295. Telegram From the Commander in Chief, Pacific (Sharp) to the Joint Chiefs of Staff 1

55813. Rolling Thunder Program.

With the completion of our fourteenth week of Rolling Thunder it appears appropriate to assess briefly what we have done and to suggest our future course. Any such assessment when related to the fundamental purpose of the air campaign must be inconclusive at this time. The possibility remains, however, that we are in more danger of minimizing the effects of Rolling Thunder than we are of exaggerating them. These air attacks have disrupted road and rail movements in North Vietnam. They have, in a few short weeks, completely changed the pattern of logistic support into Laos and it may be here that we first see concrete military results of our air attacks, because the Laotian Communists are more directly dependent on DRV support than are the VC. The cumulative effects of our interdiction campaign will be realized as the rainy season adds to the effects of our air interdiction.
Some doubt has been expressed as to whether or not much remains to be done south of 20 degrees N. Destruction of the DRV military and logistic support facilities and LOC’s south of 20 degrees has just [Page 641] begun. Within four of the major barracks complexes attacked, roughly two thirds of the 674 known buildings remain undamaged. Of three major ammo stowage depot complexes attacked, 40 percent of the 46 known ammo stowage and 56 percent of the 93 known depot support buildings have been destroyed/damaged. Similarly, within two major support depot complexes attacked, 46 percent of the 90 known buildings have yet to be hit. The surface has barely been scratched on striking DRV shipping and port facilities. And, in spite of the success of our bridge attacks, the major portion of the bridge and ferry system remains intact. Newly developed, dispersed staging, rest and refueling are yet to be attacked.

In the development of a sustained air campaign, we must carefully weigh the capabilities and limitations of US air power operating within current political parameters and the vulnerabilities of the DRV within this framework. It is certain that we cannot expect interdiction, even when we attain a maximum feasible damage level, to stop completely supplies flowing to the VC through southern DRV and Laos routes. Further, we cannot predict how successful the VC will be in procuring weapons and ammunition through other sources and channels.

Although the immediate military objective is to reduce the movement of personnel and supplies to support the VC and PL/VM, in our effort to accomplish this we must develop and drive home to the DRV leadership the idea that our staying power is greater than theirs. To do this we should raise their direct costs in terms of manpower and military, logistic and support facilities and in indirect economic effects. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the characteristics of the air campaign should be such as to generate pessimism and a feeling of helplessness among the military and general frustration, anxiety, and fear among the people. Lastly, we should present the government and military with an ever growing management problem. The cumulative effect of these internal problems should serve to turn DRV attention inward rather than outward. The total impact would be realized in degradation of supervision, military training, cadre replacement and build up for Laos and RVN as well as in reduction of supplies. The concept of making it as difficult and costly as possible for the DRV to support insurrection in Laos and RVN should embrace the totality of these effects. Its success will be realized when the DRV is convinced that the cost of aggression is too high.

