192. Memorandum From Chester L. Cooper of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)1

SUBJECT

  • Military Issues, Vietnam and Laos
1.
Two decisions regarding the use of U.S. aircraft are up for immediate decision. [Page 425]
a.
Restrictions on the Use of U.S. Aircraft. The JCS have requested that all restrictions be lifted on the use of U.S. aircraft in South Vietnam. At the present time they can be used only in emergency situations by special requests. CINCPAC and MACV have strongly recommended this action.2 If implemented, it should permit the development of tactics which could greatly assist in defeating Viet Cong hit and run operations.
b.
Restrictions on Farmgate Aircraft. Farmgate aircraft are A1H models which are used by U.S. pilots for training Vietnamese pilots. They are marked with Vietnamese insignia and can only be used if a Vietnamese pilot or observer is on board. The JCS recommend that markings on these aircraft be changed to U.S. insignia, and MACV reports the Vietnamese would prefer this. The JCS would also relax the requirement for VNAF personnel on these aircraft. Training of the RNVAF would remain the primary mission, however. Farmgate restrictions seem academic in the light of the present situation.3
2.
The Barrel Roll problem we discussed this morning has been resolved.DOD has agreed to State’s restrictions on the frequency of flights (no more than one every four days) and the number and type of aircraft. I believe this will suit Sullivan and Souvanna.
3.
Several issues are still pending, and you should be aware of them.
a.
Rules of Engagement, SEA. The JCS have requested authorization for immediate pursuit into Communist China in response to any ChiCom attack on U.S. forces.4 This issue broke into print this weekend as the result of an ISA press interview. The individual concerned was trying not to release anything, but the reporter came up with an article stating that our rules of engagement would not permit the sort of sanctuary for Chinese aircraft that was available in the Korean war. ISA is pushing hard for this policy, but State has delayed approval.
b.
Use of Napalm. The JCS have requested authority to use napalm against targets in North Vietnam,5 and have provided the attached paper6 which shows the increased effectiveness possible and reduced loss rate to be expected as a result of the low level attack pattern. Loss rate might be further reduced as a result of greater effectiveness in flak suppression. It is difficult to damage anti-aircraft weapons with high explosives, and the crews of the gun position under attack are able to take [Page 426]cover while adjacent guns continue firing. Napalm attacks would leave anti-aircraft guns in poor condition, and would follow the gun crews into their foxholes. A new strike proposal which should be coming over soon will probably call for use of napalm. While this seems desirable, it may be useful to append a note of caution such as “great care should be taken to confine napalm patterns to military areas”.
c.
34A Air Strikes Against North Vietnam. The JCS propose to begin small scale VNAF air strikes against the DRV under 34A operations. This issue should receive very serious thought. If the North Vietnamese were subject to surprise air attack around the clock, they would be placed under much the same sort of harassment as our troops in South Vietnam. This should sap their zeal for the war by building anxiety and eliminating the world-wide publicity that follows a large scale attack. In this program we could use single ship or two ship sorties working at low level, thus guaranteeing surprise and few losses. They should use sophisticated armament such as the AGM 12B guided bomb in order to assure high effectiveness. They should also take great care to avoid any damage to civilians. To achieve this sort of effectiveness and control, however, it might be better to use U.S. aircraft instead of the VNAF.
d.
Hot Pursuit into Cambodia. In the case of Viet Cong forces employing hit and run tactics operating across the Cambodian border, the JCS recommend authorization for (1) return fire, (2) hot pursuit to recover prisoners, and (3) hot pursuit while actively engaged. Military factors strongly support this recommendation, but, of course, the political effects will be a critical consideration.
Chester L. Cooper7
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Vol. XXX. Top Secret.
  2. In telegram MAC JOO 6127 to CINCPAC, February 27, Westmoreland requested that “authority now be delegated to me to use U.S. aircraft to reinforce VNAF or to support Vietnamese forces as I judge prudent.” (Ibid., Westmoreland Papers, History Backup #13)
  3. See Document 184.
  4. This request was made in JCSM–118–65, February 19. (Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD/Admin File: FRC 70 A 1254, Vietnam 381)
  5. This request was made in JCSM–127–65, February 25. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, JCS Memos, Vol. I)
  6. Not attached.
  7. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.