Signal units support Cobra Gold 2000

Story and photos by MAJ Justin Pickett

NAHKON SI TAMMARAT, Thailand – As part of the combined joint exercise Cobra Gold, Signal Around the World logo Signal units from all branches of the U.S. armed services worked alongside their Thai counterparts to provide communications support. About 13,000 soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen participated in the 19th annual exercise, held in many locations throughout Thailand in May.

While Cobra Gold is traditionally a bilateral exercise between Thai and U.S. forces, this year it expanded to include Singapore’s armed forces as well. Twenty members of SAF participated as members of the combined joint task force staff. Singapore and Thailand had previously been in conflict, so part of the U.S. mission was to enforce a peace agreement and assist with the transition from wartime to peacekeeping forces.

Combined Joint Task Force headquarters for Cobra Gold
Combined joint task force headquarters for Cobra Gold 2000 in Nahkon Si Tammarat, Thailand.

From heavy communications supporting the CJTF headquarters to light single-channel communications supporting the noncombatant-evacuation operations training, every communications link was vital.

The Third Marine Expeditionary Force, known as III MEF, was designated as the JTF command for the exercise. Its J-6 officer, COL Dennis Thompson, had the missions of developing a plan to support the communications requirements, and of coordinating the execution of that plan.

The communications plan not only supports the actual game scenario of the exercise, but also the communications requirements of the joint exercise-control group, which provides all the simulation and gaming feeds to the CJTF. Add all this to the requirements to support the deployment and redeployment of the troops and equipment from many locations throughout Thailand, and the final result is a very large communications network. Some Signal soldiers were deployed from the middle of April until the first weeks of June to provide support to the logisticians moving personnel and equipment that supported the 17-day exercise.

LTC Anthony Cottles, 142d Signal Brigade, with satellite dishes
LTC Anthony Cottles of 142d Signal Brigade, Decatur, Ala., shows deployed satellite dishes provided by various units for Cobra Gold 2000.

For the first time, a truly integrated voice network was achieved with the Thai tactical switches. In past years, operator intervention was required to place a call from the Thai network into the U.S. network. The lack of U.S. operators who speak Thai made this a less than perfect solution.

This year because of the efforts of SFC Thomas Grant of 804th Signal Company, CPT Surat of the Royal Thai Army and the technicians from the Joint Interoperability Test Command, calls could be placed from one network to the other without operator intervention. This should allow for a more consolidated and lighter JTF in 2001, with truly shared equipment instead of separate Thai phones and U.S. telephones placed side by side throughout the headquarters.

To support the plan’s execution, communications equipment and personnel deployed from all over the Pacific and continental United States. These units included elements of 125th Signal Battalion, Helemano Military Reservation, Hawaii; 142d Signal Brigade, Alabama Army National Guard, Decatur, Ala.; 29th Signal Battalion, Fort Lewis, Wash.; 804th Command Operations Company, U.S. Army Reserve, Hawaii; 112th Signal Battalion, Fort Bragg, N.C.; U.S. Pacific Command’s Mobile Communications Suite Unique (known as MSQ-126), Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; airmen from 13th Air Force, Anderson AFB, Guam; marines from the III MEF, Okinawa; and naval forces afloat and ashore.

tactical satellite terminal shooting low-look angle A tactical satellite terminal for 125th Signal Battalion shoots a low-look angle to support the Army forces headquarters as Thai and U.S. soldiers cross-train on mortars in the background.

Remote multiplex combiners and line termination units
Remote multiplex combiners and line termination units were some of the tactical communications equipment supporting Cobra Gold 2000 at CJTF headquarters.

The 21st Signal Company from Fort Richardson, Alaska, finally got the chance to test its initial-entry-force package in a joint environment. The platoon from 21st Signal Company supported 172d Separate Infantry Brigade with its commercial-off-the-shelf multichannel satellite terminal, associated data equipment and the large extension node to provide voice, non-secure and secure Internet protocol router network connectivity to the rest of the CJTF network.

Thorough planning and the hard work of dedicated Thai and American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines provided the outstanding communications required to support this combined joint exercise. All participants are already planning for the next chance to work together in the field.

MAJ Pickett is assigned to the tactical-support division, deputy chief of staff for information management, U.S. Army Pacific. He served as a J-6 operations officer during Cobra Gold. Some information taken from an Army News Service press release.

Acronym QuickScan
CJTF – combined joint task force
JTF – joint task force
MEF – (Third) Marine Expeditionary Force
SAF – Singapore armed forces

dividing rule

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