231. Memorandum From the Secretary of the Air Force (Brown) to Secretary of Defense McNamara1

This memo represents some further thoughts on possible courses of action in the air war in North Vietnam.

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All proposals2 should be judged against the following standards: (a) the military effect on North Vietnamese infiltration of men and supplies of the VC/NVA forces in the South; (b) the collateral support of US/ARVN/FWF in SVN, including the morale of those forces; (c) the political effects, to include such factors as the influence upon the will of the North Vietnamese and the South Vietnamese, the chances for negotiation on reasonable terms, the reaction to de-escalation or escalation by China and the USSR, and the effects on our Allies and domestic opinion; and (d) the expected US air losses.

The evaluation of various proposals against these standards requires us to be more specific with respect to the detailed nature of the proposed campaigns, the results of past efforts, and the estimated effects of proposed alternative actions. I have therefore compared “my” Alternative C with Alternative B relative to distribution of weights of effort and some of the expected results.

Both alternatives concentrate most of the sorties in NVN in the area south of 20 degrees and continue attacks north of 20 degrees to deny reconstitution of important fixed targets and maintain pressure against the northern LOCs. The primary difference is in relative weights of effort. Alternative C proposes 20% of attack sortie effort north of 20 degrees, whereas Alternative B proposes to accomplish its stated objectives with “occasional sorties (perhaps 3%)” in the North.

The following table contains a direct comparison between the specific objectives of the two alternatives.


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Item Alternative B Alternative C
1. Concentrate primary effort south of 20 degrees Yes Yes
2. Deny reconstitution of important fixed targets Yes Yes
3. Prevent men and matériel from flowing from NVN to SVN Yes Yes
4. Impede matériel from flowing into NVN No Yes
5. Attack LOC targets in Red River delta to keep enemy defenses and damage repair crews there Yes Yes
6. Weight of effort programmed north of 20 degrees (percentage of total effort and number of sorties given in terms of past average monthly effort and maximum authorized under Rolling Thunder program). Note: Average monthly effort is 8700 sorties in NVN (June 1966 to May 1967). 3% or 261–435 sorties 20% or1740–2900 sorties
Add non-attack combat sorties north of 20 degrees 900 2000

[Here follows Brown’s analysis of the impact of the effort in four different areas of Alternative B (emphasis on bombing south of the 20th parallel) and Alternative C (the continuation of the current bombing program). The first was the military effect, for which he argued that Alternative C would provide the best means for reducing infiltration southward. Next, concerning collateral support, he concluded that Alternative C would stiffen the ARVN by continuing to inflict significant damage upon the enemy. Third, in terms of political impact, Brown noted that the partial reduction in the scope of the bombing might prove ineffective in encouraging the North Vietnamese toward de-escalation, and resuming a full schedule of bombing would be difficult after a partial halt. Last, any residual decrease in loss of aircraft with the restriction of bombing to below the 29th parallel would erode when the North Vietnamese re-directed their air defense systems to that area.]


Based upon the military and political considerations above, including the effects on US air losses, I continue to recommend Alternative C.

Harold Brown
  1. Source: Johnson Library, Papers of Paul C. Warnke, McNaughton Files, McNTN XIII, Memoranda 1967 (3). Top Secret.
  2. Reference is to the three alternatives outlined in the attachment to Document 194.