Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 144

i I i: i ti,i;if !;;Io,r i'fff ,

I

,

lPPR0vt0 F0[

THE AIR FORCE IN SOUTTIEAST ASIA

PUBL IC REI.IASE

Shield for Vietnamization

I

and Withdrawal

19 71

by

E. Hartsook

rn68"01-86

OFFICE OF AIR FORCE HISTORY

Washington, DC

July 1976

FOREWORD

This monograph is the fifteenth in a series of historical studies

covering USAF plans, policies,

published under the

Its focus is the role

general title,

and operations

in Southeast Asia,

The Air Force in Southeast Asia.

of the Air Force in'support of American De-

and to turn the conduct of

Massive USAF efforts were

cisions to withdraw U. S. combat troops

the war over to the South Vietnamese.

devoted to attacking and

destroying enemy stockpiles and troop

concentrations in Cambodia and Laos, to supporting South Vietna-

mese ground attacks in the Laotian panhandle,

Vietnamize the interdiction

to attempting to

function, and, finally, to countering

the enemy air buildup in late 1971. Complicating

these endeavors

was the requirement to withdraw certain American air units as part

of the overall drawdown from Southeast Asia.

In describing these

actions, the author reviews

key national pol-

These pro-

icies and other developments

that affected operations.

vide a background for understanding the dramatic events of 1971 in

which the USAF was so

much involved. It is an exciting and signi-

ficant aspect of Air Force history.

STANLEY L. FALK

Chief Historian Office of Air Force Historv

ttl

UNCLASSIFIED

PREFACE

(U) The story of U. S. air power in Southeast Asia in l9?1

Administrationts continuing, &rid at times

enemy initiatives everywhere

is the story of the

intensified,

use of it to thwart

in Indochina and insure the success of U. S. Vietnamization

and withdrawal programs. Richard M. Nixonts course

as in February when he told Congress:

On withdrawal,

above all, President

lg?l

remained as firm throughout

"They will not deflect

us from

our overall course of phased withdrawal from

Indochina.rt*

(U) With ever fewer U. S. ground troops and increasing

was, naturally,

signs of enemy aggressiveness, there

within the Administration that

concern

its carefully

laid withdrawal

plans might be upset by some new

why the President did

its actions jeopardized

enemy offensive. This was

not cease warning Noittr Vietnam that if

remaining

U. S. forces, the United

air power. This was

States would respond, particularly with

why he directed new

forces and supplies in to prevent them from

operations in 1971 interdicting enemy

Cambodia and Laos and North Vietnam-- building up for new: offensives in the

warned Congress that North Vietnamese

higher levels of American air oper-

looking aheaci to with-

south. This was why he

actions could require

still

ations in order to further Vietnamization and U. S. withdrawals. /

Ttri-s was why he repeatedly'stressed

drawal schedules for

Ig72, when there would be even t'ewer troops

ttThe

more disruption

the greater the possi-

and greater vulnerability. He noted that:

of the trails that occurs

.

now .

bility that the United States may be able to increase the rate of

its withdrawal. rr

'k Mr. Nixonrs 1971

statements regarding U. S. policies in

Public Papers of the President,

Southeast Asia are in

Richard

158,

M. Nixon, 194 (Washington: Govt Print Ofc, 1973, pp

257, 266, 287-8, 390, 395, 449, 54I-2,

ll}4.

I ttre President alluded to course of his second annual

foreign policy, on 2b Feb ?1.

this requirement three times in the

report to the Congress on U. S.

