66. Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Secretary of Defense (McNamara)1
- This memorandum responds to your memorandum, dated 21 February
1964, subject as above.2 For purposes of
clarity, each question in your memorandum has been repeated and
underlined,3 followed by the answer thereto. The response to the
separate portions of your memorandum follow:
The over-all capabilities of the DRV and of the Chinese Communists for military action, with specific reference to:
- The types and magnitudes of actions which are possible, taking into account current Communist logistic capabilities.
- The geographic areas within which such actions might be undertaken.
- The time period within which the enemy forces could be brought to bear.
- The enemy capability for concurrent reactions, as for example, reactions both in Southeast Asia and in Korea and/or Taiwan offshore islands.
Answer: Over-all capabilities of the DRV and ChiCom follow:
- It is currently estimated that 13 ChiCom infantry divisions, less heavy artillery and armor, plus nine DRV divisions could be logistically supported during the dry season (November–May) in initial moves against Southeast Asian countries. (b) It is currently estimated that the ChiCom Air Force, by redeploying and operating from airfields in South China, Hainan, and North Vietnam, could make available about 400 jet fighters and 125 jet light bombers for operations in Southeast Asia.
- The ChiCom naval capabilities include harassing tactics by PT boats, mining operations, and possibly some submarine activity (four to six maintained on station).
- With regard to logistic support of DRV/ChiCom aggression in Southeast Asia, the onset of the wet season will bring about a considerable reduction in the capability to support large-scale offensive operations. Further study will be necessary to determine specifics.
- The ChiComs have the capability to launch limited ground and/or air attacks concurrently in widely separated areas such as Southeast Asia, South Korea, and Taiwan. However, logistic limitations severely restrict their ability to sustain a major land, sea, and air campaign in more than one area. By concentrating their efforts in any geographic area, they could mount a major campaign comprising land, sea, and air forces as indicated in Appendix C.4
What military actions against North Vietnam, employing air and naval power, but not ground forces beyond the scale of small-scale raids, might be:
- undertaken by the GVN and within the plausible range of GVN capabilities;
- assertedly undertaken by the GVN, even if outside the plausible range of GVN capabilities;
- undertaken by the US without public acknowledgment;
- undertaken by the US along with, or after, a public declaration by the US of an intent to exert military pressure upon the DRV with a view to forcing a termination of the insurrection in the South?
Answer: Military pressures can be applied to North Vietnam in the form of air strikes, amphibious raids, sabotage operations, and a naval blockade. The Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces (RVNAF) have a very limited capability to conduct air strikes, amphibious raids, and sabotage operations in North Vietnam. By the utilization of nonattributable air support, e.g., Farmgate-type operations, the VNAF air effort could be intensified and expanded for conducting air strikes against LOCs, military installations, and industrial targets. With respect to Farmgate, augmentation with the B–57 jet aircraft, as recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will greatly enhance its capability. The introduction of US air and naval elements, even though not openly acknowledged, would permit further selective destruction of the above targets. Openly announcing US intentions would provide more freedom of action for using military force in achieving clearly stated limited objectives. More detailed information is contained in Appendix A. 4 Additionally, a scenario (Appendix B) 4 has been developed which outlines those actions necessary to the accomplishment of a program of increasing pressures against North Vietnam.
What targets would be most effective to attack from the standpoint of: [Page 114]
- specific effect on DRV capability against Laos, South Vietnam, and Thailand;
- interdiction of main communications routes between the DRV and Communist China, plus interdiction of sea communications into North Vietnam;
- more generalized target patterns designed to inflict damage on key installations in the DRV but to minimize the effect on the civilian population as a whole?
Answer: Targets, the destruction of or damage to which would have the most effect on DRV operations against Laos, South Vietnam, and Thailand, include airfields, POL storage facilities, bridges, and military installations. Interdiction attack in Laos and North Vietnam would assist in reducing support to the Pathet Lao and the Viet Minh/Viet Cong. In addition, sustained interdiction attacks of specified railroad facilities, roads, and water routes would disrupt ChiCom support of the DRV. The destruction of selected industrial facilities and power plants will further reduce DRY’s war-supporting capability. Targets have been selected in terms of key installations, minimizing destruction to the population as a whole. The treatment of target systems is contained in Appendix A. Annex to Appendix A lists representative targets by category and order of attack within category.
