13. Memorandum From the Director of the Vietnam Working Group (Wood) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Harriman)1


  • Jets for the Government of Viet-Nam

Background: Secretary Thuan has asked Ambassador Nolting if the U.S. would supply four T-33 jets. Nolting proposes to reply subject to the Department’s concurrence to the effect that jets are not warranted in Viet-Nam at this time.2 We have asked for DOD approval of a telegram concurring in Ambassador Nolting’s refusal.

However General Taylor has approved a recommendation that the Vietnamese be given four RT-33 (photo-reconnaissance) jets and two T-33 (training) jets.3 Bill Bundy will decide whether to approve this recommendation before sending it to Secretary McNamara. I have asked that Bundy call you for your views before making a decision. If Bundy and McNamara approve there will be a letter from Secretary McNamara to Secretary Rusk.

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Pros and Cons:

Pros: 1. Jets for photo-reconnaissance are needed in Viet-Nam now. This need is being filled by U.S. planes and pilots. If the Vietnamese are given these planes they can then assume one of the responsibilities which they will have to undertake as we phase out. Most Vietnamese pilots have jet training and it is believed that they could take over fairly quickly.

2. DOD also points out that since the Cambodians have jets Vietnamese morale would be improved if they too had these planes.

3. The six jets which DOD would like to give the GVN have been suitably modified and are now ready for delivery.

Cons: 1. The Vietnamese don’t need jets now. This job is being done very well by the Americans. As you remember General Harkins told Secretary McNamara in October that he had everything he needed.

2. To give the Vietnamese jets would put both the United States and the GVN in flat violation of Article 17 of the Geneva Accords. We could be cited for a substantive violation by the ICC in Viet-Nam and to give the Vietnamese jets might have a bad effect on our attempts to get ICC Laos to function more effectively. It is true that we are flying jets over Viet-Nam and have been cited by the ICC for doing so. However, these jets are under our control and can be pulled out at any moment if the international situation makes it in our interest to do so.

3. If we give jets to the Vietnamese we increase the risks of border violations over Cambodia.

4. Jets under Vietnamese control would be a small but significant escalation in the terms of the war we are now fighting. It would give the Communist countries an excuse to introduce jets into North Viet-Nam.

5. It is true that at some point jets should be turned over to the Vietnamese as we phase out but this is far in the future.


Giving jets to the Vietnamese now would not increase their military potential or shorten the war; it would significantly increase the risks of international incidents and repercussions. It would to a significant degree change the terms of the limited war which are now quite well understood on both sides in Viet-Nam.


That we oppose giving jets to the Vietnamese at this time.4

  1. Source: Department of State, Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 67 D 54, Def 19-3 Equip and Supplies. Secret. Sent to Harriman through Edward Rice. Copies were also sent to U. Alexis Johnson and Henry Koren.
  2. Nolting reversed this recommendation on January 19. In telegram 686 from Saigon, Nolting stated that, after meetings with Admiral Felt and General Harkins, he was prepared to “Recommend that Department concur in delivery these aircraft to GVN soon as possible. Critical point which has led me to this recommendation is desirability of VNAF beginning to develop own effective photo recce capability over long term. For us to assist GVN in acquiring this capability would be consistent with U.S. Govt’s long-range objective of making GVN self-sufficient in its ability cope with internal subversion.” (Ibid., Central Files, 751K.5/1-1963)
  3. Taylor endorsed the JCS recommendation in a January 15 memorandum to McNamara. (Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 69 A 3131, Vietnam 401 and above 1963)
  4. Harriman indicated in a handwritten note on the source text that he approved the recommendation, and added, “what do we do”? On January 24, Wood sent another memorandum to Harriman in which he argued that the Department of State should make the decision on the issue, over Department of Defense objections if necessary, since it was a policy question affecting U.S. international relations. He noted that William Bundy, who was handling the question within the Defense Department, did not feel strongly about supplying the jets. He added that “this is really not a major issue since American reconnaissance jets are already doing the same job.” A handwritten note by Harriman on this memorandum indicates that he discussed the matter with William Bundy who agreed that the additional reconnaissance required in Vietnam could be provided by the United States directly without supplying jets to South Vietnam. (Department of State, Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 67 D 54, Def 19-3, Equip and Supplies)