As many of you already know, I have a particular interest in Para-Military radio's for one specific reason, they represent a piece of history that is for the most part lost to us. We often find these types of radios and we know that they were used by some military entity because of the set's appearance(usually OD, black, or Haze gray), it's design(much more robust or utilitarian than needed for commercial use), or it's origin(surplus, or bearing some tell-tale markings).
With few exceptions we know nothing of who used it, where, when, or for what. Such was the case with the resent series of articles on Forest Service radios, and several that have preceded it over the years. It is my intent to shed some light on this much neglected area of our expertise so that these radio sets might take their rightful place as symbols of our history, and reminders of those who used them.
The letters OPS/ will precede the model designation of quite a few of the Para-Military sets we find, much like you'll see AN/ at the beginning of your full blown military radio. Lets us see what the OPS was, how their communications equipment came to be, and hopefully who used it, where & when.
The Civilian Effort,
The "Office of Public Safety" aka OPS, is commonly known today to have been a 'front' organization for the CIA much like Air America was. Though the OPS was officially initiated in 1960 by the U.S.Operations Mission(State Department), with an area of influence supposedly limited to South East Asia(Vietnam), we now know with some certainty that it existed long before this time, and it's arms stretched well beyond the boarders of South Vietnam[SVN].
In 1956 Michigan State University[MSU] was contracted by the U.S. Operations Mission to train and outfit various rural security forces(Self Defence Corps, Civil Militia, Militia men, Para-Military Police, etc). These defence forces were responsible in large part for the protection of remotely located Villages & Hamlets. It was felt that these units should remain civil in nature rather than transferring their control to the military so as to limit the possible alienation of the populace.
The CIA connection even at this early date(1957) is implied with a report submitted by the South Vietnam CIA Station Chief to the U.S.Ambassador SVN wherein he complains of communications difficulties reported by the Police Division MSU. By 1960 the efforts of MSU were deemed woefully lacking, due in large part to the inadequacy of the communications it provided, and the methods used to train personnel. In respect to the later, it was complained by SVN President Diem, "they were being armed with pistols & trained like State Hiway Patrolman". In all fairness, President Diem until 1960 had insisted that defence planning be directed towards countering a communist invasion from the north rather than internal security. With this mind set he wanted these militia units to be included as a branch of the Army of South Vietnam[ARVN].
In 1960, the U.S. Operations
Mission replaced the MSU Advisory effort with the Office of Public Safety[OPS],
also called the Public Safety Division. Recognizing the primary reason
for the failure of MSU, the OPS opened an internal department called the
Telecommunications Directorate. Noting too the previous troubles
encountered when assigning technical task to bureaucrats, the U.S. Agency
for International Development hired experienced civilian engineers for
the job. These engineers had a clear mandate, to develop and install, equipment
and systems, specifically intended to link the smallest of villages and
hamlets with every level of
authority all the way up to the highest in Saigon. They needed simple and reliable communications. Inter Paul Katz!
Katz immediately began to evaluate the communications equipment available from every possible source. Commercial(police type) equipment was found to be too expensive, complicated, fragile, and lacked the range needed to link the far flung post in the system. Military radio sets were even more expensive and complicated, plus they required logistic support that was a virtual nightmare[even the military had extreme trouble in this area].
Katz needed radio sets that were simple, so simple as to be operable by simple uneducated people with no training. Radios had to be tuff, tuff enough to stand the abuse of either jungle or mountain terrain, but not so robust as to be cost prohibitive. And above all, they had to be cheep! Thousands of sets were expected to be needed, the casualty rate high, and very little, if any, technical support would be available. It was best to consider a radio as disposable and easily replaced. Katz found no such equipment available, so he just designed what he needed himself. By April of 1961 the first of these sets was completed for use by the National Police.
The Military's Parallel Effort,
At least as early as 1956 the U.S. military officially had advisor groups strung out all over South Vietnam(U.S. Military Assistance
Advisory Group replacing the "Indo-China" Group of pre-1956). In 1958 the U.S. began to support the new Anti-Communist government of Laos. In 1959 two advisors were killed by communist guerrillas at Bien Hoa. Their deaths were attributed in some degree to a lack of communications which at this time was CW only. As a result, 230 SSB radio sets were ordered to replace the old CW systems, specifically to allow communications by personnel with a minimum of training.[To this day we still don't know for a certainty what those CW and SSB radios were.]
In 1960 Lt Gen Lionel C. McGarr replaced Gen Williams as commander of the Military Assistance Command SVN. With this change came a mandate from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to restore the country's internal security. This began an effort to redirect focus from defence from an invasion from the north, to a reduction of the domestic communist movement, the "Counterinsurgency Plan" was born. The Defence Department then directed the Advanced Research Projects Agency(their research & development arm) to thoroughly research and develop high tech equipment useable in what was code named "Project Agile", which would later evolve in to what was nicknamed the "McNamara Line". Communications plans, techniques, and equipment were at the top of the priority list assigned to a new field agency in South Vietnam, the "Army Concept Team".
Though the Army Concept Team conducted exhaustive work in the areas of propagation, special antennas, modifications to, or development of equipment, by 1963 these efforts had resulted in little more than the consideration of forty nine different items for possible use. These included electronic devices for transmitting warnings, signaling aircraft, and conducting two-way communications. Though many of these items where eventually adopted for general use, only one radio, a SSB type, tested for the Team by Army Special Forces was specifically adopted for counterinsurgency use.[this was possibly the Huges HC-162 which became the PRC-74].
Next part, Civilian & Military efforts merge.
Dennis Starks; Collector/Historian
Midwest Military Communications Museum
Editor & Sponcor of the "Military Collector Group Post"
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