Rolling Thunder & Linebacker Cruise Missiles campaigns against North Vietnam??

Pioneer

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G’day gents
I know this topic has been discussed and hypothesised about over and over again.
But I’ve just been watching a documentary called Battlefield Vietnam – Air War Vietnam
It’s what I view as a very good non-bias view of the realities of the American involvement in the Vietnam War, along with the ridicules political restraints and decisions which impacted on the men that were doing their best to be soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen who did the actual fighting in-country and would pay the ultimate price in doing so. The majority of the particular series I watch was on the air war over Vietnam and Cambodia.
One of the strangest actions of the air war, which I have found hard to get my head around was the decision by the politicians to use the Republic F-105 Thunderchief (Thud) as the principle aircraft to attack strategic targets in North Vietnam, whilst the more purposeful and effective strategic platform, the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress was used against tactical targets in South Vietnam from the period of 2 March 1965 until 2 November 1968. Of course the principle reason for this peculiar role/mission swap was the U.S. political fears that the use of such powerful strategic assets against the North could possibly draw counter intervention by the Soviet Union, the PRC, or both. Oh and of course there was the crazy political decision to forbid military U.S. forces to attack VPAF (NVAF) bases which had so effectively deployed in handful of mostly obsolete MiG-17, MiG-19 (and an even smaller number of modern MiG-21’s) fighters against attacking U.S. aircraft and their escorts; let alone the hunting and destruction of the operationally and psychologically effective S-75 (SA-2 Guidline) SAM’s
Come Operation Linebacker & Linebacker II in 1972, someone came to their senses with the want to show real force and resolve and approved the use of the B-52 against targets in North Vietnam.
My hypothetical question to the forum is this –
Given the political restrictions stupidly imposed on air operations, along with the extensive downing of U.S. aircraft and loss of aircrews by the tenacious air defences of the North Vietnamese. I am curious to ask forum members if the U.S. military would have been better of using a combination of air-to-surface, surface-to-surface (both sea and land launched) cruise missiles or even larger RPV/drones to attack (fixed targets) some of the most heavily defended aerospace in history, without exposing its aircraft and aircrews to high risk and danger. After all the cruise missile was not a new weapon to war by the time of the Vietnam War! For as of 1944 the German’s had used the world’s first operational cruise missile – the Fieseler Fi 103 (aka V-1) against targets in Britain and Belgium from both ground and air launched means. In fact the cruise missile was not new to the U.S. military, as it had gone to great lengths to acquire and americanize the V-1 itself for its own use. From this it had developed more advanced and more capable. Ok I understand that many people immediate reaction and response might be the concerns that China & the Soviet’s might mistake this as a potential nuclear assault.
What makes this concept of cruise missile based offensive feasible to me is the fact that by the 1960’s the Soviet’s had developed and deployed extensive powerful and effective air, surface and ship launched cruise missiles the likes of the K-10S (AS-2 Kipper), Kh-20 (AS-3 Kangaroo), P-5 (SS-N-3 Shaddock) and P-15 Termit (SS-N-2 Styx) etc….
So I’m thinking along the lines of conventional adaption of the likes of the SSN-N-8 Regulus, SSN-N-9 Regulus II, XB-61 Matador, SM-62 Shark, GAM-77A (AGM-28) Hound Dog and even the XSM-73 Goose and AQM-34M Drone
Finally, I am very curies as to why the U.S. military never actually fielded and used something akin to the likes of the Fairchild SM-73 Goose ECM cruise missile (originally developed in 1957-9) which were designed to carry a comprehensive payload of passive sensors, jammers, relay communications and ECM equipment. Or even that of the GAM-67 Crossbow. This would have been a very useful (and sensible) support to airstrikes in degrading the North Vietnamese air defence network.
What is your thoughts and opinion of this?
I think it would not just have saved many U.S. aircrews lives and billions of dollars in downed and damaged aircraft, it could have also minimalized the damaging POW situation, which the North Vietnamese capitalised on. Not to mention the freeing up of air assets to support CAS and air interdiction missions in support of ground troops!


Regards
Pioneer
 

Sea Skimmer

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No cruise missile of the time had the accuracy to be effective against typical land targets with a conventional payload and most designs would have been easy enough targets for SA-2 and radar directed anti aircraft guns. At best certain bridges could have been attacked, all the Soviet weapons were nuclear, or anti ship, for a reason. Talos, which is a form of cruise missile was employed against radar stations. Overall such weapons were fantastically expensive means of delivering high explosives. Several of the mentioned weapons had intercontinental range, and were lucky to land within FIVE MILES of the target. They make no sense at all for this.


Political restrictions make a joke of this very concept meanwhile, besides the fact that most of the suggested weapons did not have conventional warhead options in the first place and would have needed new variants. The USAF wasn't allowed to use the B-52 over most of the north because it was strategic, would look like 'escalation' and deep fears existed of the consequences to the reputation of the US deterrent force if they got shot down. Firing huge numbers of cruise missiles designed for nuclear roles, and having the North shoot them down in droves, while still accomplishing nothing, would create the same problem, maybe even worse since such missiles were supposed to attack the best defended targets. The difference is of course, with nuclear warheads even a fraction of the missile reaching the target was good enough, and such missiles could fly fairly low and fast on INS guidance. This would be completely hopeless in a conventional role.



ECM missiles made no sense in this context, with strikes being flown day after day. For how much one would cost, you might as well just fly an extra fighter with the strike package equipped with nothing but extra jamming pods, or fly more of the stand of EB-66 jammer planes already in use. During the Linebacker operation entire flights of F-4s were used as chaff bomber as well. A jammer missile would be far too easy a target anyway.


