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Watching the Communists in Vietnam

By Sakhal

The darkness of the night was one of the best tactical aids for the North Vietnam Army and the Viet Cong. There was even a popular expression: "Night belongs to Charlie."

Charlie was precisely the nickname that was given to the enemy by the Americans. In an invariable way, the Communists performed approximation marchs, laid ambushes and transported supplies by relying in the shadows of the night. The United States and the other forces of the "free world" that fought in Vietnam dedicated great efforts to anticipate these actions, employing refined methods of surveillance and monitoring such as the ones explained in this article. As always, a concrete necessity helped to develop a sophisticated technology serving the purpose of solving the problems.

Remote observation of the Ho Chi Minh route

The Communists moved men and materials along the Ho Chi Minh route towards the operation areas in the south. The information required to prevent that traffic was in great part achieved by means of remote surveillance devices inside the program White Igloo that costed 1700 millions of dollars between the years 1966 and 1971. A: The main mean of remote surveillance was the ADSID (Air Delivered Seismic Intruder Device), a system of seismic sensors which was implanted in enemy territory by dropping it from an aircraft. These devices detected any vibration on the near ground. The sensors were implanted, following planned schemes, by aircraft F-4 Phantom using radar navigation systems. The sensors had a length of 91.4 centimeters and a diameter of 15.24 centimeters; they were dropped in free fall, being buried in the ground by the effect of inertia, and leaving outside only an antenna 120 centimeters long which due to its color and shape mimicked the silvan vegetation. Fitted with a battery that lasted for 30-45 days, the sensor transmitted automatically information about the vibrations caused by heavy vehicles in movement. B: An ensemble of sensors implanted following a lineal pattern could detect the movements of vehicles moving along a way. C: The implantation following a square pattern was adequate to detect movements in an area used for parking vehicles or storing materials. D: The sensor automatically transmitted the information to aircraft specially modified for these missions such as the A36 Bonanza, known in the USAF as QU-22 A/B. Designed this aircraft to fly without a pilot, in fact it was manned by one during the operations. It could be kept as flight station during 18 consecutive hours. It automatically sent the information received from the sensors to the Infiltration Surveillance Center. E: A Lockheed EC-121 R cooperated with the QU-22 transmitting automatically to the Infiltration Surveillance Center (F) the information from the sensors. F: Far from the operations area, the Infiltration Surveillance Center received the information and processed it by means of a computer IBM-360-65 which in turn provided information about the targets of the subsequent air attacks. G: Photographic reconnaissance suplemented the data delivered by the sensors. For this mission were ordinarily used aircraft RF-4C Phantom fitted with three reconnaissance systems: side vision radar, infrared detectors and side and frontal cameras. H: The aircraft Teledyne-Ryan 147 SC, designated in the USAF as AQM-34L, was a remote-controlled one. It carried a camera capable of 2000 exposures and a television system that transmitted in real time reconnaissance photos of the terrain to another aircraft that was fitted with a receiver station (J) to distances up to 240 kilometers. The photo shots over the target were made from an altitude of 450 meters. The AQM-34L climbed above 15250 meters in the returning flight to the base. The aircraft was controlled by a pre-programmed onboard navigation system or by remote control from another aircraft or from a ground base.

Watching the Communists in Vietnam

Watching the battlefield

Some means of watching the battlefield, used circa 1970, are illustrated in this diagram which represents an American Fire Support Base in open ground, near the jungle and a town. K: The information coming from the diverse surveillance devices was delivered to the Fire Support Base by an aircraft EC-121 and the Infiltration Surveillance Center. L: Left near a path followed by the enemy or in a crossroads, some seismic detectors could pass their information directly to to the command post of the Fire Support Base by means of an underground cable (M). N: With two flares of different colors placed in each side of a pathway it could be known the direction of the enemy displacements. In such places the traffic of weapons was constant, reason for which the fire could be immediately started. P: The radar AN/PPS-5 provided a long-range nocturnal detection that reached 10 kilometers regarding vehicles and 5 kilometers regarding personnel. A skilled operator could indicate a target with a margin of more or less 18 meters in direction and range. Q: The visual detector of longest range was the AN/TVS-4 Night Observation Device. From the ground or mounted on a tripod it could reveal the enemy at a distance of 1200 meters by means of a light intensifier tube that amplified 40000 times the weak light of the night. R: The AN/TVS-2, attached to weapons such as a recoilless cannon or a machine gun was used to fine tune the aiming or integrated as part of the night observation plan of the respective Fire Support Base. S: Attached to a rifle, the sight AN/PVS-2 for individual weapons - called the sight at the light of stars - endowed the infantrymen with night vision reaching 400 meters afar. T: The information in constant growing was sent to a central point to be analyzed and allow so a quick action. U: Several types of white light and infrared illumination for night observation were tested from helicopters. But helicopters warned the enemy due to the noise that they produced. V: To solve this problem, the company Lockheed designed a silent reconnaissance aircraft, the YO-3A, derived from a glider. It was equipped with a 210-horsepower engine that rotated at constant speed a three-bladed propeller. The exhaust tube was located under the starboard flank and it was fitted with silencers. Its wingspan was 17.4 meters and its maximum operational load was 1360 kilograms. It had a radar device installed under the nose.

Watching the Communists in Vietnam

Categories: Electronic War - Cold War - 20th Century - [General] - [General]


Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2014-12-15

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