Air tactics during the Vietnam War

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Pumpkin

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Unread post29 Jan 2005, 23:19

TC wrote:The 12:1 Navy, post-TOPGUN Vietnam kill ratio is quite true. That's basically over a 2 1/2 year stretch from mid-69 to the end of air combat ops in Nam. The Navy's kill ratio for the entire war tells a different story of course. As far as our overall performance in Vietnam goes, it was tactics forced on us by politicians that got our planes shot down, NOT our pilots' "inferior capabilities". Blame LBJ, Robert McNamara, and the "Bomber Generals", not our pilots or aircraft.


OT: TC, frankly my knowledge on the Vietnam Air War is limited. Appreciate if you can enlighten, what were the mentioned tactics, (deemed unfavourable), that were imposed by the politicans then.

thanks,
Desmond
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Unread post30 Jan 2005, 02:15

The tactics in Vietnam that failed are almost a laundry list.

As far as aerial combat goes, the USAF never got away from the Fluid Four formation, and that hindered their fighting ability during the war. The politicians running the war also forced the strike aircraft to fly the same formations, using the same callsigns, over the same targets almost daily. This was most notorious with the F-105 crews.

The Vietnamese were not stupid, and they figured out very quickly how to get some easy kills against our planes. The Navy utilized a tactic called "Loose Deuce" to trap a bandit, and they were able to exploit this tactic to get many more MiG kills. The USAF also did not have good communication between the pilot and WSO. At TOPGUN, the Navy stressed good cockpit communication, not only between pilot and RIO, but also between wingmen.
Thankfully, our tactics have changed over the years, and it showed in Gulf War I, and Kosovo. In Gulf War II, the Iraqis were so scared to face us that they buried their planes. The USAF has since become the world's most sophisticated and feared air arm in the world, and we still have uninformed people that think MiG or Sukhoi X will defeat our planes in a fight. What do we have to do to prove it to you? Shoot YOU down? Yeah...That's right...I didn't think so...

Beers and MiGs were made to be pounded!
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Unread post30 Jan 2005, 21:58

TC wrote:The tactics in Vietnam that failed are almost a laundry list.

As far as aerial combat goes, the USAF never got away from the Fluid Four formation, and that hindered their fighting ability during the war. The politicians running the war also forced the strike aircraft to fly the same formations, using the same callsigns, over the same targets almost daily. This was most notorious with the F-105 crews.


Thanks for the insight TC, it is beyond my comprehension, how policy makers were empowered to influence on military tactic in front line battlefields. I was under the impression, ROE is the furthest they can influence upon.

TC wrote:Thankfully, our tactics have changed over the years, and it showed in Gulf War I, and Kosovo. In Gulf War II, the Iraqis were so scared to face us that they buried their planes. The USAF has since become the world's most sophisticated and feared air arm in the world, and we still have uninformed people that think MiG or Sukhoi X will defeat our planes in a fight.


OT: Respectfully, I believe that is possible. As effective as any fighting force can be, only a decent respect for the foe, ensure a well deserved victory.

just my humble 2 cents,
Last edited by Pumpkin on 31 Jan 2005, 06:37, edited 1 time in total.
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Unread post31 Jan 2005, 02:00

When you have a group of politicians who are more concerned with the bottom line than a convincing military victory, you wind up with something similar to Vietnam. One big fear was that if we were to overrun North Vietnam, then Russia, China, North Korea, and others may get involved. Food for thought: If SecDef Robert McNamara was so concerned about the bottom line, then why did he get us involved in so many money, manpower, and logistical wasting situations in Vietnam? I'm glad at least the Navy came to their senses. The Air Force was run by a group known as "The Bomber Generals." This was a group of SAC generals, who had flown bombers since WWII. Their idea for the USAF was completely Nuclear Deterrence oriented. They wanted nothing to do with fighters, and thus was one more reason why USAF fighter tactics suffered. I hope Gums spots this thread. He will have much insight into this topic, as he was there for about 3 tours.

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Gums

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Unread post31 Jan 2005, 06:29

Yo Ho!

Oh yeah, throw out that stinky bait at the bottom of a slow-moving turn in the river, let it sit............

Good thread for politically insensitive folks.

Not all that has been posted is correct, IMHO. Much more when I have the chance.

For now:

- USAF tatics were NOT dictated by the Pentagon or anyone else except USAF. Tgt lists and equipment we had to use WAS.

