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Monday, August 13, 2018

WHCA Command and Control Vehicles

WHCA Mobile Communication Vehicles
2018 WHCA Roadrunner
Type of Activity
Establish Communications Support Vehicle
Washington DC
Date of Activity
Mid 1975 to present

The fixed microwave network which connected the Early Presidential Emergency Facilities (PEF) were decommissioned in early 1970 and members of the unit were re-assigned to and relocated across the United States. This new mission would require a small group of specialized members that could master the requirements and training needed to operate geographically dispersed and separated from the WHCA headquarters. The formation of the Communications Contingency Teams (CCT) was the Agency’s answer to this new need. These teams were strategically placed to support the President in his role as National Command Authority (NCA) and played an important role in the Continuity Of Government (COG) communications support plan established during the height of the Cold War. These teams started in Ft. Richie, MD, Key Biscayne, FL and San Clemente, CA but over time moved to El Toro, CA, Andrews AFB, MD and Berryville, VA. The CCT was ready to deploy at a moment’s notice, all the team’s communications equipment was loaded on pallets where it could be loaded on a truck or an aircraft could pull up and load equipment and personnel to be deployed.

The CCT started to work with the first man portable satellite terminals in 1975, but it wasn’t used in the WHCA Communication vehicles until the early 1980’s. These terminals did become part of the standard overseas trip package used for communications support of the President and USSS worldwide.

Four AN/TSC-90 satellite communications terminals were delivered to the White House Communications Agency during 1975.  These special transportable terminals were developed under contract with International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation, Nutley, New Jersey. The terminals are intended for special purpose contingency operation with the DSCS. The packaging design makes it possible  for easier installation and operation in difficult access-locations. The round satellite dish was separated in four pieces for easier transportation and installation on Embassy and hotel roofs.

During June 1975, WHCA was provided with the digital communications subsystem consisting of two (2) MD-921 BPSK modems one (1) TD 660 PCM multiplexer and one (1) ES-2 echo suppressor. This equipment was interfaced with the AN/TSC-90 satellite communications terminal and was used for the presidential system during his visit to Helsinki, Finland in 19 July 1975. WHCA CCT’s were involved with initial testing and deployment of these systems to insure compatibility with the Mobile Vehicle Command Post concept and the existing Communication systems. WHCA was ready to deploy these systems in permanently equipped vehicles with some of the existing CCT’s.  
CCT’s Develop and deploy the Coyote Communications Vehicle

In 1980-time  frame,  ITT and WHCA signed a contract to acquire, and take possession of, and move, all TSC-90 test equipment and related spares equipment to Camp David. DCSU then became the TSC-90 depot maintenance facility for this unique communications capability. DCSU CCTS received a TSC-90 terminal and one was retained at Camp  David. The AN/TSC-90 transportable systems would allow a moving vehicle to communicate, through trip site switchboards, with locations anywhere in the world.
One of the first fully equipped vans arrived at the Fort Ritchie CCT in the 1980-1981 time-frame when Ray Millaway was the Commander. WHCA leased the motorhome used for Coyote and the carpenter shop built the cabinetry for all the equipment and a copper screen was covered with fiberglass on the roof of the van and painted it for a ground plane to mount the antennas. 
Fort Richie CCT Coyote  
Interior of the Coyote vehicle
/         AT&T Dimension 400, attendant console  
  Secure Message Center
The Radio Console with FM, HF and secure Satellite Systems
Microwave system
Coyote is the name given to the WHCA designated total communication systems mounted on a 24 foot Transtar motorhome which could be loaded on a C-141 or a C 5 aircraft for rapid deployment’. It was designed to provide quick reaction presidential quality telecommunications and contained all of the trip capabilities normally installed during Presidential travel worldwide.

The Coyote vehicle was rarely used during normally scheduled motorcades. It was used if there was a ‘short-notice, down n’ dirty’ trip.  Used mostly when the President wanted to visit a site and there wasn’t enough time to install a normal Trip Site configuration. Coyote would become the Primary WHCA Net Control Station (NCS), SWBD and Commcenter. Coyote was used on several short-notice contingency trips, e.g., President Carter’s visit to Three-Mile Island Nuclear Mishap and President Reagan’s visit to White Walnut Hill, Culpepper, VA.

The contingency communications mission of DCSU was changed again in the early 80's, thus receiving additional personnel authorization for the buildup of the Communications Support Teams (CST's).  By 1983 all the CCT teams were re-designated from Contingency Communications Team to Communications Support Team and made strategic geographic moves, i.e., Carswell Communications Support Team (CST). Carswell AFB, Texas, and the Luke Communications Support Team (CST). Luke AFB, AZ.

