Chapter VII: 

Service Support in Vietnam: 
Construction, Real Estate, and Communications

Construction and Real Estate

The construction aspects of the Vietnam war are described in this section only as an overview. A separate monograph has been written on this subject.

Base Development

Base development contingency plans prepared prior to the buildup in Vietnam recognized that operations would be conducted in a primitive area, almost totally devoid of logistics support capabilities, and that a vast construction effort would be required to build port facilities, Army airfields and heliports, storage depots, hospitals, communications sites, roads, bridges and base areas for tactical units. Also it was recognized that construction would be completed under adverse conditions of civil unrest, unpredictable warfare, and at a great distance from an industrial base.

The contingency planning for base development in Vietnam was directed by Commander in Chief Pacific. Headquarters U.S. Army Pacific was responsible for preparing the Army portion of the plan. Actual development of the Army base development plan for 1965 was delegated by Headquarters U.S. Army Pacific to Headquarters U.S. Army Ryukyu Islands. Headquarters Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, was responsible for co-ordination and control of logistic support within the objective area. As operations increased in scope, the planning responsibilities were transferred to Headquarters U.S. Army Vietnam. Thereafter, the planning system followed the established chain of operational control to the joint Chiefs of Staff and of administrative and logistic control to the Department of the Army. Ultimate control on force structure and level of construction effort was maintained by Office of the Secretary of Defense without delegation.

The original planning developed by Headquarters U.S. Army


Ryukyu Islands was in great detail and identified deficiencies and problem areas. Provisions were made for management of the construction effort first by U.S. Army Ryukyu Islands and later by the 1st Logistical Command. As specified by Commander in Chief Pacific, planning was based on a relatively small in-country force level of 64,000 troops. The use of tents was envisioned for the first six months. The situation that developed was much different, both in size and nature of operation, than envisioned during planning.

Standards and criteria for construction were established by Military Assistance Command, Vietnam. Three standards of cantonment construction were prescribed. Each standard depended on the anticipated duration of occupancy of the activity. The three standards were field, intermediate and temporary. However, standards of living for troops were allowed to develop to a high degree.

The Commanding General U.S. Army Vietnam was authorized to construct to intermediate standards. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, reserved the right to authorize temporary standards. In general temporary standards included pre-engineered metal or painted wood buildings, and modern utility systems. Intermediate standards permitted wood buildings with limited utility systems and field standard included tents or wood buildings with minimal utility systems.

Controls over construction were exercised by Military Assistance Command, Vietnam. Early in 1966 a Director of Construction was established at that headquarters in recognition of the magnitude of the military construction program. The Directorate of Construction was assigned directive supervision and authority over all Department of Defense construction commands and agencies except for those organic to major combat units. This authority extended to the direct assignment of specific projects to construction commands and agencies and to the adjustment of equipment, materials, and other resources necessary to meet priorities established by Commander U .S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam. The Director of Construction was assigned the responsibility of supervising and coordinating the accomplishment of joint master base development plans.

Military Construction

From fiscal year 1965 through fiscal year 1971, Congress authorized approximately $1.387 billion of Military Construction, Army funds for construction in support of Southeast Asia. The majority of these funds, approximately $969 million, were provided


for construction projects in Vietnam. From a relatively small Military Construction, Army program of approximately $40 million in fiscal year 1965, the funding program for South Vietnam peaked in fiscal year 1966 and 1967. During that period the basic, amended, and supplemental Military Construction, Army programs and Military Assistance Program transfers totaled approximately $707 million. The fiscal year 1968 and 1969 basic and supplemental programs totaled approximately $185 million. There were no fiscal year 1970 Military Construction Army funds programmed for South Vietnam because of the large unobligated balances from prior years. The Army proposed $40 million for South Vietnam in fiscal year 1971, but this was reduced by Congress to $27 million including $2 million in planning funds.

Although the basic Military Construction, Army programs for fiscal year 1965 through fiscal year 1971 (except for fiscal year 1970) provided construction funds for South Vietnam, the bulk of the funds were derived from supplemental appropriations (including amendments to the regular appropriations). The initial supplemental authorization was in fiscal year 1965 through a joint Resolution by the Senate and House of Representatives and allowed a great deal of flexibility in carrying out the Presidential program in Southeast Asia. Subsequent supplemental authorizations were provided in lump sum amounts because of the continuing need for flexibility in the administration and execution of the construction program for Southeast Asia in order to adjust to changes in the military situation.

In addition to the Military Construction, Army funds, Congress provided Office of the Secretary of Defense with contingency funds for emergency construction which the Secretary of Defense could use to provide for unforeseen construction requirements which he considered vital to the security of the United States. These funds were released to the Services on an as-needed basis by Office of the Secretary of Defense upon notification to Congress, and provided the greatest degree of flexibility in meeting contingency construction requirements in support of Southeast Asia. Within the $969 million Military Construction, Army funds authorized for South Vietnam, the Secretary of Defense Contingency Funds amounted to $135.6 million. As of 31 December 1970, $895 million of the funds authorized had been obligated and the work in place totaled $80.8 million.

