I was assigned to the Detachment 5-2, 2nd AVON located in Saigon during
October 1962. At that time the 5th Tactical Control Group located
in the Philippines was deploying, equipping and maintaining all the radar
equipment's located in South Vietnam. There were detachments at:
- Saigon (MPS-11 equipped CRC)
- Danang (MPS-11 equipped CRP)
- Pleiku (TPS-l equipped CRP)
- All units were in a mobile configuration and equipped with Height
At this time, the Tactical Air Command was deploying, equipping and
maintaining a CRC located at the Don Muang Airport at Bangkok, Thailand. This
unit was also equipped with a MPS-ll and a Height Finding Radar.
All radar units were under the control of a joint Tactical Air Control
Center also located at the airport at Saigon. The officers at the Saigon site
were billeted at a hotel located downtown Saigon. At this time the CRC was the
only complete Air Force unit in the Saigon area. The rest of the military in
the area were assigned to detachments or advisory groups. While I was
stationed at the CRC in Saigon I served as a Senior Director, Assistant
Operations Officer and Training Officer.
13th Air Force was the overall command structure for both Thailand and
Vietnam. The 13th AF headquarters was located at Clark AFB in the Philippines.
The 2nd ADVON headquarters was basically manned by personnel that were
transferred in from 13th AF headquarters. The commander of the 2nd ADVON was
formerly the Vice Commander of 13th AF.
From the time the Saigon site was activated, half of the crew were
Vietnamese who had received their training in the United States at Keesler AFB
and Tyndall AFB. In addition to the formal training we continued an on-the-job
training program during the night shifts. The Vietnamese were also educating
the Americans on how to speak Vietnamese. We also conducted English lessons.
Since I had recently finished a tour in the Air Training Command I had enough
contacts in ATC to where I got them to send me lesson plans from both the
schools at Keesler and Tyndall. Everything was going fine and the Vietnamese
were happy, until the Military Advisory Group found out about what we were
doing at the radar site. The Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) were refusing the
quotas for sending their troops to the US for training. Quotas were more
important than efficiency so the MAG won the battle and we had to discontinue
any formal training we were doing. There was a 17xx assigned to the MAG.
Fortunately he stayed out of our hair.
Some of the Vietnamese graduates of USAF schools did not even know the
world was round. There must have been a policy that all Vietnamese must
graduate regardless of their skills. We tried in-country to train these
individuals but finally gave up and had them transferred to some other skill.
The Military Assistant Program (MAP) was installing fixed radars (FPS-l 00)
at the following locations:
- Ubon, Thailand
- Udorn, Thailand
- Green Hill, Thailand
- Chaing Mai, Thailand ( this site was delayed several years)
The primary missions of the radar units were:
- Air Defense
- Navigational Assistance
- Support Air Rescue
With the advent of increasing Air Force personnel in South Vietnam, the 2nd
ADVON was upgraded to 2nd Air Division.
Through 1962 and 1964 there were no formal interceptors assigned to
The Australian Air Force had deployed a squadron of F-86 fighter aircraft
to the airbase at Ubon, Thailand. They were deployed under the auspices of the
Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). Formally, they were not involved
in the Vietnam War.
Six F-I02 interceptors were periodically deployed to Saigon to provide air
defense. When they were not deployed, the US Navy deployed a squadron of AD5Q
single engine anti-submarine aircraft to Saigon for our use in air defense.
The AD5Q radar was originally designed for anti-submarine work but also worked
very well against airborne aircraft Although the aircraft was equipped with a
single piston type engine, its maximum speed was 350 knots which was
sufficient to intercept non-jet type aircraft. The aircraft was equipped with
four 2O-mm cannons.. Most of our intercept training was against low flying
targets of opportunity (Army FAC type aircraft) operating at less than 200
mph. These FAC pilots would get a real thrill when our F-I02's would go
screaming by at no less than 280 knots, especially at night time.
After my tour in Vietnam, I was reassigned to 13th Air Force Headquarters
in the Philippines as the Branch Chief of the Air Defense Branch. At this time
13th AF was responsible for all operations in Thailand and Vietnam.
During this period, 2nd Air Division was expanding in to new facilities
that included a 2-story TACC. The plans for the TACC were obtained from TAC
headquarters in the states. However, there we some former 'air defenders'
assigned to the headquarters that tried to modify it into a manual Air Defense
Control Center. Luckily the plotting boards were not etched and only painted.
