine revolved
around the emphasized, overwhelming, and continued
application of military force directly against the enemy army, as
well as indirectly against the enemy's civilian population (read:
the civilian-industrial sector), to prevent the civilian sector from
acquiring the resources (including the availability of civilian
manpower itself) needed to support the military. With no insult
meant, Colin Powells famous Powell Doctrine of the
application of overwhelming force in time of war is simply a
restatement of Grants original war strategy, and a not very
original one at that.[2]
In applying force against an enemys Army, clearly, a key part
of this is knowing where the enemy is and what his intentions
are. In depriving the military and its supporting civilian
population of their ability to provide resources to the enemy,
the important part is identifying both what resources the
military needs, as well as who is providing them to the military.

In both of these instances, a quick reflection will show that it is the Signal Corps that has, time and again, stepped forward
to help solve the riddle of how to identify the who, what, where, when, and why embedded in matters of war, and
communicate this information to the troops in the field. In the first instance, the Signal Corps development of RADAR
serves to make this point. Whether it was the kind of RADAR that first detected Japanese Zeros approaching Hawaii on
December 7, 1941, or the kind of X Band RADAR that was first used to locate mortars, the objective was the same:
identify the enemys intentions, locate them, and distribute this information to those in the field.

In the second case it was the Signal Corps development of signals intelligence that led the way towards identifying the tie
in between military resources and the civilian counterparts that provided them. Signals Intelligence, combined with the
Signal Corps development of encrypted as well as burst radio communication, allowed U.S. saboteurs to step in and
deny these resources to the enemys military.

World War II then served as a crucible in helping mold from the tailings of the old-school military of World War I a modern
Signal Corps able to apply newer and rapidly evolving forms of technology to the purpose at hand. What it failed to do
however was help the Signal Corps develop an organizational structure able to anticipate and respond to the sort of
quickly changing battlefield conditions that were looming (as WWII was brought to a close) just over the horizon.

Korea did that.


As we saw in the last article, the Korean War brought home to roost the necessity for the Signal Corps to wrench itself
from its stayed approach to handling operational situations, instead creating a means to transform itself on the fly
applying in each and every case that it was presented with the kind of American leadership, creativity, and problem
solving skills that are required if one is to succeed in a fluid situation. As the Signal Corps learned then, key to doing this
was being able to distinguish where rapid transformational abilities were needed and should be allowed, versus those
situations where transformational pressures should be resisted and things forced to continue to be done by the book.

Remarkably, the Signal Corps succeeded in this vetting conundrum. It succeeded by unknowingly becoming the first
military institution to define and apply process management to its mission. A term that came into vogue only in the early
1980s, the Signal Corps during the Korean War was one of the first to define this approach to task management,
becoming its own internal proponent of the use of what is today known by the terms TQM, Six Sigma, QMS, process
management, and a dozen others. With focus and purpose but unmindful that it was charting new territory, the Signal
Corps wrote process management dictums into its SOPs even as the Korean War unfolded.
As to why this was necessary, battlefield conditions of the Korean War presented the Signal Corps with the need to integrate in real time its
ability to find, trap and analyze exocentric knowledge of the enemy's intentions and activities... from all available sources and services... in
order to build ever quicker, faster, cheaper, better endocentric means of analyzing and sharing this information with the combat arms most in
need of it. Process management, when used as a means of solving real time war problems, is ideal for this purpose as it
helps strain out nonstandard data points in the collection and analysis effort. For the Signal Corps then, the Korean War
proved to be another important period of transition, in both how it selected, trained, organized, and managed its
personnel, as well as how it managed itself in performing its core tasks of analyzing and communicating. In all of this,
developing multiple technological means to address each communication need that appeared inadvertently led to what
was likely the first ever effective application of process management techniques in a hot war environment.
By the end of the Korean War the Signal
Corps had found itself in a new place in
military society. By 1960 the Signal Corps was
the Army's third largest branch, comprising
about seven percent of its strength. In 1961
the Army redesignated the Signal Corps as a
combat arm again, a privilege it lost at the end
of the second world war, while at the same
time keeping its designation as a technical
service arm.

Unfortunately, as with the end of WWII and


every war that preceded it, with the
suspension of combat operations in Korea
Americas federal government set about the
task of looting the military one more time, in a
mad rush to reorganize it, ostensibly to learn
from the lessons of Korea. Why the U.S.
government continues with this charade of
cutting military expenditures once a war has
ended (under the pretense of making the
military more efficient or effective), one can
only imagine. Yet, like clockwork, as soon as a
war has ended, government leaders set about
wielding their ax to the military as though the
U.S. will never again fight another war.

One can see it happening today. With


President Obama announcing in January 2012
his plans to reorganize the post-Iraq, post-
Afghanistan U.S. military, his efforts are at best
feckless and at worst one of the most
irresponsible things a president can do.
Cutting the size of the military under the guise
of making it more suitable to large scale naval
engagements between nuclear powers, during
a time of increasing tension between the U.S.
and any number of countries, is in total
contravention of the very reason for a people
to have a government in the first place.[3] In
this Editor's view, Obamas actions today are
no less imprudent and irresponsible than those
of the leaders who, after World War II, gutted
Americas military to the point that it was
unable to fight in Korea without mounting a draft and scavenging the whole of Japan for every piece of armament that
could be found. Decorated with disingenuous statements about how his new changes will make the U.S. Army better
structured to fight the future wars that Leon Panetta says are coming, President Obama should learn from what happened
in Iraq when Rumsfelds lofty goal of developing a new, more nimble, smaller footprint military had to be shelved
because gosh, what a surprise wars require overwhelming force to win.[4]
This digressive rant aside, the military at the conclusion of the Korean War, the Signal Corps included, was gutted one more time, in another
round of post-combat capability reductions of a type that had an impact on the upcoming war in Vietnam. Fortunately, unlike when
the U.S. militarys global communication network ACAN
(Army Command and Administration Network) was rent
asunder between the end of WWII and the beginning of
the Korean War, post-Korea the newly named and
established Defense Communications Agency decided
to maintain the global communications network then in
place, and even expand this worldwide, long-haul
system to provide still greater, secure communications.
Thus, for the first time in the nations history the
president, the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, government agencies, and the military services,
not to mention Americas diplomats abroad, had access
to a fully integrated, secure, global communication
network at the time the Vietnam War got underway.
As to how this network got built, under orders from the
DCA the Signal Corps set about integrating what was
left of the former ACAN system with the new network
elements put up during the Korean War, and any other
odd long haul network pieces that could be found laying
around, bringing them all together into an expanded
global network. As a new network it was titled the
Strategic Army Communications Network (STARCOM). Yet while this effort proceeded smoothly and the network came on
line as required, a new wrinkle in how the Signal Corps did its job was sneaking slowly into the process a wrinkle that
would have a profound effect in a few years when the Vietnam War got underway and an even more profound effect by
the time this precedent percolated its way down to the War in Iraq.
What was that wrinkle? The answer was that it was the partial contracting of the task of building STARCOM to Americas
industrial sector: the defense industry. While at the time and on the surface this new approach of contracting military work
to civilian companies seemed risk averse and a smart way of getting around the effects of the downsizing of the military at
the end of the Korean War, behind the scenes and underneath it all a dangerous precedent was being set that would live
with the Signal Corps forever. Worse, this new precedent and approach would inexorably expand and extend itself across
all of the branches of the military, down to today.