UI{CLASSIFIED

UilCLASSITIElI

(U) In

keeping

with the strong

U. S. commitment to with-

drawal, however, the Administration arso ordered cutbacks

and reductions in air

of 1971. But these had to proceed

strength, especially

in the second half

although

cautiously, for

secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird

tions !o quiet domestic

always

argued strongly

ing weapon.

criticg

pressed for the reduc-

of the war, the field command.ers

agaiqst cutting back their only remain-

(U) Vietnamization, the other side of the U. S. withdrawal,

1g?1. The Adminis-

came in for greatly

increased attention in

tration, for example, made an intense effort

to find ways for the

role in

south'vietnamese to take over more of the. interdiction

stoppi.ng enemy infiltration. Because the south vietnamese

could

not duplicate the

sophisticated u. S. air interdiction

capa-

bilities' attention focussed on

their using ground force inter-

ground

elements. Both the

dietion or a combination of air and

size and t he

increased substantially,

able

craft

progress. But

responsibilities of the South vietnamese Air Force

and

during lg?I it made

very remark-

their air-

pilot training requirements and

inventory remained

major limitations, especially in the

face of

Hanoirs stepped up MIG activity during the ratter part of

the year.

(U) As for the Presidentrs

prospects in 1971 remained bleak.

parallel policy of negotiations,

The President repeatedly

pushed his oetober 1970 cease-fire proposal, but Hanoi did not

respond. As he had noted on

an earlier occasion, negotiations

And indeed, as 1971 ended,

were not entirely in U. S. hands.

the enemy had greatly aceelerated his

operations--especially in air defense.

States in late 1971 found itself

military preparati'ons and

As a result,the united

camying on the biggest air strikes

against North vietnam since the November 1968 bombing halt.

ulf cLAsstflEII

vl

CONTENTS

F'OREWORD .

PREFACE

Page

iii

iv

I.

N.

xi

USAF OPERATIONS IN SUPPORT OF NATIONAL POLICY 1

Presidential policies on Use of Air .

Cambodia

Air Operations

Tlg

in Cambodia.

Laos: Lam Son

Air Support

ARVN Dependence on Air

o .

Controversies Over Helicopters and Air

The

Public vs. the Administration on Use

of Air

TITE ENEMY C}IALLENGE TO U. S. AIR

1

4

6

g

10

12

tb

17

20

Enemy Efforts to Counter U. S. Air .

The

U. S. Response

22

24

. Ilanoi Steps Up tts Counter Air Campaign.

Further

Enemy Aetivity

and the

Alpha

U. S. Response Zg

.

.

Bt

Qeration Proud Deep

37

Expansion and Acceleration

3?

Bg

The President Asks Further Efforts .

Measures to

andAirlift

Improve Mobility, Firepower

SupportFunctionsandTraining

AirDefense.

.

paper .

 

.

4e

 

42

.

.

43

48

44

45

46

Vietnamizationof

The USAF Air Defense JCS and Field Views on

Seeretary Lairdts View

Second Thoughts on SEA Air

. SEA Air Defense

IV. VIETNAMIZATION OF INTERDICTION.

48

Secretary Laird : Vietnam ization Includes

Interdiction

USAF and JCS Reactions A DOD View

48

49

50

Laird and Packard Intensify Vietnamization

Effort

fhe Air Force Replies

JCS Replies

Ihe Combined Interdiction Campaign

Secretary

Laird Decrees and Interdiction

.

.

.

.

Capability by Fall 1972

Mr. Sullivanrs Trip Report

JCS Compromises as Secretary Laird Continues

to Insist

The Air Force and the ttCredible Chasett Program

V. USAF REDUCTIONS AND EFFECTIVENESS .

52

53

54

58

59

60

62

64

66

The Dilemma of Cutting Back While Still Fighting

66

HJTi"ti*??:3,r,""

",,0

The Presidentrs New Withdrawal

",uro'n"""rio*"

.

Deadlines

.

Sortie Rates

JCS vs. Secretary Laird and the USAF

The Presidentts Guidance on Sortie Rates .

The USAF Supports Secretary Laird

I

u'lT:'fi

T: #,ff;i" :: 1ff il?f"? i,, ",," " "'

Criterion

The JCS Position

Secretary Laird Modifies His Position.

USAF

Effectiveness Despite Reductions

Air Interdiction

Summary

APPENDICES

I

The

Credible Chase Program

2

The "Menu't

Bombing

3

Earlier B-52 Bombing of Laos

NOTES

GLOSSARY OF TERMS AND ABBREVIATIONS

 

67

69

7L

73

.