Remember, even at the worst of it, US losses over the North were low. Far lower then they had been in World War 2. The real problem was in Washington and its hopeless war strategy, not with the weapons. It would have been nice to be able to use the B-58 and B-52 over the North anyway, they would have been able to really knock out certain sites like the Hanoi railway repair shop that withstood endless tactical fighter attacks, but that's because of the high accuracy and concentrated bomb load they'd provide. Two things missiles wont give you in the 1960s.
 

chuck4

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How much does it cost to launch as many cruise missiles as it takes to match the bomb load of a B-52????
 

Sea Skimmer

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The MGM-13 Mace cruise missile cost 450,000 dollars in the early 1960s and carried a 1,700lb warhead. CEP for MGM-13B was .7nm at 600nm, its max range flying low, which is completely useless against a target smaller then an airfield or major supply depot. This is the missile I'd say is best suited to the job, not a good sign! Also low means 750ft in this case, hardly good for withstanding thousands of anti aircraft guns.


In comparison the earliest B-52s cost about 14 million dollars in the early 1950s, and the last B-52H models cost around 10 million in the early 1960s. Max payload for a B-52D with the big belly kit was 60,000lb. This means 35 x Mace are needed to equal the payload at a cost of 15,750,000 dollars! This means forget about using cruise missiles. Turning the B-52s into drones and crashing them into the targets as remote control planes would be cheaper! The cost advantage of flying reusable B-52 missions would be immense, however I do not have a cost per B-52 flying hour handy.


In fact such an idea was actually sort of proposed, but only for one target, the Dragons Jaw bridge. The proposal was to convert a QB-47 drone into a remote controlled bomb flown with a TV camera in the nose, and with 35,000lb of ANFO slurry filling certain fuel tanks as the warhead. Cost of the conversion was estimated at 664,000 dollars as Project Weary Willie II.


Washington never approved the plan, no doubt out of grave concern over how absurd it would look if it failed, and how much collateral damage an errant 35,000lb bomb in a medium bomber could do if it crashed into a Vietnamese town and left a huge crater. Hoards of people were killed by falling US bombs and AA shells anyway, in it was normal for US pilots to see SA-2 boosters falling into populated areas too, but such events were not so spectacular.
 

Abraham Gubler

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Sea Skimmer said:
No cruise missile of the time had the accuracy to be effective against typical land targets with a conventional payload and most designs would have been easy enough targets for SA-2 and radar directed anti aircraft guns.

But one could have been built which did have the accuracy to engage targets in North VietNam. By combining the short range of launching from the Tonkin Gulf into North VietNam with supersonic speed the time of flight would be short enough (<10 minutes) that an inertial control unit wouldn’t drift enough to disrupt accuracy. You would still need to fire barrages to achieve target destruction but wave after wave of “pofflers” firing 6-12 short range cruise missiles per from the Tonkin Gulf would get the job done without any significant blue force casualties.
 

sferrin

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Talos (though not a cruise missile) was used in a surface-to-surface role in Vietnam.
 

Bill Walker

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Abraham Gubler said:
But one could have been built which did have the accuracy to engage targets in North VietNam.

I'm not sure how. Are you suggesting that the best minds in the US (and the USSR and Europe) were not building the best weapons they could at the time? Or are you suggesting an Apollo scale development program to win a minor war in SEA? Both seem very unlikely.

By combining the short range of launching from the Tonkin Gulf into North VietNam with supersonic speed the time of flight would be short enough (<10 minutes) that an inertial control unit wouldn’t drift enough to disrupt accuracy. You would still need to fire barrages to achieve target destruction but wave after wave of “pofflers” firing 6-12 short range cruise missiles per from the Tonkin Gulf would get the job done without any significant blue force casualties.
This sounds like a massive effort aimed at a very specific problem (assuming it was even possible). How would such a fleet of surface vessels, armed with relatively short range weapons, help with the REAL American concerns of the day: like a land war in central Europe, a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union, or defence of their Arctic approaches? The weapons the US did use in SEA were mostly developed for other situations, and adapted to the local conditions over North Viet Nam. I don't think any military with global responsibilities could afford such a specialized weapon system.
 

Rickshaw

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Abraham Gubler said:
Sea Skimmer said:
No cruise missile of the time had the accuracy to be effective against typical land targets with a conventional payload and most designs would have been easy enough targets for SA-2 and radar directed anti aircraft guns.

But one could have been built which did have the accuracy to engage targets in North VietNam. By combining the short range of launching from the Tonkin Gulf into North VietNam with supersonic speed the time of flight would be short enough (<10 minutes) that an inertial control unit wouldn’t drift enough to disrupt accuracy. You would still need to fire barrages to achieve target destruction but wave after wave of “pofflers” firing 6-12 short range cruise missiles per from the Tonkin Gulf would get the job done without any significant blue force casualties.

I agree. There were already Ryan Firebee drones which pretty much had the accuracy required. You might not have been able to hit a pin-point target like a bridge but you could equal the accuracy of airdropped bombs from a conventional bomber. The Firebees regularly flew reconnaissance missions over specific targets and returned. Rarely were the SAMs able to intercept them, particularly when they were fitted with various Stealth measures.
 

