South Viet Nam Air Force - VNAF - Khong Quon
The Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) was organized in the mid-1960s into five tactical wings and a depot wing. Operating units include transport, helicopter, tactical and liaison squadrons distributed among the major air bases throughout the country, including Saigon, Nha Trang, Ban Me Thuot, Bien Hoa and Pleiku. The principal air training center was at Nha Trang. Air Force Headquarters, with supporting staff elements, was in Saigon.
By June 1974, the VNAF had become the fourth largest Air Force in the world, with more than 2,000 aircraft and approximately 63,000 personnel comprising six air divisions and fifteen tactical wings. Tactical wings consisted of several squadrons (Phi Doi or "PD") that were numbered as follows: Observation Squadrons (100 sequence numbers), Helicopter Squadrons (200), Special Missions Squadrons (300), Transport Squadrons (400), Fighter Squadrons (500), Reconnaissance Squadrons (700), Attack Squadrons (800), and Training Squadrons (900). The 600 sequence was reserved for amphibious squadrons, but was never used for this purpose.
In the early 1960s, Vietnamese fighter escort aircraft, when they used napalm to clear landing zones, often made the strikes just before the helicopters arrived; the resulting fire and smoke constituted a serious hazard to the helicopters. U.S. helicopters pilots also voiced dissatisfaction with the performance of Vietnamese fighter escort for various other reasons: speed differences between the slow helicopters and fast fighters; withdrawals of fighter aircraft to an altitude of 1,000 feet over the landing or pickup zone, depriving the helicopters of valuable protection at a time when they were most vulnerable to, and most frequently subjected to hostile fire; and fighter aircraft often abandoning helicopters to assist in ground operations. During the third quarter of calendar year 1962, air support flown by Vietnamese pilots was described by the U.S. helicopter personnel as inadequate, inaccurate, uncoordinated, and useless.
By 1969 the Air Force had been given a far greater capacity to airlift troops. It flew some 100 helicopters, and a new fleet of 300 turbo-powered UH-14 helicopter transports and gunships had been ordered at a cost of US $83 million. Already some of the new and improved Hueys had been delivered to the 211th Helicopter Squadron at Binh Thuy. A fleet of old but reliable C-119 transports was turned over to the VNAF to boost its strategic mobility. Versatile little A-37 jet attack bombers and F-5 jet Freedom Fighters have been delivered to the VNAF, and more are programmed over the next two years. The VNAF was slated to receive 60 of the A-37s at a cost of US$18 million. Some 1,500 pilots will be trained in America on newer jet fighters and helicopters.
Even with the 300 new helicopters added to the existing fleet of 100 choppers, the entire Vietnamese Air Force still would have fewer helicopters than the First U.S. Air Cavalry Division's 425. (There were about 3,000 helicopters assigned to all U.S. forces in Vietnam.) Even when the 60 new jet attack bombers were added to the 40 fighter jets in action in 1969, the VNAF's jet capability still was little better than that of a single U.S. carrier sailing off the Vietnamese coast with its 75 to 80 jets aboard. With USAF assistance, the VNAF grew by 1970 from an organization with little combat capability and relatively few personnel to an efficient and viable air force with a jet-aircraft combat capability. The aircraft types range from F-5 jet fighters, A-1 conventional fighters, and O-1 liaison planes to C-119 and C-47 cargo aircraft and jet-powered helicopters, all of which were operated and maintained by the VNAF. The support base for this force included the Air Training Center with eight schools at Nha Trang and the Air Logistics Command at Bien Hoa.
"Vietnamization" of the war led to an enlarged and accelerated training program for members of the Vietnamese Air Force and to much larger materiel deliveries. American policy in Vietnam in 1970 and 1971 was aimed at self-sufficiency for the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces (RVNAF). Self-sufficiency was understood to mean that after withdrawal of American combat forces the RVNAF could maintain the level of security that had been won jointly by the United States and South Vietnam. The United States would continue to provide materiel support for the defense of South Vietnam, but it was expected that the RVNAF would have the capability to use United States equipment effectively. If that capability could be developed, the RVNAF would be judged self-sufficient.
The role of the USAF was dominant in the 1968 and 1972 offensives. The performance of the South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) had counted for a lot. "VNAF came into its own during the 1972 offensive," said a USAF advisor. "In the defense of Kontum the VNAF has been magnificent, absolutely magnificent." Although VNAF had grown in size to about 44 squadrons and 42,000 people by the time of the 1972 offensive, application of airpower at the major points of the enemy assault was US. Further, the bombing of the North Vietnam heartland during these two periods was the compelling leverage that resulted in the initiation and pursuit of active negotiations to stop the war.
The intervening period between the peace agreement of January 27, 1973 and the North Vietnamese offensive of March 1975, was marked by fundamental changes in the character of the NVA forces and their deployment for battle. The NVA moved its center of logistics near the DMZ and into South Vietnam proper. The magnitude of SAM and AAA defenses constituted a major departure from those of the 1968 and 1972 campaigns. The VNAF, structured for a low scale war, was confronted with an enemy having the most sophisticated air defense weapons of the day.
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