- Chapter II:
- Ia Drang
The battle of Ia Drang
illustrates the influence of the helicopter on combat operations. It also
demonstrates the usefulness of new organizations such as the air cavalry,
with its greatly increased ability to locate and fight the enemy, and the
airmobile division, with its great advance in mobility. The expanded role
of Army aircraft is seen in such refinements as the use of the gunship and
the tactical employment of airmobile troops. The battle story introduces a
series of innovations developed before and during the Vietnam War.
- There has been some speculation as
to how the war would have been waged without the helicopter. General Westmoreland
answered the question in this way:
- Suppose that we did not have helicopters
and airmobile divisions today. How many troops would we have needed to accomplish
what we have achieved in South Vietnam? . . . No finite answer is possible
because our tactics in Vietnam were based on massive use of helicopters ....
What would we do without helicopters? We would be fighting a different war,
for a smaller area, at a greater cost, with less effectiveness. We might as
well-have asked: "What would General Patton have done without his tanks?"
- The helicopter was first used in combat
by U.S. armed forces for medical evacuation during the Korean War. Although
many helicopter assault techniques were later developed by the U.S. Army and
Marine Corps, it was the findings of the Howze Board, the formation of the
11th Air Assault Division, and the development of small turbine engines that
first brought airmobility into its own.
- The first airmobile division was sent
to Vietnam in the third quarter of 1965 as the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile).
After establishing a base at An Khe in the II Corps Tactical Zone and conducting
a few operations against local Viet Cong forces, the division showed its strength
in the la Drang Valley in the fall of 1965.
- On 19 October the enemy attacked a
Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) camp at Plei Me-the opening bid in
an attempt to take over the Central Highlands. By 22 October intelligence
indicated that there were two North Vietnamese Army regiments in the area:
the 33d Regiment, at Plei Me, and the 32d Regiment, which was waiting in ambush
to destroy the expected relief column from Pleiku, north of Plei Me.
- The Vietnamese 11 Corps commander
was confronted with a difficult choice. He could refuse to go to the relief
of Plei Me and lose the camp, or he could commit the reserve from Pleiku,
stripping the area of defensive troops. If he lost the reserve, Pleiku would
be easy prey. for the Communists, who could then control the western part
of the Central Highlands. He decided to ask for help from the U.S. forces.
The Commanding General, Field Forces, Vietnam, Major General Stanley R. Larsen,
sent the following message to Major General Harry W. O. Kinnard, Commanding
General, 1st Cavalry Division:- "Commencing first light 23 October First
Air Cav deploys one Bn TF minimum 1 Inf Bn and 1 Arty Btry to PLEIKU, mission
be prepared to assist in defense of key US/ARVN installations vic PLEIKU or
reinforce 11 Corps operations to relieve PLEI ME CIDG CAMP."
- Task Force INGRAM was airlifted from An Khe
to Pleiku early on 23 October. The force consisted of the 2d Battalion, 12th
Cavalry, reinforced with a battery of artillery. While the move was under
way, the division commander, sensing that a decisive operation was imminent
at Plei Me, obtained permission to deploy the 1st Brigade to Pleiku. The brigade
headquarters with the 2d Battalion, 8th Cavalry, and two batteries of the
2d Battalion, 19th Artillery, arrived by air at Camp Holloway by midnight
on 23 October to assume operational control of Task Force INGRAM. The 1st
Brigade was charged with securing Pleiku, providing artillery support for
the Vietnamese Army's relief of Plei Me, and furnishing a reserve force.
- Meanwhile, the ARVN (Army of the Republic
of Vietnam) armored relief column began moving down Provincial Road 6C toward
Plei Me. At 1730 hours the North Vietnamese Army struck the relief column
at two points, but 1st Cavalry artillery was called in on the ambushing enemy
with deadly accuracy and was a decisive factor in repulsing the attack.
- Before the relief column arrived at
Plei Me, the camp had been resupplied day and night by airdrops from the Army's
CV-2 (Caribou) of the 92d Aviation Company, the CV-7 (Buffalo) of the U.S.