An inspection from .13thAF personnel called a halt to this type of facility
and returned it to a TACC configuration.
To my knowledge, air defense aircraft tracks were never plotted on the TACC
air situation plotting board. The board was primarily used to plot the
activities of the forces supporting the Vietnamese country side. Air defense
was a very low priority at this time. The only known threat was 5 MIG-15's
located in Cambodia and MIG-21 's located in North Vietnam. On several
occasions the MIG's from Cambodia were detected patrolling the border between
Cambodia and South Vietnam. By the time we scrambled a F-I02, the MIG's would
retreat back into the interior of Cambodia. The last time we detected one, the
F-I02 chased the MIG into the interior and then buzzed the capital at low
altitude. As far as I know the MI Gs never flew again. Although the MIG-21 's
operated in the southern part of North Vietnam we never had any detected
penetrations of South Vietnam.
One of our biggest problems was integrating the cultures of Air Defense
Command and Tactical Air Command. Because there was a greater number of 17xx's
in the Air Defense Command, a large majority of the replacements to the
original crews were from ADC. The ADC 17xx's had much more intercept control
experience than those assigned to TAC. Some of the TAC 17xx's had never
conducted an intercept mission since they left school. This lack of experience
upset the F-I02 pilots who required that they be given intercept missions on a
daily basis.. To keep proficient the 17xx's used older 15Jl C simulators that
could generate a maximum of 6 targets simultaneously. There was limited to
non-existent intercept control training at sites other than at Saigon. The
site at Udorn was lucky in that most ADC trained F-4 pilots were stationed
there and requested intercept training from time to time. The TAC trained F-4
pilots were primarily assigned to Ubon.
As the war expanded, so did the manpower requirements for our radar sites.
Initially, the manning was based on state side duty of 3 working shifts and 1
shift off. The war effort and air situation did not warrant this large number
of personnel. There were to many problems with the off-duty crews in all the
isolated locations. We solved this problem by manning two Tiger crews (full
manning of all positions). We then left it up to the detachment commanders how
they wanted to use their assigned personnel. Personnel problems were really
Because of the diversity of the new people being assigned to Vietnam, we
took all the local SOP's and created an overall AC&W Operational Plan. It was
in more detail than a normal plan would be. It was an educational document i!l
addition to being an operational plan. An 0-6, assigned to 2nd Air Division
from the Air Defense Command, strongly objected to the tactical flavor of the
document and stated he would approve it. He was overruled by the 13th AF
Flight following became our primary mission as the number of aircraft
increased. At first, the normal 17xx attempted to monitor all the aircraft
that requested the service. It was a sort of informal arrangement. As the
number of aircraft increased we had to use some of our sharper airmen answer
the radios and provide assistance when requested. Our 2nd Air Division
Commander always called in, after he had been away from home for some time,
and requested we obtain flowers and have them delivered to his wife. One of
our airmen would jump in a jeep and head for the Saigon flower shops to the
general's home. As we developed greater expertise in providing a fom1al flight
following service, we obtained additional equipment and personnel to solve
this problem. We had a different section that was assigned to strictly flight
following. At the same time we requested that all out bound flights check in
after takeoff so that we knew who everybody was. Eventually, we requested and
received personnel that had been trained in air traffic control matters.
During this same time period FAA started assigning people to the Saigon Air
Traffic Control Center and Tower. This improved the air traffic control
greatly. These civilians were only responsible for commercial flights coming
in and out of Vietnam. Prior to the arrival of the FAA personnel, 17xx's at
the radar site would, upon request, provide radar vectors to commercial
aircraft like Pan American Airways. A straight in approach saved time, fuel
and was a lot safer from ground fire. The civil A TRC, having no radar,
directed the aircraft in a long time consuming circular approach.
Flight following became especially important during the monsoon season.
Being all propeller driven aircraft, they could not overfly the thunderstorms
that came up like clock work every afternoon. Our 17xx's would attempt to
guide them around the thunderstorms since our radars at that time were great
at detecting any kind of moisture in the air. We could even detect rice
burning. Rice burning creates large clouds of debris, which can be detected.