Like the CCT’s before them the CST’s became highly mobile groups that could be deployed at a moment’s notice. Strategically placed to be responsive to any nuclear or terrorist threat being able to provide emergency communications for the Continuation of Government (COG). The CST’s also played a pivotal role in the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.

CST’s deploy Coach Vehicles (REVCON motorhome)
CST Coach during the 1984 Normandy France Reagan trip. (40th Anniversary of the invasion)
The motorhomes were special order vehicles from Revcon and were generally used for the Primary COG Mission at the CSTs.  Because of its’ organic equipment capabilities, it was often selected for use on OVERSEAS trips. These units were never designed for motorcades, but as a stationary base for all Presidential and Secret Service communications.

The Revcon Communication Coach vehicles carried all necessary equipment required to providing the worldwide communications necessary to support the White House while traveling.
1)     Switchboard                                             
2)     Commcenter        
3)     FM and HF Radios
4)     TSC-90 satellite terminal
5)     AN/GRC-103 Tac Pac consisting of 3 rec, 3 trans, 3 TD-660, 4 KG-27
6)     TRC-157 uhf full duplex satellite terminal

 Luke CST Coach 1985 in Bonn Germany,
Initially there were five Revcon custom built motor homes delivered to WHCA. The interiors were then modified and equipped by the WHCA Fabrication Branch and the Electronics Branch in the early 1980’s at the Anacostia NAS complex.

Deployment of these vehicles were as follows.

1)     The team at Andrews AFB was renamed Communications Support Team (CST) in 1982 but support stayed the same.
       a) In February 1983 Andrews Detachment received two Revcon Communications Coaches from Special Projects office                   Coaches #2 and #3.

2)     By 1983 all the CCT teams were renamed from Contingency Team to Support Team and made a strategic move, the Virginia Contingency Communications Team (CCT), was re-designated as the Carswell Communications Support Team (CST). Carswell AFB, Texas. Carswell CST activated 1 August 1983
       a) On 1 April 1983 Virginia Detachment received one Revcon Communications Coach from Special Projects office. Coach         #5 and was moved to Carswell CST when the Detachment was activated

3)     Effective 6 September 1983, the Fort Ritchie Contingency Communications Team (CCT) was re-designated as the Luke Communications Support Team (CST). Luke AFB, AZ. Luke CST was activated on 6 September 1983.
a) Two Revcon Communications Coaches #3 and #4 (originally one positioned at Fort Ritchie CCT and at the Andrews               CCT.

The CST Coaches’  had horizontal black radio antennas, and big slide-out generators on both sides of the rear. These units were totally self-contained and always available. 

There were standard Roadrunner equipment packages that could be installed in rental vans configured and stored at Anacostia for trips that required normal motorcade support. WHCA Operations would call out that package whenever trips required extended motorcades and/or a WHCA/USSS vehicle presence to act as NCS. The CST’s also maintained the capability to build a Roadrunner Rental Van if required.) 
Due to changes in Missions, Roles and Responsibilities, it is believed that WHCA relinquished ownership and control of the Revcon coaches directly to FEMA to use in emergency situations and threats to national security. There were many mission changes primarily caused by political and military COG decisions involving the White House, DISA (old DCA), DoD and FEMA.

The Roadrunner Concept and development

The WHCA trip packages had not changed much by the mid 80’s, other than they were traveling with Dimension PBX electronic switchboards instead of the mini boards; otherwise you would not have noticed much of a difference in the trip environment. The Motorola radios got smaller and then added Data Encryption Standard (DES) which was a headache because sometimes the key change for the network would change while in route to a trip location. Each radio needed to be keyed with a device called a "squirt gun" and at a designated time the new key would take effect. Later a reserve key was loaded at the same time if someone needed to remotely update because of a lost radio. The White House Staff just couldn't understand that some of the safe guards about tampering with a "lost" radio would cause it to dump the key codes and only be available in clear mode. All of radio nets have been encrypted with DES and it was an issue when someone dumped the memory and needed to re-key the code at a trip site.

The only thing different in the Commenter in 1987 to the Model 28 TTY paper tape 100 baud noisy machines, was the owner of the finger prints on the boxes. The crypto element was now reduced to a controlled "credit card" sized module like DirecTV. No more guarding the boxes and  they don't have to go through the load the plane routine or calling in Sky Marshals on commercial flights. 

The USSS still had all the same radio frequencies, but about 1986 they had an encrypted cellular site in the EOB. The Mobile Telephone Switching Office (MTSO) would route all calls from Electronic Serial Number (ESN's) assigned to the White House to that cellular hub and they were drawing White House Centrex dial tone, plus it was capable of encryption over the non-copper segments.

