268. Telegram From the Embassy in Laos to the Department of State1
Vientiane, November 9, 1966, 0852Z.
2894. Ref: State 77785 Nov 3 (joint State/Defense message—notal).2
- On basis enumeration just completed of Lao T–28 pilots now and to become available, Country Team concludes that Thai piloted T–28 support for air operations in Laos will be required until about July 1968. In making this estimate we have assumed that war in Laos will continue at present level of intensity in intervening period and that requirements for T–28 operations will remain unchanged.
- Fundamental factor in any phase out of Thai support is availability qualified Lao T–28 pilots. Although some 42 have been trained since [Page 529]1964, pool is presently reduced to 24 as result of combat and training losses and flight of ten pilots to Thailand with General Ma.
- Accretions to this pool of 24 are estimated as follows:
- General Sourith believes that at most seven (7) of ten pilots who left with Ma might be rehabilitated. He very likely is optimistic and timing their return also undetermined (negotiations have not yet begun).
- Of the seven pilots now in training at Udorn (not including one who died in training crash Nov 7) six seem likely to graduate at end of December.
- A new group of ten Lao are projected to begin training at Udorn in early January. If past averages hold, about seven will graduate in July 1967.
- If 3 (a), (b) and (c) are all realized and if there is no further attrition in present group of 24, pool will thus stand at 44 pilots in July 1967. Using AIRA suggested ratio of 1.5 pilots per T–28, pool of 44 pilots could efficiently man about 30 T–28’s. We would expect, however, to have fleet of between 44 and 48 T–28’s at that time, about 36 to 38 to which would normally be available for operation (others in maintenance). Thus six to eight aircraft in fleet would be idled for lack of pilots if Thai were not employed beyond next July.
- We are therefore led to conclude that Thai should not be phased out until pool of Lao pilots numbers at least 55 to 60. Allowing for attrition, this number will not be reached until about July 1963, or after graduation of two further trainee groups beginning training in July 1967 and January 1968 respectively.
- There are of course imponderables in this calculation. If Water Pump (Det 606 ACS) had additional aircraft and staff and if Lao recruitment of likely trainees could be accelerated, training classes could be enlarged above current optimum number of ten per class. Resources to accomplish this enlargement are not, however, presently at hand.
- Re para 2C reftel. USAF aircraft are already performing well in interdiction role and in more heavily defended areas of northern Laos. They have not ordinarily been used in close support role, where T–28’s piloted by Lao or Thai function to especially good effect because of ability to communicate in same language with ground forces. USAF assets are therefore best viewed as supplementary to rather than as any fully satisfactory substitute for T–28 operations.
- Re para 2D reftel, we assume use of Thai pilots is stimulus for Lao to make maximum effort to take over all T–28 operations in Laos. Fundamental reason we continue to need Thai, however, is inadequacy of pool of Lao pilots as indicated above.
- As for resumption of Thai T–28 operations from Vientiane base (State 77053—notal),3 we are still not clear after week-long inquiries precisely where obstacles to resumption lies. Both Lao and Thai insist they are prepared to have operations resume, and we hope to sort this one out shortly.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 LAOS. Secret; Limdis. Also sent to DOD and repeated to CINCPAC, Bangkok, 7th Air Force T SN, DEPCHJUSMAG THAI, 7th/23d Air Force Udorn, 606 ACS Udorn, and COMUSMACTHAI.↩
- In telegram 77785, November 3, the Departments of State and Defense asked the Embassy to re-examine the need for Thai-piloted T–28 support in Laos, and queried if that activity could be eliminated or reduced without loss of combat effectiveness. The Departments also wanted to know the date when there would be enough trained Lao pilots to meet the requirements of T–28 operations. (Ibid.)↩
- Dated November 1. (Ibid.)↩