We even had the pilots believing we had the greatest radar in the world. When
flight following the first aircraft returning home in the thunderstorms, we
would ask the pilot to describe where the towering clouds, lightning and rain
were in relationship to his aircraft. With this knowledge we would tell the
next aircraft returning home exactly what the weather conditions were at his
location. The pilots thought our radar was providing all this data. We never
told the pilots of what we were doing since they were happy with our service.
It seemed like every night, the Viet Cong would try to attack a friendly
village somewhere. It was the responsibility of the Vietnamese Air Force to
assist in repelling these attacks. As soon as the T ACC was notified that a
village was under attack and needed assistance, they would scramble a C-47
flare ship and a pair of fighters (A-IE or T -28) fighter bombers. It was the
task of the 17xx to guide these aircraft to the designated village. We
fabricated a large scale map of the area and placed in on plywood. Using
string, originating at our radar site, we would stretch the string from our
radar site to the village. We now know the azimuth and then can determine
range. If the village was going to be outside our radar coverage, we would ask
the pil9t to determine his bearing from a known navigational aid. The crossing
of the two strings was the location of the aircraft. In a few cases, we used
only navigational aids for determining the location of the aircraft.
- On several occasions during my tour, an aircraft that was being flight
followed, declared an emergency and crashed. Each time we would mark the scope
and call for rescue and fighter cover. As you know long range radars are not
noted for their pinpoint accuracy. We developed a technique whereas we would
guide the rescue or fighter aircraft either to the right of left of the noted
location of the crash. we would then ask the aircraft to make a lazy circle
around the noted location and continually tighten the circle until they
sighted the crash. It works the majority of the time. Once while I was on duty
a helicopter lost one its rotors. The other helicopters in the formation
circled the crash site until they had to leave for fuel. I was able to direct
the rescue almost directly to the crash site in the minimum amount of time. No
The radar sites were expected to know everything that was going on in the
air in their area of responsibility. The CRC's were provided with all the frag
orders' so with a little attention, one could know what was happening.
During the 1962 and 63 time period all aircraft in Vietnam were piston-
driven aircraft because of the treaty that created Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos
specifically stated that jet combat aircraft would not be introduced into
Southeast Asia. There was a change of heart in 1964 and CINCPAC ordered that
F-100's and B-57 Canberra bombers be used to bomb targets in South Vietnam.
This order came with restrictions, these aircraft could not be based in
Southeast Asia. A my unit of F-100's and B-57's were sent to Clark AFB for
these bombing missions. The aircraft would fly out of Clark AFB, bomb targets
in Vietnam, then return to Clark AFB. The radar sites in Vietnam were required
to provide navigational assistance for these flights
There was a considerable number of unknown aircraft flying in Cambodia west
of Saigon. As you will note that the Cambodian border comes very close to
Saigon. To provide additional early warning for Saigon, we decided to install
a UPS-I early warning radar on a mountain peak near the Cambodian border. The
peak was nicknamed VC Mountain as they had previously used this mountain for
an observation post. The Army was using the mountaintop for radio relay
equipment and they agreed to help us with the radar site. We got the Army
helicopter unit to fly sandbags full of dirt to the top to fill in the empty
space between the boulders. Finally, we created a flat space. The 5th Tactical
Control Group brought UPS-I radar in from the Philippines. The Army flew the
equipment's to the top of the mountain. Since there was no space for sleeping
quarters the crews had to be flown to and off the mountain when they changed
shifts. We did leave some Vietnamese troops at the site overnight to keep the
VC away from our equipment. These troops would roll hand grenades off the
mountain every so often to scare any potential enemy from climbing to the top
of the mountain. The radar eventually became operational, however, it would
not detect any of the many aircraft flying in the Saigon area. We then flew
off the equipment's to the CRC location and re-erected it. It worked
beautifully. Back to the top of the hill. Again it did not work. Back down to
Saigon to have it checked out again. Since the US Marines Corps originally
procured the equipment I decided to check out their equipment in Hawaii where
they were using several operational UP-1ís. After explaining my problem to
them, a Warrant Officer asked me to come back in several hours. When I
returned the Marines took me to their site along the coast line on a bluff
overlooking the sea. When I looked at the scope I told them our radar picture
looked just like theirs. The Warrant Officer then asked me to come back the
next day, which I did. I went into the radar shelter and looked at the display
and it looked like the display we got at the Saigon location. Now the Warrant
Officer explained to me the difference in radar capabilities based on radar
location. All ground-based radars require a certain amount of ground plane
around the radar site to permit the radar beam to be reflected back into the
sky. Without a ground plane the beam just scatters and is meaningless. This
explanation canceled our radar site at VC Mountain. Ground based radars are
not free space radars, whereas airborne radars are classified as free space
A major problem at all our radar sites was keeping all our exposed wires
from being stolen by the local natives. They even stole our power and video
cables. Copper sold for a high price. At Udorn, Thailand we were preparing the
airfield for night landings. A mobile communications unit spent all one day
installing temporary landing lights along both sides of the runway. The first
airplane was scheduled to land at midnight, about 6 hours after the lights
were installed. Nothing happened when they threw the switch at midnight. A
quick check discovered that all the wire connecting the landing lights was
stolen. The aircraft had to be diverted to another airfield.