Army Aviation Test Board, and the Air Force's C-123. On the night of 24 October
the weather was overcast and the camp could not be seen from the air. In order
to identify a release point on which to drop the parachute loads, the camp
commander fired a star-burst flare straight up through the overcast, and the
pilots released their loads using the flare as a reference point. Most of
the ammunition and food landed within the compound.
- On the evening of 25 October the relief
column arrived at the camp, which was still under siege, and immediately reinforced
the defensive perimeter. By then, 1st Cavalry infantry and artillery had air
assaulted from Pleiku into landing zones within close support range. The original
enemy plan to destroy the ARVN relief column and then
- fall on Plei Me had failed. At 2220
hours on 25 October, the 33d North Vietnamese Army Regiment at Plei
Me was ordered to withdraw to the west, leaving behind a reinforced battalion
to cover the withdrawal.
- At this point General William C. Westmoreland
visited the 1st Brigade's forward command post and directed the 1st Cavalry
Division to pursue and destroy the enemy. The division's scope of operations
changed from reinforcement and reaction to unlimited offense. The division
was to be responsible for searching out and destroying all enemy forces that
threatened the Central Highlands. The 1st Brigade pursued the battle through
9 November. The 3d Brigade took over until 20 November, when the 2d Brigade
began the final operation.
- The battlefield covered 1, 500 square
miles of generally flat to rolling terrain drained by an extensive network
of rivers and small streams flowing to the west and southwest across the border
into Cambodia. The dominating feature of the terrain was the Chu Pong massif
in the southwestern corner of the area, straddling the Cambodian-Vietnamese
frontier. For long periods this mountain mass had been an important enemy
infiltration area and one of the many strongholds where enemy forces could
mass and construct strong defenses under the heavily canopied jungle.
- Intelligence indicated that a field
front (divisional headquarters) was controlling the enemy regiments. If so,
this operation marked the first time any U.S. unit in Vietnam had opposed
a division-size unit of the North Vietnamese Army under a single commander.
- The first significant contact was
made on 1 November, when a platoon of Troop B, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry,
overran a regimental aid station six miles southwest of Plei Me, killing fifteen
enemy soldiers and capturing fifteen more. This rifle platoon had been airassaulted
into the area in response to reports that scattered groups of enemy soldiers
had been sighted. Two more rifle platoons from A and B Troops were landed
to sweep through the area. Just after 1400 hours, scout helicopters discovered
a battalion-size enemy force moving from the northeast toward the U.S. platoons.
The fighting intensified at ranges too close for aerial rocket artillery or
tactical air support. The position was also beyond the range of available
tube artillery. Reinforcement platoons from the 1st and 2d Battalions of the
12th Cavalry and the 2d Battalion of the 8th Cavalry landed late in the afternoon,
followed by two additional platoons from the 2d Battalion, 12th Cavalry. Ground
fire was intense on all reinforcement, resupply, and evacuation helicopters,
and seven ships were hit by enemy fire. By 1700 hours Company B, 1st Battalion,
8th Cavalry, was committed to the battle, and by 1900 hours the platoons of
the 9th Cavalry Squadron, having found and fixed the enemy, were airlifted
from the area.
- By the time the enemy was driven from
the field the 33d North Vietnamese Army Regiment had lost its aid station,
many patients, and over $40,000 worth of important medical supplies and had
sustained 99 men killed and 183 wounded.
- The airmobile concept had proved itself.
Scout ships would reconnoiter and locate enemy groups, rifle elements would
fix the enemy in place, and heliborne units, supported by massed air and ground
firepower, would attack and defeat the enemy troops. These tactics worked
successfully again and again during the battle.
- In a well-executed ambush at 2100
hours on 3 November, the rifle platoons of the 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry,
again drew blood. Troops in one of several ambush positions located just north
of the Chu Pong Mountain sighted a heavily laden North Vietnamese Army unit,
estimated at company strength, moving along an east-west trail. Deciding to
take a break just one hundred meters short of the ambush site, the enemy column
loitered outside the killing zone for ninety minutes, while the U.S. troops
waited quietly in ambush. At 2100 hours the enemy unit moved noisily along
the trail. The first element was allowed to pass, and then the trap was sprung
with eight claymores along a 100-meter zone. The attack was perfectly executed
and the enemy's weapons platoon with machine guns, mortars, and recoilless
rifles was caught in a wall of lead as the cavalrymen fired continuously for
two minutes. There was no return fire.
