This history recounting operations in Laos covers the critical years from 1968 through 1972, when the Air Force carried out the Commando Hunt series of aerial interdiction campaigns against the Ho Chi Minh Trail in southern Laos, trying, in conjunction with ground actions, to use air power and electronics to impede the movement of men and supplies from North Vietnam to the battlefields of South Vietnam. Conducted during the time the United States was withdrawing ground forces and turning the war over to the greatly strengthened armed forces of South Vietnam, Commando Hunt sought to prevent a North Vietnamese offensive that would take advantage of the declining U. S. presence. That attack did not come until March 1972 and not only stopped short of overrunning South Vietnam, but also was a setback for the Hanoi government and a cease-fire agreement. The invasion, however, signaled the end of Commando Hunt, for the South Vietnamese did not take over the electronic surveillance network — with its computer, sensors, and communications equipment—that made the series of aerial interdiction operations possible.
This history recounts an ambitious attempt by the Air Force to interdict traffic on the Ho Chi Minh Trail of southern Laos, as part of a plan to support the war in South Vietnam by impeding the flow of North Vietnamese troops and military supplies into South Vietnam. Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara intended initially to establish a manned barrier guarding the demilitarized zone between the two Vietnams, while using electronic sensors and computers to detect and analyze movement on the Ho Chi Minh Trail so that aircraft could attack the troops and cargo bound for the battlefields of South Vietnam. Only the electronic portion went into service, and the Ho Chi Minh Trail became the object of seven successive Commando Hunt operations, beginning in the fall of 1968 and lasting until the spring of 1972, when a North Vietnamese invasion of the South changed the nature of the war. Although aircraft of the other services participated in this extended campaign of aerial interdiction, the Air Force assumed the greatest responsibility for both equipment and execution.
The book begins by summarizing Secretary McNamara's reasons for substituting an interdiction campaign for the bombing of North Vietnam and then describes the early efforts at aerial interdiction, which were delayed by the need to shift resources for the defense of the Marine Corps outpost at Khe Sanh in northwestern South Vietnam, just south of the demilitarized zone. Because technology held the key to attacking the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the aircraft and other equipment used in the Commando Hunt series receive extensive treatment early in the narrative. Next come the air campaigns themselves, supplemented by ground operations from Laos and South Vietnam, that over the years, with varying success, engaged every component of the Ho Chi Minh Trail through southern Laos and in Cambodia—roads and trails, bivouacs and storage areas, waterways and pipelines, truck traffic, and for a brief time, troop movements. In addition to discussing this activity, the narrative addresses the unsuccessful attempt to Vietnamize interdiction without transferring the entire array of special equipment created or modified for that purpose. The volume also deals with the application of the technology that maintained surveillance over the trail and covers the problem of locating North Vietnamese artillery after the invasion of South Vietnam in 1972. A final chapter evaluates the effectiveness of the air-supported electronic barrier and concludes that the concealment readily afforded by the jungle, the resilience of the North Vietnamese and their control of the tempo of military operations, the limitations of the available technology, and the lack of adequate information about the trail complex combined to prevent the Commando Hunt operations from doing more than inconveniencing the e
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