- Loose Duece wasn't a Navy invention. Fluid Four works to this day. We'll do our homework and we'll talk about this later. For now, I can tell you that many folks realized way back in WW2 that a 'welded wingman' was not always the optimum tactic.

- The greatest advancement in aerial combat was adoption of some of the Boyd philosophy, coupled with some of the things mentioned above. Regardless of how well you flew the jet, good comm and support could make up for many deficiencies one might have had.

- Let me make this clear: We were NEVER told that we couldn't fly 'resolution pod formations', which exploited our ECM gear versus the Soviet SAM radars and radar-controlled AAA. Likewise, we were never told to go low and fast, nor high and fast, nor 'one pass, haul a$$'.

So the 'tactics' problems did not originate in HHQ. Sure, the ROE had some problems, but the clever jocks could easily work around them until it came to which tgts we could hit.

- Many of the tactics developed as a result of the 'Red Baron" report had to do with the performance of the modern jets and the new avionics systems. They had nothing to do with 'politics'. They also had to deal with the actual threats out there. You see, the bad guys were developing and employing more capable systems each day, and were emulating the U.S. and Brit and Israeli way of doing business.

more later, but let's hear from Cylon and STBY and other current folks.

out,
Gums
Viper pilot '79
"God in your guts, good men at your back, wings that stay on - and Tally Ho!"
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Unread post02 Feb 2005, 03:04

Gums-

awesome to hear some first person stuff. The only things I know about Vietnam era tactics are from what Chuck Horner has written about. He seems like a good guy, I know a few people who have met/worked with/hung out with him. THey all say the same thing. He was very passionate about not repeating the deficiancies he saw/experienced in Vietnam. The idea that washington came up with tgt lights and such is amazing. Commanders in the field should command and run the war, that is what they are paid to do.

He really hits the hammer home when he talks about coalitions and such, things that didnt really happen in vietnam.

A big note here, our pilots were pretty good in vietnam, they did the best they could with what they had to work with, if it were not for their skill as it was, i am sure that there would have been many many more mia/kia pilots in that war...
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Unread post02 Feb 2005, 04:46

I will agreee that Bob McNamara's "Whiz Kids" were the reason a lot of guys got Bagged by air defenses. They wanted to take threats well after they were operational rather than before they were completed primarily because of the Soviet advisors working with the N.Vietnamese. They just didn't want to start WWIII... Of course, this left our guys open to the some of thickest Flak and SAM coverage since WWII. Because of Politics, we had to hit the infamous Paul Doumer Bridge more than once. Plus the very long turnaround time for intel to go to and from the guys up top left many guys pickling little more than some dirt roads.

In the air to air realm...
*puts an envelope to his head*
TACTICS TACTICS TACTICS

*opens Envelope*
Three things that our Aircrews were lacking in...

The USAF fighter weapons school, though already standing establishment did not teach tactics in-depth in hte way that would have helped in a fight. Plus, it wasn't until after TOPGUN's establishment that DACT became a rule for tactics instruction. F-4 students were being taught to fight against their fellow Rhino pilots, sure anyone can fight with a hulking, smoking giant that can be spotted from miles away. Then when they saw MiGs, they were dealing with smaller, much more agile gomers. we were getting beaten by the "peasant" air force.

Then there was the excessive confidence that the brass had in the BVR Sparrows that were the primary weapon in the F-4. We all know that because there was no IFF back then, we ened up reqiring a visual ID before firing. by the time you saw them, they'd already seen you from miles away, and you were already well under the Sparrow's Minimum range. Even if oyu did get a Sparrow shot, the time from lock to launch was almost an eternity. Even if you did get a lock it most of the time failed to track (something that still hung around well after the war eg: VF-32's MiG kill, one F-14 launched 2 Sparrows that failed to track before switching to the AIM-9 to make the kill).
Another thing that I've mentioned before is that Air Force Backseaters were just pilots subordinate to the guy in front and weren't being trained to operate the Radar to its fullest performance. Also, Ordnance tecnicians weren't trained to maintain Sparrows well, either. During the Ault report a Navy Ordnance Cheif was quoted "Sir, we treat them F***ers like bombs and they're gonna act like bombs. We're not maintaining 'em right."
Plus, the Missile and radar were WAY too complex to be maintained in a War environment rather than the white rooms where they were developed. you'd have kids no older than 20 tring to find out what's wrong through acres of Schematics.