.

73

 

75

76

80

81

82

84

88

90

95

97

10?

110

111

L32

ABSTRAC T

136

vtU.

LIST OF MAPS AND CIIARTS

Maps

Operation Toan Thang .

Jet order of Battle' North vietnam (81 December lg?1).

South Vietnam, Enemy Logistical Support

Ho chi Minh rrail Infiltration Routes (January 1g?r) .

Page

7

25

35

92

Charts

VNAF Aircraft as of 3l December lg?1

comparisons

of vNAF Force Readiness as of 3l December

.

.

eachyear

4I

44

Total Sorties -

Total Sorties - Laos - All Services Total Sorties - North.Vietnam - All

South Vietnam - All Services - 1g?l

- 1g?1

Services - 1g?l -

USAF Aircraft Order of Battle, 81 December 1g?1

U.S. Air Effort in Laos, 19?0-19?1

.

.

.

76

77

77

8b

87

uilcrAssrFrED

I. USAF OPERATIONS IN SUPPORT OF NATIONAL POLICY

(U) Air operations played a central role in the two major U. S'

during 1971:

the defense of Cambodia against

buildups preparing there for

South

military actions

during the first part of the year, and the

support of Lam Son 7I9, South Vietnamrs cross-border opera-

strong enemy attacks

tion into Laos to interdict enemy

a new offensive. Since U. S. ground forces were leaving

Vietnam so rapidly,

Administration but

there was,really no alternative for the

to use air to

support both operations.

was President Nixonrs

tr'urther, if one thing was clear, it

apparent confidence in, and

determination to use, the air

weapon in trying to withdraw while holding off North

Vietnamese attack.

Presidential Policies on Use of Air

(U) In a 4 January 19?1 television interview with four oromli-

nent news

reporters, the President laid out his position on the

in

SEA in unmistakable terms. He first cited

use of air power

the November 1968 understandingl. permitting unarmed recon-

naissance planes over North Vietnam and reconfirmed his ewn orders to U. S. airmen to fire on SAM sites or whatever else

attacked their planes. He then spoke at length of "the other

one that I have laid down

a new one which

* During meetings in Paris with the Hanoi delegation, following

President Lyndon

the bombings

B. Johnsonrs order on 31 October

1968 ending

north of the demilitarized zone (DJ|i'f.ZI, the Ameri-

the U. S. would end

ttall

bombardments

the use of forcet' but that U. S. air recon-

useci

tt The

can negotiators explained

and all acts involving

delegates repeatedly

the above phrase with the North Vietnamese, arguing that

naissance would continue. The U. S.

ttreconnaissance

is not an act involving the use of force.

North Vietnamese suggested other

the phrase and used

after the bombing halt.

vol LIX, no 1536, 2 Dec 68,

it

words but finally accepted

in their statement to the press issued

[See

Department of State Bulletin,

pp 563'4. l

ul{crAsstFtED

UI{CLASSIFIEIl

goes along with our Vietnamization

drawal program.tt

this new

When asked if it

heavy December 19?0 bombing

passes from North Vietnam

program and our with-

didnrt bother him that

policy was not made clear before he ordered the

raids on supply lines in the

into Laos, the President

replied:

I made it clear not just a month ago, but

in November [1969].

North Vietnamese

withdrawing they

. when I warned the

'we

that if at a time

were

stepped up their infiltra-

eight

tion and threatened our remaining forces, that I would retaliate.

different occa-

tions on national television and radio' I have

I have said that on

said it also in other messages

have gotten to them very loud

to them that

and very clear'

So there is no question

ing, and that was whY

about the understand-

we did this.I

(U) Nevertheless, in now referring

which he had

to his pglicy as a "new' "

"othert'understanding

laid down, the President

for the first time clearly

distinguished it from President

that his policy on

Johnsonrs, and implicitly acknowledged

bombing had indeed ehanged

administration. He was to

over the months and years of his

reiterate his "newtt position again

and again in 19?I, never hesitating

mistakably elear as when

limitation

upon the use of airpower

to make his intentions un-

he saidttl am not going to place any

use of tactical

nuclear weapons.r12

(U) The Presidentrs were not just idle saber

repeated threats to use air power

rattling.

