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.


 
 

 
Clay and Laura Murray

First major Arizona wildfire of 2014 burns in Huachuca Mountains

Clay and Laura Murray This photo of the Brown Fire was taken on Monday evening from Mott Circle on Fort Huachuca. As of Fort Huachuca Scout press time Thursday, firefighters were still working to contain it. A wildfire, the Bro...
 
 

FH renewable energy project to provide approximately 25 percent of installation’s annual electricity requirement

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Army announced Monday plans to start development of a solar array that will provide about 25 percent of the annual installation electricity requirement of Fort Huachuca. “This will be the largest solar array in the Department of Defense on a military installation,” according to the Honorable Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary...
 
 

2014 Army Earth Day message

On April 22, the United States Army joins the Nation in celebrating Earth Day. Army Earth Day provides us an opportunity to renew our commitment to stewardship of the environment and the lands where our Soldiers, Families and Civilians train, live and work. Army Earth Day aims to inspire awareness and appreciation of the environment....
 

 
Gabrielle Kuholski

Post celebrates Days of Remembrance with observance ceremony, discussion panels

Gabrielle Kuholski William Heidner, museum curator for the Museum Activity and Heritage Center of the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground, Yuma, Ariz., receives a Buffalo Soldier statuette from Col. Jeffrey Jennings, U.S. Army Intell...
 
 
Maranda Flynn

AAFES making small changes for customer satisfaction

Maranda Flynn L&A Southern Style Bar-B-Q, currently located inside Armed Forces Bank, will be relocating to the food court inside the Fort Huachuca Exchange in the next few months. It will replace Manchu Wok, which is clos...
 
 
Courtesy of Glenn Gaskins

Son of Army retirees is top of his league

Courtesy of Glenn Gaskins Najee Gaskins, 16, participates in the Arizona Junior Fall Classic, a baseball showcase held last October in Peoria, Ariz. Playing second base position, he ranks number four in the state and 60th in th...
 




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