Prior to the 1969 Presidential decision to improve the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces capabilities and start United States troop withdrawals, the major portion of the construction effort in South


Vietnam was to provide logistical facilities in support of United States combat operations. With the "Vietnamization" decision, Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird limited new construction starts to the following categories: facilities required in Vietnamizing the war to include South Vietnam Armed Forces modernization and improvement and Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, advisor facilities; Line of Communication program facilities such as roads, airfields, and ports; emergency facilities required for the safety, health, security, or in-country redeployment of the forces; necessary repairs to battle damaged facilities, and facilities required to support redeployment of U.S. units.

From 1969 on, an increasing percentage of the available Military Construction, Army funds were used for Army of Vietnam improvement and modernization projects such as maintenance depots, storage facilities, training centers, and communication stations.

Real Estate Management

The Pentalateral Agreement between the United States, South Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and France in 1950 provided the basis for mutual defense and established that a host country would provide land at no cost to a nation's forces. This agreement is general in scope so administrative agreements were necessary between Government of Vietnam ministries and the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Forces. Commander U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, was given the responsibility for real estate operations in support of military needs. He was authorized to further delegate authority in carrying out this responsibility.

The term of occupancy for using Vietnam bases was indefinite. Each U.S. request for real estate included the following statement: "Upon termination of use and occupancy of the area, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, retains the option of removing or abandoning in place any structure or installation placed thereon." Leases were utilized by U.S. Forces to acquire privately owned buildings such as warehouses, office spaces, and billets which were required, but not made available by the Government of Vietnam. Rental payments were made from the requesting agency's Operation and Maintenance, Army funds. These payments were made in piasters.

Table 11 outlines the breakdown on U.S. Army Real Estate holdings, lease costs, and construction costs in South Vietnam for the period 1964-1970.



Fiscal Year Cost of Construction to the U.S. Government
(thousands of dollars)
Lease Costs (thousands of dollars) Acres Under Army Control
64     3,044     614     366
65     5,139     2,152     370
66     21,700     24,180     73,095
67     222,360     26,289     125,676
68     364,956     14,641     184,159
69     545,190     12,879     197,754
70     651,162     11,333     186,750

Facilities Engineering

In Vietnam for the first time in the history of modern warfare, extensive facilities engineering services were provided in an active theater of operations. Troops were provided with facilities without having to be occupied with the accompanying problems of maintenance and operation of those facilities.

The Army relied almost entirely on a contractor, Pacific Architects and Engineers, to furnish facilities engineering support in II, III, and IV, and later in I Corps. Use of a contractor allowed engineer troops to be used for operational support and base construction. The contractor's organization was tailored to the particular installation supported. Using a contractor for a housekeeping type operation was consistent with the Department of Defense objective of minimizing the number of in-country support troops. The contract was worded so that Pacific Architects and Engineers furnished the required labor, organization, and management and the U.S. Government provided equipment, repair parts, tools, and materials on a nonreimbursable basis as well as quarters and messing facilities on an as available basis. At peak strength Pacific Architects and Engineers had a work force of over 24,000 employees.

On 1 July 1968 technical control of the Pacific Architects and Engineers contract passed from the 1st Logistical Command to the U.S. Army Engineer Construction Agency, Vietnam. Although the U.S. Army Procurement Agency, Vietnam retained administrative control of the Pacific Architects and Engineers contract, the contracting officer's representatives positions were filled by U.S. Army Engineer Construction Agency, Vietnam engineers who directed and supervised the contractor's efforts. (Chart 15) The three District Engineers at Saigon, Qui Nhon, and Cam Ranh Bay supervised the Installation Engineers located at the various bases





and provided technical support to the installation in which they were-located.

Other real property maintenance support was furnished by the Vinnell Corporation, which operated and maintained high-voltage central power plants at several major installations.

One of the unusual features of the Vietnam conflict was the application of normal peacetime statutory and regulatory constraints which had a considerable effect on the facilities engineering program. The limitations on approval authority for the use of operations and maintenance funds on minor construction projects costing more than $25,000 and the strictures on approval authority for the alteration and repair of battle damaged facilities proved to be limiting factors in repairing the facilities, although the program was not hindered by a lack of funds to do the job.

The project approval limitation had substantial impact on the facilities engineering program. This was particularly true in the earliest years of the Vietnam buildup, when the bulk of facilities engineering effort (about 80 percent in fiscal years 1965 and 1966) was necessarily devoted to new construction.