As 19?l progressed,

was pointing

it became

all too clear that enemy activity

to the very contingency

while he was making

January, he was

more and more

the President was

warning against. Thus'

air on 4

three fronts.

the firm statements about using

faced with rising enemy aetivity on

UNCTASSIFIEt|

In Cambodia, North Vietnamese forces were

in effect strang-

ling supply lines into the capital of Phnom Penh and moving

into new sanctuary areas; in Laos, the Pathet Lao were again

seriously

North Vietnamese

threatening Gen Vang Paors forces; and along

passes into Laos and along the Ho Chi

Minh trail in southern

ominous proportions.

Laos, enemy stoekpiling was reaching The President was determined to

head off the future offensive implicit in these enemy moves.

He was also determined to continue withdrawing

forces.

U. S. ground

Failure in either of these objectives, he knew, would

be relentlessly exploited by the opposition in the upcoming 1972

presidential elections. The one way to cover all these threat-

ening contingencies was to make maximum use of air, his re-

maining forceful weapon. Hence his long,

uing efforts to lay the

careful and contin-

groundwork justifying such use.

(U) The Presidentrs main

strategy in trying to assure

success of his policies centered on stopping or slowing up, by

whatever means, the

buildup and the flow of men and materia'Is

report to Congress

on 25 February,

increased air activities

to South Vietnam. Lr his

President Nixon (saying he might need

to accomplish it) stated this strategy very clearly:3

. we are trying to prevent the enemy from building

capabilities for major offensives. Our aim

up their

is to destroy their suppties and disrupt their planning

for assaults on allied forces in South Vietnam

If this was not done, he explained, Vietnamization gains made thus far could be lost before they had time to become effective.

Worse,the pressures on South Vietnamese forces left increas-

ingly

alone to face the North,

would become too

severe, and they

might suffer some major defeat. Past efforts to destroy enemy

build

strikes there--had succeeded in

ups--particularly

i'

the Cambodian invasion and the B-52

keeping

territory

major offensives from

and in buying time

developing on South Vietnamese

for

the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces (RVNAF) to irpprove.

But now, with i.ncreasing

U. S. withdrawals, the

enemy was be-

coming ever bolder in northernmost provinces

infiltration efforts towards and into the of South Vietnam. Above all, he was

renewing infiltration efforts across the border into Cambodia

and Laos, both of which he clearly aimed to use as springboards

(ffris page is Unclassified)

for assaults on SVN. Further, to help his plans along, the

enemy was endeavoring to oust the pro-American govern- ments stnuggling to survive in both places.

(U) Since enemy successes outside South Vietnam (in

adjaeent areas) bore directly on security

could not confine its actions

just to its

inside it, the U. S.

Saigonrs territory.

Hence the President did not wait until enemy forces and

supplies crossed the border at a time of Hanoif s choosing--

perhaps

in some major push in l9?2 when, with U. S. ground

forces almost gone, South Vietnam would be highly

As in the case of the 19?0 Cambodian sanctuary

vulnerable.

incursion, he

more and more directed his interdictior efforts in a pre-

emptive

manner outside South Vietnam, into Cambodia and

Laos and later in the year into North Vietnam itself.

Cambodia

C)

tfre Administration turned to air power in early l9?l

struggling against an enemy

its hold on

country. Besides

for help for Cambodian forces

infiltrating new sanctuary areas and tightening

major lines of communication (LOC) in the

eontrolling main roads, Viet Cong (VC) and North Vietnamese

Army

{NVA)

forees were harassing Mekong

River traffic and

pressing

attaeks on villages close around

the capital. On 22

January, an enemy sapper

attaek destroyed or damaged

69

aircraft on Phnom Penh airfield (52 Cambodian and l7 South

Vietnamese). To eounteract this inereasing threat of enemy

takeover, the Administration

directed expanded U. S. air operations,

during

January and February

bringing aerial activity

incursion of June

in Cambodia to

1970.4

its highest leve1 since the

O)

This step-up in U. S. air operations provoked an

immediate outery from the U. S. press and some members of

Congress. The latter

the

troops

get all

charged

that the President was violating

Cooper-Church 'k amendment (which banned U. S. ground

i1

Cambodia), as well as his promise of the year before to

U. S. rorces out of Cambodia at the end of the tncursion on

* Senators John Cooper of Tennessee and Frank Chureh of Idaho.

