At the onset of the Cold War few USN ships had built-in cryptologic capability. Although the Navy’s cryptologic efforts contributed significantly to the successful conclusion of World War II, SIGINT remained a highly secret business, conducted for the most part from shore locations throughout the world.
As the Cold War progressed, new adversaries emerged and some previously used shore sites, such as those in China, were forced to close as politics changed. Increasing use of higher frequencies (VHF/UHF) and developments in radar technology mandated development of closer-in intercept capabilities. This was a mission tailor-made for the Navy, who already had a seaborne and airborne maritime patrol capability.
Specially equipped maritime patrol aircraft provided quick response to collection requirements, but could only remain on station a short period, limited by fuel. For extended coverage off of a target nation’s coast, a Navy destroyer was ideal. A single destroyer could linger off the coast of an adversary for days, operating under the guise of freedom of navigation of international waters. Problem was, no destroyers had the dedicated space necessary to handle a Naval Security Group team, which had to be segregated to meet security requirements. The solution – the QUIC van.
The QUIC (for Quick Intercept Capability) van was developed from a standard M109 series military equipment van, originally designed to fit on a military 2.5 ton truck (commonly known as a deuce and a half, or 6×6). The van’s outer dimensions were roughly 12 feet long, 8 feet wide, and just short of 7 feet high, and the inside dimensions were even tighter, since the boxes were insulated to provide some temperature control. The vans had no windows, and were slightly reinforced with lifting points installed at the top corners to facilitate installation and removal by a pierside crane. Typically the vans were installed amidships somewhere close to the signal bridge. The location was determined by two factors – a large enough spot to put the van, and proximity to external connections, including power, antennas, and sound-powered phone connection to CIC. Once craned on board, the van was held in place with tie downs, usually pad-eyes welded to the deck (not always popular with the CO or deck force).
Internally the vans were very efficiently designed, with up to three Morse intercept positions (2 R-390A per position); a VHF intercept position (2 R-1279 VHF receivers, R-1283 UHF receiver, panoramic indicator, digital readout, and tape recorder); communications equipment including KWR-37, KG-14, KW-7, KY-8, two RO teletype printers, a KSR teletype for preparing message traffic, R-1051 receiver, and a transmitter keying box (connected to one of the ship’s transmitters). In addition a small desk was available, used primarily by the Leading R-brancher (LRB) who served as analyst and reporter.
During the prime period of QUIC van use (1960s-1970s), a typical NSG detachment consisted of 14-16 members, led by an officer-in-charge (OIC), often a junior unrestricted line officer (1100/1105). A team of that size was necessary to man the positions port and starboard (6 CTR, 3 positions), together with one or two linguists (CTI), 2-3 communicators (CTO), the LRB, and a maintenance technician (CTM). Some detachments had a leading Chief as well. Unlike SupRads of that era, there was no extra space for off-duty team members to hang out; in fact there wasn’t sufficient space for the entire watch section to fit in. As a CTI2 assigned to a Quic van on the USS England in 1972, I stood a good portion of my watch outside the van, only called inside when air activity was detected by one of the CTRs.
One of the most challenging Quic van positions was that of the CTM. Typically filled by a single CTM3/CTM2 on his first enlistment, the mat man needed familiarity with 15-20 different pieces of equipment – receivers, crypto gear, teletype equipment, and auxiliary equipment such as tape recorders, typewriters and air conditioners. In addition to being a CTM, he also worked with ship’s interior communications technicians (IC) and electricians (EM) to ensure van connectivity. Some assistance could also be provided by ship’s Radiomen (RM) and Electronics Technicians (ET), but in the end the repairs fell onto the shoulders of the mat man, since those other ratings were not cleared for van operations.
In most cases the OIC spent little time inside the van. As the primary interface between the detachment and the ship, the det officer typically was in CIC on the receiving end of a sound-powered phone, receiving input from the LRB and providing the same to the CIC crew. Few if any watch standers in CIC were cleared for SI, but the information provided was generally reliable and was taken at face value without questions regarding the source. It came from the “Spooks” and that was good enough. Operations within the van were left to a cadre of junior enlisted personnel, most on their first enlistment. The enlisted complement of NSG Det on the USS Maddox during the 1964 GOT incident only had one senior petty officer, a CTO1. The remainder were E-5 and below, no leading Chief was assigned. Their performance under fire is a sterling testament to the dedication and professionalism of NSG direct support personnel, who weren’t above having fun, but knew when to get serious about work as well.
