25. Telegram From the Ambassador in Vietnam (Durbrow) to the Department of State1

206. Reference: Deptel 62, July 10.2

I favor in principle proposal contained CINCPAC tel cited reftel to introduce jet trainers for Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) provided we can carry out introduction without seriously upsetting status quo of sorts represented by Geneva agreements. However, all concerned should take into account likelihood of strong ICC opposition [Page 67] which might even necessitate our providing interim alternatives until entry feasible.
Introduction jets for VNAF is, however, only a secondary feature of our basic objective of modernizing VN airport facilities for use by USAF jet aircraft in event sea hostilities. I believe we should take positive realistic measures to prepare for this contingency. As interim step inoverall plan, we are, as Dept aware, already preparing underwrite extension east-west runway Tan Son Nhut airport Saigon for ostensible purpose receiving “commercial” jet aircraft. We also plan explore possibilities for creation alternative emergency jet landing facilities at least one other site in central Viet-Nam. This, too, would be carried out under “commercial” cover. Although we hope SVN will in fact soon enter jet transport era and shall express pious wishes this regard if ICC or anyone else becomes curious, basic purpose these projects is military.
I do not wish downplay psychological and possible limited military value introduction jets for VNAF. Diem told me he eager equip VNAF for jet age, and small number VNAF pilots presently undergoing jet training outside VN. Also important provide VNAF with some sort of jet escort, reconnaissance and fighter planes to fill gap when present propeller fighters no longer operable in order maintain minimum air cover for ARVN. (Because of spare parts problem, present propeller planes will be inoperable by end 1960.) Proposal does, however, raise following specific points which should be considered carefully before final decision reached:
From standpoint Article 17 Geneva Agreements,3 importation of jet aircraft would probably be considered by ICC as clear case of introduction war material of markedly higher characteristics than equipment outshipped or otherwise disposed of since 1954 cease-fire. (In previous cases, Canadians on ICC have generally managed use technical arguments based on flaws in ICC control procedures to prevent ICC from citing GVN for Article 17 violations.) It is possible, however, entry could be defended on grounds combat capable fighters being replaced by training aircraft with only limited combat capabilities but might be most difficult convince ICC of merits this interpretation. While it questionable Poles or Indians would regard any jet aircraft as less military than any propeller-driven planes, Canadians might possibly be persuaded attempt justify entry jets on this basis. It probable Commies would launch new propaganda campaign or even demand ejection aircraft under para [Article] 11 Protocol 23 of [Page 68] Joint Armistice Commission (encl 1 to Embdes 37, Aug 4, 1956),4 although it might be possible for Canadians to forestall such demand.
With MAAG ceiling problem now under consideration by allies and favorable ICC credits decision still to be implemented, any hint now of proposal introduce jets could upset favorable trend on these issues. One possible consequence might be to drive ICC Indians from present neutral but occasionally pro-Western position to side of Poles for indefinite period. Indians, as chairmen ICC delegations in former Associated States, regard themselves as guardians of sea peace and might well consider introduction jets for any purpose serious violation spirit and letter Geneva Agreements. Canadians would then be forced into minority just when they feel their influence in ICC stronger than at any time since cease-fire.
I am prepared, subject to State-Defense decision, cooperate in formulation plans for future entry military jets with reservation, however, that actual introduction be made dependent on our evaluation ICC situation at that time. Until favorable attitude ICC on entry jets should become clear, appears essential immediately to stockpile needed spare parts for present-type aircraft or more advanced propeller-driven planes against possible delay in introduction jets.5
In summary, I believe we should consider problems establishing jet facilities and equipping VNAF primarily in terms U.S. overall strategic needs this area and I am willing proceed on this assumption without being concerned unduly at this time with legality under Geneva Agreements and possible ICC reaction. It essential, however, that all such preparations be made under a single consistent cover, e.g., preparation commercial jet facilities. We must play by ear approach and timing re jet planes, based on most significant political considerations.
Would appreciate being kept informed Dept’s thinking these questions.

This message cleared with MAAG.6

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751G.5622/8–558. Secret. Repeated for information to CINCPAC PolAd.
  2. In telegram 62, the Department requested the Embassy’s views on CINCPAC’s proposal in telegram 020311Z July 58 to replace Vietnam’s F/RF8F aircraft with jets. (Ibid., 751G.5622/7–1058) Telegram 020311Z is not printed, but see footnote 2, Document 22.
  3. Article 17 of the agreement on Vietnam prohibited the introduction of any reinforcements of arms, munitions, and other war material. It specifically mentioned jet engines and jet weapons. Allowable under Article 17, however, was replacement on a piece-for-piece basis of worn out material and equipment of the same or similar type. For text of the Geneva Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities in Vietnam, July 20, 1954, see Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. XVI, pp. 15051520.
  4. Article 11 of the Joint Armistice Commission for Vietnam’s Protocol 23, January 14, 1955, reads:

    “Control at arrival: arms, munitions, and other war matériel introduced to replace matériel certified by ICC as destroyed, damaged, worn out or used up shall be shown upon arrival to the local ICC inspection team. The said team is authorized to verify whether this matériel actually corresponds to the matériel to be replaced (in number, category, characteristics). Consequently, depots shall eventually be established at the points of entry to check arms, munitions, and other war matériel upon arrival.

    “Any introduction of arms, munitions, and other war matériel which would not actually correspond to matériel to be replaced (in number, category, characteristics) would constitute a violation of the Agreements. Each time that ICC shall note such a case the matériel must be sent out of Vietnam.” (Department of State, Central Files, 751G.00/8–456)

  5. The following note by Mendenhall appears in the margin: “Durbrow unaware, I believe, that AD type available. JM.”
  6. In telegram 260128Z to OSD/ISA, August 26, CINCPAC informed the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs that it was the “considered opinion MAAG Vietnam and here that modernization of VNAF should be projected towards jet type aircraft.” CINCPAC specifically concurred in its message to paragraphs 4 and 5 above. (JCS Records, CCS 092 Asia (6–25–48) (2))