by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class David R. Krigbaum
SASEBO, Japan (Apr. 1, 2016) Commander U.S. Fleet Activities Sasebo’s Building 311 is almost as old as the telephone itself, but now houses the U.S. Navy’s newest and most modern telecommunications exchange in Japan.
Looking at it from the outside, a visitor only sees a red brick warehouse from the time of the Imperial Japanese Navy, one in a row of many. But on the inside, Building 311 is a Defense Switch Network Telephone Exchange operated by Navy Computer and Telecommunications Station Far East that provides support to the base and its outlying facilities.
It may seem like an odd choice, but this historic warehouse was chosen for the role out of necessity. The old base telephone exchange was located in an adjacent building and there was a limit as to how far the connecting cable could reach in order to expand the system into another facility.
Building 311 was built in 1888 and is the oldest structure on base; it is also one of the few buildings erected by the time Chinjufu (Naval Station) Sasebo was commissioned on July 1, 1889. Constructed in a British-style and made of imported red bricks, buildings like 311 were a symbol of Japan’s rising status as a modern industrial nation after years of isolation.
Sasebo was one of the new naval arsenals being built around Japan to support its young and growing navy. Sasebo played a supporting role in the Russo-Japanese war, where the smaller Japanese fleet annihilated a larger Russian force. Later, as World War II began, it was the place warships such as the massive Yamato-class battleship Musashi were outfitted before becoming operational. After Sasebo’s occupation by the U.S. armed forces at the end of World War II, the warehouse, then identified as Supply Storehouse I, continued to be used.
The warehouse had served two navies for 125 years when the decision was made to use it as a telephone exchange. This decision also funded preservation work that would be done to maintain the building as age began to take its toll.
“These buildings were built to very high standards as evidenced by their continued existence after over 120 years,” said Seung Suk, CFAS cultural resources manager. “The normal life cycle of buildings built today is considerably less than this.”
Reinvigorating the facility for its new role meant internal steel support was added to strengthen the structure. The architectural, design and engineering work took a year to complete. The construction and renovation needed to convert the warehouse into a communication facility took nearly three years and was funded by the government of Japan. Essentially a building was built within the shell of 311 to house the telephone exchange equipment, which nearly doubled the base’s phone handling capabilities from 3,808 phone lines to7,400 phone lines. Self-sufficient, it has backup power generators and HVAC to support the delicate electronics. The project began in 2013 and officially finished with the Mar. 31, 2016 commissioning of the facility with Sasebo city and base officials in attendance.
“This building will once again become active,” said Capt. Matthew Ovios, CFAS commanding officer, at the commissioning. “It will be used to support the security of both of our countries and our alliance.”