CliffyB

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You're mentioning of the Firebees reminded me of SMARTROC. The USN ASROCs refitted for land attack by replacing the standard ASW torpedo with a 500lb bomb. The last version before it was cancelled had a range of about 10 miles and was considered very accurate. It was intended to augment the 5"/38s of the old Gearings conducting gunfire support missions and give them more of a punch. You could call it a precursor to modern land attack missiles. Wonder how they would have fared had they made it to Vietnam. A longer range air launched version could have been a success but wasn't Skipper and/or Bullpup basically a rocket powered 500 pounder? Can't remember.
 

Sea Skimmer

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Kadija_Man said:
I agree. There were already Ryan Firebee drones which pretty much had the accuracy required. You might not have been able to hit a pin-point target like a bridge but you could equal the accuracy of airdropped bombs from a conventional bomber. The Firebees regularly flew reconnaissance missions over specific targets and returned. Rarely were the SAMs able to intercept them, particularly when they were fitted with various Stealth measures.


Actually a pretty large fraction of all Firebee missions missed the targets completely, and the loss rate was around 15%, much higher then any manned aircraft. Bombing performance would be worse because precise timing is so much more important. We already know rerformance and reliability as a bomber would be poor, because the USAF actually built them as BQM-34 series drones in the 1970s, and that was using Maverick and other guided weapons rather then iron bombing. The whole system was incredibly expensive to operate because of the need for C-130 air launch and then helicopter recovery. Such a system had some appeal as a SEAD weapon, which is what the testing focused on. For blowing up suspected truck parks, you might as well save the money and spend it on the ARVN down south.



Abraham Gubler said:
But one could have been built which did have the accuracy to engage targets in North VietNam. By combining the short range of launching from the Tonkin Gulf into North VietNam with supersonic speed the time of flight would be short enough (<10 minutes) that an inertial control unit wouldn’t drift enough to disrupt accuracy. You would still need to fire barrages to achieve target destruction but wave after wave of “pofflers” firing 6-12 short range cruise missiles per from the Tonkin Gulf would get the job done without any significant blue force casualties.


A more cost realistic means of accomplishing low cost accuracy would be to place a system akin to the MSQ-77 ground directed bombing radar on a ship, and use that to guide the missiles. Then basically build a weapon like Loon out of sheet steel which will have awful survivability but cost almost nothing, and launch utter hoards of them from converted CVEs as was the plan for Loon vs Japan. Supersonic INS guided weapons would be very expensive when expended by the thousands, and entirely within the capabilities of SA-2 to shoot down. Even if they did work well, the end result will probably be the Soviet Union supplying P-15 missiles to North Vietnam, or much larger scale Chinese intervention then was already the case, or both. Of course this would do nothing to change the problem of the war plan being so hopeless. In fact it would almost certainly make the plan's even worse.
 

Sea Skimmer

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CliffyB said:
You're mentioning of the Firebees reminded me of SMARTROC. The USN ASROCs refitted for land attack by replacing the standard ASW torpedo with a 500lb bomb. The last version before it was cancelled had a range of about 10 miles and was considered very accurate. It was intended to augment the 5"/38s of the old Gearings conducting gunfire support missions and give them more of a punch. You could call it a precursor to modern land attack missiles. Wonder how they would have fared had they made it to Vietnam. A longer range air launched version could have been a success but wasn't Skipper and/or Bullpup basically a rocket powered 500 pounder? Can't remember.


They might have been useful for support down south when hard targets appeared suddenly. Against North Vietnam US ships seldom approached closer than 15-17,000 yards of shore because of the risk of being riddled by quick firing 57mm guns that were hard to locate due to small muzzle flashes, and rapidly increasing accuracy and number of heavier calibers of shore batteries able to reach such a distance. While many successful duels were fought with such batteries, the trend was to keep away from them with destroyer sized vessels. This would rather limit the overall use of a small number of 10 mile range rockets, as not many desirable targets are located close to the coast. What was really needed were more 8in cruisers on station or similar ranged weapons, normally only one was backing up four or five destroyers on coastal interdiction duty. The 30,000 yard range of the main batteries was enough to outclass any North Vietnamese shore gun by at least several thousand yards, and a cruiser broadside could overwhelm them quickly. Of course all of this interdiction work was nearly pointless as long as unlimited munitions and replacement sampans flowed into the port of Haiphong.
 

Abraham Gubler

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Bill Walker said:
I'm not sure how.

Then lucky for you I explained how in my original post.

Bill Walker said:
Are you suggesting that the best minds in the US (and the USSR and Europe) were not building the best weapons they could at the time? Or are you suggesting an Apollo scale development program to win a minor war in SEA? Both seem very unlikely.

Nope to both.

Bill Walker said:
This sounds like a massive effort aimed at a very specific problem (assuming it was even possible). How would such a fleet of surface vessels, armed with relatively short range weapons, help with the REAL American concerns of the day: like a land war in central Europe, a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union, or defence of their Arctic approaches? The weapons the US did use in SEA were mostly developed for other situations, and adapted to the local conditions over North Viet Nam. I don't think any military with global responsibilities could afford such a specialized weapon system.

Surface vessels? I don’t think you understand the terminology I used. As to the rest I didn’t make a historical counter factual defence spending policy suggestion but rather a technical one. You are right, sort of, that such a weapon wasn’t required because it would be tactical not strategic which was where the money was at the time. But of some note is the fact that the B-52 force later acquired a stand off tactical bomb in the form of the Popeye so as to meet the requirement that Pioneer has suggested in this thread.
 

Rickshaw

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Sea Skimmer said:
Kadija_Man said:
I agree. There were already Ryan Firebee drones which pretty much had the accuracy required. You might not have been able to hit a pin-point target like a bridge but you could equal the accuracy of airdropped bombs from a conventional bomber. The Firebees regularly flew reconnaissance missions over specific targets and returned. Rarely were the SAMs able to intercept them, particularly when they were fitted with various Stealth measures.