Sometime in the mid-1970s, after Vietnam, the NSG revisited QUIC vans. The Pacific vans (those prepositioned in Subic and Yokosuka) had seen extensive service during the conflict, since they were required for both the Coontz and Leahy class DLGs when assigned to PIRAZ or North SAR in the Gulf of Tonkin. A slightly larger van called the OICS (Operational Intelligence Collection System) van was developed to replace the QUIC van. Given the JAN equipment designator AN/SSQ-70, the OICS van was a bit more spacious and had some self-contained antennas.
Van usage diminished with the introduction of CLASSIC OUTBOARD to the fleet. A permanent fixture of nearly half of the CGs and Spruance DDs, Outboard provided the fleet with a full-time cryptologic capability, with NSG personnel assigned PCS as regular members of the crew. Although the OICS vans were still used, their deployment was largely limited to ships of the amphibious force assigned to special operations. Somewhere along the way the original QUIC vans were stripped and probably sold for scrap, and today only their memory remains. Anyone who had to work in one probably won’t forget them!
By LCDR Robert E. Morrison, USN, Ret
20 April 2021 at 11:20
Couple of notes and a small correction to my above post – There were two CT1 assigned to the Maddox (I incorrectly stated one). The QUIC van was installed on the Maddox Sunday, July 26 1964 in port Keelung, ROC. The yard crane arrived at 0945 and departed at 1037, the transfer complete [from Maddox deck log 26 Jul 64]. No mention is made of when the team embarked, but the departure of roughly half of the team was recorded in a 17 Aug 64 deck log entry, listing the transfer of seven team members to the USS Kennebec (AO-36) for further transfer to the USS Ticonderoga (CV-14). Means of transfer not specified, but probably via high line since an unrep was ongoing.
Any amplifying details to the above welcome, feel free to contact me at email@example.com
21 April 2021 at 12:13
Update to my update! Based on information I received last night from one of the Maddox team members (who provided a source document), there were NO CT1s assigned — my original list (published by Congress) had several other errors as well.
Several points here – (1) History isn’t as certain as one might expect. Just when you think you have it right someone proves you wrong! (2) Whenever possible, always work from source documents or first hand accounts. (3) Whenever possible, try to develop several independent sources to collaborate.
Few official records exist regarding many of our deployments and detachments. Unofficial things we kept, such as orders, PODs, Flight Bills, and base newspapers are often the only records available. I’m always interested in copies of such if it relates to Vietnam and Southeast Asia operations. Contact e-mail posted above.
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21 April 2021 at 19:29
Forgot the fourth point — (4) Don’t trust Congress to get something right!
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20 April 2021 at 14:11
COMIDEASTFOR 84-85 memories here, “O” brancher part of dets standing port and starboard 12 hour watches. You’d open the QUIC Van door and be assaulted by the TTY running and radios squawking, squeeze by the collection guy and start begging the radio supervisor for WSC-3 access to send your tippers!
20 April 2021 at 14:56
In January of 1967, a detachment from Karamursel boarded a Navy destroyer at Naples for a trip into the Black Sea for the Freedom of Navigation and intercept of short range communications and electronics. We did not have any Quic Van, but used the Helicopter Bay with the helo and crew put on shore while we did our month trip to and from Naples. The Helo Bay was great, we had plenty of room for all of our TAD crew, but the ship’s C.O. was mad as heck when he tried to get in and was told that he did not have the clearance. I have forgotten the name of the ship that we were on, and I think a LT Jay Jensen was the OIC. i have also forgotten the name of the other 10 or so men that were with me. WE got off the ship at Malta and flew back to Naples and then from there took the train to Rome and a flight back to Istanbul. It was really a strange feeling to have a bunch of TU-22s flying overhead with their bomb bay doors open.
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21 April 2021 at 16:25
I understand that feeling exactly!
Midmorning 16 September 1975 the USS HORNE was heading east halfway across the Sea of Okhotsk when two regiments of Badger Gs (32 acft) came streaming across Sakhalin Island in a disbursed line astern formation. Each TU-16 had air to surface missiles slung under each wing. (a total of 64 ASMs.). As they crossed Sakhalin each Badger turned on their surface search/target acquisition radars and then, as they closed on HORNE, they turned on the homers onboard the missiles, and synched the two signals.
At just under 40 miles from HORNE each Soviet bomber did a descending hard right turn and returned to Soviet air space.
I was in CIC, on a sound-powered phone with the NSG team, describing what we were seeing in the electromagnetic spectrum to RADM Thomas (no relation) and the CIC team, (And watching the radar tracks with great interest!)