Thus today, not only are many of the Signal


Corps communication systems designed by
civilian contractors, they are built and run by
them too. Similarly, and perhaps with far
greater consequence when it comes to
protecting civilians, NGOs, and U.S.
government agency members in war zones, the
Infantry itself has been co-opted into this
program, finding many of its traditional roles in
combat zones supplanted by firms like
Blackwater, Greystone, and the other shadow
armies that operate within what is now known
as the Privatized Military Industry. It boggles the
mind: Americas Army fighting side by side with
shadow armies hired by the government so that
the size of the military can be kept small.
Beginning with the governments decision to
downsize the U.S. military after the Korean
War, a cruel joke was played on both the
military and Americas citizens. Under the rubric
of saving money, downsizing, and realigning
the Army to fight smaller more mobile wars (a
claim, as we stated above, that is still raised
today whenever Congress or the president sets
about cutting the militarys budget), in the late
1950s to early 1960s the government set about transferring much of the Signal Corps role to civilian industry players.
Thank you Dwight David Eisenhower. Your fear of the militaryindustrial complex was heard well. Unfortunately, the
solution to the problem you and the presidents who followed you put in place only served to turn it from being a problem
of budget matters being driven by the militaryindustrial complex into one of budget matters being driven by the
industrialmilitary complex. The same bedfellows, they just swapped places in bed.[5]
For the Signal Corps, this new partnership with industry proved a double edged sword. On the one hand, because of the
long standing relationships that existed between the Armys research facilities at Ft. Monmouth and civilian industry, the
Signal Corps had a cordial, synergistic working relationship with the civilian guys, one of the benefits of which was nearly
immediate access for development purposes to the very latest in cutting edge technology and products. On the other, the
inroads civilian industry made into the actual running of Signal Corps facilities put an enormous strain on the type, quality
and amount of manpower available to the Signal Corps itself. After all, if civilians could do the work, what was the purpose
of recruiting soldiers and Officers into the Signal Corps? What was the purpose of having training schools to turn out
troops qualified to hold the numerous MOSs (reduced to just 17 as of today) that had been defined? Of what need were
Officers if the complement of enlisted men was being downsized? Strangely, no one seemed to stop and think of how this
would all play out if more armed hostilities broke out. Would the civilians who were running Signal Corps facilities be
expected to ship out and take up residence in a war zone if war broke out, to build, run and maintain the Signal Corps
facilities needed there? Nah, surely not.
Meanwhile, while the Signal Corps was evolving once again this
time learning to embrace a new working relationship with civilian
contractors who were snaking their way ever deeper into the Signal
Corps operations and management structure... on the other side of the
world life in South East Asia was beginning to go belly up. As we all
know today, the French suffered a humiliating defeat at in Bin Ph,
after which they promptly withdrew from Indochina and left the U.S. to
deal with the mess they created.
The U.S., seemingly ever solicitous of the French, decided to keep the
"advisory group" (already in Vietnam) in place when the French left,
allegedly to help guide the South Vietnamese Army now that the
French were no longer available to do the job. In this act the Signal
Corps clearly enmeshed itself in the evolving drama; not just taking a
role in a side show foreign engagement, but inadvertently helping to
move the show over the next few years from the wings of the theater
to center stage. The reason the Signal Corps found itself going along
for the ride, with one hand on the steering wheel, was simple: the
Vietnamese Army contained a Signal Corps, and therein existed a
ready-made excuse for the U.S. government to maintain listening
posts in Vietnam as well as send more advisors along.[6]
In the end then, at the onset of the Vietnam War the Signal corps
found itself ostensibly teaching operational and logistical signal
matters to the Vietnamese Signal Corps, while in reality it was using its
presence in-country to listen in on regional communications. As
modern day historians, what matters to us is not what the Signal Corps
was doing, but recognition of the fact that the U.S. Signal Corps was
one of the first elements, if not the very first of the U.S. military, to take
up an active role in the Vietnam War. In particular, in a series of steps
between 1954 and 1965 the Signal Corps brought in more and more
advisers, to the extent that they were assigned even down to the
divisional level and to each of the Vietnamese Army's military regions.
By 1963 (at the time of Kennedys assassination) the U.S. had more than 16,000 U.S. military advisors in South Vietnam,
the bulk of which were either assigned to or an intrinsic part of the Signal Corps. Yet among all of them there were no staff
level Signal Officers. Instead, country oversight was handled by the Signal staff at the Pacific Command in Hawaii.
Interestingly, despite this management from afar approach, things got done. One of those things included a very serious
effort on the part of in-country Signal Corps staff to send their South Vietnamese counterparts to signals training at Forts
Monmouth. Taking a leaf out of the Signal Corps training book, a similar effort was undertaken in 1961 when the U.S.
sent 400 Special Operations Forces (Green Beret) to South Vietnam to begin training local ARVN troops in how to
conduct what was, for the first time, called a counterinsurgency war against the Communist guerrillas in South Vietnam.
Historians should mark this point as the time from which the term counterinsurgency entered the American lexicon. Today
one could almost say that Afghanistan, or perhaps Pakistan, is a synonym for counterinsurgency.

Looking back now on how the Vietnam War got started, and the
role the Signal Corps played, it seems strange to admit that the
war itself had no beginning. Is that possible? Can America really
get itself into a war that cost it 58,272 KIA, 303,644 WIA, 1,687
MIA, and 866 POWs, but for which Congress and repeated
presidents didnt have the time or consideration for its military to
sit down and declare war on the enemy? No formal beginning. No
formal end. Is that really possible? One almost begs to ask: what
has our country come to when our elected leaders spend so much
effort dissembling the truth about the foreign policy they are
setting... so that it is palatable to the country at large... that they
dont have the time to declare as a war an undertaking that
America's youth die in by the bucketful?
Back in those early days, for those on the ground in Vietnam, with or without a formal beginning, things moved inexorably
towards a hot war. Incrementally, in a series of steps between 1950 and 1965, America found itself engaging in combat
with the North Vietnamese.
---