Even the less problematic sidewinder had limitations with Lock on time and being fired in an angles fight. Early AIM-9s were known to break apart in flight after being fired.

The or course comes the most important factor, aircrew training. The USAF Fighter Weapons School just wasn't enough training. Before the War, the navy had FAGU (Fleet Air Gunnery Unit) which taught tactics to Gun-equipped fighters up to the F-8 Crusader. When hte F-4 came into play, hte pencil necks up top axed it in favor of new technology. VF-121 replacement pilots who were being trained before going off to the fleet were lucky to get 1 solid Tactics flight. The only tactics then were "Shoot and Scoot." Then came project Doughnut and Drill (from the guys at VX-4 including Foster "Tooter" Teague). Those were the earliest tactics developed for the out-gunned Phantom Phlyers. Then TOPGUN was established as a det of VF-121.
you know the rest of hte story... BLAH BLAH BLAH.... Kill ratios go up... ACM training is now a fundamental taught to Fighter Pilots, Tactics have improved, technolgies are better, "Ease of maintenance" is the big term to shoot for in avionics.

There are literally hundreds of reasons we took a beating in Vietnam, too many to list. The Ault report alone covered only Navy and Marine Corps problems... I'd hate to see what the Air Force's numbers would have to add...
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Unread post02 Feb 2005, 07:49

Gums to my rescue! ROE, yes, that's the acronym I was trying to think of when I posted earlier. Thanks! :D Yeah, tactics can be perfect, but if you aren't allowed to use them to their fullest capability, then they won't work well. The gomers, as I mentioned previously, got many more kills than they probably should have because they saw the same thing over and over. Everyone who is interested in military aviation should read Col. Jack Broughton's "Thud Ridge." It is a very eye-opening book.

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Unread post02 Feb 2005, 21:24

Thanks ram816, Gums. Some good reading back there, clearing my misconception.

ram816, the ROE of visual ID was imposed only after a F-4 AIM-7 blue-on-blue in the theater? The repeated target list reminded me of the "Flight of intruder". Is there any truth in the movie?

By the way, I don't remember reading your intro. Care to do one in the 'Introduce Yourself' section?

cheers,
Desmond
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Unread post02 Feb 2005, 21:44

Thanks guys! This is a very interesting topic to me and all the firsthand info is great for someone like me who has only read about it :) .

The repeated target list reminded me of the "Flight of intruder". Is there any truth in the movie?


I've read quite a bit of non-fiction about that war and the repeated target list is consistant with what I've read. About that self appointed mission flown by Grafton in the book and movie, I've heard from anonymous sources that it did actually happen. The accounts I've heard say that it was a Phantom crew flying from a carrier and that due to some collusion with the right people, there wasn't enough evidence to actually nail them for it. I have to add the disclaimer here that this is second or third hand information and should be treated as such. I'd like to think that it happened, but it may very well be another old "war story" :wink: .
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Unread post03 Feb 2005, 02:22

The guy I mentioned before, Col. Jack Broughton, was actually court-martialed, because two of his men strafed a ship in Haiphong Harbor (which as I recall at the time was off limits). What I don't recall is whether the ship shot at them first (I'm about 99.9% sure it did), but Col. Broughton destroyed the gun camera evidence. He was found not-guilty, but his career was over after that. It's a d@mn shame too, because he was one of the best Thud pilots we had, was an excellent leader, and as an aside, was a former Thunderbirds commander. Just goes to show, that if we hadn't had restricted targets, none of that would have been necessary. Pi$$ on Robert McNamara!

Beers and MiGs (and any other potential target) were made to be pounded!
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Unread post03 Feb 2005, 03:07

Pumpkin wrote:ram816, the ROE of visual ID was imposed only after a F-4 AIM-7 blue-on-blue in the theater? The repeated target list reminded me of the "Flight of intruder". Is there any truth in the movie?

By the way, I don't remember reading your intro. Care to do one in the 'Introduce Yourself' section?


I know about the friendly fire incidents that led to Visual ID as part of the ROE....

Flight of the Intruder. What a fun movie... well, just the flying scenes and Danny Glover's chewing out of the hapless Lieutenant Razor...
"How did someone as dumb as you, as stupid as you, become an aviator?! Can you read?!" The Book was better, though... It kind of makes me wish I could have been a 'Truder driver.