Experience in Vietnam showed that utility requirement estimates were entirely too low. Planning data on standards of living were in need of revision. The heavy demands for electrical power, water, and sewage systems had not been foreseen and local commercial and municipal systems were incapable of providing any support.


The Army communications system in Vietnam evolved from a single half-duplex radio teletype circuit between Saigon and Clark Air Force Base, Republic of the Philippines in 1951 to a system involving 220 installations with 13,900 circuits during the 1965-1969 period.

To keep pace with these rapid developments, the 1st Signal Brigade was activated in April 1966. During 1967 its strength reached 19,700 personnel and contained all signal units not directly associated with tactical units. All strategic and tactical communication systems were connected through the resources of the brigade.

This extensive communications network, equipped with new standard tactical equipment, automatic message switching centers, and telephone exchanges required logistical support from the U.S. Army Vietnam 1st Logistical Command logistics system. For those fixed communications sites which were contractor operated the contractor was responsible for providing resupply. An unusual


aspect of the resupply system for communications equipment was in the field of Communications Security distribution. Due to security and accountability requirements Communications Security equipment was shipped to Vietnam by means of the Armed Forces Courier Service which used Tan Son Nhut as the port of entry. From there in-country distribution had to be made through a special Communications Security logistics system. This required special and intensive management to marry up Communications Security equipment with the telecommunications equipment. There was another special resupply system established for the Satellite Communications System. Requisitions for Satellite Communications items were forwarded via a dedicated communications network to the Satellite Communications Agency located at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. These requisitions were transmitted by leased teletype circuits directly to the prime contractor, Hughes Aircraft in Fullerton, California. Repair parts were then mailed directly to the communication facility via Army Post Office facilities. Items too bulky or which were prohibited from being shipped through mail channels were shipped to Norton Air Force Base, California and then sent by air freight to their destination. In a number of cases, a courier was provided to insure that parts did not become lost or misplaced when the aircraft arrived in-country.

Communications Support of Logistical Units

The logistical system in Vietnam was greatly dependent upon good communications and demanded a wide variety of transmission media to transfer logistical data between logistics headquarters, logistics support elements, and supported units. The communications subsystem in support of logistics activities consisted of the Defense Communications Agency managed system, the U.S. Army Vietnam managed Corps Area Communication System, the Southeast Asia Automatic Telephone System, and the manual switchboards that interfaced with the Southeast Asia Automatic Telephone System. Logistic activities were also provided use of the Automatic Secure Voice Communications network in South Vietnam. They were also provided access to the Corps Area Communication System communication center which interfaced with the worldwide Automatic Digital Network.

Logistics of Standard Signal Items

Common supply signal equipment items, with the exception of classified NESTOR (mythological designator used to identify


a family of secure voice devices) common supply items, were requisitioned through a common supply channel-the 1st Logistical Command. The classified NESTOR items were handled through Communications Security logistical channels, however the 1st Logistical Command common supply channel was used to distribute NESTOR ancillary items (for example installation kits and cable assemblies).

Logistics of Non-Standard Items

The logistic support of U.S. Army Strategic Communications peculiar items was performed entirely by the 1st Signal Brigade. This brigade was simultaneously a customer for, as well as the supplier, manager and operator of the peculiar items. Much of the logistics support of the non-standard, fixed plant items was provided through operations and maintenance contracts which offered the expertise and logistical channels necessary to operate and support the systems.

The Area Maintenance and Supply Facility concept was introduced to support both fixed and tactical systems. Under this concept two facilities were established in Vietnam to provide direct support and general support to the fixed communications electronics systems. Supply was accomplished on a major site basis, with each major site requisitioning for all its supported sites. The requisitions for all types of technical supply were submitted directly to an Area Maintenance and Supply Facility. Differentiation between defined common items and peculiar items of supply was made only at Area Maintenance and Supply Facilities. The Area Maintenance and Supply Facilities requisitioned common items from the theater depots and requisitioned peculiar items directly from the Continental U.S. National Inventory Control Point. Maintenance was provided on a direct support and general support basis from the major sites and Area Maintenance and Supply Facilities respectively.


Since no signal personnel were assigned to 1st Logistical Command, the Signal Office coordinated required work with the 1st Signal Brigade which had the major communications role in Vietnam. Prime factors in determining the configuration and composition of the communications system were subscriber requirements and densities. However, due to the nonavailability of mobile communications equipment capable of meeting the sophisticated


requirements of a modern Army, the extensive use of fixed communications equipment was necessary.

System Effectiveness

The communications system was inadequate in early 1965 resulting in the loss of numerous requisitions. The needs of logisticians soon influenced the development of a responsive and reliable communication system. By the summer of 1968 dial telephone exchanges, secure voice terminals, and message and data transmission facilities had been placed at every major logistical installation in South Vietnam.


page created 2 January 2003

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