One would have thought that this slow march to war would have given the U.S. military plenty of time to prepare. But that
wasnt the case, although not through the militarys fault alone. To prepare for war requires three key things: knowledge
that it will happen, plans as to how the war should be prosecuted, and the money to secure the resources to prosecute
the war as planned. Without a formal declaration of war from Congress, the funds needed to expand the military to
undertake and win this oncoming war simply did not exist. For the Signal Corps, this meant that as the French left the
country and took along the American supplied signal equipment
that had been given to them, there were no longer any systems in
place with which to tie the country together nor any money to
acquire what was needed. So again, as in the run up to the
Korean war, the Signal Corps found itself cannibalizing signal
facilities around the world in an effort to build a communication
network that could support armed conflict. And since Japan had
already been stripped to support Korea, that left only Europe as a
warehouse from which to pilfer signal equipment to build what
was needed in South Vietnam.
For the South Vietnamese government in power, the precarious
situation it was in only became more obviouseven if it could rein
in the crony capitalism, elitism, and corruption that was endemic
in the country, without a telecom and radio infrastructure with
which to reach the populace, it was going to prove near
impossible to rally the South Vietnamese people to a cause of war
with the north. The fact was, the commercial communication
networks built by the French lay in disrepair and ruin after years of
inattentiveness, and the South Vietnamese military, having no
communication network of its own to underwrite its own war effort,
was certainly in no position to help the civilian government tie the
country together. No civilian communication infrastructure, no
military communication network to back it up, no military
communication network to use for its own, and no training in the
form of combined arms tactics required to make effective use of a
battlefield network in real time combat, all meant that South
Vietnam found itself in a real mess as armed conflict escalated in
the early 60s.
The reader can understand then that with this scenario presenting
itself it was only natural that the wrinkle discussed earlier would
raise its ugly head againthis time as the only viable solution to the problem at hand.
And thus it happened; to make available and stand up an operational communication system to serve the civilian, military,
and government needs of South Vietnam, the Signal Corps turned to and hired contractors to construct a regional in-
country network. In simple English, the military downsizing that Congress and the president mandated on the U.S. Army
at the end of the Korean War forced the Signal Corps to enter this new war with civilian contractors doing the better part
of its job for them. And in short order this first step was followed with a similar outsourcing of the Signal Corps mission to
contractors that designed, built, and in many cases operated parallel networks in Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand.
The first of these efforts occurred in May 1960, when Page Communications undertook to build what was called the
Pacific Scatter System,[7] a telecom and data network designed to serve the Army by linking the Philippines with Hawaii.
Following a course of 7,800 miles, it leapt along a chain of islands and countries stretching from the Philippines to Guam,
Midway, and on to Hawaii. Linking South Vietnam to the Philippines was accomplished via a portion of the militarys
Strategic Army Communications (STARCOM) network, which was terminated at Phu Lam (Phu Lam translates as Rich
Forest), outside of Tan Son Nhut. To complete the track, Hawaii was linked to the U.S. at Davis, California, via circuits that
were originally part of the old ACAN network yet another ironic example of how a once important piece of the U.S.s
global communication network was taken out of service because Washington dictated that the military be cut back at the
end of one war, only to find a few years later that the systems taken down had to be hastily rebuilt to serve again when
the next war popped up.[8]
---

With the Pacific Scatter System in place, in 1962 Page Communications was awarded another contract (by the Secretary
of the Air Force), this time to install a network called BACKPORCH. BACKPORCH was eventually to be a 72 channel,
AN/MRC-85 Tropospheric Scatter system, with terminal sites at Da Nang, Nha Trang, Phu Lam, Pleiku, Qui Nhon, and
Ubon, Thailand. In its early days however it started out with AN/TRC-90 tropo euipment. Why did the Air Force contract
for the system instead of the Signal Corps? Again, the primary reason was that the Signal Corps' budget had been cut
back so much that it didn't have the funds to build the networks needed to handle combat operations on the ground. Instead,
equipment had to be scavenged from other places and other services.

Cost wise, for the Air Force, it was a good decision, as the BACKPORCH contract was for only $12 million and that
included Page operating and maintaining the system for a year. For those Signal Officers who served in Vietnam but may
not remember BACKPORCH, while you may not remember it well, you surely saw it, as BACKPORCH was the beast that
caused all of those huge 60 foot billboard antennas to be placed all over the cities listed above, the mountain tops
around them, and the rest of the country too. Perhaps the most important part of Vietnams overall battlefield, combat,
area, and base camp communication net, BACKPORCH made it possible for standard Army short range multichannel
radios to be connected literally from any active field combat area into the entire country wide network, covering all of the I,
II, III and IV Corps Tactical Areas.
Unfortunately, while all of this was going on the Philippines-to-Vietnam portion of the STARCOM network set up by Page
was proving to be a problem. STARCOM's radio circuits suffered from constantly fading signals, proving unreliable in the
steamy, stifling environment of South Vietnams tropics. Needing something more dependable, the Signal Corps
requested approval to supplement STARCOM with an underwater military cable. In 1962 the Joint Chiefs finally approved
this request, with the construction of the new WETWASH cable system again contracted to Page Communications,
since the DOD had long since stripped the Signal Corps of its cable laying ships... being started shortly thereafter.

WETWASH linked South Vietnam to Clark Airbase, at Luzon, in the Philippines. However, as it would take time to
complete WETWASH, an alternative 60 channel tropo scatter bridging link was requested by the Signal Corps, to try and
connect South Vietnam to the rest of the world via still another route. This bridging link was designed and built by Philco,
and linked Vietnam at Phu Lam to Bang Ping (near Bangkok), Thailand. At the Thailand end it was integrated with
additional radio links to take it from Bang Ping to both Pakistan and Okinawa, and then on to the rest of the world.

Sadly, the Philco tropospheric scatter bridge proved to be as unreliable as Pages STARCOM link, to the point that the
Signal Corps finally decided to take things into its own hands by replacing Philcos work with a new link designed and
installed by the 1st Signal Brigade, instead of yet another outside contractor. This link reconfigured the Philco approach
by relocating the Bangkok terminal to Green Hill in Thailand, and the Saigon terminal to Vung Tau Hill. Not too strangely, it
worked, perhaps because it was designed by junior level Signal Corps Officers with far less training and far less
compensation than the well paid engineers at Page. Either way, when the Signal Corps took matters into its own hands,
the work got done, and what was done worked. From these new locations the circuits were then brought into both
Bangkok and Saigon via microwave links.[9]

In the end, while it took time for the lesson to be learned, the U.S. military got the message that while outsourcing to
civilian contractors might be expeditious, if you wanted to get the job done to the point that the communication links
actually worked under rigorous combat and environmental conditions, what the Signal Corps had to do was do it itself.
Unfortunately, and here again we are beating a dead horse, while the Signal Corps seemed to have learned this lesson,
Congress and the president seemed not to, as shortly after the Vietnam War was over, budgets cuts again tore into the
Signal Corps ability to maintain and man the global network it had so rigorously built.

By 1965 all of the kinks had been worked out of the Vietnam-war-zone-to-the-rest-of-the-world communication system,
with the troops in the field finally being able to depend on multichannel radio relay equipment to complete what were in
fact intricate interconnections, tying together all manner of VHF, UHF, microwave, tropospheric, ionospheric, satellite, and
undersea cables. Unlike in previous wars, the network put in place allowed combat commanders on the ground to have
instant access from the field through standard field radios to anyone they might wish to talk to, from FACs in the field, to
Arty at fire support bases, to Westmorelands HQ, any pilot sitting on any aircraft carrier in the entire Navy, all the way up
to the president himself. With an effective combat communication network now in place, unit mobility greatly improved,
allowing commanders to finally let loose with their Hueys, using them to full advantage in taking the fight to the Viet Cong
and NVA. Perhaps best of all, having moved far beyond the days of field commanders having to depend on strung wire to
communicate with, commanders could now move and shoot at any time they wanted, without losing communications for a
minute, even while they were en route to their new positions.

