166. Minutes of Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1

SUBJECT

  • Vietnam

PARTICIPATION

  • Chairman—Major Gen. Alexander M. Haig
  • State
  • U. Alexis Johnson
  • William Sullivan
  • DOD
  • Kenneth Rush
  • Armistead Selden
  • Major Gen. David Ott
  • JCS
  • Adm. Thomas H. Moorer
  • Capt. Kinnaird McKee
  • CIA
  • Richard Helms
  • George Carver [name not declassified] (only stayed for Mr. Helms’ briefing)
  • NSC Staff
  • Richard T. Kennedy
  • John H. Holdridge
  • Mark Wandler

[Omitted here is the Summary of Conclusions and Discussion of Vietnam.]

Gen. Haig: Let’s turn now to the problem of putting more B–52s into Thailand. We all realize this is a big problem.

[Page 361]

Mr. Johnson: Yes, it is. I would like to have a good discussion of it here today. Tom [Moorer]2 and I spoke about it yesterday. (to Gen. Haig) Have you seen the cables from Unger?3

Gen. Haig: Yes.

Mr. Johnson: The first thing to consider is the physical problem— just getting space for the planes. Then we have the problem of the political approach to the Thai. We’ve been nibbling away at the Thai on a piecemeal basis. Unger feels, and rightly so, I think, that when he makes his next approach to them, they will ask us what our plans are. They will want to know how much more we plan to send to Thailand.

Also, Unger feels the Thai will want to have some sort of a discussion about our strategy and our thoughts for the future concerning Southeast Asia. As you know, we have not given anything along this line to Unger to pass on to the Thai.

On the physical side, we have had quite a few exchanges. Another cable came in from Len [Unger]4 this morning. The major question is how many more B–52s—if any—have to go to U Tapao? All other questions, it seems to me, flow from that.

Concerning personnel, we are fast approaching the point where we may have as many, if not more, people in Thailand than in Vietnam.

Adm. Moorer: And bear in mind, too, that we will have to start moving out of Danang if we want to withdraw the 196th Brigade— and meet the 49,000 ceiling.

Mr. Johnson: To the degree that it appears to the Thai that we are choking their facilities in order to maintain the Vietnam ceiling, they will not be receptive. This is a major problem which we have to face up to.

When we go back to Unger, I would like to have a full package for him, together with a rationale which he can present to the Thai. I’ve done the first draft of such a message, I think we should all take a look at it. If Unger can go to the Thai with this kind of a package and a rationale, he will be able to make an effective approach. If we keep going in piecemeal, though, the Thai will probably get their backs up.

Mr. Rush: I agree.

Mr. Johnson: The approach I outlined is what we have in mind.

Adm. Moorer: Unger says: “In my judgment, we are reaching the point where the tactical advantages of securing additional temporary [Page 362]aircraft accommodations in Thailand will be clearly outweighed by political liabilities of pushing the Thai too far. Accordingly, we must establish some clear limits beyond which we will not go in our deployment requests.”

When we move out of Danang, we will put even more aircraft into Thailand. We’ve already started preparing Nam Phong for the Marines.

Mr. Johnson: I was speaking to Bangkok on the telephone earlier today, and I was told that the Thai don’t want any public statement about the opening of Nam Phong.

Adm. Moorer: That’s all right. Incidentally, when the F–4s go there, we will need more tankers for them because they will have greater distances to fly. This is entirely separate from the B–52 problem, too.

While we’re speaking about problems, I might mention the bomb problem. Quite naturally, our bomb expenditure has greatly increased as the B–52 force has been augmented. If we send more planes, the expenditure will obviously go up even more, too. In order to solve this problem, we must surge with bomb production. With 235 B–52s and all the Tac Air we have out there, we could very easily run out of bombs. We are dropping the bombs faster than we make them.

Mr. Rush: What about our worldwide inventory? Can we take some bombs from that?

Adm. Moorer: We are already drawing down the European inventory. However, if we step up production, we should be able to stop the drawdown and hold our own by January. The forthcoming rainy season in Vietnam will have some effect in cutting down the bomb expenditure because the planes won’t be able to fly as many missions as they are flying now. Still, we have to take some drastic actions with regard to bomb production. The B–52s pour out the bombs by the hundreds of thousands of tons.

The first question that has to be decided is whether the President wants to add thirty-four more B–52s—to get the one hundred he recently ordered?5 Or, will he be satisfied with the sixty-six additional B–52s?

