333. Memorandum From Michael V. Forrestal of the National Security Council Staff to the President1


I attach a memorandum from Secretary Gilpatric to you recommending an increase in the U.S. air capability in South Vietnam.

The memorandum also recommends an investigation of the possibility of obtaining Chinese Nationalist pilots to fly C-47 aircraft for the GVN. I understand that they are to be used only on transport missions thus releasing the SVN pilots now so engaged for combat. Although there are a number of Chinese Nationalists working for the GVN, none are pilots.

Despite his worries about increasing U.S. military presence in South Vietnam at this time and the use of air power for strategic attacks on targets which are not clearly identified as solely Viet Cong, Governor Harriman approves Secretary Gilpatricʼs proposal. Governor Harriman believes that the proposal is justified, because close-in air support to the increased activities of the ARVN in defending strategic hamlets is essential to the success of the program.

We are still very sensitive to the necessity of assuring that air strike targets are selected so as to minimize the adverse political consequences of killing uncommitted peasants. This is one of the problems which Roger Hilsman and myself will try to look into during our visit to South Vietnam.2

[Page 794]


Memorandum From the Deputy Secretary of Defense (Gilpatric) to the President


  • Augmentation of U.S. Air Unit in Vietnam
The Joint Chiefs of Staff and I have reviewed two requests from the Commander in Chief, Pacific, both of which are related to providing additional combat air capability in support of military operations in South Vietnam (SVN). The first is a request for early augmentation of Farmgate by 18 aircraft (5 T-28s, 11 B-26s, 2 C-47s) and 117 USAF personnel (95 combat, 22 air base support). Farmgate is the current code name of the Air Force Jungle Jim Squadron that you authorized on 11 October 1961 to be introduced into Vietnam.4 The second request is for approval to initiate talks with the Government of Vietnam (GVN) on the subject of the use of Chinese Nationalists as Vietnamese Air Force C-47 pilots.
A review of operations by the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces (RVNAF) and paramilitary forces for the past six months shows that practically all ground actions now are coordinated with some air support effort. This has resulted in continually increasing requirements for air support. Appreciation of the role of air support by the Vietnamese is evidenced by the increasing numbers of combat missions flown the past several months in support of convoys, strategic hamlet defense, heliborne assault, interdiction, conventional ground operations, and paramilitary operations. In September 1962, the Vietnam Air Force (VNAF) fighter aircraft flew 620 combat sorties as compared with 150 combat sorties the previous January. This increase dramatically illustrates the growth in the number of air support sorties. The impact of these increasing requests for air support has been so great that requirements exceed the combined capabilities of the VNAF and Farmgate. In fact, CINCPAC states:

“We are daily losing opportunities to destroy Viet Cong due to inability of VNAF to answer valid requests for air strikes. This situation results primarily from VNAF pilot shortage. Farmgate pilots are being overflown averaging 100 hours per month and cannot fill the gap.” [Page 795] Farmgate, and for all practical purposes the VNAF, has reached optimum operating capabilities. Their combined efforts are not able to fill all valid requests for air support.

During the next several months, which CINCPAC states will be critical, the need for air support is expected to continue to increase because of the following factors:
Increase in offensive operations as the Vietnamese forces continue to become more active and aggressive.
The addition of the ninth division to the Army by the end of 1962, and the steadily expanding capabilities of the Civil Guard and Self Defense Corps.
Increased number of air mobile operations made possible by the recent addition of two helicopter companies.
Support of President Diemʼs nation-wide offensive planned for early 1963.
Expansion of the Citizens Irregular Defense Groups and paramilitary programs.
Improvement in weather which favors military operations supportable by air.
In addition to the above, General Harkins visualizes dispersal of certain strike teams for air support into three areas of SVN. This decentralization is designed to provide an air strike capability in each of these areas and thereby decrease the reaction time for air support. In the past, the majority of Farmgate aircraft have been concentrated in the Saigon area due to limitations in maintenance, availability of pilots, and equipment. As a result, penalties have been paid in terms of targets lost and slow reaction times. The dispersal of strike teams will alleviate this problem, but at the same time will increase the requirement for facilities, pilots, and equipment to accomplish the air support role. Therefore, to meet increasing requirements for air support which will be necessitated by the foregoing developments, additional air support capability is needed now in SVN.
The continual growth of coordinated ground and air operations induced by the increasing numbers of heliborne operations and the steady increase of air support capabilities in SVN over the past year has been instrumental in producing a unifying effect within the RVNAF. Prior to the influx of air support/heliborne operations, military planning on the part of the Vietnamese forces basically was isolated, noncoordinated, “do what you can” action with very little rapport between the armed forces and other elements of the GVN. With the continuing growth of air capability, there has been a marked improvement in coordinated military planning and in the use of all national resources. Significantly, the growth of air support and [Page 796] heliborne operations has given U.S. advisors a firm entree into RVNAF planning and has resulted in a marked increase in military initiative and successes. This entree must continue to be exploited.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff and I have reviewed the requirement for air support in SVN. It is our opinion that the requirement will increase in the next few months as set forth by CINCPAC and that every reasonable effort should be expended to insure that adequate and timely air support is available for current military and paramilitary operations as well as for the planned nation-wide offensive. Recognizing the concern over direct U.S. commitment in SVN, we have examined a number of possible solutions. It is considered that actions now underway to increase VNAF pilot training and aircraft equipage ultimately will make possible the desired reductions in direct U.S. commitment. Programs are now underway to increase Vietnamese student pilot training and to provide additional combat aircraft phased with the expanded pilot output which will result. Currently student pilots total 131 for fixed wing aircraft and 66 for helicopters. In about 12 months it may be possible to reduce U.S. participation in combat close support operations (Farmgate) as this new group of Vietnamese pilots becomes operationally ready. The extent of this reduction will depend on the extent of the need for Farmgate aircraft to train the VNAF in special tactics and on the number of valid air support requests as ground operations expand in the coming months. CINCPAC does not at this time foresee a need for further Farmgate augmentation beyond that recommended herein.
In the judgment of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, however, the overriding conclusion is that an immediate increase in the air support capability is needed and should be provided without losing sight of the necessity for continuing to increase the capability of the VNAF to fill Vietnamese air support requirements. From our review of possible methods of increasing air support capabilities immediately, we conclude that the most favorable options are those recommended by CINCPAC: immediate augmentation of Farmgate as outlined in paragraph 1 and introduction of 30 Chinese Nationalist pilots. We anticipate that the latter could not be realized as an increase in RVNAF capabilities earlier than four months after initiating discussions with the GVN.
Therefore, I recommend that you approve the augmentation of Farmgate as requested by CINCPAC and initiation of discussions with the GVN on the possible use of 30 Chinese Nationalist pilots to fly [Page 797] transport aircraft in the RVNAF. The Department of State concurs in this recommendation.5
Roswell Gilpatric
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series. Top Secret.
  2. In January 1963.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.
  4. See Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. I, Document 156.
  5. On December 31, McGeorge Bundy sent a memorandum to Gilpatric stating that the President had approved the recommendations set forth in paragraph 8. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series)