Interestingly, a key part of the mobile capabilities the Signal Corps delivered came about not because of the fancy long
haul links running over the tropo and other networks set up by the outside contractors, but by a simple airborne FM relay
system set up by Signal people in units such as the 13th Signal Battalion. For example, in trying to meet the needs of the
1st Cavalry Division, their client, the Signal guys in the 13th Signal Battalion came up with the idea of mounting radios in
fixed-wing aircraft and then circling those aircraft at 10,000 feet over the 1st Cavs daily battle area. By doing this the 13th
was able to set up a method for retransmitting messages
between widely dispersed combat units on the ground.
Through this simple expediency the LOS limits and electro-
magnetic absorption effects of the triple canopy jungles on
PRC-25s could be overcome, effectively extending the PRC-
25s range from around 5 miles to over 60. When the word got
out as to what the 13th Signal Battalion had done, Signal
units throughout Vietnam found themselves beseeched with
similar requests by battalion and brigade commanders to help
them set up their own helicopter borne command centers,
equipped with radio consoles and no-nonsense solutions that
would make a ham operator cry with envy.

Overall then, as 1965 unfolded commanders found that the


number of problems affecting the Signal Corps ability to stand
up a solid communication network had been dramatically
reduced, if not completely overcome. Sure, there were still
problems with not enough circuits, but this was more a matter
of a lack of available resources stemming from the
downsizing the Signal Corps took after the Korean War than it
was due to technical problems. Overall, traffic was flowing
smoothly, albeit a backlog was beginning to develop.

To make sure
the backlog did
not get out of
hand, plans
were made to
design and
build a base
theater
network. The
network would
involve a wide
array of routing
and
transmission
methods that
would reinforce
the simple
approaches
used in cases
like the
retransmitting
aircraft
mentioned
above, with a
more modern
and well
integrated
battlefield
communication
network. Known as the Integrated Wideband Communications System (IWCS), the design was to blend automatic
telephone, teletype, and data systems with coastal undersea cables, and integrate all of these with the BACKPORCH and
WETWASH systems. The IWCS, designed to serve the Vietnam battle space as its first priority, would then be integrated
into the global Defense Communication System.

With IWCS in place, things for the Signal Corps became much less dramatic as the war moved forward. By the time of
Tet, everyone knew their place, signal links were humming, and work progressed almost without concern as Signal Corps
troops went about their daily jobs. Even Tet turned out to be merely a speed bump to the Signal Corps daily activities, for
while 10 of the IWCS signal sites were hit during Tet the damage they suffered barely affected the up time of the
network.

Yes, problems with personnel did exist such as a shortage of trained operators to run tropospheric scatter terminals.
However, in most cases solutions could be found. Of interest again is that even in these cases where problems did exist
one more time everyonethey existed because of the downsizing of the Signal Corps at the end of the Korean War.

For example, while it was understandable that signal schools could not produce qualified graduates fast enough, what
wasnt understandable was why the Signal Corps could not reassign already qualified personnel sprinkled around the
world, from where they were to where they were needed in Vietnam. The reason was that during the post-Korean War
cuts, the section of the Signal Corps that tracked personnel assignments in relation to their MOS qualifications had been
cut. Thus, since the records of previously trained personnel no longer existed in a format where they could be cross linked
to current assignments, it was impossible to either recall those people who had left the military to active duty, or find and
reassign them if they were still on active duty.

Adding to this difficulty, regulations at the time prohibited the involuntary reassignment of military personnel overseas for
two years. And while this was eventually reduced to 9 months for specific skills, the only viable solution to the problem
was to make it worthwhile for an enlisted man to re-up when his tour of duty was over. Thus, many a Signal Corps EM
found himself with a little extra cash in his pocket as the DOD offered ever increasing pay and reenlistment bonuses to
both recruit and retain the skilled, combat hardened soldiers the Signal Corps needed.

---

In early 1966 General Westmoreland created what was called the I and II Field Forces. These corps-sized headquarters
were assigned the task of overseeing operations in the II and III Corps Tactical Zones [Editors Note: why the numbers
dont match, we dont know but they dont]. At the time, II and III Corps Tactical Zones were seeing the heaviest fighting
and were in the greatest need of additional oversight.

Each of these Field Forces was assigned a Signal Officer, along with a Signal Battalion. To make certain that these two
Signal Battalions shared information among themselves and with the rest of the Signal Corps combat area commanders,
as well as coordinate and improve their own command and control of signal operations based on shared knowledge of
what was happening in other tactical zones, in the spring of 1966 the Signal Corps created the 1st Signal Brigade.

Once created, the 1st Signal Brigade grew like Topsy.

This new command was the first TOE brigade in the Signal Corps history, holding
within its arms all of the signal units in Vietnam except those that were intrinsic
and organic to tactical units. As a unit, the 1st Signal Brigade consolidated all
Signal units above the Field Force level into one command, essentially merging
both tactical and strategic communication functions throughout the entire Vietnam
combat area.

To make sure that each of the Tactical Zones were properly managed, the 2nd
Signal Group was made subordinate to the 1st Signal Brigade and given
command over Signal operations in the III and IV Corps Tactical Zones. Offsetting
this, the 21st Signal Group was given authority over Signal operations in the I and
II Corps Tactical Zones. Finally, in early 1967 the 160th Signal Group was added
as a commanding element with responsibilities for Signal operations in the Saigon
and Long Binh areas, with the 29th Signal Group in Thailand also being added to
the 1st Signal Brigade, with responsibility for the flow of communication between
the two countries.

By the end of 1967 the United States had committed nearly 500,000 troops to the
Vietnam War. The Army provided about two-thirds of the total, including seven
divisions and two separate brigades. The 1st Signal Brigade itself was comprised
of twenty-one battalions, organized into five groups. Its strength peaked at 23,000
men in 1968, the majority of which served in one or another of the roughly 200 key signal sites spread throughout South
Vietnam. Yet while they were posted to Signal Sites, that didnt mean they werent in the thick of the fighting. Signal Sites,
while strategically located for the purpose of providing communication, were little more than forward bases stuck in the
middle of enemy territory. By the summer of 1968 enemy attacks on signal positions numbered an average of eighty per
month.

In addition to American forces, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Thailand all contributed units, as of course did
South Vietnam, bringing the total manpower engaged to well over a million. Unlike the situation during the earlier Korean
War, however, the U.S. commander had no command authority over any of these friendly troops. In researching this
article we attempted to see if a study had ever been done on whether the American commanders lack of command
authority over the entire complement of troops available in Vietnam had any impact on the outcome of the war. We were
unable to find any such study but one wonders what the result would be today if such had been the case.

Most readers know how the Vietnam War ended, so we wont pursue here either how it was conducted nor the interplay of
politics in its ending. If justice is to be done to these topics, space far larger than that available on this website would be
needed. Instead, we will keep our focus on the Signal Corps.

Looking at just the Signal Corp side of things, as the war wound down the size of the 1st Signal Brigade decreased in lock
step with the political mandates dictating the rate and type of withdrawal. By 1972 the 1st Signal Brigades strength stood
at less than 2,500 men. On 7 November 1972 the brigade headquarters left Vietnam and transferred its colors to Korea.
The 39th Signal Battalion, the first Signal unit to arrive in Vietnam, became the last to leave. Fittingly, as its final wartime
mission the battalion supported the international peacekeeping force that monitored the troop withdrawal and prisoner
exchange. The unit departed Vietnam on 15 March 1973, almost eleven years to the day after its first elements had
arrived.[10]

By the summer of 1973 the United States had completed the withdrawal of its combat troops.
Lessons Learned
In terms of lessons learned and changes suffered, clearly the Signal Corps that fought the Vietnam War was unlike the
Signal Corps that fought the Korean War, or certainly the war before that. The only thing all of these had in common was
that they all shared the same name. Except for the most minimalist stating of its mission, everything about it, including its
mission, had changed. As an example, the Chief Signal Officer had disappeared from the organizational chart and been
replaced by a Chief of Communications-Electronics. While a nice modern title befitting of a civilian executive, the position
held absolutely no operational responsibilities.

