Army

August 16, 2013

Military Intelligence – this week in history

Tags:
Ruth Quinn
Staff Historian USAICoE Command History Office

Operation Starlight is Signals Intelligence success story: Aug. 15, 1965

A member of the 3rd RRU looks over the shoulder of a Vietnamese Army direction-finding specialist, symbolic of ASA’s advisory role in the war prior to 1965.

Airborne radio direction finding, or ARDF, proved its value to U.S. combatant commanders with the success of Operation Starlight in August 1965. However, the Army had been using direction-finding, or DF, capabilities to locate enemy transmitters since as early as World War I.

The concept was simple. Upon acquiring a radio signal, DF stations within an established DF net would simultaneously take bearings on the transmission. The point where three or more lines crossed would result in a “fix.”

When the Army Security Agency’s, or ASA’s, 3d Radio Research Unit, or RRU, arrived in Vietnam in 1961, they fully expected to follow the same process. The plan was to set up a DF net at semi-permanent sites and pass targeting locations to mobile DF teams using AN/PRD-1 radio direction finders. The mobile teams would be able to get as close as five to 15 miles from the enemy transmitters and produce the necessary fixes.

However the Vietnam War was different, presenting numerous challenges to traditional approaches. It was a war that had no fronts; the enemy’s forces were dispersed. Operating from sanctuaries in Laos or Cambodia, or from secluded base areas, the enemy attacked selected targets of his own choosing, avoiding Allied sweep operations by dispersing again after an attack. In addition, the types of communications equipment the insurgents used produced signals that were harder to intercept; the high humidity had negative effects on the DF equipment, and the lack of transportation to remote sites all necessitated a different plan. One of the considerations ASA’s leaders came up with was an airborne DF system.

Airborne DF had never been tried before. The challenges were many, from creating an airborne system that could discriminate between direct waves and sky waves to choosing the right kind of aircraft for the mission.

However, by the spring of 1962, a year after their arrival in Vietnam, the 3d RRU was finally able to provide significantly better signals intelligence, or SIGINT, support to the South Vietnamese Army with ASA’s fledgling ARDF capability. The ARDF operator could get closer to the target transmitter without putting himself in imminent danger. One aircraft could move fast enough and cover enough area to eliminate the need for a network of DF teams. The response to the tactical commander’s requirements was faster than with ground DF equipment. Most importantly, the ARDF was more accurate; it could precisely target the enemy’s location, which led to follow-up by artillery, air strikes and ground operations by South Vietnamese forces.

1965 marked the arrival of the first U.S. combat troops into Vietnam, leading to new demands for ARDF support. Army Security Agency had a total of 30 aircraft on hand, under the 3d RRU’s command and control.

In August, several battalions of U.S. Marines had been sent into Vietnam, and the 1st Viet Cong Regiment was organizing an attack against the large Marine base at Chu Lai.

Marine intelligence was aware of a potential attack, between rumors and agent reports. The latest reports, however, listed the main body of the Viet Cong regiment as being 30 to 40 miles away, until, on Aug. 15, an ARDF report placed the enemy on the Van Tuong Peninsula, just a few miles from Chu Lai. If this was true, the enemy was in an extremely vulnerable tactical position, and the Marines had an opportunity to trap a very large force.

The commander of the 3d RRU published an intelligence report, which was briefed to Gen. Joseph McChristian, the chief of intelligence on the Military Assistance Command – Vietnam staff.

The next day, McChristian contacted Marine Commander Lt. Gen. Lewis Walt, who launched a combined air-sea-land attack against the 1st VC Regiment. The Marines met heavy resistance, but the enemy’s losses were much higher. Operation Starlight was considered a major success and the first major U.S. victory over the Viet Cong.

It was also the first successful application of close tactical ARDF support. The 3d RRU platforms were able to provide continuous fixes on the terminals of the enemy forces. This information, which reflected enemy locations and movements, was passed through the 8th RRU to the 3d Marine Division, allowing the Marines to make real-time adjustments and bring unrelenting pressure on the enemy.

It was a huge breakthrough for airborne SIGINT assets. Walt said, “The intelligence produced by your units was a clinching factor in the decision to launch this operation. Subsequent events confirmed the accuracy and timeliness of the intelligence.”

McChristian called the SIGINT “the confirming catalyst which led to our decision to act.” The success of Operation Starlight led to the procurement of 41 additional aircraft for ARDF, and the creation of the ARDF Coordination Center to manage Air Force and Army ARDF missions.

ASA would continue to expand and improve its ARDF assets, providing direction-finding support through multiple airborne platforms throughout the remainder of the Vietnam War.

(Editor’s note: A related Marine Corps article, “Operation Starlight – Plus one for Marine Corps,” appears on page 8A of this week’s “Scout” and showcases the role the Marines played in the operation.)




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 
Maci Hidalgo

Army makes significant strides in energy programs

Maci Hidalgo Steven Lyman, a worker with Triad, a company working on the utility-owned solar array at Fort Huachuca, welds a part onto a support shaft for a solar panel at the 68-acre solar array park adjacent to the Thunder Mo...
 
 
David Kamm, NSRDEC

Natick studies link between body armor fit, performance

David Kamm, NSRDEC Rachel Terveer measures a Soldier’s forward reach extension as part of a study at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center that seeks to understand the link between body armor fit and...
 
 
SFL-TAP_logo_Color

Transition Assistance Program is for spouses, too

Spouses of transitioning and retiring service members are eligible for all Transition Assistance Program services. This means everything available to the transitioning service member is also available to his or her spouse. This...
 

 
Department of Defense photos

Military Intelligence – Moment in MI history

Intelligence plays role in Operation URGENT FURY On Oct. 19, 1983, Grenada’s pro-Communist Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and several other leaders were murdered by a faction led by Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard. The sub...
 
 
Airman 1st Class Krystal Ardrey

Air Force: Airmen train for ‘new wild, wild west’ in cyber domain

Airman 1st Class Krystal Ardrey Staff Sgt. Alek Albrecht participates in a Network War Bridge Course at the 39th Information Operations Squadron Sept. 19, at Hurlburt Field, Fla. Albrecht is practicing to hack into a simulated ...
 
 
U.S. Army photo

Aviation Restructure Initiative allows UAS workhorses to remain aloft

U.S. Army photo Pvt. Kenneth Lewis and Pvt. Austin Morrison assemble a Shadow unmanned aircraft system during training at 2-13th Aviation Regiment, 1st Aviation Brigade, based at Fort Huachuca, in July. FORT RUCKER, Ala. — In...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>


Directory powered by Business Directory Plugin