30 June. The President at that time had said the United States

would continue air

interdiction aetivity after U. S. troops with-

known that he had at the sarne time

drew. But it was not widely authorized a much broader

variety of U. S. ail support which

had continued and intensified throughout 19?0. a

(U) Secretary Laird replied for the Administration in a 20

January news

eonference, making no bones about past or pre-

sent use of air power:

We

use air powe

*

in Cambodia, and we

s116.ugh it was not

have continued to use it,

directly related to the South Vietnamese sanetuary

operation.

I donrt want to get

into a semantic problem

here of what this mission is called, or that mission,

I have always called it

supportnt as

ttair

activities,tt

ttair

far as Cambodia is concerned; we will

use air power, and as long as I am serving in

this job,

I will reeommend that we use,air power

to supplement the South Vietnamese forces, as far

as the air

campaign in South Vietnam, Laos and

Cambodia to reduce American

see that the Vietnamization program

is

and

r

We are going to supplement as far as air power is concerned.

I donrt want anyone to leave this room with

any

other understanding. We

was spelled out

clearly in

ments which limit ground

I

have this authority. It

the Congressional amend-

eombat activities, which

but as far as air and sea aetivities,

the law is very

clearthat as far as the sanetualies

or as far as protecting the Vietnamization program

.

insuring withdrawal, all those terms are written

very emphatically and clearly into

the.

.legislation.

nk Although Mr. Lairdts statement

power in Cambodia, its full import did not

eonceded the past use of air

become apparent until

lIl2

years later when the Department of Defense issued a de-

tai.led report on the "seerettt

19 March 1969 with the approval of the Cambodian leader, Prince

bombing of that country,

initiated on

Norodom Sihanouk. For further details, see Appendix 2.

'*rffis

When asked if his statements meant there were no inhibitions

of

any kind on the use of

air power in Cambodia, Secretary

care to discuss the operating

protections"

Laird

replied that he didntt

orders, but added that

rrcertain

were written into

these orders. He said he doubted that the United States

would get up to the level of last

year,

"but we could. I donrt

"

want to be in a position of putting a sortie

(U) The following day, 64 members of the U. S. House of Representatives introduced legislation barring funds for U. S.

sea and air combat support.

and a few days later

was not going to

Cambodia or Laos.

to use that air power

This measure failed, however,

Rogers

Secretarf of State William P.

"But, " he said,

because it

t'we

took up the defense of U. S.'air in Cambodia. He said this

get the U. S. bogged down in a land war in

are going to continue

protects American lives.

Itts the least costly

should have any

way to protect our men--and why we

restrictions on the use of that air

tt

power to

protect American lives, I dontt know.

President had

He noted how the

repeatedly said he would use air power as he

forces, supplies

and communications,

saw fit against enemy

and to prevent him from re-establishing sanctuary areas.

And he added:

Now, we donrt have to wait in that connection.

We donrt have to wait until the base areas have been

re-established. We want to take the action which is necessary to prevent that from happening. 6

ALr Operations in Cambodia

5)

tfre expanded U. S. air assistance directed by the

Administration in

to its highest level iate aim was

January brought aerial activity in Cambodia

since the incursion of June 1970. Its immed-

to help lift the threats from various directions on

the capital of Phnom Penh,

Vietnamese operation

Kompong Som

and to support a Cambodian-South

trying to open Route 4 from the port of

to the capital. USAF

air

forward air controller

FACs directed tactical

and AC-119 gunship strikes in direct

support of Cambodian and South Vietnamese ground forces.

