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The United States Air Force
An Illustrated Account
Ray L. Bowers
R. Frank Futrell
J. C. Hopkins
Robert R. Kritt
Ralph A. Rowley
OFFICE OF AIR FORCE HISTORY
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Main entry under title:
the United States Air Force in Southeast Asia.
1. Vietnamese Conflict, 1961-1975-Aerial operations, American. 2. United. Air Force - History. I. Berger, Carl, Jan. 28, 1925- II. Ballard, Jack S. III. United States. Office of Air Force History. DS558.8.454 959.704'348 76-608038
For sale by the Superintendent of Documents,
Foreword to Revised Edition
While United States' involvement in the Southeast Asian conflict extended back into the 1950's, this volume covers the years of active American participation from the early 1960's to 1973. From the outset American officials regarded the conflict basically as a land war, with the fighting in South Vietnam commanding top priority. As a result air power rarely played an independent role during the war, and air operations served primarily to assist troops on the ground. For example, as the communists moved men and supplies down the Ho Chi Minh Trail-under the jungle canopy and often at night-the Air Force developed reconnaissance aircraft and surveillance equipment to pierce the enemy's cover, and gunships to hinder his combat effectiveness. The Air Force also flew hundreds of thousands of sorties to close air support, interdiction, airlift, and battle illumination inside South Vietnam.
The most controversial periods for air operations occurred between 1965 and 1968, and later in 1972, over North Vietnam. When attacking the North, U.S. airmen faced a formidable air defense network. Detailed rules of engagement governed the conduct of all U.S. air operations throughout Southeast Asia, not only to prevent escalation but also to avoid civilian casualities, which would turn world public opinion against the war and alienate the citizens of the government which the U.S. was trying to help. At various times U.S. aircraft were not allowed to attack surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites, MIG airfields, and other targets judged too near to Hanoi and Haiphong, or considered especially sensitive for other reasons. The Air Force countered the North Vietnamese air defenses with formations flying evasive maneuvers that afforded both flexibility of action and adequate radar jamming from recently developed electronic counter measures. Bombing operations proved extremely complex, requiring coordination among several elements of air power. On a "typical" bombing run, escort aircraft fitted out for aerial combat or to attack radar sites, accompanied the strike group to protect the attackers from enemy SAMs and MIGs. Aerial tankers and airborne control centers contributed to the success of each day's operations, while rescue units stood by to recover downed airmen. Often support aircraft outnumbered the strike group.
The Office of Air Force History is reissuing this book in revised form because of demand for a single-volume history of air activity in the Vietnam War. Although a comprehensive and analytical one-volume history must await completion of the entire series on The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia, we hope that An Illustrated Account will help meet the present need. First published shortly after the end of the war, the chief merit of the volume lies more in depicting the complexity of the war than in offering dispassionate analysis. This edition corrects errors of omission, typography, or fact found in the original.
Jacob Neufeld, Chief of the Special Histories Branch in the Office of Air Force History, directed the work associated with this revised edition. Special thanks are due to several members of the office who reviewed the original text and recommended changes or corrections, including Maj. John F. Kreis, Lt. Col. Vance O. Mitchell, Mr. Bernard C. Nalty, Lt. Col. John F. Shiner, and Dr. Wayne W. Thompson. Others whose participation was most helpful included three authors of chapters in the book, Col. Ray L. Bowers (USAF, Ret.); Mr. J. C. Hopkins, History Office,