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Command and Control in air Environment Unity of Command and Unity of Effort in the Joint Air Operations in Vietnam.

Of the many aspects of the Vietnamese War (1961-1975) debated by old and modern scholars who have investigated this domain, command and control of air operations (Air C2) has proved to be one of the more controversial. Indeed, during the U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, Air C2 -- especially at the tactical level -- was unsatisfactory and in the face of a capable air opponent would have been a disaster.1 If is to define in a single sentence the Air C2 in Vietnam that would most probably be centralized control at the top and disunity below.2 The command and control arrangements in Vietnam had been unduly complex and inefficient since the early stages of the war and continued through the end of the conflict. Some scholars judged that most of the air command and control issues had been addressed, if not entirely resolved, by early 19683, others considered them as being never satisfactorily resolved.4 In an attempt to synthetize all these points of view, this paper aims to examine how the lack of unity of command below the theater commander level contributed to the failure of achieving unity of effort in the joint air operations in Vietnam. As stated by Joint Publication 1, Doctrine for the Armed Forces of the United States, unity of command is central to unity of effort. It is important for all forces, but essential in employing air forces in joint operations when centralized control and decentralized execution are the key elements to fuse all these capabilities efficiently. Therefore, unity of command should ensure the concentration of effort for every objective under one responsible commander.5 During the war in Vietnam, the command and control of air operations was exercised either from Washington and from Hawaii or at the level of each service as component commanders maintain as much control as possible over their own aircraft. As depicted in Figure 1, the only unity of command was achieved at the levels of Commander in Chief, United States Pacific Command

(USCINC-PAC), Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet (CINCPACFLT) and Commander III Marine Amphibious Force (MAF). USCINC-PAC decided to control the air operations in the theatre through his component commanders (Commander Pacific Air Force/ PACAF and CINCPACFLT) and the commander of subunified command (Commander US Military Assistance Command Vietnam/ COMUSMACV). However, given the political decisions and the close direction of the war effort from the capital, USCINC-PAC retained the authority for air operations in North Vietnam and Laos. There were two victims of these command arrangements with direct consequences on the unity of effort of air operations in Vietnam: COMUSMACV and Commander 7th Air Force. COMUSMACV was denied operational control over the assets he considered essential for the success of the air operations: air units in Thailand, carrier units in the Gulf of Tonkin, and SAC units based in Guam and Thailand. The fragmentation of air assets and their command and control had bigger effect for Commander 7th Air Force. Consequently, he faced three major problems: He had no control of tactical air assets based or operating in South Vietnam. He had no real control of the Army and Marine helicopter operations. He was responsible to his component commander (CINCPACAF) and the theater commander (USCINC-PAC), but not to COMUSMACV, for Air Force operations in most of North Vietnam and Laos. This split of authority over the employment of air power had direct consequences on the battlefield, leading to a poor coordination among the services regarding the joint engagement of helicopters, air defense assets and strategic bombers. Of all the challenges posed to the command and control of air operations in Vietnam, the introduction of large numbers of helicopters by all services was most likely the biggest one. The increasing rate of rotary wing aircraft involvement in transporting and providing direct fire in

support of the forces engaged on the ground posed coordination problems with the fixed wing air assets of the other services. Then was the problem of air defense coordination. Only in 1965 the Air Force and the Marines had reached an air defense coordination agreement which designated the 7th Air Force Commander as responsible for the air defense of South Vietnam thus having the authority to scramble USMCs alert fighters and declare their Hawk missile control status. The Air Force-Navy cooperation was limited to a vague formulation of coordination control that met the minimum demands of each service component and the return to the route package system (geographic demarcation of respective target areas) that characterized Korean operations.6 Finally, the employment of SACs bombers in Vietnam was not foreordained, nor was the mechanism for their operational control constant throughout the war.7 While SAC remained committed to its nuclear deterrence, Air Force commanders in Vietnam considered it as probably unnecessary. Moreover, the decisions regarding the employment of SACs bombers were made in Washington. Secretary of Defense McNamara believed his military abilities better than those of the military commanders and President Johnson stated I wont let those Air Force generals bomb the smallest outhouse without checking with me.8 Given this disunity of command below the theater commander level, it was almost impossible to achieve any unity of effort in Vietnamese War. The issue occurred in the early stages of the war and continued through the end of the conflict, being never entirely and satisfactorily resolved. It arose from the command arrangements below the theater commander level as well as from doctrinal frictions among the services and their apart perceptions of roles and missions; therefore, each service applied differently the principles of unity of command and unity of effort. Only with the passage of time and the likely failure of operations retrieved the situation enough to warrant a little progress in the second part of the war (Figure 2).9