{ffi

I

-N-

il

OPERATIOT.I

AREA

TOAN THAAIG OIIV

OF OPERAT|oN

I 19711

xn!K

\ n

I

*d!

\

a

a\:

Source:

CS/mrilAF

@

*O}tf;ffffr"

FOrn E'2

In addition, B-52 bombers made over 100 raids a month into

Cambodia during the spring Armees Nationai Klemeres

During January

alone'

VNAF, 1,400, sorties

months to support

Forces

(FANK)--The

Cambodian Army' total of 4'776 and the

the USAF flew a

in Cambodia. T On 12 January,

Abrams,

Command€r' IJ'

MACV)' Gen. Creighton Assistance Comma.td,

Vi.tt"m

aerial

(COMUS-

S' Military

implemented a combined

Mekong Convoy Security Plan, by which convoys

U.S. Army (USA), U.S. Navy (USN),

under USAF'

andlater VNAF'

escort--a11 controlled by the

seventh Aill Force--became

the major source of resupply

for Phnom Penh' B

(Il)TheAirForcealsoprovidedsupportforamajorjoint

(Toan Thang 01-71)

cambodian-south vietnamese operation

aimed at disrupting enemy efforts to

reestablish sanctuaries

along the Mekong in the cambodia-south

In December lg?b

MACV had

Admiral John S.

( CINCPAC),

seven Army

ticipated,

vietnam border area s'

asked--and got--support from

in January 1971.

McCain, Commander in Chief' Pacific

and it began

for this operation

of the Republic

by U. S.

of vietnam

(ARVN) battalions par-

troop lifts, tactical air' fixed wing

"iA"a gunships, and B-52 air strikes' 9 A11 air strike

had already been

in April,

extended in December 1970 to

the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS)

11 and also changed

fire to be returned

the rules

in all areas

and helicopter authorizations

i M;t 19?1.10 Later,

ordered them further extended,

of engagement to permit

ground

where USAF strikes

were authorized' 12

lllDurlng

the first weeks of Operation Toan Thang' there

wasonlylightcontactwiththeenemybutinmid-MarchaZ-day

in the chup plantation

area. ARVN artillery' u; s.

battle erupted

helicopter

strikes

gunships, USAF and

VNAF tactical air and B-52

p"orrid"d support,

including some 400

In operations around Snuol

Vietnamese, but lost many of his

and the enemy sustained

heavy lossoes'

personnel reported

in Miy,

tiUed by air strikes. ro

the enemy routed the South

some 500

own men' including

the

presumed kil1ed by air.14"

him to

m late September

enemy initiated

carefully pr.p"r"i

But reinforced ARV N forces, with

attacks against fire

bases in the Krek area'

heavy fire support' forced

The fire support

withdraw with significant losses.

l3tt€t0RfiFr*; p

consisted of 89 B-52 strikes,

1, 398 VNAF tactical

ship sorties, 4,800

rounds.15 In mid-December

1,156 USAF tactical air sorties;

3, 689 U. S. helicopter gun-

rounds and lbB, ?00 ARVN

air sorties,

U. S. artillery

B-52 and tactical air strikes

enabled ARVN elements to break through stubborn enemy

positions around Route 6 north of Phnom Penh and continue

operations in the Chup area. But at

mained

partially under enemy control.

yearrs end the road re-

(Q a6" use of air in

Cambodia was of great help to the

not by itself determine the out-

the low military

defending forces, but it could

come of the fighting, particularly in view of

capability of the

made in May,

Cambodian forces. A CINCPAC assessmenta

'-

noted that

a major weakness in effectively

was the Cambodian armyrs lack

developing and exploiting enemy

applying available air power

of necessary sophistication in

targets, owith the result that lucrative opportunities were over-

Iooked."Nevertheless, General Abrams considered that tac-

tical air and B-52 sorties had

time-tables and

uation in Cambodia.lB

produced significant results. 1?

ground

force operations had

had upset their

military and political sit-

The combined use of air and allied

not halted the

advance of enemy troops, but it

help-e^d stabilize the

Laos: Lam Son 719