The whole team in CIC, especially Admiral Thomas’ Chief of Staff, an aviator, was quite concerned we just might be being set up for a real attack and we had Terriers “on the rails.”
I will never forget the LT standing near me saying “They can’t find us and are going home!”
It was maybe the silliest thing I ever heard said on a Navy ship.
The maximum range of HORNE’s Terrier missiles was about 40 miles at that time.
The Badgers were obviously simulating evading our missiles.
HORNE had just provided “target services” to Soviet Naval Aviation.
We had simulated 64 ASMs launched at us in rapid succession.
The next day, after we had transited the Kuril Island Chain and were well out in the Pacific, a pair of TU-95 did the same thing, data-linking their targeting information on out small 3 ship task group to an Echo Two, which a P-3 subsequently located just off the Kurils, thanks to our tip.
I remember the date well. Only time anyone ever simulated killing me even once my birthday!
27 April 2021 at 00:21
QUIC vans were back in the fleet during Desert Shield, Desert Storm and Southern Watch. I served onboard USS Worden (CG-18) from December 1990 through February 1991 for both Shield and Storm. Our CT crew consisted of 12 personnel in total, including a DSO, an “I” branch Chief Petty Officer (Arabic), a single matman, two CTR’s, three CTO’s and four CTI operators (two Arabic and two Persian). The van was loud, crowded and freezing cold, despite the Persian Gulf heat. We were located on the signal bridge, amidships. We were assured by the crew that any anti-ship missiles would impact just below the van.
The QUIC van on the USS Halsey (CG-23) was in the same location. The CT crew during Southern Watch ops was smaller, 10 personnel. We cruised the Persian Gulf from December 1991 through March 1992 with a DSO, an IS1, a matman, three CTO’s, two CTR’s and two CTI’s (Arabic and Persian).
A couple of us shifted over to the USS John Young (DD-973) from March 1992 through June 1992, still in and around the Persian Gulf. That crew varied, with the addition of three trainee DSO’s, four CTO’s, two CTR’s, one matman and two CTI’s (Arabic and Persian).
I served with some great cryptologists and Sailors on those runs, On the Worden, I was lucky to work with LT Pete Hutson, Tim Connole (the greatest matman ever!), Rob Hester, Papa John Peery, Doug Carroll, Brian Altus, Kris Mask and Ed Branham. We were unfortunate enough to serve with the man who shall not be named for a few weeks! But that’s another story.
On the Halsey, the crew included LT Skip Stevens (RIP, that’s another story), Doug Rider, Kent Weaver, Dale Tyson and Greg Struble.
LT Stevens joined me on the John Young, along with Ens. Brian Curtice, Terry Jones, Mark Brahler, Tony Fields, Glenn Fair, Randy Williams, Scott Jenks, Dave Haley and another great matman, Stefan Oborski.
I learned my craft as a Persian linguist and cryptologist on those ships with those men. They were the some of the most challenging and rewarding times of my Direct Support career.
27 April 2021 at 17:04
The “BOX” was a TAD vacation away from three section watch back a Hakata, Japan. Not really come to think of it. The environment was hot, smelly and a little noisy on a carrier deck. Perhaps the European location was a little different.
27 April 2021 at 17:16
Bill, What ship were you on and when did you ride?
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27 April 2021 at 23:13
The ship referred to here was the USS Bon Homme Richard CV-31. Was a QUIC van ever used on another carrier? Rumored talk was of the Hancock having a QUIC van.
30 July 2021 at 18:27
I was a CTM stationed with NSGD FES, Yokosuka, Japan (1972-74). Then NSGD FES, Subic Bay, Philippines (1974-76). DIRSUP to a number of ships: USS Worden, USS Gridley, USS Reeves, USS England, USS Fox and the decrepit USS Charles Berry (DE-1035). My memory isn’t what it used to be, so I don’t remember which ships had a SUPRAD, other than the Charles Berry. Most that I rode had a QUIC van.
A number of the TAD rides had no detachment aboard.
26 March 2023 at 04:02
The OICS van pictured here reminds me of my deployments aboard USS HARLAN COUNTY (LST 1196) and USS FAIRFAX COUNTY (LST 1193) in 1980 & 1981, respectively. Except for the lack of ice and snow, however. I’m especially honored to have served with the likes (ilk) of Jerry Bland, Jim Riley, Paul Snow, Kevin Young, Arne Simonsen, Jim Zmyslo, and Dan Devlin from CNSG, ACNSG, and Edzell. Our matman, Smitty (aren’t all Matmen “Smitty”?) aboard USS FAIRFAX COUNTY saved our bacon multiple times.