Actually a pretty large fraction of all Firebee missions missed the targets completely, and the loss rate was around 15%, much higher then any manned aircraft. Bombing performance would be worse because precise timing is so much more important. We already know rerformance and reliability as a bomber would be poor, because the USAF actually built them as BQM-34 series drones in the 1970s, and that was using Maverick and other guided weapons rather then iron bombing. The whole system was incredibly expensive to operate because of the need for C-130 air launch and then helicopter recovery. Such a system had some appeal as a SEAD weapon, which is what the testing focused on. For blowing up suspected truck parks, you might as well save the money and spend it on the ARVN down south.

Errr, Firebees could be and were launched often from US Navy ships. As to their accuracy, I'll have to hit the books but I suggest you're wrong. There was no need to launch Firebees from aircraft, that was only done by the USAF to extend their range.

While this is a picture of the earlier target drone being launched from a ground launcher it shows the capability that was available:

3779012.jpg


This picture shows a Firebee again more than likely being ground launched:

Firebee.jpg


This one shows a launch from a US Carrier:

UAV-Firebee-Model-14-300x191.jpg
 

starviking

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Kadija_Man,

the pic of the carrier-launched Firebee looks like a CG insert into a historical photo: the Firebee appears to be of a different resolution to the rest of the picture, and the shadowing on the drone seems to come from overhead, whereas that on the A-3 in the background comes from a slant.

I am, however, no photography expert, so this is just IMHO.
 

Rickshaw

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That picture appears genuine to me. The book "Lightning Bugs and Other Reconnaissance Drones" by William Wagner (1982) has a chapter devoted to the subject of US Navy use of the Firebee Reconnaissance Drone from Yankee Station in the Gulf of Haiphong (pp.157-165). It has several photos, similar to that one of Firebees being launched from Carriers and other ships. Unfortunately I lack both a scanner and have no desire to break copyright. I can though, highly recommend the book.
 

Sea Skimmer

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Kadija_Man said:
Errr, Firebees could be and were launched often from US Navy ships. As to their accuracy, I'll have to hit the books but I suggest you're wrong. There was no need to launch Firebees from aircraft, that was only done by the USAF to extend their range.


I was talking about the real armed version, which basically had to be air launched because it was actually remote controlled in ordered to employ precision weapons to make its small payload effective. The launch plane also acted as the control platform, using its height to gain a useful radio LOS to the low flying drone and internal space to carry the operators and all the remote control equipment. This is specifically why the system was not adapted. For the operational price of a BGM-34 wing that could make a few dozen missions per day an entire wing of manned fighters could be operated that could generate hundreds of missions per day each with far greater payload.


If you have a source for high reliability, I'd love to hear about it, because that's flatly in contrast with everything I've ever heard. The main reason it was used as far as I can tell was simply that low level daylight recon runs, which could get under the cloud ceiling, by manned aircraft were effectively suicidal in the red river delta. So even if many missions missed, it was still better then the alternative. This low reliability and generally high attrition from all causes is why it took so long for recon drones to get to the place they are today.


You could launch Firebee off ships fine if you just want to use inertial guidance, but that will mean using a pair of dumb weapons only and all the limits that brings. Considering that the drone already cost close to 300,000 dollars for perhaps 1,500lb payload, while an F-105D was 2.14 million and had a realistic 6,000lb payload, it doesn't sound like a very good deal to me when you bring in much higher losses, lower accuracy and inability to deliver concentrated bomb loads or heavy munitions needed to destroy many targets. Some sorts of targets like moving trains or truck traffic end up completely out of the question. Big problem when so many missions over the North were armed recon.


Talos missiles were around 386,000 dollars according to the Okie boat site, with all of 300lb for a warhead, suggesting that a short range supersonic INS guided bombardment missile, even allowing that a purpose design one might have a much better payload, is going to be a horrendous deal as well. Even worse then I thought it would be compared to Mace.


Honestly now, the US military already had a fairly effective guided weapons in the Vietnam War well before laser guided bombs appeared in the form of Walleye. Cost and lack of enough warhead is why these weapons already didn't get used vastly more. It would be the same with armed drones or elaborate stand off missiles. Fighter bombers were still fairly cheap, large numbers already existed, and frankly, pilots were expendable as far as Washington was concerned. About 1,000 US pilots and air crewmen were killed, captured or remain missing in action in Operation Rolling Thunder. So around one per day. In the same period something like thirty five thousand thousands of US troops died fighting in South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and 100,000 plus were wounded.
 

Rickshaw

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The Navy's Firebees were used for post strike reconnaissance over North Vietnam so obviously inertial guidance was adequate. If you desired longer range control then a small transport as the C-1 Trader or the S-1 Tracer AEW would have sufficed and could be operated from the carriers as well. If datalinked to the ships below, all it would required would be a radio relay. Firebees were fitted with TV guidance allowing precision attacks as well.
 

Sea Skimmer

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You really keep missing the issue, recon does not require the even remotely the same accuracy of bombing. You can photograph a much wider and longer swatch then you can bomb by orders of magnitude easily, then go back and search the film to see if any photos in it are of what you wanted. None of the TV guidance systems ever worked well in this period, made worse by persistently bad weather over North Vietnam. Trying to use one for precision iron bombing flying low is hopeless. Fly high and the Firebees get blown out of the sky in droves, without even considering what jamming might do.


You ever think maybe, the US military had some clue as to what it was doing?
 