Later, as war activities increased,


this move to strip the Signal
Corps of operational command
over its own people and assets
proved to be a disaster. In simple
English, the abolition of the Chief
Signal Officer's position (in 1964)
left the Signal Corps chain of
command in near total disarray.
The lack of coordination that
ensued forced General
Westmore-land (in July 1965) to
disband the U.S. Army Support
Command, Vietnam, (former-ly
the U.S. Army Support Group,
Vietnam), and create the U.S.
Army, Vietnam (USARV).

USARVs purpose was to try and


undo the damage that had been
done by McNamara and his boys
working with Congress to gut the
military, in order to save money. It
wasnt the money part that
worried Westmoreland, it was the
lack of command control over the
people deciding the tactics and
fighting the war.

Westmoreland, by creating
USARV, was able to once again
take under the militarys wing
operational control over all military
people in Vietnam (except for the
advisers), and their assets. The
reader should note however that
while Westys little trick helped
things in Vietnam, it did nothing to
change how the military worked
across the rest of the world. Even
so, from the Signal Corps
viewpoint, thanks to
Westmoreland, the Signal Officer
on the USARV staff was once
again able to take responsibility
for and command over the Army's
tactical signal operations and
personnel, with long-haul
communications coming under
the purview of the Strategic
Communications Command.

In addition to fighting to gain


control over its own tactics and
people, the Signal Corps had to
relearn in Vietnam what it was like
to fight a war that did not conform
with what Army planners had
thought the next war would be like
when the Korean War ended.
Strangely, even though the use of
nuclear weapons was approached
and retreated from time and again
in Korea, with nuclear weapons
never being used, at the end of
the war Army planners were
convinced that in the post-Korean
War period the next conflict would
be a nuclear one. This of course
meant one would be fighting
across a nuclear battlefield. And
this of course meant that the
Army needed to be reorganized
yet again, to accommodate what
was thought would be highly fluid,
front-line centric, combat
conditions in the midst of nuclear
fallout.

Accordingly, concepts for combat


operations, like the "Pentomic
Division", ROCID, and ROAD
were developed and put in place.
These forms of tactics were
designed to support a fluid,
aggressive, conforming type of
combat. To support this, the Army
equipped itself with tech-nology
that matched the tactics. Thus, as
the Vietnam War got underway
the Army found itself with
equipment like the Davy Crockett
rocket, an ingenious bit of
portable armament sporting an
atomic warheadclearly
something useful on the plains
outside of Moscow, but totally
useless in the jungles outside of
Dalat. Instead, it became clear
that since the troops in Vietnam
faced guerrilla warfare in jungles
and rice paddies, what was
needed were weapons suitable to
this environment, as well as
tactics that matched both the
environment and the enemy. In
particular, since the enemy
proved slippery, what was needed
was a full reorganization to allow
the Army to mount expeditions
from fixed bases to both engage
and fix the enemy.

For the Signal Corps this meant


quickly developing a doctrine that
supported rapid responses by the
combat arms, via the use of
communication equipment that, in the field, was small, lightweight, portable, and reliable, but back on base was supported
by fixed-base communication via multiple forms of transmission, usually depending on large antennas and heavy
equipment. Flexibility in deployment and mission support became the first of many lessons that the Signal Corps took
from Vietnam.

Adding to this, since a typical divisional signal battalion in Vietnam ended up covering areas of 3,000 to 5,000 square
miles, compared to the 200 to 300 miles that was expected in a ROAD type of conventional-cum-nuclear war, Signal units
found themselves jostling to come up with the equipment needed. In this case, the problem was not lack of funds or poor
planning, it was that the TOE allocation a Signal unit had was based on a design intended to provide for a much smaller
footprint containing far fewer combat troops in need of support. When one looks back today on Rumsfeld's plan to slim
down the Army and make it much more mobile and responsive to asymmetric warfare, or that of the Obama
Administration today, this problem is the first one that comes to mind. Slimming down the complement of personnel is one
thing, but are you then going to slim down the amount and type of equipment available too? If so, what will you do when
you find yourself dealing with a 5,000 square mile combat area that, while it does not need a lot of manpower to keep it
operational from a technical perspective, needs tons of equipment widely dispersed and aggressively defended by lots of
people in order to keep it up and running?

An example of this can be seen in the 518th Signal Company, a unit this
author was assigned to as X.O. towards the end of his tour of duty in
Vietnam. The 518th, a company formed to provide tropo and microwave
communication throughout the entire III and IV Corps Tactical Zones,
was supporting some 14 microwave sites, 4 tropo sites, and a ton of
smaller VHF and UHF sites when I was there. Manpower wise, it grew
far beyond the normal complement of 80225 odd people that a typical
Signal Company might normally house. At the time of my service the
518th had more than 400 troops assigned to it.

Lesson wise then, Vietnam taught the Signal Corps that not only did it have to be flexible when it came to the type,
design, and purpose of the communication equipment it filled its coffers with, but it also had to learn how to command a
troop complement far larger and more greatly dispersed than anything encountered in any previous war. In Vietnam, if a
Company Commander wanted to check on the status of his troops, as in the 518th where my men were spread over an
area the size of Connecticut, it involved a lot more than merely walking out of my Nha Trang office and sauntering through
the barracks or mess hall before heading to the Duy Tan bar for the night. Instead, it involved up to two months of travel to
visit all of the signal sites. Often times this forced me to allocate less than a day at each, sitting and talking with no more
than a handful of men for an hour or so until the chopper pilot impatiently
signaled me that he had to move on to his next stop. Surely these men,
sitting at a remote signal site experiencing combat every 3 to 5 days,
deserved far more than a visit from their commander every 6 - 8
months, one that gave them just an hour or two of face time at that.

That's what happens when Congress takes a dull axe to the Army's
budget, and Pentagon planners then make TOE decisions based not on
the wars that we fight, but the ones the civilian appointee heading the
DOD thinks may happen next. Better to over compensate in terms of
types and quantities of military communication and armament systems
than to try and outfit your military with some constantly changing concept
of what the next war will be like and who it will be against. Strategic
planning is an unscientific science. It doesn't always work. Rumsfeld
himself, who was not a bad Secretary of Defense in his own right, said
that the problem with making decisions based on strategic planning is
that the process of strategic planning is far from an exact science. He
said that the very first rule for strategic planning is to precisely define
one's goals. In his latest book Known and Unknown, A Memoir, he said
"Setting clear goals may sound obvious, but it is remarkable how rarely
governments..." do it. Instead they spend their time thinking of "options
or courses of action."

He goes on say that if you want any chance of success in using strategic
planning as a base from which to make policy decisions, you need to
prioritize your goals. He makes
the point that without knowing
"which goals are the most
important, one ends up with little
more than a wish list...". Looking
at the government's latest plans
to cut the military's budget while
at the same time reorienting the
military to fight Naval battles
with China and Iran, one has to
wonder if this is not the very kind
of wish list thinking that
Rumsfeld says comes out of
poor strategic planning. After all,
what is the most important goal
here? Is it to cut spending in the
military, or win the next war we
get into. One could be forgiven
for thinking that these are two
mutually exclusive options.