The Roadrunner project was given to DCSU in the mid 1970's and to the outlying Detachments to come up with several ideas, most of which required the use of rental vans. At the same time the CCT’s at San Clemente and Key Biscayne were tasked with coming up with ideas for an application that would allow a motorcade communications vehicle to communicate with Washington.

1978 Roadrunner Rental Vans
Many different configurations were tried but the initial roadrunners were just rental vans with the seats removed  and the WHCA radio and Comm Center equipment was installed temporarily for the duration of the trip. The original Roadrunner interiors were built by the WHCA Fabrication Branch and was equipped and wired by Electronics Branch.

The first WHCA mobile Communications Van (Roadrunner) was a plywood pallet that was slipped into a Ford Econoline Van with a Model 28 TTY, and a 19" rack of base stations. WHCA used the old "ALPHA" FM frequency and transmitted TTY back to CROWN, The WHCA Fabrication Branch also built the brackets to temporarily mount the Honda generator on rental vans, when Roadrunner stopped, the  team would hop out and start a small Honda Generator strapped to the bumper for power.  Whenever you would hit a bump the generator would disappear and  then it would bounce back.... Back when bumpers were still real bumpers.

While in route there was a power inverter, but the RPM's of the engine needed to be in a roar to maintain voltages and lots of blown fuses and plenty of burned up power supplies in the beginning. The main ingredients for a Roadrunner back then was a rental van, a roll of Mylar to blacken out all the windows, Duct tape, and Ty raps.

Roadrunner Van 1978
The equipment was usually placed on the floor of the van and duct taped to something to secure it from sliding around. Empty equipment boxes and empty bell boxes were used to elevate the equipment off the floor, don't forget an occasional milk crate to Ty-wrap equipment on the bench seat and suitcase radios bouncing around with two 9' mag mount whip antennas, but there was nothing like an 85-pound KW-7 landing in your lap while turning on a corner and a there was a generator strapped to the front of the van, we were told to just try to blend into the surroundings.

Interior of blue Dodge Van in 1978
Custom window tinting was installed on every rental van, courtesy of WHCA!  No one could see the equipment and what specifically we were doing. Whenever President Reagan visited the ranch in Santa Barbara the Avis rental agency would give us a new van each trip just to have us install the Mylar. Some cities would ask us to remove it when we returned it, but it was usually left in place.

The rental vans had no sirens or lights, stock brakes, (carrying an additional 800 lbs of equipment). This made for some interesting driving in heavy traffic in the larger cities while,  trying to keep up with the Presidential motorcade was a real challenge! 

The rental Roadrunners were always being tweaked by DCSU and occasionally DCOU personnel to  enhance the electrical converters and other vehicle issues identified by WHCA Transportation. They just kept jamming more equipment into the vans trying to make improvements until both the weight and power consumption were no longer viable.

There was a standard Roadrunner equipment package configured and stored at WHCA HQ in Anacostia for Trips. WHCA Operations would ‘call out’ that package whenever trips required extended motorcades and/or a WHCA/USSS vehicle presence to act as the Primary WHCA Net Control Station (NCS).   
There was a special unit at Anacostia that was researching technology and came up with a lot of "Vehicle Trunking" ideas and that was the birth of the SATCOM in a permanent Suburban. All voice and data would effectively be relayed and up linked directly to Camp David then thru to the White House.

One of the first Permanent WHCA Roadrunners (Chevrolet Suburban)
The first fully equipped Roadrunner vehicle became a permanent part of the Presidential motorcade in 1986, It was a heavily modified Chevrolet or GM Suburban equipped with protective armor, run flat tires, vehicle transponder, and turbocharger. The most obvious feature is a configurable antennae platform mounted on the roof. This contains a large SATCOM dome containing a tracking dish that serves as the data up link and down link as the primary communications path for the motorcade back to the White House. Also, on the roof were smaller VHF antennas that serve as a repeater for the other motorcade elements as well as another communications path to local authorities and the on site WHCA/USSS office. VHF antenna configuration changes according to the mission operational requirements. This also serves as the hub for the LCP or Limousine Control Package that allows C2 functions to be performed from USSS control cars, the presidential parade limo or the presidential suburban.

The White House Communications Agency Roadrunner Vehicle is also known as the MCV (Mobile Command and Control Vehicle). The vehicle serves as the communications hub for the motorcade by encrypting duplex radio which in turn is beamed up to a military satellite which in turn beams that data back down to a ground entry point at Camp David and through to the WHCA switchboard.

Now that we have the Internet and cellular network, the role of WHCA is somewhat limited to Command and Control circuits. Camp David is the satellite down link point and all trip sites carry small suitcase multiplexers and pull in mini-cells in the hotel and they have the White House Centrex available on their permanently assigned smart phones. All staff members carry encrypted personal digital assistant (PDA's) so the comm. center is basically out of business on the road other than to assemble the news summary and the program database (PDB) so I have been told.