Figure 1. Command Relationships (1962-1965)


PRESIDENT Johnson SECDEF Joint Chiefs of Staff McNamara

Taylor (USA)

CINCPAC Felt (USN)

CINCPACAF Smart (USAF) 13 AF Harkins (USA)

COMUSMACV

CINCPAC FLEET Moorer (USN)


TH

2D AIR DIV ADVON

US ARMY SPT GP

FLEET

2D AIR DIV ADVON

COMBAT UNITS

TF-77

Courtesy of Air War College - Command and Control in Air Environment Elective

Figure 1. Command Relationships (1966-1972)


PRESIDENT Johnson SEC DEF McNamara Sharp US Ambassadors Thailand Laos Wheeler

Moorer

Westmorland

Momyer

Courtesy of Air War College - Command and Control in Air Environment Elective

ENDNOTES
1

Winnefeld, James A., and Johnson, Dana J., 1991. Command and Control of Joint Air Operations. Some Lessons Learned from Four Case Studies of an Enduring Issue, p. 41 2 Winnefeld, James A., and Johnson, Dana J., 1993. Joint air Operations. Pursuit of unity in command and control, 1942-1991, p.80 3 Winnefeld, James A., and Johnson, Dana J., 1991. Command and Control of Joint Air Operations. Some Lessons Learned from Four Case Studies of an Enduring Issue, p iv 4 Staaveren, Jacob Van, 2002. Gradual Failure. The Air War over North Vietnam: 19651966, p. 72 5 AFDD-1. Approved by: Michael E. Ryan, General, USAF, Chief of Staff, 1997. Air Force Basic Doctrine, p.13 6 Winnefeld, James A., and Johnson, Dana J., 1991. Command and Control of Joint Air Operations. Some Lessons Learned from Four Case Studies of an Enduring Issue, p.51 7 Winnefeld, James A., and Johnson, Dana J., 1991. Command and Control of Joint Air Operations. Some Lessons Learned from Four Case Studies of an Enduring Issue, p. 48 8 Correll, John T., 1995. The Confessions of Robert S. McNamara, in Air force Magazine, Vol. 78, No. 6, p. 2 9 Webb, Willard J.,and Poole, Walter S., 2007. History of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Joint Chiefs of Staff and The War in Vietnam 19711973, p.6

BIBLIOGRAPHY AFDD-1. Approved by: Michael E. Ryan, General, USAF, Chief of Staff, 1997. Air Force Basic Doctrine, Correll, John T., 1995. The Confessions of Robert S. McNamara, in Air force Magazine, Vol. 78, No. 6 Momyer, William W., 1978. Air Power in Three Wars (WWII, Korea, Vietnam) Staaveren, Jacob Van, 2002. Gradual Failure. The Air War over North Vietnam: 19651966 Webb, Willard J.,and Poole, Walter S., 2007. History of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Joint Chiefs of Staff and The War in Vietnam 19601968. Part 1 Webb, Willard J.,and Poole, Walter S., 2007. History of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Joint Chiefs of Staff and The War in Vietnam 19711973. Part 2 Winnefeld, James A., and Johnson, Dana J., 1991. Command and Control of Joint Air Operations. Some Lessons Learned from Four Case Studies of an Enduring Issue Winnefeld, James A., and Johnson, Dana J., 1993. Joint air Operations. Pursuit of unity in command and control, 1942-1991