Assuming that, in response to the attacks upon the DRV, the DRV and/or the ChiComs undertake large-scale troop movements over the border into one or more of:
- South Vietnam
- Thailand or Burma
- South Korea
What US effort, air, sea, and land, would be required to contain such an invasion? If intelligence indicated that such a movement were contemplated by the enemy, what actions against North Vietnam and mainland China would be likely to deter such a response?5
Answer: The ChiComs/DRV would be unable to undertake large-scale military actions in more than one area at a time due to logistic limitations and availability of forces, although military pressures might be exerted in several areas. US forces required to counter aggression in each of the areas listed in your memorandum are set forth in Appendix D.6 In addition, certain actions (such as making clear to the DRV and the ChiComs our limited objectives, alerting and deploying US forces, [Page 115] U.S. Assessment of the Khanh Government 115 and increasing reconnaissance programs in pertinent areas) may deter such responses on the part of the DRV and ChiComs. These actions are treated further in Appendix D.
In each of the circumstances in subparagraph d above, or any likely combination of them, to what extent could the US effectively counter such actions through air and naval responses only (without the use of ground forces other than those presently deployed) under several alternatives as to weapons employed?
- In the broad application of land and sea based air power, nonnuclear attacks may not cause the ChiCom/DRV to cease aggression; however, nuclear attacks would have a far greater probability of causing them to desist. Sea power would be most effective in the form of a blockade, but would require imposition for a considerable time before it would have a marked effect on ChiCom/DRV aggressive operations. Other naval actions such as an amphibious feint could be used to supplement the effect of the blockade. Use of classified conventional munitions in an air and naval response would tend to increase the effectiveness of such response on a sortie-by-sortie basis. However, there is relatively little advantage to the use of classified munitions against hard targets. An expanded treatment is contained in Appendix D.
- The Joint Chiefs of Staff emphasize that in initiating actions against the DRV there must be a readiness and willingness on the part of the United States to follow through with appropriate contingency plans to counter DRV/ChiCom reaction as required. Also listed in Appendix D are certain related military measures which should be accomplished to improve the US military readiness posture to execute contingency plans. The most important of these is the deployment of US air strike and air defense units to Thailand and South Vietnam as necessary. An attack carrier strike force is available to move within striking distance of North Vietnam.
Assuming that ChiCom reaction included air action from mainland bases (either against SVN or other air bases, or supporting aircraft carriers), to what extent could this air threat be countered by: actions against enemy aircraft only or selective attacks against Chinese bases and air defenses utilizing conventional or alternatively low yield nuclear weapons employed to minimize both collateral damage and fallout?
Answer: With respect to air defense, the air defense capabilities in Southeast Asia, Taiwan, Japan, and Korea are inadequate to cope with saturation attacks. Accordingly, enemy air should not be permitted to operate from sanctuaries, but should be attacked at the sources. However, [Page 116] occasional air attacks on Saigon and similar key localities must be anticipated. Additional study is required to provide specific data requested in your memorandum.
What modifications must be made in existing contingency plans in order to provide for US reactions which depend primarily upon air activities rather than the intervention of substantial US ground forces?
- CINCPAC operation plans provide for the
application of military power against the DRV and ChiComs. These are:
- Plan 33—provides for overt employment of US forces in retaliatory attacks against North Vietnam.
- Plan 34–A—provides for RVNAF military operations in North Vietnam.
- Plan 99—provides for overt employment of US forces in military operations designed to stabilize the situation in Laos and South Vietnam.
- Plan 94—provides for overt operations employing US forces in air strikes against a ChiCom nuclear production facility.
- Plan 32—provides for the over-all defense of Southeast Asia.7
- While CINCPAC has numerous plans which call for substantial US air effort in conjunction with the intervention of US ground forces, there are no specific plans based solely on air and naval responses which apply to all of the situations contained in this paper. The Joint Chiefs of Staff will direct the preparation of such plans as required.
The view of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as to the courses of action that would most likely bring about cessation of DRV support for operations in South Vietnam and Laos.