- The ambush patrol returned immediately
to its base and went to work strengthening its perimeter. By 2230 hours the
base was under heavy attack by an estimated two or three companies of North
Vietnamese Army regulars. At midnight the perimeter was in grave danger of
being overrun, but reinforcements were on the way. Company A, 1st Battalion,
8th Cavalry, standing by at the Duc Co Special Forces Camp, located twelve
miles of roadless jungle to the north, had been alerted. The first platoon
was on the ground and in combat forty minutes after midnight. The entire company
had arrived by 0240 hours. While this type of relief and reinforcement is
now routine, it was unique in November 1965. This battle marked the first
time a perimeter under heavy fire was reinforced at night by heliborne troops
air-assaulted into an unfamiliar landing zone. It was also the first time
that aerial rocket artillery was used at night and as close as fifty meters
to U.S. troops.
- By dawn the enemy attack had lost
momentum, and the fighting diminished to occasional sniping from surrounding
trees. As a result of the battle, ninety-eight North Vietnamese soldiers were
killed and ten were captured. In addition, over 100,000 rounds of 7.62-mm.
ammunition, two 82-mm. mortars, and three 75-mm. recoilless rifles were destroyed,
and large quantities of mortar and recoilless rifle ammunition were captured.
The implications of an ambush deep within
HUEY COBRA FIRING ROCKETS AT ENEMY
- what was thought to be secure territory must have stunned the North Vietnamese
Army's high command.
- Although the helicopter was no longer
strange to the enemy, he had failed to appreciate its use in tactical roles
other than as a prime mover of supplies and men. For the first time the enemy
found his withdrawal routes blocked, his columns attacked, and artillery fire
directed on his routes of escape-all because of the new dimension added to
the war by aggressive tactical use of the helicopter. During the pursuit of
the 33d North Vietnamese Army Regiment from Plei Me, the enemy was so baffled
by the constant harassment and rapid compromises of "secure" way
stations that the North Vietnamese Army command concluded that there were
traitors in the regiment providing target information to the Americans.
- Arming Army aircraft had been tried
as far back as the 1950s, but the war in Vietnam brought about an intensive
program to develop Army aircraft weapons. In 1962 at Nha Trang, the 23d Special
Warfare Aviation Detachment (Surveillance), whose mission was to support provincial
forces, tested six OV-lA Mohawks armed with .50caliber machine guns and 2.75-inch
folding-fin aerial rockets. This successful program was expanded until 1966,
when Army fixed-wing aircraft were taken out of the fighter-escort mission
by the Department of Defense. No approved armament program was established.
- During this same period, the use of
armed helicopters increased rapidly. In October 1962, the Utility Tactical
- pany (the Army's first armed helicopter
unit) equipped with UH-lA's replaced B-26's and T-28's as escorts for CH-21
(Shawnee) troop helicopters. Losses decreased significantly. By May 1964,
B-model Hueys (UH-1B) had replaced the CH-21 for carrying troops, and ten
light airmobile aviation companies, with one to three armed platoons each,
were in Vietnam. In 1965 the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) brought the
first air cavalry squadron and aerial artillery battalion to the Republic
of Vietnam. Three armed Chinooks (CH-47A) were tested in 1966, but the arrival
of the Cobra (AH-1G) ended that project. The Huey Cobra was introduced in
1968 with 75 percent more ordnance and 30 percent more speed than any of the
Huey gunships. By April 1969, over half of the 680 helicopters in Vietnam
- There were five types of U.S. Army
units operating in South Vietnam which were authorized to use armed helicopters:
assault helicopter companies (nondivision), attack helicopter companies (airmobile
division and nondivision), general support companies (infantry division),
aerial rocket artillery battalions (airmobile division), and air
- cavalry troops (nondivision, divisional,
armored cavalry regiment). Armed helicopter missions were primarily oriented
to support ground maneuver forces. On such a mission, the helicopter's functions
were to provide security and to deliver firepower. There were five categories
of missions in which armed helicopters were commonly used: armed escort of
other aircraft, surface vehicles and vessels, and personnel on the ground;
security for an observation helicopter performing low-level reconnaissance;
direct fire support against targets assigned by a commander of a ground maneuver
element; aerial rocket artillery functions against targets assigned by a fire
support coordination center, forward observer, or airborne commander; and
hunter-killer tactics to provide security for an observation helicopter performing
low-level reconnaissance and to deliver firepower on targets of opportunity.