Pioneer

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Thanks gents for your interesting responses, feed-back and input on this topic. It has been very interesting!!
Lots of valid points - opening up a can of worms

But one could have been built which did have the accuracy to engage targets in North VietNam. By combining the short range of launching from the Tonkin Gulf into North VietNam with supersonic speed the time of flight would be short enough (<10 minutes) that an inertial control unit wouldn’t drift enough to disrupt accuracy. You would still need to fire barrages to achieve target destruction but wave after wave of “pofflers” firing 6-12 short range cruise missiles per from the Tonkin Gulf would get the job done without any significant blue force casualties.

Yes this is the line on which I was thinking - if the need and directive was given it 'could have been built.'

For the operational price of a BGM-34 wing that could make a few dozen missions per day an entire wing of manned fighters could be operated that could generate hundreds of missions per day each with far greater payload.
Yes but this is my point my friend! It may have taken far more missiles/drones, than that of conventional fixed wing aircraft! But surely the political and financial cost of the loss of
About 1,000 US pilots and air crewmen were killed, captured or remain missing in action in Operation Rolling Thunder
+ ??? aircraft would have been a far better outcome? Not to mention the ability of such a detrimental use and manipulation of downed U.S. aircrcrews as POW for North Vietnamese propaganda machine.
There is no dought that the U.S. military was geared to strategic warfighting before and during the initial start of the war in Vietnam (a big part of their failings!). The adaption of the B-52 to conventional warfare was a good example to their ability to adapt and overcome this negligance - especially the B-52D!
I guess even if the U.S. administration and military could meet the reality of the actual war in Vietnam half way in their mind set, a combination of this missile/drone assault against the likes of air defence assets and airbased would have potentially opened up the skies of North Vietnam to the follow on or combined attack by conventional fixed-wing aircraft.
I personally think if the U.S. political and military resolve was there, the adaption (if not specialised) adaption and employment of missile could have been developed, along with great strides in their accuracy could have been achieved. I think the United States Military proved this in their adaption of mind set and technology in the aerial war against the Ho Chi Minh trail!

Regards
Pioneer
 

Grey Havoc

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There was apparently a 1964 proposal to expend remaining stocks of Regulus I missiles by refitting them with conventional warheads and using them against North Vietnamese Air Defense Centers, SAM sites, and the like (Corvus derived seeker for terminal guidance?). The intention being that if the targets weren't destroyed outright they would be softened up for airstrikes following right on the heels of the missiles. The idea was nixed because of the danger of killing Russian and Chinese 'advisers'. ::)

The plan is mentioned in this thread over at HP&CA (Pages 5 & 6).
 

Rickshaw

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Sea Skimmer said:
You really keep missing the issue, recon does not require the even remotely the same accuracy of bombing. You can photograph a much wider and longer swatch then you can bomb by orders of magnitude easily, then go back and search the film to see if any photos in it are of what you wanted. None of the TV guidance systems ever worked well in this period, made worse by persistently bad weather over North Vietnam. Trying to use one for precision iron bombing flying low is hopeless. Fly high and the Firebees get blown out of the sky in droves, without even considering what jamming might do.

You're assuming that I seek high precision with these weapons. I wouldn't. I'd see them as being a slightly better advanced version of the V-1. The occasional one could be precision guided for the high value, difficult to hit targets but getting within a kilometer or so of the target would be sufficient if enough were used.

You ever think maybe, the US military had some clue as to what it was doing?

Why do you assume they did? Vietnam was like any war, a matter of trial and error. When something worked, it worked, when it didn't, it was discarded and something else was tried. Sometimes they found a solution for specific problems but I don't think many would argue that generally the direction of the war was really well conducted by the USA either at a political or a military level.
 

RanulfC

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Kadija_Man said:
Sea Skimmer said:
You really keep missing the issue, recon does not require the even remotely the same accuracy of bombing. You can photograph a much wider and longer swatch then you can bomb by orders of magnitude easily, then go back and search the film to see if any photos in it are of what you wanted. None of the TV guidance systems ever worked well in this period, made worse by persistently bad weather over North Vietnam. Trying to use one for precision iron bombing flying low is hopeless. Fly high and the Firebees get blown out of the sky in droves, without even considering what jamming might do.

You're assuming that I seek high precision with these weapons. I wouldn't. I'd see them as being a slightly better advanced version of the V-1. The occasional one could be precision guided for the high value, difficult to hit targets but getting within a kilometer or so of the target would be sufficient if enough were used.
This is WHY he keeps trying to point out that YOU are MISSING the POINT :)
Whether "you" are seeking "high-precision" or not the fact remains that the ROE, (political considerations were paramount) meant that this was never going to be an option that the military could viably push. (Note Grey Havoc's point about the Regulus-1 cruise missiles) I'd also point out that the Firebee was never "cheap" enough to expend in mass quantities ala-the V1, heck the V1 wasn't all that "cheap" per se and the US equivilent (The Loon) was available (could be built) had there been a "need" percieved for such tactics. Again though, and with some emphisis :) the plan would never "fly" because of the politically driven ROE during the entire war pretty much prohibited full, and effective use of the US Air Force capability beyond a strict "tactical" nature.