- US intentions and resolve to extend the war as necessary should be made clear immediately by overt military actions against the DRV.
- Military actions should be part of a coordinated diplomatic, military, and psychological program directed at deterring the enemy and preparing the world for extension of the war.
- We should prepare military actions, one in the form of a sudden blow for shock effect, another in the form of ascending order of severity with increasing US participation; the purpose of both being to bring about cessation of DRV support of the insurgency.
- Initial military preparations should provide
- Overt demonstrations of US intentions through US low level aerial reconnaissance over Laos and North Vietnam.
- Expansion of RVN activities including Farmgate
aircraft, into North Vietnam by: (Outlined in
- Air strikes
- Amphibious raids
- Harassment of shipping and fishing activities.
- Preparation should be initiated by the US and GVN for:
- Increasing the intensity of efforts against the
- Armed reconnaissance along the principal supply routes from DRV to Laos.
- Destruction of:
- Highway bridges along the principal supply routes from DRV to Laos.
- Military targets in DRV and Laos which directly support the insurgency.
- Airfields in DRV which are used for aerial resupply to Laos.
- POL installations and major LOC facilities between China and DRV in North Vietnam.
- Industrial base targets in the Hanoi/Haiphong area.
- Mine laying in selected areas.
- Conducting cross-border operations.
- Undertaking a maritime blockade of DRV
- An assessment of enemy reactions to the military actions listed above indicates that the Chinese communists view Laos and South Vietnam as DRV problems. It is unlikely that the ChiComs would introduce organized ground units in significant numbers into the DRV, Laos, or Cambodia except as part of an over-all campaign against all of Southeast Asia. They might offer the DRV fighter aircraft, AAA units, and volunteers. They would assume an increased readiness posture and ChiCom aircraft might be committed to the defense of North Vietnam. The Soviets would probably be highly concerned over possible expansion of the conflict. To the extent that Moscow believed the Hanoi and Peiping regimes in jeopardy, Sino-Soviet differences would tend to submerge. It is believed that Moscow would initiate no action which, in the Soviet judgment, would increase the likelihood of nuclear war. The appraisal of possible enemy reaction is contained in Appendix C.
- The foregoing discussion provides the preliminary judgments of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as you have requested; however, they desire to reaffirm the view expressed by memorandum to you, dated 22 January 1964,8 concerning the overriding importance to the security interests of the United States of preventing the loss of RVN. The North Vietnamese direction and support of the insurgency in the RVN is one of the controlling factors in the continuation of the war. Accordingly, intensified operations are warranted and essential at this time to convince both the DRV and ChiCom leadership of our resolution to prevail.
- It is recognized that the program of intensified operations contemplated herein involves a change in US policy. Nevertheless, the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend that those actions described in paragraph 1h above be approved as a basis for discussion and planning with US and GVN officials in your forthcoming visit to Southeast Asia.9 In making this recommendation, the Joint Chiefs of Staff recognize that even if success attends our efforts to cause the DRV to desist from aiding the Viet Cong, the latter can by their own efforts sustain the insurgency for an indeterminate period at a reduced level.
Maxwell D. Taylor
Joint Chiefs of Staff
- Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, McNamara Files: FRC 71 A 3470, Military Plans Against NVN, March 1964. Top Secret; Sensitive.↩
- Document 57.↩
- Printed here in italic type.↩
- Not printed.↩
- At this point, McNamara wrote the following note in the margin: “air strikes at 1) ChiCom airfields 2) lines of supply. Why not assume massive use of US air both B47’s & sea based & land based in SVN.”↩
- Not printed.↩
- Regarding OPLAN 34A, see footnote 2, Document 4. The text of OPLAN 99–64 is in the Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country File, Southeast Asia, Vol. 11, Memos (B), 5/64–6/64. OPLAN 32–64 is ibid., Memos (A), 5/64–6/64. Texts of OPLAN 32–64 and OPLAN 94–64 are in the National Archives and Records Administration. RG 218, JCS Files.↩
- See Document 17.↩
- At this point, McNamara wrote in the margin: “OK, fuller use of massive U.S. air power in lieu of US gd forces.”↩