- One of the most significant
tactical innovations to come out of early U.S. efforts in Vietnam was the
"eagle flight." The exact origin of the term is obscure, but it
dates from the period in late 1962 when the five U.S. CH-21 helicopter companies
transporting ARVN forces were joined by the first company of armed UH-1 helicopters-the
Utility Tactical Transport Helicopter Company. An elite ARVN platoon was mounted
in five CH-21's and escorted by two to five armed Hueys. The gunships provided
suppressive fire in the landing zone and conducted aerial reconnaissance to
locate the enemy. The infantry could be landed to engage a small enemy force,
check a hamlet, or pick up suspects for questioning, while the gunships provided
support. If nothing was found, the troops would be picked up and the operation
repeated again in another likely location.
The eagle flight contributed greatly to ARVN operations. As one report stated,
"The enemy can fade away before the large formations, but he never knows
where the `Eagle Flight' will land next." The success of these early
operations demonstrated the feasibility of airmobile tactics in actual combat,
promoted the idea of armed helicopters, and paved the way I for the development
of much larger air assault forces. Such practical experience was infused in
the testing of the airmobile concept by the 11th Air Assault Division.
- The variety of aircraft organic to air cavalry permitted maximum flexibility
in organizing for combat and enabled the commander to structure the assets
into teams to satisfy mission requirements. One air cavalry
troop was organic to the armored cavalry squadron of the infantry division,
and three were organic to the air cavalry squadron of the airmobile
division. Each troop consisted of a scout platoon equipped with light observation
helicopters, an aerial weapons platoon with AH-1G armed helicopters, and a
rifle platoon with organic UH-1H utility helicopters. In Vietnam the commander
employed various teams in combat operations. A red team consisted of two gun-
- ships, AH-1G Cobras, with
a variety of armament. It was strictly an offensive weapon, readily available
to the commander. A white team, consisting of two light observation helicopters
armed with 7.62-mm. miniguns, was used to reconnoiter areas where the enemy's
situation was unknown and significant contact was not expected. One of these
helicopters flew a few feet above the ground or trees to conduct close in
reconnaissance. The other flew at a higher altitude to provide cover and radio
relay and to navigate. The higher ship also functioned in a command and control
capacity. A pink team was a mixture of red and white, one light observation
helicopter and one Cobra. The observation helicopter followed trails, made
low passes over the enemy positions, and contoured the terrain in conducting
its reconnaissance mission. The gunship flew a circular pattern at a higher
altitude in the general vicinity to provide suppressive fire and relay information
gathered by the observation helicopter. When outside of artillery range or
in areas considered to be extremely dangerous, the pink teams were used in
conjunction with a command and control helicopter. If one helicopter was downed
by enemy fire, the remaining aircraft provided cover until a reaction force
arrived. Pink teams could also adjust artillery fire, although the AH-1G with
its twin pods of 2.75-inch rockets was comparable to a 105-mm. howitzer. Pink
teams were the most prevalent tactical combination of aircraft in the air
- A blue team was a structured number
of UH-1H aircraft transporting the air cavalry troop's aerial rifle (aerorifle)
platoon or part of a ground cavalry troop of the cavalry squadron. The blue
team normally worked with pink teams. The aerorifle platoon of the air cavalry
troop was transported in its organic aircraft in a great variety of roles.