In the end, the Vietnam War


proved to be a study in
contrasts, teaching the U.S.
government one thing, the
military another, and the Signal Corps still another. As for the enemy, the lessons they learned have been recorded and
taught to every tin pot dictator and despot ruler on earth giving each a way to poke its finger in our eye at any time they
want, without fear of a military defeat. From Iran to Venezuela, North Korea, Pakistan, Syria, and even Turkey, Lebanon,
Jordan and others, many nations have decided that while Americas military might be strong, a) its superior firepower can
be matched in the field with rudimentary arms backed by fanatical fighters, b) Americas national debt and deficit will not
allow it to fight long enough to win a prolonged war, c) our politicians will cut and run at the first sign that our populace has
lost interest in the war, and d) you can count on our populace to lose interest and cry for an end to any war in, oh, about 2
3 years.

As for our own government, especially as regards how it treats its military, the U.S. government seems not to have
learned any of the important lessons stemming from either WWII, Korea, or Vietnam. In this authors view, they continue
to make the same mistakes in trying to micromanage the military as they have in each of these wars, especially once a
war ends, cost cutting battles begin, and Congressmen try to hive off ever larger pieces of the militarys budget to support
bridge construction in their home district.
Politically, in relation to how our government addresses
those foreign countries that wish us ill, they seem again not
to have learned much. Compare if you will the current
presidents comments in 2008 on Iran with those of
Kissinger on Vietnam in 1972. In 2008 President Obama
stated in a speech in Portland, Oregon, that Iran doesnt
pose a serious threat to us because, by his reckoning,
tiny countries with small defense budgets cant do us
harm. Kissinger matched this idiocy when in 1972 he stated
on his return from his famous Paris peace talks peace is at
hand. I suppose that if you consider having the U.S. Navy
taunted by speedboats in the Strait of Hormuz from a soon
to be nuclear power not a serious threat, or the death of
58,272 American soldiers in a war that our government
turned its back on for a last minute peace so that politics
could go on as usual before the next presidential race, then
both of these people must be right.

For the Signal Corps, there were lessons to be learned from


Vietnam. And for the most part, at least from this distance
of retirement, it appears that the Signal Corps has done its
best to learn and apply these lessons, in spite of the
rearguard action it has had to fight all these years, just to hold its own.

While we have talked of politics and process as areas of lesson learning, another important lesson learned from Vietnam has to
do with the impact of technology on a modern Army's ability to fight against a regressive society. Take the issue of the level, type and quality
of communication available to both sides.

In Korea America experienced for the first time the impact of fighting against an enemy on horseback and mules,
communicating via flags and whistles. Yet strangely, horses and mules aside, the difference in communication capabilities
had little impact on how the war was fought or its outcome. In Vietnam the same disparity in communication capabilities
existed, but the impact was far greater. Why?

Part of the answer lies in the fact that in Korea it was a man to man fight, while in Vietnam the fight was via a proxy: the
local villagers. If you are fighting man to man all you have to do is beat the other guy and the battle is over. If however the
fight is really about the hearts and minds of the local villagers, and the other guy is rallying the local villagers every night
after your pull in your pickets and lock your front gates, you had better find a way to "communicate" that returns data not
about what the enemy is saying, but what the villagers are thinking. The lesson learned then is that while the
communication available on each side of a battle line might show a massive disparity, this doesn't mean that the enemy is
at a disadvantage. All the enemy has to do to make up for any weaknesses it suffers in lack of technology or
communication capacity is to simply change the form of battle it engages in. Battling via proxy fighters is the quickest and
easiest way to do this, as is fighting a guerilla war. And if one thinks this lesson hasnt been learned by North Korea
today or even Iran, then one is sorely mistaken.

In primitive societies such as those of Vietnam,


North Korea, or Iran, enjoying effective means of
secure combat area communication is virtually
unknown. On our side, while we may enjoy the most
sophisticated signaling systems ever seen on the
battlefield, their utility is of little value if they do not
support a better means to gather information about
the enemy, his position, intentions, status, and
pattern of methodological behavior, and transfer that
information in the form intelligence to the troops on
the ground. Advanced systems such as satellites,
tropospheric scatter, FM radios, and fiber optics are
of little value if this goal is not achieved in its
entirety.

One of the lessons of Vietnam for the Signal Corps


then should be that it needs to both broaden the
number and type of forms of communication
technology available to it, as well as expand its role
in the war game itself, to vet the data gathered and
deliver it in the form of actionable intelligence to the war fighters, in sub-real time responses. One can see the need for
this latter point because, strangely, the need to be able to do these things in ever shortening degrees of real time activities
is in direct proportion to the enemys increasingly sparing use of any form of communication. That is, the more the enemy
goes quiet, the more imperative it is that Signal Corps systems and processes are able to work at a faster speed. Harking
back to the Air Forces lessons from the Korean War, one could say that the overwhelming technological superiority the
Signal Corps holds becomes of little value if it cannot close its OODA loop faster than the enemy retreats from the use of
technology. In other words, decision making in the 21st century will take place under conditions of ambiguity and hyper-
speed in information: in a word, complexity. The Signal Corps must adapt its capabilities to support this new form of
communication.

In closing, while as the reader can see from some of the comments in this article, a modicum of ill feeling and bitterness
still remains in those who fought in Vietnam at least with regard to how the Vietnam War was brought to a close.
Nevertheless, there is little argument that the U.S. Army Signal Corps performed its mission admirably. It got the message
through.

As stated about the Vietnam War in Getting the Message Through, A Branch History of the U.S. Army, in performing
their mission, Signal Corps communicators sustained relatively heavy casualties, especially among radiotelephone
operators accompanying combat operations. Their vital mission coupled with their high visibility, [and] the telltale
antennas protruding from the radio sets, made them prime targets. And while no amount of rationalization can negate the
price these boys paid, it must be said that in support of their efforts their brother signalmen did their damndest to put in
place and deliver efficient and rapid communications, if only to help reduce the battle fatalities of our fellow signalmen by
speeding up the medical evacuation process.

Among the list of Signal Corps Officers we should pause to think of for their gallantry in Vietnam is Capt. Joseph Maxwell
("Max") Cleland, who received the Silver Star. Among those Signal Officers assigned to closely held signal companies
embedded within the Infantry and other units, several soldiers serving as communicators earned recognition. One of
them, Capt. Euripides Rubio, Jr., communications officer for the 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry, posthumously won the award
for his gallantry during Operation ATTLEBORO in Tay Ninh Province in November 1966. During an attack on 8 November,
Rubio left the relative safety of his position to help distribute ammunition and aid the wounded. When the commander of a
rifle company had to be evacuated, Rubio, already wounded himself, took over. Continuing to risk his life to protect his
troops, he was eventually felled by hostile gunfire after tossing a misdirected smoke grenade into enemy lines.