The F-I02 pilots were getting bored and wanted to get involved in some
action. Some smart pilot figured out that their heat seeking missiles could
seek out VC cooking fires. They received permission to fIre their 'old'
missiles. They were successful. However, the friendly troops in the area
complained that these missiles were disrupting their nap time in the
afternoons. Up to this time, the war was never fought during 'siesta time' and
after dark. Battles would go on hold during these periods of times. It drove
the American advisors crazy.
After the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the big war started and the Air Force
started a major build up in Thailand and Vietnam. Additional mobile radar
units were deployed to:
- Dong Ha
- Can Tho
- Nakon Phanom, Thailand
- Phitsanulok, Thailand
The Dong Ha radar was installed in close proximity to the DMZ between North
and South Vietnam and was under constant mortar attack. I think shrapnel
wounded several airmen. The entire site was sand bagged except for the
The Can Tho radar was installed to provide more flight following in the
delta or Cau Mau region south of Saigon.
The Nakon Phanom radar site was installed to give us maximum low altitude
coverage between the North Vietnamese base at Vinh, North Vietnam and our
major airbases at Ubon and Udorn, Thailand.
The Phitsanulok radar was installed for political reasons to allow the
Thais to maintain and operate their own radar site without any US troops on
the site. They did very well until they found out how much money it takes to
operate a radar site. To save money, they would only operate several hours a
The radar site at Green Hills, near Bangkok, was located in a park area.
The local tigers would roar all night, some of them right out side the
compound fence. The local wild elephants would continually tear up our water
source pipes that ran from the bottom of the hills to the top where the radar
was. It was assumed they did not like the smell of the pipes. Once the pipes
were buried, the elephants did not bother them again. Although this was a Thai
site, we had a small detachment of 17xx I s located at the site. They lived in
a first class resort like motel at the bottom of the hill.
The radar site at Monkey Mountain, near Danang, was home to a tribe of rock
apes. They eventually became beggars and first class pests.
Based on the advice of the CONUS based Air Defense Command, we in Vietnam
accepted the deployment of a detachment of EC-121 AEW airplanes to Korat,
Thailand. We were naive in thinking that an EC-121 aircraft could effectively
operate in a tactical environment. We knew they were successfully operated off
the coasts of the United States. However, flying in the Gulf of Tonkin, their
task was to survey over the landmass of North Vietnam in the Hanoi area.
Flying at normal flight altitudes, the radar picked up to much ground clutter
and was useless over land. To improve their effectiveness, they flew at very
low altitudes to permit the curvature of the earth to blank out the clutter.
This technique provided us with coverage over Hanoi from about 10,000 feet and
above. The main problem with the EC-121 was that it was a maintenance hog. Its
flying hour costs were the highest in the USAF aircraft inventory. After a
series of problems they were sent home.
On the two flights I made with the EC-121's into the Gulf of Tonkin, they
flew so low that they would have to leap-frog sampans in the gulf. It was so
hot inside the EC-121's that all the crewmen would strip down to their
underwear to keep cool. This was before the women were liberated and
authorized to fly in the EC- 121's.
After the US started bombing targets in North Vietnam, the MIG-21 's
located in southern airfields were all moved to the safe havens in the Hanoi
area. They ventured south several times but were met by our aircraft and they
immediately returned to the Hanoi area. This was about the end of the real
threat to South Vietnam. It was possible but not probable. Our intelligence
was probably better than our radar detection system.