 The Clinton Bus Tour 1992 Roadrunner a Ford E350 4x4
The newer WHCA Roadrunners are electronic platforms built into a Ford E350 4x4 Econoline with an extended cab platform was adapted in 1992 the van was ordered with a 460 V-8 engine with two generators one under the hood as well as one in the rear both ran off the vehicles gas tank.  These vans were also equipped with 4 batteries that were contained in a box behind the driver’s door and equipped with front and rear heat and AC.

1994 E350 WHCA Roadrunner  
1995 E350 WHCA Roadrunner
Once the van was received it was turned over to the WHCA Fabrication shop and the Electronic shop to finish the interior and have all the equipment installed, a satellite dome, a full complement of FM base stations, and a trunking satellite mini-cellular so the event site could link back to Camp David and receive a White House dial tone.

1995 E350 WHCA Roadrunner
Although the Roadrunner vehicles can easily be loaded on an aircraft such as a C141 or C-5 it is often more economical and efficient to transport them by another way. WHCA has several especially designed semi-trailers to transport the Roadrunner vehicles to and from trip sites and HQ in Anacostia.

Roadrunner unloading from a WHCA owned Semi Trailer
Roadrunner unloading from a WHCA owned Semi Trailer
WHCA replaced the Satellite antenna housing around 2008 because the old one kept getting ripped off in parking garages and other low clearance locations, one was lost when the vehicle was driven under the wing of a transport. 

2003 Roadrunner with old SATCOM  Housing
2005 Roadrunner with old SATCOM Housings
WHCA replaced the antenna housing because the old one kept getting ripped off in parking garages (Above). Here are WHCA Roadrunners as (Below) but with a new SATCOM antenna housings. 

2008 WHCA Roadrunner with new SATCOM  Housing
2011 WHCA Roadrunner with new SATCOM Housing
One of the most significant problems that WHCA has had in providing mobile communications is the position Roadrunner has ended up in the Presidential motorcade behind the ambulance and from that location, modern communications to the Presidential limo is a challenge. With the new roadrunner the position in the motorcade is no longer a problem. 

WHCA "Roadrunner Today

In the spring of 2018 The White House Communications Agency and the Secret Service have  received a new and much improved "Roadrunner.".  Today's Roadrunner has one of the most critical jobs in today’s motorcade, keeping the President and their entire support apparatus connected to the outside world. As such, it also has a critical command and control function to play. 

In decades past, this capability mainly included secure voice communications and coordination of services for key personnel, but today it is far more complicated than that, with the Internet and streaming services being a critical tool for everyone to have at their fingertips. Roadrunner is constantly on the run developmentally speaking.

It must adapt to changing times and technologies, incorporating new systems while decommissioning old ones, all the while still maintaining constant and reliable service for the President's daily travels.

"Roadrunner, also known as the Mobile Command and Control Vehicle (MC2V) and is one of the most conspicuous vehicles in Motorcade. A beefed-up Suburban, it houses a large satellite communications array and posts an antenna farm along its roof-line.

This vehicle keeps the President and White House officials securely connected to the world, providing encrypted voice, Internet and video communications via the Pentagon’s constellation of hardened communications satellites.
Just three occupants are carried in the truck's six-door custom cabin. 
Roadrunner also helps facilitate secure communications within the Motorcade itself. Think of it as a big rolling data encryption center, Wi-Fi hotspot, radio repeater and doomsday communications control center.

WHCA Roadrunner in Las Vegas (2018)
So beyond providing what is the equivalent of highly-secure rolling router and making sure the President can order a nuclear strike from The Presidential Limo at any given time, the White House Communications Agency and the Secret Service must work directly with the USAF (AF-1) and USMC (HMX-1) to keep all the President's aircraft up to the latest standard as well. In fact, Air Force One just went through a similar satellite communications upgrade that brings far higher bandwidth and networking capabilities to the flying White House. 

Presidential Motorcade 2018
Presidential Motorcade in Florida 2018
So, it's not hard to imagine that this new, and more noticeable system offers a huge leap in capacity. The photo of the new vehicle also shows a UHF satellite communications antenna attached to the roof mounting system. 

Departure from Florida rally 2018
The Presidential Motorcade's newest member the WHCA Roadrunner is likely to get some special media attention in the coming months as it heads away from Washington, D.C. on missions to places where the motorcade is far from a normal sight. In the meantime, it's good to know that the President, their staff, and the Secret Service, can communicate better than ever before while on-the-move.
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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this glimpse of something this Signal alum was not fully aware of.