When the aerorifle platoon was employed, a rifle company from one of the battalions
in the area was designated as the backup, quick reaction force. The air cavalry
troops were normally assigned ground and aerial intelligence, security, and
- Intelligence missions, oriented on
the enemy, included visual reconnaissance of routes, areas, and specific targets,
bomb damage assessment, landing zone reconnaissance and selection, target
acquisition, prisoner capture (body snatch), and ranger and airborne personnel
detector operations. The value of the air cavalry as the eyes of the commander
was inestimable. The body snatch was a special operation to capture prisoners
or to apprehend suspected enemy personnel. In such an operation, the helicopter
demonstrated its flexibility. Using an aircraft and ground force "package"
structured to the particular situation, the air cavalry commander pinpointed
the target individual by employing scout helicopters and then landed one or
more squads of the aerorifle platoons to accomplish the snatch. Scout air-
- craft screened the area while the
Cobras provided cover. The snatch team package normally included a UH-1H command
and control ship to direct and co-ordinate the mission. Executed as a quick
reaction technique, body snatch operations provided the commander with a rapid
means of gaining new intelligence.
- Ranger long-range reconnaissance patrols
operated in small teams within the division area. The team members were qualified
for airborne operations and trained to rappel and use special recovery rigs.
They were capable of sustained operations in any type terrain for a period
of five to seven days. Air cavalry supported the rangers with UH-1H transport,
aeroweapons support, a command and control aircraft, and an immediate reaction
force of an aerorifle or airmobile platoon. Techniques to deploy the teams
included false insertions, low-level flights, and, on occasion, landing both
the aerorifle platoon and the ranger team simultaneously. The aerorifle platoon
was subsequently withdrawn, leaving the rangers as a stay-behind patrol. During
operations outside the range of tube artillery, the rangers relied heavily
on aeroweapons gunships (AH-1G).
- Security missions were primarily oriented
toward friendly forces to provide them with early warnings and time for maneuver.
Security missions included screening operations, first- and last-light reconnaissance
of specified areas, and protection for convoys and downed aircraft.
- Air cavalry troops often provided
surveillance of an extended area around a stationary or moving force. Pink
teams maintained radio contact with the ground commander and reported enemy
positions, trails, or troop sightings in order that appropriate action could
be taken. Pink or red teams were capable of engaging the enemy with their
own organic weapons and of adjusting artillery and air strikes to reduce an
- When conducting first-light reconnaissance
around a unit field location, the pink teams began their flights before daybreak
to be on station at first light. En route the team leader contacted the ground
unit commander to request artillery advice and to ask whether the ground unit
had any particular area of interest. Last-light reconnaissance began an hour
and a half before dark in order to be completed by nightfall. When a target
was discovered, the team reported to the ground unit responsible for the area
and requested clearance to fire. All enemy sightings were reported to the
unit in whose area the teams were operating.
- The composition of a convoy security
force varied with the size of the convoy, the terrain, and the enemy's situation.
The scout elements, either one or two armed light observation helicopters,
provided fire support, radio relay, rapid artillery adjustment, and command
and control. The aeroweapons platoon could provide
- quick fire support if the convoy were
ambushed, and the aerorifle platoon could be quickly brought in to assist.
Other helicopters were then used to move the backup reaction force quickly
into the ambush area.
- When an aircraft was downed within
the division area of operations, a pink team was immediately dispatched to
locate it. Then an aerorifle or ground cavalry platoon was brought into the
area. The pink team screened the area surrounding the aircraft until both
the aircraft and security platoon were evacuated, Although platoon personnel
were trained to rig aircraft for evacuation, the normal procedure was to bring
in a technical inspector and qualified maintenance personnel to prepare the
- Economy-of-force missions for airmobile
cavalry included artillery raids, combat assaults, ambushes, delaying actions,
prolonged security for elements constructing fire bases, and base defense
reaction force operations.
- Artillery raids supported by air cavalry
units included both the tube and aerial rocket artillery raids, delivered
into areas where the enemy considered himself safe from such fire. During
a tube artillery raid, the air cavalry troop reconnoitered the selected landing
zone and secured it with an aerorifle platoon before artillery was landed
by CH-47 and CH-54 aircraft. Pink teams conducted visual reconnaissance to
develop targets of opportunity and were capable of adjusting fire and conducting
immediate damage assessment.
- The aerorifle platoon was used to
exploit significant sightings or to conduct ground damage assessment. In raids
by the aerial rocket artillery battalion, the air cavalry units performed
similar missions except that no landing zone had to be selected and developed.