1km isn't really a good distance for a bomb. Most bombs and heavy warheads (@2000lb) have a lethal "kill" (people) radius (overpressure/fragments) of a bit over 360m, though you can technically get "casualties" out to 1000m in general at that distance people will be "shook-up" but not actually harmed. "Hard-Kill" distances for light vehicles or exposed ready-weapons, (say a SAM missile, manned AAA Gun or radar) normally have to be closer than 200m, usually 100m or less is prefered. To generate a "sure" kill on a non-hardened target (SAM, manned A3 gun, or radar again) inside a revetment (earth-berm) you pretty much have to land INSIDE the revetment or near an opening that will concentrate the shock wave otherwise your damage will be minimum if any. Hardened Target kills (tank, armoured A3 gun, CP) pretty much needs a direct hit ON the target as any hit on a revement or "bunkering" (sandbags, tree trunks, metal sheeting) will cause the bomb to detonate early and "spend" it's energy on the covering rather than the target unless a "delay" fuze is used. (And THEN you always have the possibility the "hardening" will deflect the bomb away from the target)

Pretty much, you need to ensure multiple hits with large bombs in close proximity to overlap and pummel a target and HOPE you got at least a single bomb to make a "direct" hit. Hence the practice of dropping clusters (multiple) bombs on a single target to ensure taking it out. The main "issue" with this and a Firebee is payload, which is normally less than 2000lbs. There WERE "attack" versions built, (see: http://www.designation-systems.net/dusrm/m-34.html#_BGM) but they were pretty limited being able to carry only a couple of 500lb bombs. (Note the early "Paveway" Laser Guided Bombs in the picture, these are the same "bomb" warhead as the two "snake-eye" high drag bombs on the left) as well as late arrivals. (Initial Navy tests in the late '60 and for the Air Force 1971)Meanwhile a Phantom carried anywhere from 9 (Mk-84) to 18 (Mk-82) 2,000lb and 1,000lb (repectivly) bombs per aircraft. (Multiply by 12 for a Squadron)

Note also the following statement:
"Although the tests were considered successful, no funds were approved for follow-on orders for production vehicles. This was at least in part caused by the general view of some Air Force officials, who saw the RPVs as a "competition" to the conventional manned aircraft"
(See below)
You ever think maybe, the US military had some clue as to what it was doing?

Why do you assume they did? Vietnam was like any war, a matter of trial and error. When something worked, it worked, when it didn't, it was discarded and something else was tried. Sometimes they found a solution for specific problems but I don't think many would argue that generally the direction of the war was really well conducted by the USA either at a political or a military level.
Vietnam was in fact totally NOT the war the United States military was ready to fight at the time. Despite the lessons of Korea the USAF still thought of itself and trained/equiped/readied itself for all out Atomic war with the USSR. "Fighters" were to stop Russian bombers and if possible break air defenses for our own bombers. Figther bombers were also to confuse and harrass enemy air defenses in advance of the bombers while taking some of the "heat" by being potential "bomb-carriers" themselves but the FOCUS was always on Atomic Armageddon "toe-to-toe-with-the-Ruskies!"

The fact that the Air Force had to actually mobilize, equip, and then train for "tactical" air combat wasn't seen as "neccessary" until it was forced on them. And the in-fighting between Tactical Air Command and Strategic Air Command over money, assets and prestige was almost as bad as that between the Army and Army Air Force that ended up birthing the seperate Air Force! Add in a political agenda which simply won't allow you to put your full effective effort into "winning" the war and you can pretty much see why mass strikes by "pilotless aircraft" weren't USED though they WERE studied.

Which, by the way, brings me to ANOTHER point that hasn't been touched as of yet on the subject. If a "drone" was self-piloted by a robot guidance system that was one thing, if however it was "piloted" by remote control that was a fully and totally different thing in and of itself. It was during this time when a Navy test was run where a remotely piloted Firebee "took-on" an F4 Phantom in mock combat. The Phantom got it butt kicked... Bigtime.

Meanwhile the Air Force was learning that the Navy had already used/was using the Firebee for "remote" precision bombing (not really well, and not really successfully it worked much better as a sea-skimming remote piloted anti-ship missile) and BOTH services (run by this time BY Pilots) were both facing the fact that there were going to be reductions, budget cutbacks, and "hard-times" ahead once Vietnam closed down and probably before along with the general turning away of public support for the military in general and you have a situation on your hands.

IF at this point you can't wrap your mind around the idea that suggesting replacing MANNED aircraft with UN-MANNED remotly piloted vehicles was something to be FEARED and AVOIDED in the general military mind... :)

There are major "reasons" "Unmanned Aerial Vehicles" have had such a hard time becoming reality until very recently :)

Randy
 

Sea Skimmer

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Pioneer said:

Yes but this is my point my friend! It may have taken far more missiles/drones, than that of conventional fixed wing aircraft! But surely the political and financial cost of the loss of ] +
C:\Users\Rob\AppData\Local\Temp\msohtml1\01\clip_image001.gif
aircraft would have been a far better outcome?


[/size]The financial cost could easily become greater for the same completely ineffective results, look up how just many bombs the US dropped on the north some time. If you think raining down robot bombs on the North would be better, that’s on you, I don’t agree at all. It would easily be much worse. Every time a US weapon missed, which was constant, the political price would be higher. The US would look downright horrible for raining down inaccurate drone bombs across the north, the analogies to Hitler’s V-weapon offensive would be endless. Meanwhile Washington has to grapple with that endless pesky problem, full scale Chinese intervention. Instead of just what is estimated at as many as 100,000 troops limited themselves to construction projects and anti aircraft artillery sites north of Hanoi. How long does the war last when 2 million Chinese enter?
Not to mention the ability of such a detrimental use and manipulation of downed U.S. aircrcrews as POW for North Vietnamese propaganda machine.