With the influx of large number of airplanes into the theater, 2nd Air
Division was promoted to being called 7th Air Force with a 4-star commander.
Southeast Asia was then split between 7th AF and 13th AF. 7th AF commander
became the Air Component Commander for Military Advisory Commander-Vietnam
(MACV). 7th AF was responsible for all aspects of the war in South Vietnam and
the air operations over North Vietnam. 13th AF was relegated to owning and
maintaining all the Air Force units located in Thailand. However, 13th AF had
no operational control of any combat aircraft. At this time all radar units in
both Thailand and Vietnam were assigned to a newly created 505 (?) Tactical
Control Group located at the Saigon airport.
The activation of the 7th Air Force reduced some of my responsibilities for
operations in Vietnam; therefore PACAF transferred me to their headquarters in
Hawaii. While I was stationed in the Philippines I visited either Thailand or
Vietnam at least 3 times a week. During some periods, I either stayed in
country for several days or flew over 7 days a week. While in Hawaii, I was
required to visit Southeast Asia every month. A round trip would normally take
about 12 days.
Politics entered into the divisions of responsibility. Because the majority
of the aircraft operating over North Vietnam were based in Thailand, the Thai
government wanted a command and control facility located in Thailand. So one
was built adjacent to the radar site at Udorn, Thailand. A 2 star general
commanded this facility. In theory, and on paper, this facility was
responsible for all aircraft located in Thailand. In reality, the 7th AF T ACC
at Saigon controlled everything.
The facility at Udorn was called 13th AF/7th AF Command Center and provided
the daily frag orders'. Due to our lack of adequate communications, 'frag
orders' were delivered every day by airplane to all the far flung bases. 7th
AF was in a unique position concerning the air war over North Vietnam. MACV
had only control over South Vietnam. 7th AF basically reported directly to
CINCPAC in Hawaii.
Again due to politics the air defense systems of Thailand and Vietnam were
never really linked. The Americans really did not want the Thais from knowing
what was going on in Vietnam so they never did appropriate the money necessary
to build the required communications between the two countries. The primary
communication system in Southeast Asia was a backbone tropo-scatter system
procured under the auspices of the military assistance program (MAP). In
addition we used some tactical tropo systems. In the later stages of the war,
a undersea cable became operational that allowed real time reliable
communications between Vietnam and the United States.
The personnel policy for Vietnam was that to be assigned there, you had to
have the highest effectiveness record. At first this sounded like an excellent
idea for winning the war in 30 days. It really did not work out that way.
During the major buildup I used to travel with the manpower people all the
time. Once while in 7th AF headquarters, the manpower man and I were waiting
to see the Directorate for Operations. While we were waiting, we overheard a
heated discussion between some 0-6's and 0-5's on how to win the war. They
were getting nowhere. Finally, one 0-5 stated he knew more than all the rest
and that is was time to eat lunch. This conversation stuck with us, and after
discussing it with the Commander and his staff and higher headquarters we all
agreed that if you have all "chiefs" and no "indians" nothing is accomplished.
The Air Staff agreed and started assigning a broad spectrum of people to
While being stationed at PACAF, my tour was now about 5 years long. Air
Force policy limited overseas tours to 5 years. I was then transferred to the
Pentagon as Branch Chief of the Weapons Control & Space Systems Branch. Gen.
Ryan, Chief of Staff requested that I remain current in Southeast Asia matters
and visit Southeast Asia at a minimum of once per quarter. By the time I
retired I had received 36 months of income tax deductions for my participation
in Southeast Asia. A minimum of 14 days in-country were required per month to
get this deduction.
President Johnson put out an edict that US aircraft would not overfly China
for any reason. Since many of the assigned targets were very close to the
border and during marginal weather it was almost impossible for the US pilots
to avoid over flying China. The Chinese intelligence network was very
efficient in reporting these incidents. Within a couple of days after an over
flying incident we would hear from Washington. They obtained their information
from the local Chinese Embassy.
In an attempt to solve this problem we installed automated operation
centers (BUIC II) at Udorn, Thailand and Danang, South Vietnam. We chose
automated centers because we could interface directly to the Naval Tactical
Data System (NTDS) operating in the Gulf of Tonkin and the Marine Tactical
Data System (MTDS) located nearby in the vicinity of Danang. In addition, we
proposed to automate the EC-121 aircraft so they could also be linked with all
these automated systems.