- Fire base construction missions involved
an aerorifle platoon, an engineer team, and a pink team. The aerorifle platoon
was inserted (by rappel, if necessary) into the proposed landing zone to provide
security for the engineers. After a landing zone had been cleared for one
ship, additional engineer equipment was landed to enlarge the area to the
required fire base dimensions. Pink teams conducted screening operations around
the troop elements; co-ordination was achieved through a command and control
aircraft. After a one-ship landing zone was prepared, infantry troops were
usually brought in, and the aerorifle platoon could then conduct reconnaissance
of likely enemy positions in the vicinity. This platoon was also capable of
conducting limited combat assaults and ambushes. When teamed with scout and
aeroweapons platoon elements of the air cavalry troop, it constituted a balanced
combined arms team.
- Although night helicopter assaults
were rare in the early operations in Vietnam, the Army did work toward developing
effective night techniques. Experience has shown that all missions and roles
- normally fulfilled by helicopters
during daylight hours can be successfully completed in darkness by aircraft
equipped with navigation aids and night vision devices. Vietnam proved that
helicopters could be used at night to greatly increase U.S. maneuver superiority
over the enemy. Most of the night combat assaults were made to reinforce units
in contact with the enemy; however, they were also made to gain tactical surprise,
position blocking forces, and set up ambushes.
- The first night reinforcement of U.S.
troops under fire occurred during the firefight following the 1st Squadron,
9th Cavalry, ambush. The landing zone, which could accommodate only five helicopters,
was under continuous fire during all landings. The only light available to
the pilots was that from machine gun tracer rounds. This firefight also marked
the first time aerial rocket artillery was employed at night in close support
of friendly positions.
- The first night combat assault involving airmobile
105-mm. howitzers occurred on 31 March 1966 as part of Operation LINCOLN by
the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). When elements of the 1st Squadron, 9th
Cavalry, reinforced by a rifle company, became heavily engaged in
the early evening hours, a second rifle company and Battery B, 2d Battalion,
19th Artillery, were brought into a previously unreconnoitered landing zone
at 0105 hours. The fire support from the battery contributed significantly
to the total of 197 enemy soldiers killed in the engagement.
- The first U.S. battalion-size night
combat assault took place on 31 October 1966 when the combat elements of the
2d Battalion, 327th Infantry (Airborne), 101st Airborne Division, were lifted
into two landing zones near Tuy Hoa by the 48th and 129th Assault Helicopter
Companies and the 179th Assault Support Helicopter Company of the 10th Combat
Aviation Battalion. Twenty-four UH-1D, six UH1B, and four CH-47 helicopters
were used. The night before, the 10th Combat Aviation Battalion had conducted
a deception operation involving a simulated night combat assault with preparatory
fire by tactical air, artillery, and gunships and with illumination by flares.
The actual operation was executed without preparatory fire and illumination.
Pathfinders and security elements were positioned in the landing zones prior
to the main assaults. Helicopters flew nap-ofthe-earth flight paths to gain
- The desire to deny the enemy freedom
of movement at night led helicopter units to experiment with a variety of
lighting systems. The earliest systems were known as the Helicopter Illumination
System (Lightning Bug-Firefly) and were characterized by a fixed bank of C-123
landing lights mounted in a gunship. The crew would find and hold the target
with the lights while other gunships engaged the enemy. In the Mekong Delta
an OV-1C Mohawk was often used as part of the team, locating targets by an
infrared device and vectoring the
FIREFLY ILLUMINATION SYSTEM
light ship onto the target. A series of refinements were made which included
developing a focusing arrangement for the illumination system, testing various
searchlights, and using the night observation device as a passive means of
- When the Cobra was introduced into
the theater, the UH-1D/H Nighthawk was developed in the field. The basic components
of the Nighthawk were an AN/VSS-3 Xenon searchlight (component of the Sheridan
Armored Reconnaissance Airborne Assault Vehicle), a coaxially mounted AN/TVS-4
night observation device, and an XM-27 El 7.62-mm. minigun system. The searchlight
provided both white light and infrared, while the minigun system mounted in
the cargo +compartment allowed the Nighthawk to engage the target or provide
suppressive fire. Normal use involved a Nighthawk team (one UH-1D/H with the
light and one or two AH-1G gunships) working either an area or specific targets
already pinpointed through other methods.