You realize right, that large vocal segments of the US population had no sympathy for those men what so ever? They were almost entirely officers, all officers were volunteers, they volunteered to bomb babies in North Vietnam ect… true or not it is how people thought. Even if optimistically US public support increased exactly in line with the reduction in casualties, which is pretty damn optimistic, you’re talking about a very small single digit percentage shift in favor of the war. The overwhelming majority of the losses were in the south, and largely falling on conscripted infantrymen, even though the majority of US troops serving were volunteers. That's what scuttled the hopeless US war effort in the end.
I guess even if the U.S. administration and military could meet the reality of the actual war in Vietnam half way in their mind set, a combination of this missile/drone assault against the likes of air defence assets and airbased would have potentially opened up the skies of North Vietnam to the follow on or combined attack by conventional fixed-wing aircraft.

If you take away politically restrictions on targeting, then using huge missiles is even more pointless. Given an unlimited choice of target manned US aircraft were capable of quickly defeating the air defenses of North Vietnam and establishing a situation in which bombing could go on with very low losses. Missiles would then be far inferior choices. If bombing had been unrestricted from the onset, the North would have never fielded MiGs or SAMs at all, because they would have had no working airfields and no way to import the missiles from the USSR due to lack of any available harbors.

I personally think if the U.S. political and military resolve was there, the adaption (if not specialised) adaption and employment of missile could have been developed, along with great strides in their accuracy could have been achieved. I think the United States Military proved this in their adaption of mind set and technology in the aerial war against the Ho Chi Minh trail!

Using technology against the trail proved ineffective, and absurdly expensive. It’s in fact the perfect example of how technology can do nothing to fix fundamentally unsound strategies. [size=1em]
 

Abraham Gubler

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Sea Skimmer said:
If you take away politically restrictions on targeting, then using huge missiles is even more pointless. Given an unlimited choice of target manned US aircraft were capable of quickly defeating the air defenses of North Vietnam and establishing a situation in which bombing could go on with very low losses. Missiles would then be far inferior choices. If bombing had been unrestricted from the onset, the North would have never fielded MiGs or SAMs at all, because they would have had no working airfields and no way to import the missiles from the USSR due to lack of any available harbors.

This is the key point. Rolling Thunder was a mess but Linebacker a huge success. What was the difference? Political restrictions. Different technology would have marginal impact on the operational effectiveness of the two campaigns against North VietNam compared to different strategic guidance (ie political restrictions). If Rolling Thunder had been fought to Linebacker rules then there would probably still be a South VietNam today.
 

Rickshaw

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Abraham Gubler said:
Sea Skimmer said:
If you take away politically restrictions on targeting, then using huge missiles is even more pointless. Given an unlimited choice of target manned US aircraft were capable of quickly defeating the air defenses of North Vietnam and establishing a situation in which bombing could go on with very low losses. Missiles would then be far inferior choices. If bombing had been unrestricted from the onset, the North would have never fielded MiGs or SAMs at all, because they would have had no working airfields and no way to import the missiles from the USSR due to lack of any available harbors.

This is the key point. Rolling Thunder was a mess but Linebacker a huge success. What was the difference? Political restrictions. Different technology would have marginal impact on the operational effectiveness of the two campaigns against North VietNam compared to different strategic guidance (ie political restrictions). If Rolling Thunder had been fought to Linebacker rules then there would probably still be a South VietNam today.

There was a disjoin between political aspirations and military strategy in the air war against North Vietnam. However, I doubt that a Linebacker campaign in 1965 would have attained the same results, simply because the North was not as reliant upon resupply by sea through Haiphong as it had become after the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Most military materiale' came from the fUSSR through China to North Vietnam but when China had fallen out with the Soviet Union (again), the Vietnamese were forced to receive supplies by ship. There was no way that the US was going to escalate the war to the point of direct Chinese intervention through attacking the Chinese railways in the same manner as it did when it mined the North Vietnamese harbours. Memories of Korea haunted Washington and the Pentagon.

Further, it should be pointed out the military commanders were complicit in this disjunction. They were asked for and provided a strategy in Rolling Thunder which was intended to "slowly tighten the screws" and "turn up the heat" in easily defined stages, rather than using all out force in a massive hammer blow which was what their air doctrine called for. Also, the North Vietnam of 1971-72 was actually very different to the North Vietnam of a few years earlier. There were fewer large targets and those that did exist had political ramifications which the White House and the Pentagon didn't want to think about.

War is, remember always fought for political ends. Something that is sadly ignored all too often when discussing the Vietnam War. The United States' political adjective in 1965 was preservation of the South, not the defeat and occupation of the North. Rolling Thunder was designed to support that objective, within the context of the Cold War. By 1971-2, the PRC was no longer in the equation, the US was looking for a different political objective - quick withdrawal, "peace with honour" and the war was being increasingly perceived as a civil one, rather than a case of the Communist "bloc'" expanding. So therefore a different strategy was adopted.
 

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RanulfC said:
Kadija_Man said:
Sea Skimmer said:
You really keep missing the issue, recon does not require the even remotely the same accuracy of bombing. You can photograph a much wider and longer swatch then you can bomb by orders of magnitude easily, then go back and search the film to see if any photos in it are of what you wanted. None of the TV guidance systems ever worked well in this period, made worse by persistently bad weather over North Vietnam. Trying to use one for precision iron bombing flying low is hopeless. Fly high and the Firebees get blown out of the sky in droves, without even considering what jamming might do.