---

With Vietnam behind it, the Signal Corps moved on. In the troubling times that followed Vietnam, the Signal Corps
underwent yet another significant transformation. This time however the change was due, with most of the changes being
made in great measure because of the lessons learned from both Korea and Vietnam. Among the changes that took
place are these:

When Congress discontinued the draft in 1972, ushering in an all-volunteer organization, it was only natural that the
Signal Corps would use the best of this concept to its advantage. As part of reorganizing to embrace the new Army,
women were given an expanded role in the Signal Corps, with more career opportunities being made available to them.
By 1976 over 7,000 enlisted women were distributed among all but a few of the then sixty-one communication MOS
specialties.

The ever present budget tightening forced the post-Vietnam Army to adopt a rationalized force structure based on
sixteen Regular Army divisions, which were said to be strong enough to defend U.S. interests in Europe but lean enough
to reduce the strain on the taxpayers pocketbooks. Fortunately, this idea never had to be tested. Equally fortunately,
under the new Total Army concept, the Army Reserve and National Guard were made available to assume a greater role
in the nation's defense, thus helping to round out under-strength units.

1973 saw the Army place its branch schools under the newly created Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC). The
next year the Signal Corps, fearing it might lose control over the excellent training schools it had spent decades building,
began consolidating its own signal training at Fort Gordon, Georgia. So quickly did this effort move forward that by the
summer of 1974 the Southeastern Signal School was re-designated as the U.S. Army Signal School, while the signal
school at Fort Monmouth became the U.S. Army CommunicationsElectronics School. Shortly thereafter, on 1 October
1974, Fort Gordon became the U.S. Army Signal Center, with the fort being re-designated as the new home of the Signal
Corps.

During the same period the Strategic Communications Command (now located at Fort Huachuca) dropped the word
strategic from its name and became simply the U.S. Army Communications Command (ACC). It was thought that the new
title better described the broad range of mission objectives the command had, from providing communications within
Army posts, camps, and stations to signaling around the world via satellites.

In various forms Army planners undertook a number of revisions to tactical doctrines over the intervening years, hoping
to encapsulate combat lessons from Vietnam with others learned from studying conflicts such as the Arab-Israeli war in
1973. For the most part, the new concepts that were rewritten as doctrines failed, with one in particular crashing and
burning within 5 years of its publication. This one, summed up in the then new Field Manual 100-5, Operations, was
tossed aside in 1982 after being continually and consistently ridiculed for being based on a victory in the first battle is
imperative solution to each and every war to come.

On the negative side, because of the heavy commitment the military made to advanced high-tech items such as the M1
tank, the Patriot air defense missile, the Bradley fighting vehicle, and the Apache attack helicopter doctrine creep began
to set in. With a never ending need to justify the existence (and purchase) of more and more of these systems, combat
doctrine found itself being rewritten to depend on these weapons systems. In simple English, doctrine development
became driven by the systems selected for development years earlier towards the end of the Vietnam War. In this
regard, a lesson that could and should have been learned from Vietnam and Korea was not. Fortunately, the Soviet Union
imploded before Americas equipment driven approach to combat doctrine development could be tested.
On the positive side again, the Signal Corps kept its focus throughout these years, working diligently to bring military
communication firmly into the twenty-first century. In part it did this by working with its sister services to develop fully
interoperable telecommunications systems managed under the auspice of the Joint Tactical Communications Program
(TRI-TAC). During the same period, the Signal Corps promoted to the Army a new tactical communications architecture
known as Mobile Subscriber Equipment, or MSE. Wondrously, to save time and money in implementing MSE, the Signal
Corps took a page from its old Page and Philco days of Vietnam by endorsing the specs of a system that had already
been developed for civilian use by GTE, rather than design a new one. Further, this time the Signal Corps served only to
distribute the equipment and provide service support for it, leaving it up to the user to both cover its costs within its own
budget, as well as operated the system. If one stops and thinks for a minute, one can see in this approach the beginnings
of how the Signal Corps will move forward in the 21st Century. Simply put, if one wants to specify a strategic plan of
evolution for the Signal Corps, this is probably it.

To extend even better communication to the battlefield, especially at battalion level and below, the Signal Corps
introduced new VHF-FM combat net radios. Known as the Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System
(SINCGARS), it replaced the VRC-12 family of radios developed during the late 1950s. Designed as a family of radios,
units were made available in man-packable, vehicular, and airborne versions. Of equal importance, SINCGARS was
designed to be smaller, lighter, and able to provide more channels than its predecessor.

Working to support its sister arms, the Signal Corps developed new data systems as part of an effort to modernize the
capabilities of the Joint Tactical Information Distribution System (JTIDS) of the Air Defense Artillery section. The solutions
implemented provided better missile fire control via an Enhanced Position Location Reporting System (EPLRS) that used
radios to provide real-time position location, identification, and navigational information on the battlefield. Together the
JTIDS and EPLRS were renamed the Army Data Distribution System (ADDS).
In 1981 Army Chief of Staff General Edward C.
Meyer approved the implementation of the United
States Army Regimental System (USARS) to
improve unit cohesion and esprit. An act that clearly
resulted from the lessons of Vietnam where men
rarely stayed in one unit long enough to develop
binding feelings for it, under this new approach
soldiers were assigned to regiments and, as
originally conceived, would remain affiliated with
them throughout their military careers. Within the
Signal Corps and other combat support/combat
service support branches, where a large portion of
the soldiers served in units outside their assigned
branch, the system was implemented on a "whole
branch" basis. In other words, the entire Signal
Corps was considered to be the Signal Corps
regiment, and any soldier with a Signal MOS was
automatically affiliated with the regiment upon
graduation from the branch school. On 1 June 1986
the Signal Corps regiment was established as a
component of the USARS with Fort Gordon as the
regimental home base. Accordingly, on 3 June 1986
the commander/commandant of the Signal Center
and Fort Gordon also became known as the Chief of
Signal. Maj. Gen. Thurman D. Rodgers became the
first to carry the new title.

More changes have followed these few listed above even until today, from the introduction of the Tactical Fire Direction
System (TACFIRE), to fiber optics based electromagnetic pulse (EMP) reduction systems, to the assumption by the
Signal Corps of the responsibility to develop, introduce, and manage a new paperless records management system for
the Army as a whole. These and other efforts were, for the most part, rolled out as part of a doctrine that revolved around
creation of an Information Mission Area (IMA). And while this concept has taken its hits and been repeatedly revised, it
nevertheless has proven the case that as a result of the needs developed during the Vietnam War, the Signal Corps has
adapted itself to be able to constantly move to meet and overcome the new challenges ever evolving modern warfare
presents.

Firmly understanding that it must meet two simultaneous missions: that of a war fighter and that of the provider of any and
all manner of communication and data systems and management, there is little doubt that the Signal Corps will continue
to adapt to changing conditions in the information management environment. With a task of meeting the militarys needs
for knowledge, information, and intelligence about the enemy, his position, intentions, status, and pattern of
methodological behavior, the Signal Corps will continue to be an indispensible part of Americas Army.