All the personnel assigned to the two BUIC sites came from the Air Defense
Command. The personnel were considered Combat Ready in either the BUIC or SAGE
systems before their assignment overseas. TAC did not possess any automated
systems at this time.
The JCS 'rules of engagement' stated that the Air Component Commander was
the Air Defense Commander. The Air Defense Commander or his specially
designated representatives were the only persons authorized to declare an
aircraft hostile. Since the Air Defense Commander was located in Saigon, it
would take time for an outlying CRC to get an aircraft declared hostile. Since
the warning time between the DMZ and Danang was only about 5 minutes we had to
come up with another solution to this problem. We created a position called
'Battle Commander' who would be delegated the authority to classify aircraft
hostile. They were to be senior 0-6's. Although these Battle Commanders were
never needed, they could have solved the problem of reaction time.
One of our major problems over the north was our "Rules of Engagement'
which stated that the pilot had to visually identify the enemy aircraft as the
enemy. This was a time consuming and a dangerous tactic. To assist in the
identification of the enemy, we knew that all Soviet or Chinese built aircraft
used a special Soviet style electronic identification system. After we built
systems capable of detecting these Soviet systems many of our problems were
solved. The problem was now to put these detection systems into the hands of
the operations personnel. After some infighting, we installed these detection
equipment's in operational aircraft and ground-based radars. To our knowledge
at that time, the North Vietnamese or Chinese radars never attempted to
interrogate our electronic identification systems. They were continually being
checked. Some of our fighter wings did not believe us and turned their IFF off
every time they got close to the Hanoi area. Eventually, the 7th AF Commander
ordered all aircraft to leave their IFF systems on so that command and control
facilities could track them and assist them when necessary.
To assist in the air defense of South Vietnam, a F-l04 squadron was
assigned to the Danang airbase in the northern part of South Vietnam. Their
task was to conduct combat air patrols (CAP) over the Gulf of Tonkin. This
type of airplane was not suited for CAP missions because it lacked flying
time. Always needed refueling. The squadron was getting a bad name. The straw
that broke the camels back was when a pair of F-l04's took off from Danang
heading for the gulf. One aircraft (wing man) reported oxygen problems and was
advised to return to home base. The second aircraft (flight leader) turned
around towards home assuming the other aircraft would follow and had received
the new orders. After completing the turn the wing leader could not see or
talk to the wing man. The wing man was tracked by the Navy northwards toward
Hainan Island (belongs to the Chinese). It was last seen by radar over Hainan
Island. Nothing was ever heard from it again. Since President Johnson issued
his edict about over flying China, Washington was livid and sent an
investigating team to the F-I04 unit. The result was that the F-l 04 unit was
reassigned back to the United States. After the F-1O4's departed, the Marine
F-4's stationed at Danang assumed air defense alert for the area. They were
under the control of the Marine Tactical Data System although the Air Force
never gave up its responsibility as the Air Defense Commander for the area.
F-IO2's were being deployed to Saigon on a regular basis to perform some
kind of air defense. With the war heating up and MIG-21's patrolling along the
Laos/North Vietnam border, someone deployed a detachment of F-l 02s to Udorn
airbase in Thailand. This was the closest airbase to Hanoi. Their mission was
to patrol the border between Laos and North Vietnam but under no circumstances
were they to penetrate North Vietnam airspace. Well, as all good plans go
awry, the operations officer of the F-l 02 unit was flying the normal patrol
but happened to stray into North Vietnam and was shot down before anybody knew
what was happening. 'The irony of this incident was that the F-I02 unit was
briefed that the North Vietnamese were waiting to spring a surprise attack on
this patrol. I guess they did not believe the intelligence.
Most people did know that there were more Chinese and North Korean MIGs
operating over North Vietnam than there were Vietnamese.
As air operations increased, so did the requirement for airborne refueling.
' The radar sites at Udorn, Danang and the EC-121 IS were involved in
assisting the refueling operations.
