By Sharon Watkins Lang, USASMDC/ARSTRAT Command HistorianFebruary 2, 2017
In recent months the undersea fiber optic cable connecting the remote islands of Kwajalein Atoll and the Marshall Islands ultimately to the United States has been a topic of much discussion.
This cable is an important asset in the Reagan Test Site's ability to conduct remote operations. This is not however a new development. Undersea cables have long been an integral factor in the operations of what was then the U.S. Navy's Kwajalein Test Site.
Beginning in February 1961, for example, 85 nautical miles of coaxial cable were buried in support of the Army's Nike Zeus test program.
The goal of the 1961 program was to connect the Nike-Zeus test facilities on the islands of Kwajalein, Ennylabegan, Gugeegue, Eniwetok and Roi-Namur. The first step was to connect Kwajalein and the outer atolls via 30 miles of cable buried in an ocean trench and then a separate 55 miles of coaxial cable to tie the Kwajalein complex to facilities to Eniwetok and Roi-Namur.
Once complete they would be able to link together the various systems which would be used to test the new Army's anti-ballistic missile system. The first Kwajalein launches began later that year in December 1961.
Although only 85 miles of cable were involved, in an era which saw the creation of a number of transoceanic cables, this project necessitated a multi service effort. The U.S. Army Cable Ship Albert J. Myer was responsible for laying the coaxial, underwater cables. This could only be accomplished, however, after the U.S. Navy's underwater demolition teams had cleared the sea floor of the duds and debris of the World War II battlefield. Once the area was cleared, the Navy prepared the cable trenches.
In addition to the test facilities, the underwater cable improved the quality of life for the Americans on the islands bringing the news of home. As part of the construction boom of the 1960s, a range communications transmitter was constructed on Gugeegue and a remote receiver site on Ennylabegan to avoid any possible interference with the multiple Nike-Zeus radars. It was these two facilities which provided a radio link to Honolulu.
As explained in a September 1961 Hourglass article:
"The news received on Kwajalein originates in Los Angeles, California and is broadcast on several different shortwave frequencies simultaneously in an endeavor to overcome atmospheric conditions. It is then received at the Pacific Missile Range Facility Communications Departments receiver site located on Ennylabagen. The CVC operator selects the best frequency received and connects it to the undersea cable to Kwajalein where it terminates at the new communications center. From the communication center it is connected by the telephone cable thru the telephone exchange into the Kwaj Armed Forces Radio Station for rebroadcasting over our local AM network. In the first 4,500 miles only one receiver and one transmitter are involved. In the final eight miles, the news travels via a very complicated route thru a multitude of wires and equipment to reach its final destination."
The authors also noted that this complicated system had to contend with an extremely crowded frequency band -- "AFRS Los Angeles and Radio Moscow have only 3/10th of one percent frequency spread." As a result on at least one occasion the residents of Kwajalein were inadvertently entertained by Radio Moscow.