The first two articles in this series are available here:

Go to Part I: The Signal Corps During The Cold War

Go to Part II: The Signal Corps During The Korean War

Footnotes:

[1] In business a knowledge worker is someone who is empowered, because of their access to real time, detailed information about an
event, to make policy changing decisions as to how a company should respond to the event. They key element in this definition being
access to real time, detailed information as an enabling force to empower an employee to make a decision that would either form new
company policy regarding the issue in question, or go against company policy completely. In a combat environment, a knowledge
worker would thus be someone who, again because of their knowledge of real time, detailed information of the event in progress, makes
real time leadership and tactical decisions based on that information. The Signal Corps, in making available the delivery of such
information to field combat personnel through its fully integrated communication networks, enables the empowerment of soldiers to act
as knowledge workers, rather than simply forcing them to follow orders that, while they may have been proper for the occasion when
first issued, are no longer relevant because of changes to the circumstances on the ground. The purpose of a knowledge worker's
existence then is to gain real time access to the information needed (both audio, visual, and data) such that they are able to make a
decision as to how an event should be addressed, while that event is in progress and in real time contact with the knowledge worker.
To return to your place in the text, click here:

[2] The "Powell Doctrine" is a journalist-created term that begins with a long list of questions that should be answered before war is begun, and
ends by asserting that when a nation is engaging in war, every resource and tool should be used to achieve decisive force against the enemy,
minimizing US casualties and ending the conflict quickly by forcing the weaker force to capitulate. To return to your place in the text, click here:

[3] Re. the purpose of government: Known as the social contract, governments exist i) to protect the rights of the individual citizen, and ii) to
preserve the property and homeland of those citizens. See for example: John Lockes (1632-1704) Treatise on Government. Ibidem Bertrand
Russell, A History of Western Philosophy, A Touchstone Edition by Simon & Schuster, May 2007, page 629. Reducing a nations ability to wage the
kind and number of wars needed to protect its people flies in the face of the purpose of its existence in the first place. To return to your place in
the text, click here:

[4] In 2003 Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, supported by General Pete Schoomaker, laid out a new program that, while long on
explanation as to how it would streamline the military to be better able to fight asymmetric wars, was by many peoples reckoning little more than a
disguised attempt to save money by cuts in the Army. The program set in motion a plan to convert the Army from a force of 10 active Divisions (of
15-20 thousand troops each) into a force of 40 Brigade Combat Teams (of 3 - 5 thousand troops each). Additional Combat Brigades would be set
up in the National Guard via similar measures. In essence, the intent was to move from a Division centric deployment approach to one based on
Brigades. The approach put in place has had mixed results. For example, some credit it with the ability to support sustained deployment of ground
forces in Afghanistan, while others say that the same could have been just as easily accomplished within the old structure. As to its effectiveness in
asymmetric warfare, that may never be known, as the 2011 changes proposed by President Obama will change the military yet again. This time
moving towards a structure "optimized" for fighting naval engagements against countries like Iran and China. To return to your place in the text,
click here:

[5] The problem that Eisenhower created was compounded in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy and his secretary of defense, Robert S.
McNamara, decided to reorganize and strengthen the armed forces to allow for a more flexible response to international crises. At that time
McNamara initiated far-reaching managerial changes within the Defense Department, shifting power from the military services to the civilian
bureaucracy. In terms of when the trend towards civilian management of military operations and assets began, and who was responsible for it, the
answer is a) 1961, and b) Robert S. McNamara. Effectively, McNamara directed a gutting of the Army Staff, at its highest level. In support of this, on
16 January 1962 President Kennedy submitted a plan to Congress that abolished the technical services, with the exception of the Medical
Department. Congress raised no objections, and the reorganization became effective on 17 February. In the process the positions of Chief
Chemical Officer, Chief of Ordnance, and Quartermaster General were done away with. The positions of Chief Signal Officer (who would now report
to the deputy chief of staff for military operations [DCSOPS]) and Chief of Transportation were allowed to continue to exist, albeit as special staff
officers rather than as Chiefs of Services. The Chief of Engineers lost his military responsibilities, but was kindly allowed to retain his civil functions.
In one fell swoop, by eliminating the technical services as independent agencies, McNamara effectively handed over military technical asset design
and development, implementation, operations and management to the civilian industrial sector. To return to your place in the text, click here:

[6] Almost as soon as the announcement was made by Japan on August 15, 1945, that it was tossing in the towel (VJ Day), the U.S. dispatched a
twelve-man team to Hanoi to arrange for the release of American prisoners. That team included four Signal Corps men, including two Signal
Officers. These four established the first non-clandestine American communications station in Vietnam. The communication equipment was set up
at the Hotel Metropole in Hanoi. From that point until the end of the Vietnam War, in one way or another, the Signal Corps maintained both people
and active communication links from Vietnam back to the U.S. To return to your place in the text, click here:

[7] The Pacific Scatter System used tropospheric scatter and ionospheric scatter signal propagation. At inception the system was limited to two
voice channels, one of which could be multiplexed into sixteen teletype circuits. To return to your place in the text, click here:

[8] So under staffed was the Signal Corps that by 1967 it was contracting with Page to build steel drum revetments around the signal
buildings on the signal sites that dotted the country. Source: United States Army in Vietnam; Military Communications A Test for
Technology, John D. Bergen, page 334. To return to your place in the text, click here:

[9] To be fair, much of the problem with signal fading came about not because of poor design by Page and Philco, but because of a
combination of solar flares and temperature inversion problems. What actually transpired was that when Page and Philco proved unable
to determine why they were losing signal strength, a group of experts from the Defense Communication Agency (DCA), headed by the
Signal Corps, was brought in to analyze the problem. They determined that rarely, but on occasion, solar flares affected the tropo hops,
while more frequently the problem happened because of the formation of local temperature inversions, a phenomenon that occurs when
the upper layers of the atmosphere are uncharacteristically warmer than the lower layers. To return to your place in the text, click here:

[10] During its long tour of duty the 39th had participated in all 17 campaigns and earned 5 Meritorious Unit Commendations. To return
to your place in the text, click here:

References:
Sources used in the writing of this article include:
United States Army in Vietnam; Military Communications A Test for Technology; by John D. Bergen

1951 - 1963: From Rice Paddy to STARCOM Station, Early American Strategic Communications In Vietnam; Josef W. Rokus

Getting the Message Through; A Branch History of the U.S. Army Signal Corps; Rebecca Robbins Raines

Johnathan M. House, Toward Combined Arms Warfare: A Survey of 20th-Century Tactics, Doctrine, and Organization; 1984. United
States Army Combat Studies Institute. US Army Command and General Staff College. Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. p. 155.

Michelle Malkin, Barack Obama: Gaffe machine; May 21, 2008; http://michellemalkin.com/2008/05/21/barack-obama-gaffe-machine/

"TRI-TAC and You!," Army Communicator 1 (Spring 1976)

"Commander's Comments," Army Communicator 14 (Fall 1989), Annual Historical Review, Headquarters, U.S. Army Signal Center and Fort
Gordon, Georgia, in re. how Information Systems Command became the proponent for the Army's data processing units, formerly Adjutant General
Corps assets.

Nancy S. Dumas, "Fielding SINCGARS," Army Communicator 13 (Winter 1988).

The Journal of Military Electronics and Computing; Tech Refresh Strategies Bolster New Battlefield Compute Workloads; August 2011.

This page originally posted 1 February 2012, formatting updated March 2017.

Top of Page

Original Site Design and Construction By John Hart, Class 07-66. Ongoing site design and maintenance by WebSpecks Incorporated, courtesy Class 09-67.
Content and design Copyright 1998 - 2012, by WebSpecks, Incorporated.