You're assuming that I seek high precision with these weapons. I wouldn't. I'd see them as being a slightly better advanced version of the V-1. The occasional one could be precision guided for the high value, difficult to hit targets but getting within a kilometer or so of the target would be sufficient if enough were used.
This is WHY he keeps trying to point out that YOU are MISSING the POINT :)

Am I?

Whether "you" are seeking "high-precision" or not the fact remains that the ROE, (political considerations were paramount) meant that this was never going to be an option that the military could viably push. (Note Grey Havoc's point about the Regulus-1 cruise missiles) I'd also point out that the Firebee was never "cheap" enough to expend in mass quantities ala-the V1, heck the V1 wasn't all that "cheap" per se and the US equivilent (The Loon) was available (could be built) had there been a "need" percieved for such tactics. Again though, and with some emphisis :) the plan would never "fly" because of the politically driven ROE during the entire war pretty much prohibited full, and effective use of the US Air Force capability beyond a strict "tactical" nature.

True. I agree I was purposefully ignoring the political ramifications of adopting a bombardment weapon. My bad, I admit.

1km isn't really a good distance for a bomb. Most bombs and heavy warheads (@2000lb) have a lethal "kill" (people) radius (overpressure/fragments) of a bit over 360m, though you can technically get "casualties" out to 1000m in general at that distance people will be "shook-up" but not actually harmed. "Hard-Kill" distances for light vehicles or exposed ready-weapons, (say a SAM missile, manned AAA Gun or radar) normally have to be closer than 200m, usually 100m or less is prefered. To generate a "sure" kill on a non-hardened target (SAM, manned A3 gun, or radar again) inside a revetment (earth-berm) you pretty much have to land INSIDE the revetment or near an opening that will concentrate the shock wave otherwise your damage will be minimum if any. Hardened Target kills (tank, armoured A3 gun, CP) pretty much needs a direct hit ON the target as any hit on a revement or "bunkering" (sandbags, tree trunks, metal sheeting) will cause the bomb to detonate early and "spend" it's energy on the covering rather than the target unless a "delay" fuze is used. (And THEN you always have the possibility the "hardening" will deflect the bomb away from the target)

Depends upon how you define "lethal radius". It also depends upon whether you have a single warhead or multiple warheads, all overlapping in their "lethal radius". 1 warhead falling within a 1 Km circle of a target is less likely to damage or destroy it than 10 or a 100 warheads falling within the same or overlapping circles. Which is of course why artillery concentrations are more effective than 1 gun firing 1 round at a target. It also depends upon the nature of the target. Few North Vietnamese targets were constructed of hardened, reinforced concrete, most were much flimsy and so much more liable to destruction by blast over fragmentation.

You ever think maybe, the US military had some clue as to what it was doing?

Why do you assume they did? Vietnam was like any war, a matter of trial and error. When something worked, it worked, when it didn't, it was discarded and something else was tried. Sometimes they found a solution for specific problems but I don't think many would argue that generally the direction of the war was really well conducted by the USA either at a political or a military level.
Vietnam was in fact totally NOT the war the United States military was ready to fight at the time. Despite the lessons of Korea the USAF still thought of itself and trained/equiped/readied itself for all out Atomic war with the USSR. "Fighters" were to stop Russian bombers and if possible break air defenses for our own bombers. Figther bombers were also to confuse and harrass enemy air defenses in advance of the bombers while taking some of the "heat" by being potential "bomb-carriers" themselves but the FOCUS was always on Atomic Armageddon "toe-to-toe-with-the-Ruskies!"

The fact that the Air Force had to actually mobilize, equip, and then train for "tactical" air combat wasn't seen as "neccessary" until it was forced on them. And the in-fighting between Tactical Air Command and Strategic Air Command over money, assets and prestige was almost as bad as that between the Army and Army Air Force that ended up birthing the seperate Air Force! Add in a political agenda which simply won't allow you to put your full effective effort into "winning" the war and you can pretty much see why mass strikes by "pilotless aircraft" weren't USED though they WERE studied.

Which, by the way, brings me to ANOTHER point that hasn't been touched as of yet on the subject. If a "drone" was self-piloted by a robot guidance system that was one thing, if however it was "piloted" by remote control that was a fully and totally different thing in and of itself. It was during this time when a Navy test was run where a remotely piloted Firebee "took-on" an F4 Phantom in mock combat. The Phantom got it butt kicked... Bigtime.

Meanwhile the Air Force was learning that the Navy had already used/was using the Firebee for "remote" precision bombing (not really well, and not really successfully it worked much better as a sea-skimming remote piloted anti-ship missile) and BOTH services (run by this time BY Pilots) were both facing the fact that there were going to be reductions, budget cutbacks, and "hard-times" ahead once Vietnam closed down and probably before along with the general turning away of public support for the military in general and you have a situation on your hands.

IF at this point you can't wrap your mind around the idea that suggesting replacing MANNED aircraft with UN-MANNED remotly piloted vehicles was something to be FEARED and AVOIDED in the general military mind... :)

There are major "reasons" "Unmanned Aerial Vehicles" have had such a hard time becoming reality until very recently :)

Randy


Oh, I agree, wholeheartedly. You have rather reinforced my point. The US generally did not conduct the war well. It was ill-equipped, either doctrinally, as well as physically to adapt to the needs of a Limited War. That it was able to, within a short period of time points to its ability as a military organisation to adapt and to retrain but even so, once Vietnam was over, it was seen as an aberration, not the norm and so the US military went back to the war "of the big battalions" and concentrated on Europe. The 1991 Gulf War seemed to reinforce that view but then of course along came Afghanistan and Iraq where once more adaption and retraining and rethinking was necessary.
 
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