BTW: Stephen coonts did fly with "The Main Battery" of VA-196, the same squadron that is protrayed in the book and movie...

As to an intro... I had a bad experience posting my info on another board... ended up being known as the cocky newbie with delusions of grandeur...
so I'll keep my info to myself.
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Unread post03 Feb 2005, 03:34

1: Tactics were not dictated by the goe-political machine, BUT TARGETS WERE. AND both TC and Gums must agree that in the big sense of winning the war, or even the battle, targeting is the primary chunk of it. Now,-a-days it's nice to say that the mission CC can modefy the targeting gameplan with a great deal of lattitude. NOW, we can even have some pretty good say in the weapon we want to use, as long as the reserves are in country. My two cents come down to TARGETING. TECHNOLOGY, and LEADERSHIP. (no duh Cylon...)

Targeting: LET ME KILL SOMETHING THAT STOPS THE TACTICAL/STRATEGIC PROGRESSS OF WAR... Not something that can be worked around tomorrow by the enemy troops. The Ho Chi Min trail was a waste of time and weapons. Bombing sand is like pouding your fist into silly-putty... I can still make it into a bouncing ball that makes great comic pictures. Find AND LET ME BOMB the garage that the trucks travel from or the place they get gas at and you have a center of mass!!!

USE of available Technology: Here is a simple yet VERY controversial subject in current fighter circles: Why do I need VISUAL mutual support? Back in Nam, they were almost TOO visual in my opinion. There was the ability to use "detatched" mutual support, but I think some of our Korean and late WWII brethren pretty much poo-pooed this. To get beyond this requires some thinking "outside the container" and I can tell you that this is a battle that we are having RIGHT NOW...

Leadership: The difference between a Captain now, and a Captain in the Korean War is not to far apart. Somewhere in the Vietnam War, the old 1st Lt and Young Capt got lost. From what I have read and heard (from my father, you guys, and other Vietnam Vets), the Capt flew the sortie, made the admin-based decisions and brought the jet home with the lead dropped. NOW we change the ATO. We say yes and no to targets and flow directions. WE make NEW tactics (hell, the LT's are good for this fresh stuff). We do things that an old F-4 or F-101 dude would say "NO YOU DON'T, that goes against one of Boyds, Horners or Richies 'Rules.'" The basics ALWAYS apply, and we ALWAYS ask ourselves when we defy these basic rules -- "what if." BUT I have seen some REAL advancement in tactics by TRYING something that wasn't written about or talked about in a boigraphy written prior to 1982. This sounds young and arrogant, but I can't express enough the need to do things that are different and COMPLETELY NEW. Two things will never change: 1) A tally is worth a thousand radar locks (or "bogey Dopes") and 2) A wingman's primary job is to not hit their flight lead or the ground.

That's what is different now: What was the mistake in Vietnam??? Well, it took a long time for tactics, targets, and leadership to change since Both WWII and Korea... Nothing changed in the USAF for about 20 years when technology did. The comment about SAC generals is right on, in my opinion.

Cylon
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Unread post03 Feb 2005, 08:17

Cylon is right. Leadership is important, but not only at the highest level. It goes for wing leaders too.

As I mentioned in an previous post there was an USAF unit that had an outstanding performance in Vietnam-the 8th FW (now stationed in S. Korea). They achieve about 20 % of all (USAF+USN+USMC) kills in the war! If you look to the professional path of the people that lead this unit you will find that many occupied after the war important positions in USAF hierarchy. They were simply good.
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Unread post03 Feb 2005, 14:20

If anybody wants to read a couple of good books about the air war you should find a copy of Clashes byMarshall Michel and striving for air superiority by craig hannah.

The list of failures about the vietnam war is very long. Even Colonel Olds, the leader of the eighth fighter wing from september of 66 till september of 67 still refused to change from the tactics that he learned in ww2. There were several instances when another memeber of his flight had a mig in front of him and Olds wouldn't give him permiosion to fire and so tyhe mig got away.

The Red baron report that someone mentioned earlier didn't come out until After the war was over.

Colonel Olds has also said that if the Mig pilots knew what they were doing they would have murdered us.

And if anyone thinks that something similar can't happen again they should read up on what happened over Kosvo in99.
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