- Ground controlled approach radar was
often used to provide navigational assistance to the team. The UH-1D/H would
fly at fifty knots 500 feet above the terrain with the gunships to the rear
at about 1,500 feet. When the light ship detected a target with infrared light,
it could either turn on the white light or open fire with the minigun, with
the accompanying gunships then firing into the minigun's tracer pattern. The
Nighthawk was very effective in flat, open terrain. In mountainous, canopied
jungle it was limited to roads, trails, and Rome plow cuts. Nighthawk was
employed to a limited extent in base camp defense, in checking out radar sightings,
in sensor activity, and in mechanical ambushes.
- In May 1966, five UH-1C gunships equipped
with low-light-level television were deployed to Vietnam to test the use of
TV as a night vision and target detection aid. Operating in the Mekong Delta,
the gunships had limited success; however, the concept and the equipment needed
further refinement. In November 1969, three INFANT (Iroquois Night Fighter
and Night Tracker) systems arrived in Vietnam. Each system consisted of a
UH-1H helicopter with an M21 armament subsystem (7.62-mrn. miniguns and 2.75-inch
rockets) 'and an image intensification system for night vision, AN/ASQ-132.
This refined equipment was tested in night combat operations in the III and
IV Corps Tactical Zones. INFANT increased the ability of the helicopter to
perform its attack and surveillance operations at night.
- Helicopters also provided considerable
nighttime support to ground forces by using MK24 aircraft flares, by resupplying
ammunition in an emergency, and by evacuating the wounded. Base camp defenses
were strengthened by gunships, which flew mortar patrols, visually sighted
and attacked enemy mortars, and transported ready reaction forces to check
out radar sightings or to provide rocket and mortar support in standoff attacks.
However, the effectiveness of surveillance by aircraft at night, was limited,
because the noise of the aircraft warned the North Vietnamese Army and Viet
Cong of its approach and gave them time to hide.
- The U.S. Army developed a new surveillance
aircraft for use in Vietnam. In April 1967, Lockheed Missiles and Space Company
was selected to build two experimental, low-noise aircraft. In September 1967,
the so-called quiet airplanes were deployed to the IV Corps Tactical Zone
for sixty-day evaluation. Nothing more than a modified glider with a wooden
propeller driven by a 100-horsepower engine, the aircraft could fly slowly
and quietly while the pilot conducted visual reconnaissance. During the test,
the quiet airplanes !conducted reconnaissance missions before and after a
strike; surveillance operations over areas, canals, rivers, roads, and along
the coastline; and searches around the perimeter. When the test was concluded,
the aircraft was judged to be valuable; however, several improvements were
recommended. The Lockheed Aircraft Corporation then developed a much improved
model, which was designated the YO-3A, Quiet Aircraft. The YO-3A was a more
sturdy aircraft, powered by a muffled 210-horsepower engine. It had a night
vision aerial periscope with an infrared illuminator and a laser target designator.
The Quiet Aircraft was deployed to Vietnam in the summer of 1970.
- The largest fixed-wing aircraft in
the Army's inventory was the CV-2 Caribou. It was the workhorse of aerial
resupply in the early phases of the war. The CV-7 Buffalo, a turbinized version
of the Caribou, had a 30-percent increase in load-carrying capacity. Two Buffaloes
were flown from Fort Rucker, Alabama, to Vietnam in the
YO-3A QUIET AIRCRAFT
- fall of 1965 and evaluated during
combat missions. The results were quite successful; however, all the Buffaloes
as well as the Caribous were transferred to the U.S. Air Force in the spring
- The helicopter and airmobile techniques
gave the commander new capabilities; the old time-distance factors and terrain
considerations were outmoded. In the airmobile division, the helicopter was
not used just as a means of transporting by air-such as troop movement, reinforcement,
medical evacuation, and resupply-but was totally integrated into operations
by commanders at all levels. The readily available air assets were automatically
considered in maneuver plans against the enemy, in intelligence gathering,
in fire support, and in logistic operations.
- page created 15 December 2001
Return to the
Table of Contents