One of the most interesting events for the Saigon radar site was that it
was involved in every coup that happened in South Vietnam. The first coup was
when the Army ousted President Diem in 1962. The CRC was the focal point for
all ground-to-air communications with the Vietnamese Air Force. When the Air
Force was on the wrong side, the other side would come on to the airbase and
takeover the radar site and block the runway with tanks. During one of my many
visits to Vietnam, a coup took place before I could leave. An Army Special
Forces unit invaded and took over the radar site to prevent the Vietnamese in
the site from using the communications systems. A loyal young 17xx Captain
took exception to a foreigner for taking over US property. He tried to unlock
the site's rifle and ammunition locker so that he could repel the invader. He
kept yelling at a Special Forces Lt. col. that the site was US property and he
had to leave. Well, a young airman was smart enough to run over to the
Headquarters, about 3 blocks away, and inform them what was taking place. I
happened to hear the conversation, and volunteered to go to the site and find
out what was going on. I thought I was experienced in these matters since I
had previously gone through 3 coups. By the time I got to the site, the
Captain was a raving maniac. I found the Army Lt Col. and discovered I had met
him under similar circumstances in a previous coup. We removed the Captain to
the headquarters building and told the Army Lt. col. the place was his, but
that he had better not destroy any equipment or harm any US personnel, he
understood. After everything settled down, except the Captain, we all agreed
that I would take the Captain back with me to the Philippines and find him a
new job outside of Southeast Asia, which I did.
During the famous Tet Offensive the Viet Cong (VC) penetrated into downtown
Saigon and the Saigon airbase. I heard that several airmen were wounded. The
VC entered the radar tower up to the catwalk around the dome. It was assumed
that they wanted to become snipers. However they were seen and the Air Police
killed three of them.
In addition to flight following our local aircraft, we also had the
responsibility to monitor the SR - 71 flights that came out from Guam and over
flew Southeast Asia. A special 17xx had to be on duty during these flight
periods and ensure that their detection's did not enter the air surveillance
reporting system. This was also true of CIA flights into North Vietnam. A CIA
agent would come over to the radar site with a sealed envelope containing CIA
flight plans for the next 24 hours. The 17xx was not to open the envelope
unless a potential CIA flight appeared as a threat to friendly forces.
When the ABCCC aircraft were developed and deployed to Thailand, several
17xx were assigned to each flight. They were responsible for handling the
aircraft operating over Laos and the Ho Chi Minh trail.
From the beginning of the first build up, TAC provided advisory teams to
review and recommend new procedures to the in-country personnel. In most
cases, they were very well received. We would give them problem areas and they
would return home and try to find acceptable solutions. This linkage with TAC
saved the in- country personnel a lot of valuable time that could be used
Although CINCPAC was operationally in charge of the whole operation, they
really did not know what was happening and what was required in the future.
While trying to get new monies for an improved communications system in
Southeast Asia, CINCPAC asked where was the overall plan. There was none, only
parts of the whole. I was then assigned the task of creating any overall Air
Component Commander's Operation Plan. We called it the Southeast Asia Tactical
Air Control System. It became the bible for all future operations
and future procurements. It was a living document and had to be changed if new
monies were to be granted. This document was almost a 1000 pages thick, a lot
November 1970 JCS sponsored an airborne raid on the North Vietnam
prisoner-of-war (POW) prisons. The initial idea for this raid began in the Air
Staff with a I-star general who was responsible for monitoring POW activities.
There were a total of 7 planners of which I was one. I was given the
responsibility for planning all the command and control activities. After
about 9 months of planning, President Nixon gave us the green light for
conducting the mission. We controlled the mission (Son Tay) from an automated
control center located in South Vietnam. Our command and control capability
was based on a very sophisticated communication system whereas we could talk
directly with the troops who had entered the compound. For the raid we
modified a C-135 tanker into a radio relay platform. The raid included
helicopters, F-4 MIG CAP aircraft, Wild Weasel aircraft, C-130 Gunships, A1-E
Search/Rescue propeller driven fighters, C-121 aircraft, C-135 refueling
aircraft and Navy Task Force 77 aircraft (used as decoys). No personnel were
lost. Two aircraft were lost over Laos from near misses by SAMís. The pilots
bailed out and were picked up by CIA aircraft immediately. Intelligence
reported that the enemy launched 282 SAMís that night without getting a direct
hit. The near misses were based on triple firing at one aircraft. - The
EC-121's were overloaded and had difficulty proceeding to the Gulf of Tonkin.
Their radars did not work as expected. The IFF system was completely useless
as they were degraded by Navy ECM aircraft. Navy jammers are dirty jammers.
