101. Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Secretary of Defense McNamara 1



  • Air Operations Against North Vietnam (U)
(TS) On 21 March 1966, in discussing air operations against North Vietnam (NVN) with the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, you requested that a controlled armed reconnaissance program be developed against selected LOCs in the northeast quadrant. Such a program conducted within the 8,100 monthly attack sorties currently authorized for NVN and Laos could be combined with strikes against a small number of bridges and other targets not contiguous to northeast area LOCs. In a subsequent conversation with the Chairman on 23 March 1966, you requested additional information regarding attacks on the NVN POL system. This memorandum provides the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the above.
(TS) A controlled armed reconnaissance program in the northeast quadrant would result in placing additional pressure on NVN and can be accomplished within currently deployed resources. The resulting interdiction of the main railroad to China and key LOCs to the northeast [Page 300] could reduce significantly the support NVN is now receiving from external sources. Six hundred attack sorties monthly in the northeast quadrant would provide an adequate level of attack on the rail lines from Hanoi to Haiphong and the South China border as well as on three of the principal through highways in the area. A level of effort of 900 attack sorties per month would provide coverage of these key routes and their principal alternates. Destruction of key bridges on the main rail and highway routes in the northeast would complement this armed reconnaissance effort by disrupting traffic flow where density is the highest. Strikes would be directed against JCS Targets No. 15, 16, and 18.22 as well as restrikes on JCS Targets No. 11, 17, and 18.21.
(TS) Further, since cement and steel are prime materials used in the construction, repair, and restoration of the LOCs, attacks on the Haiphong cement plant and the Thai Nguyen iron and steel combine are considered to be militarily remunerative. The Haiphong cement plant is collocated with JCS Target No. 80, a 10,000 kilowatt thermal power plant. Both facilities should be attacked simultaneously. Incident to attacks on these targets and to assist in the protection of our strike forces in the northeast, the early warning and ground control intercept (EW/GCI) radar at Kep, which contributes to the MIG intercept capability in the area, should be destroyed.
(TS) The Joint Chiefs of Staff consider that attacks on the POL receiving, handling, storage, and distribution systems should be undertaken now, whether or not mining of the ports is to follow. Since the NVN transportation network is heavily dependent on the government-operated, POL-powered transport system, attacks on POL are required to reduce significantly the NVN ability to move war-supporting material within the country and southward through the infiltration routes. The Thai Nguyen iron and steel combine manufactures or fabricates 2,000–2,200 gallon POL tanks. Thus it has become an important element in the POL dispersal and distribution system. Haiphong has the only deep-water facility for the direct offloading of tankers and follow-on attacks should be made to preclude further use of its POL facilities. A graphic presentation of the routes and fixed targets discussed above and the salient features pertaining to the targets and the routes are contained in the Appendix hereto.2
(TS) The North Vietnamese have the capability to launch and control a fighter defense against our aircraft which would probably vary, depending upon the method and timing of the attacks and the target selection. If the initial attacks were launched against Haiphong POL and related targets, there probably would be little, if any, fighter reaction. [Page 301] However, as certain POL facilities closer to Phuc Yen and Kep Airfields are brought under attack, the probability of strong fighter reaction would increase. The North Vietnamese have a total of 78 MIGs in the Hanoi-Kep area; at least 60 to 65 per cent of these aircraft would probably be operational. A lesser number could be effectively committed to air intercept. The Joint Chiefs of Staff note that if the Chinese communists should react to successive attacks, this would present a separate problem.
(TS) There is no doubt that US forces can defeat the NVN MIG capability in an air battle resulting from strikes in the northeast quadrant. However, if a strong NVN fighter reaction should take place, it is probable that there will be US losses, due primarily to the impressive buildup over the past months in the NVN air capability as evidenced by the presence of MIG 21s and an established EW/GCI net. From a strictly military point of view, the NVN air capability preferably should be destroyed prior to or simultaneously with attack of the targets listed in the Appendix hereto; however, in view of the military importance of these targets and other factors, the Joint Chiefs of Staff consider that the risk is acceptable. When NVN air operations interfere with our strike operations, attacks should be initiated against the NVN air capability.
(TS) The Joint Chiefs of Staff consider that the controlled armed reconnaissance program and strikes against the NVN POL system and other targets discussed above are included in their views as expressed in JCSM–41–66, dated 18 January 1966, subject as above.3 Therefore, the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend as a next step that Rolling Thunder 50 be initiated on 1 April 1966 in accordance with the following:
Controlled armed reconnaissance be conducted at a monthly level of 900 attack sorties over the routes designated in the Appendix.
Attacks be conducted against the nine POL storage areas, six bridges (three restrikes), one cement plant, one iron and steel combine, one thermal power plant, and one EW/GCI radar site as shown in the Appendix.
CINCPAC conduct these operations within the over-all sortie allocation of 8,100 attack sorties for Laos and NVN as the operational situation dictates.
No tactical restrictions or limitation be placed upon the execution of the specific air strikes.
For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
Earle G. Wheeler 4
Joint Chiefs of Staff
  1. Source: Department of Defense, Records of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 9155.3 (24 Mar 66). Top Secret.
  2. Attached but not printed.
  3. Document 27.
  4. Printed from a copy that indicates General Wheeler signed the original.