The concept we propose calls for an ubiquitous demonstration of U.S. airpower carrying out an around the clock program of immobilization, attrition, and harassment. Specific types of missions would be as follows:
Carry out extensive day armed recce of land and inland waterway routes south of 20 degrees, and night blockade tactics.
Continue and increase the route interdiction program south of 20 degrees.
Attack repeatedly, until no longer lucrative, the known military facilities within this same area which can be effectively attacked by a small strike force.
Seek out and destroy dispersed supplies, equipment and military personnel.
Step up interdiction of supplies by sea through attack on port facilities and recognized DRV shipping.
These missions would be accomplished on an incremental basis by scheduling appropriate numbers of aircraft for repeated strikes. We have more than enough air power to keep unrelenting pressure on North Vietnam. This pressure is somewhat less than it could be were it not for certain operational restraints which we have imposed upon ourselves. It is possible without altering the necessarily rigid control of our Rolling Thunder campaign to increase significantly the effectiveness of our air operations by combining greater numbers of armed reconnaissance flights with small precise bombing attacks on prebriefed military targets. We would then get maximum surveillance with its inhibiting effect on military movements in North Vietnam along with effective attacks on military objectives. Armed recce flights would be augmented by other small flights of pre-briefed or on call aircraft. Analysis indicates desired damage levels on certain type targets can be achieved with a lesser number of total strike aircraft per target, while at the same time maintaining maximum area harassment of repair efforts through these frequent and unpredictable patterns of attacks. Our operations should include a mixed bag of tricks including stepped-up night operations with flare ships, more frequent use of delayed fuze weapons to further harass repair activities and the establishment of fixed surveillance points immediately inside the DRV/Laos border. Flare plane assistance would be provided during the hours of darkness and the areas selected for surveillance would be the critical funnel areas of the route system leading to Laos. We would, in effect, be establishing aerial choke points. The total psychological impact upon the military, work crews and general populace generated by these frequent unpredictable attacks would be an important aspect of the campaign.
In addition to these small strikes and armed recce effort south of 20 degrees, we think that larger scale attacks have a role in the campaign. We should, however, get away from the concept of inflicting maximum feasible damage in a one day strike. As a desirable alternative I recommend we attack larger targets incrementally over a period of days as necessary and as indicated by our BDA. Our present tactic of carrying out a strike in a one day period has become too stereotyped. Incremental attacks would give us greater latitude in marginal weather, would provide for more effective employment of strike aircraft and would probably [Page 643] result in greater and more precise damage to the primary targets and should reduce our losses. Large scale strikes should be continued against the major targets south of 20 degrees. Later, large-scale strikes should be programmed against major military installations ranging northwestward to Dien Bien Phu. Timing of the large strikes should be left flexible. They would be mounted according to the developing situation as political and psychological considerations made them appear desirable. The Dien Bien Phu military complex could be attacked to attain maximum damage and destruction; attack on this prestige target complex would be felt throughout the Asian Communist world and its role in resupplying PL/VM forces in Laos cannot be underestimated.
Rolling Thunder should be complemented by increased and intensified psychological operations. We should continue to repeat in simple non-polemic language that we have no quarrel with the people and they should be warned to avoid all military installations. We should hammer home the main themes of our intent to destroy their military capacity and our determination to continue until the military leave their cousins in peace. Overt propaganda, on a world-wide basis, should echo the same themes; releases on mission accomplishments should stress our objectives as we highlight accomplishments.
Target and “Strike Zones” are as follows:
Initially, strikes should continue to be limited to the area from the DMZ to 20 degrees. All military facilities and LOC targets listed in the current AIF/PACOM CPFL-NVN should be considered for attack by small flights. We hold AIF/CPFL data on more than 225 military/LOC targets in the following categories: RR/highway bridges, ferries, RR yards, port facilities, warehouse areas,POL storage, naval bases, airfields, military headquarters/barracks, military schools/training areas/camps and military ammo/supply/depots. About 100 of these targets appear on the JCS numbered target system, but most of them qualify for attack under the concept expressed herein.
Northwestward from the 20th parallel, the following nine major military supply/ammo depots and barracks warrant large strikes:
Target 29—Quang Suoi Bks NE (73 Bks/storage bldgs).
Target 43—Qui Hau ammo depot w (23 ammo storage bldgs).
Target 61—Xom Chang supply depot (17 storage bldgs with 10 Bks/7 support bldgs).
Target 28—Ban Xom Lom Bks (Div HQ—363 Bldgs including 191 storage and 30 ammo).
Target 46—Ban Phung How ammo depot (10 semi-revetted ammo storage, 5 prob ammo storage and 8 supply bldgs).
Target 25—Son La Bks (complex is large military supply/Bks concentration containing 367 Bks/warehouse bldgs, of which over 100 are supply storage).
Target 56—Son La Army supply depot (co-located with target 25).
Target 63—Thuan Chau Bks/depot (571 bldgs).
Target 25—Dien Bien Phu Bks (142 Bldgs). Dien Bien Phu complex includes airfield, radar, radio and HQ 316 div. As the large strikes progress towards Dien Bien Phu, we should extend the armed recce and small strike zone accordingly.
In summary, armed recce would operate as continuously as weather permits and with a high degree of flexibility. Ordnance loads would provide for surveillance and attack of fleeting targets on specified route sectors after attacking pre-briefed fixed targets with optimum munitions. On call strikes would be ready for unusual targets of opportunity. Random routing would be developed to avoid set patterns. Around the clock surveillance would be maintained over LOC funnels. Weather alternates would be standard.
I recommend that this concept be accepted and that concurrently numerical limits be lifted on armed reconnaissance and that these small controlled air operations be limited only by our capability to execute them.
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 70 A 1265, Vietnam 381. Top Secret; Limdis.