Gen. Haig: I wouldn’t worry about the President being wed to the figure of one hundred additional B–52s. He wanted a dramatic step-up in the number of B–52s, and we have done that.

Adm. Moorer: If he will be satisfied with the sixty-six B–52s, the only problem we will have is getting the additional tankers in Thailand.6

[Page 363]

These tankers will be needed for the F–4s coming out of Danang, and I think we can arrange it with the Thai. They have already agreed to the transfer of the Marine F–4s from Danang.

Mr. Johnson: The Thai have also agreed to the reopening of Takhli, but they have not agreed about Korat.

Adm. Moorer: We plan to leave one alert squadron in Danang because we feel we can accept the hazard of keeping one squadron there after the 196th Brigade leaves. Abe, as you know, wants to pull the brigade out in order to get down to the 49,000 ceiling.

If the President wants the one hundred additional B–52s—that means thirty-four more than we are planning to send right now—we will have a big problem. We will have to force the Thai into agreeing that the tankers now at U Tapao should be moved to Don Muang.

Mr. Johnson: It will mean in effect that we have taken over Don Muang. We would have to close the second runway on the military side of the field and use it for parking space. And if we put forty-six KC–135 tankers into Don Muang, that will displace the Thai Air Force units there. As I said, we will have taken over Bangkok International Airport.

Adm. Moorer: We probably could lay a few more mats at Takhli and accommodate some more planes there. But that really isn’t the solution. We’ve also looked at the possibility of stationing the tankers at Clark Field. Because of the greater distances involved, though, you have to put two and a half tankers into the Philippines for every tanker you take out of U Tapao.

Gen. Haig: It’s clear that we should drop the option of putting more B–52s into Thailand unless we undertake crash construction projects on facilities we hold, rather than on facilities the Thai hold.

Mr. Johnson: I agree. Can we proceed on that assumption?

Gen. Haig: That’s my feeling. But we have to give all the options to the President and await his guidance.

Adm. Moorer: We can start some construction work at U Tapao, but that will, of course, take some time.

Gen. Haig: Concerning the political problem of putting more B–52s in Thailand, the President isn’t aware of the strain this move will have on the political fabric tieing us to the Thai. And only a handful of B–52s is involved.

Adm. Moorer: I don’t think it’s worthwhile to court political trouble by asking the Thai to accept more B–52s. These planes can only carry twenty-six bombs, anyway. We already have over 200 B–52s in the theater—more than we’ve ever had out there before. In my judgment, we have an adequate number of B–52s in action right now. But if the President wants to send more, we will do it.

[Page 364]

Mr. Johnson: Perhaps we can delay the redeployment of some units from Vietnam to Thailand, thus saving some space at Takli and Korat.

Mr. Rush: If we do that, it will certainly have an effect on the 49,000 ceiling.

Mr. Johnson: I know. Remember, though, that the President has always said he will make the necessary decisions based on the circumstances at the moment. If he has to maintain the ceiling, he will do it. Still, we can give him some options—such as deferring the redeployments and, thereby, saving space in Thailand.

Adm. Moorer: We have to get an answer to the basic question. Are sixty-six additional B–52s enough to meet the President’s requirement? In three weeks, we will have sent sixty-six more B–52s to Guam. If this is enough to meet his requirement, then we can deal with the Thai on the basis of arranging only the redeployments from Danang. However, if it does not meet his requirement, and if he wants us to send another thirty-four B–52s, then we will have a great problem with the Thai.

Gen. Haig: As I said before, I don’t think the President is wed to the figure of one hundred more B–52s. He wanted us to take drastic action, which we did.

[Omitted here is discussion of B–52 missions over North Vietnam.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–116, WSAG Minutes, Originals, 1972. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room.
  2. Brackets in the source text.
  3. Telegram 7207 from Bangkok, May 23, and previous. (Ibid., Box H–088, WSAG Meeting, Vietnam, 7/24/72)
  4. Brackets in the source text.
  5. According to the minutes of the May 30 WSAG meeting, Haig stated that “we got an okay to hold to the sixty-six additional B–52s for Guam.” (Ibid., Box H–116, WSAG Minutes, Originals, 1/3/72–7/24/72)
  6. According to the minutes of the June 1 WSAG meeting, Moorer stated that everything was “ready to go” with the tankers in Thailand, including 46 for U Tapao, 20 for Takhli, and 13 for Don Muang, “most of which are already in place.” (Ibid.)