They jam multiple frequencies when they are supposed to jam only one
frequency. Although the aircrews valiantly tried to accomplish their mission,
their equipment just could not do the job. After we had the after action
reports, we started processing the EC- 121 IS out of the inventory. When Gen.
Ryan, then Chief of Staff listened to the after actions reports he turned to
me and said get rid of those aircraft.
After any conflict, organizations are required to write a 'lessons learned'
report. In the case of the EC-121, we learned that there was a definite
requirement for an airborne radar system that could operate effectively
anywhere in the world, including land and sea. About the time the Air Staff
was digesting the lessons learned document, Grumman Corporation, the maker of
the Navy E-2C airborne radar system, submitted an unsolicited proposal to the
Air Staff, which included installing a E-2C radar on a C-135 aircraft. The
proposal was well received and was sent to the Electronic Systems Division
(ESD) for review and costing. The ESD report was encouraging and we in the Air
Staff requested the Air Defense Command to write an Operational Requirements
document. The ADC document was oriented toward defending the United States and
did not address the tactical problem of Southeast Asia. They also went wild
and requested more aircraft than Boeing could build in 20 years. We thanked
them and proceeded to rewrite a draft of the requirement that would satisfy
the tactical requirement. We then sent the draft to TAC who were then to fIll
in the details. They were not required to coordinate with ADC unless they
wanted to. The final document was finalized and approved. Now you have AWACS.
This document was all prepared by 17xx's.
Boeing, Douglas and Grumman submitted bids. Boeing and Douglas were"
finalists. While the Source Selection Board was meeting, the majority of us
were betting that Douglas would win the contest. Boy, we were wrong. Hughes
and Westinghouse were finalists in the radar competition. Westinghouse won
because the Hughes radar broke down and could not become operational during
the required time frame. After Westinghouse won the award, Hughes filed a
protest. They demonstrated an operational radar that was probably better than
the Westinghouse radar but the protest was denied.
We had a major problem with the ESD design of the AWACS system. They were
using computer standards based on the CONUS based SAGE system. These standards
were not compatible with the JCS standards or NATO standards. It took Gen.
Ryanís direct order to ESD to meet JCS and NATO standards to get them to
change. The ESD commander threw me out of his office twice for trying to
change ESD design. Other A W AC subsystem designs and ideas came directly out
of the EC-121 automated design.
Bmgging!! Although there were all kinds of other specialties in the Air
Staff that had been assigned to Vietnam, Gen. Ryan considered me his Southeast
Asia expert. I had to be on call many hours, just in case he questions the
briefer. In addition, I was responsible for re-creating a MIG shoot down of
one of our aircraft every time it happened and brief the Battle Staff and Gen
Ryan each morning. I was one of the 4 or 5 people that had to approve every
new requirement for Vietnam
Through out the planning and implementation stages of the Vietnam War,
there were 17xx's leading the design and operations of command and control
systems. At that time in history there were no specialists in airspace
management and command and control systems. The rated specialties wanted to
fly and could care less about electronics, radars, communications and etc. The
job was left to non- rated 17xx's who were interested in bettering the system
they were working with. These skills were self-attained as there were no
schools for learning these activities. T AC did conduct some minor learning in
schools which were primarily focused on what we did yesterday. Tyndall AFB
only taught intercept direction skills. While I was in the Air Staff I
suggested that Tyndall broaden their education program to help the student
think of the overall problem. They declined, saying they did not have the
talent to teach the subjects I suggested. The majority of the Air Staff 17xx's
were thinkers and not just doer's. I was always amazed at the small world
17xx's lived in when I met them in the field. I guess the job dictates how you
think. I was lucky, I was at the right place at the right time through out my
career. The major thing I learned in my career was that you had to out think
the enemy you were dealing with. Just using equipment to solve your problem
never provided me with the odds for success. I spent many an hour learning the
Soviet, Chinese and Vietnamese way of thinking. I could predict, in the
majority of situations, exactly how the enemy would operate. This is
tremendous advantage to you.
17xx's have the opportunity to do many things in their career, it is up to
(The Gen Ryan I refer to in this document was the father of the current
Chief of Staff.)
(The CINCPAC Commander I refer to in this document was the father of
Senator John McCain of Arizona.)