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Title: Overview

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  • Understand the historical background and
    underlying causes of the Vietnam War
  • Know the significant events which shaped the
    outcome of the Vietnam War
  • Understand the impact the Vietnam War had upon
    the development of aviation

References http//www.centennialofflight.gov/essay
/Air_Power/vietnam/AP40.htm http//www.militaryhis
Early Stages
  • June 1964 General Westmoreland is appointed U.S.
  • March 2, 1965 Operation Rolling Thunder begins
    a gradually intensifying air bombardment of
    military bases, supply depots, and infiltration
    routes in North Vietnam. However the North is
    still able to inflict heavy casualties in South
  • March 8, 1965 First conventional US Ground
    Troops arrive. By the end of 1965, the U.S. has
    184,300 troops in Vietnam
  • By June 1965, there had been five governments in
    the South, and the newest regime, headed by
    General Nguyen Van Thieu and Air Marshall Nguyen
    Cao Ky, inspired little confidence.

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Operation Rolling Thunder
  • The U.S. Air Force was operating in Vietnam as
    early as 1961 first as military advisors and then
    directly supporting South Vietnam on a limited
  • However as Viet Cong raids against American
    installations began to increase. As a result, in
    March 1965, Johnson ordered a bombing campaign,
    Rolling Thunder, to break the will of the
    Communists. Rolling Thunder would continue for
    the next three years
  • Rolling Thunder was designed as both a gradual
    application of American airpower to pressure
    North Vietnam to surrender and a means to
    interdict the transportation network that
    supplied the Viet Cong guerillas along the Ho Ch
    Minh Trail

Operation Rolling Thunder
  • From the beginning, there were many problems with
    Rolling Thunder
  • The targets were selected during lunches at the
    White House initially by President Johnson and
    his civilian advisors only. Military officers
    were not part of these meetings until 1967.
  • These advisors chose the targets, tactics,
    timing, number of aircraft, and ordnance.
    Personnel in Vietnam could request targets, but
    by the time the request worked its way through
    Washington, the quick-moving Viet Cong would have
    left the area.

North Vietnamese Industrial, Supply and Military
Capabilities were often not on the approved
target list
Air War Over Vietnam
  • In 1965, jet aircraft also began to arrive. The
    first were the Republic F-105 Thunderchiefs,
    large fighter-bombers with limited
    maneuverability. They were soon replaced by
    McDonnell F-4 Phantom IIs.
  • The Phantoms were the only equal to the aircraft
    the Soviet Union supplied to the North Vietnamese
    Air Force -the MiG-21 Fishbed.
  • Vietnam marked the end of the ace. There were
    only five aces in Vietnam. This was a result of
    the North Vietnamese pilots avoiding situations
    that might involve dogfighting.
  • The rules of engagement also demanded that U.S.
    pilots have visual confirmation of any enemy
    aircraft before engaging, which was too close for
    air-to-air missiles to be effective, and until
    late in the war the fighters were not armed with

Air War Over Vietnam
  • Electronic warfare became extremely important in
  • In 1965, the North Vietnamese began to build a
    massive surface-to-air missile (SAM) arsenal. SAM
    sites had strict rules of engagement. U.S.
    aircraft could only attack them if their radar
    was turned on.
  • The American response was the Wild Weasels that
    carried equipment to detect electromagnetic
    energy in order to identify and destroy SAM

Air War Over Vietnam
  • For many, the Vietnam War evokes the sound of
    helicopter blades whirling.
  • Helicopters were involved in all aspects of the
    war. Bell, manufacturer of the Bell UH-1 Huey
    sold more than 15,000.
  • The Huey was flexible enough to be used for
    everything from rescuing downed airmen to cargo
    to ground attack. Airmobile units, considered the
    most significant ground war development since
    tanks, consisted of ground troops transported by

Linebacker Campaigns
  • On November 5, 1968, Richard M. Nixon became
  • Nixons strategy was to be supply South Vietnam
    with equipment and advice while U.S. forces were
    withdrawn. To aid South Vietnams forces, Nixon
    authorized the LINEBACKER I bombing campaign into
    the forbidden areas of North Vietnam, Laos and
    Cambodia. It was the largest bombing campaign in
    the war.
  • However after peace negotiations between the U.S.
    and North Vietnam broke down in early December
    1972, President Nixon authorized LINEBACKER II .
    For the next 12 days U.S. B-52 bombers and other
    aircraft dropped 36,000 tons of bombs on North
    Vietnam, exceeding the tonnage for the past two
    years before.

Lessons LearnedAir Strategy
  • Ineffectiveness of Gradualism as a strategy
  • Civil Military relations critical to success
  • Micromanagement can derail military operations
  • Tactical Mobility is Key
  • Air Combat
  • Significant technological advancements
  • Need for greater precision and coordination
  • Airpower as a means of coercion?
  • Airpower as a substitute for land forces?

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