On 24 July, 1965, a USAF F-4C Phantom operating over North Vietnam was shot down by an S-75 Dvina surface to air missile (SAM). More popularly known by its NATO reporting name SA-2 Guideline, the S-75 was deployed in batteries of six semi-mobile launchers arrayed around a RSNA-75 Fan Song tracking radar and a P-12 Spoon Rest acquisition radar.
US losses from Soviet supplied, Vietnamese operated SAMS quickly mounted. Efforts to avoid the SAMs forced pilots lower, well within the lethal envelope of cheaper, less sophisticated Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA).
That the USAF was caught off guard by the SA-2 is nothing short of mind boggling. The SA-2 had claimed its first victim as far back as 1957, when it destroyed a Republic of China operated RB-57D. Further, the US was fully aware that the SA-2 had shot down Gary Powers’ U-2 over Russia on 1 May 1960. Over five years later, however, USAF (and for that matter, USN) tactical aircraft had no Radar Homing and Warning systems installed. Indeed, little thought hade been given to countering the SAM threat, even as the US employed huge numbers of a very similar system, the Nike Ajax/Nike Hercules, which could have served as a very valid proxy.
The Air Force’s first response to the SAM threat was Operation Iron Hand, an attempt to hunt down and bomb the SAM sites. This was surpassingly difficult, as the radar vans were generally well camouflaged and the Vietnamese relocated the sites regularly. Generally the only way to visually identify a SAM site was to spot the tell-tale cloud of dust from a launch. But by the time a coordinated attack could be planned (say, the next day) the SAM battery would likely have relocated. As an added bonus, a AAA ambush was often set at the now unoccupied SAM site.
Yesterday (Dec. 22- XBrad) marked forty-nine years to the day since the first success of the Wild Weasel concept in the skies over North Vietnam. In honor of that accomplishment which established the foundation of the modern SEAD/DEAD mission, we bring you the story of the very first kill on a surface-to-air missile (SAM) emplacement by two of the very first United States Air Force aviators to earn the Wild Weasel name.
These two videos (about 60 minutes total) show the evolution of the first 20 years of the Wild Weasel mission, that is, 1965 to 1985.
Needless to say, it has continued since then. With the retirement of the F-4G Wild Weasel Phantoms in the early 1990s, the Wild Weasel mission has fallen to HARM equipped F-16CJs equipped with the HARM Targeting System (HTS) pod, a very miniature version of the F-4Gs APR-47.
A broader look at the SEAD and DEAD mission would also include the EA-6B and EF-18G both as jammers, locators, and active HARM shooters. Indeed, that’s just a small slice of the pie that is the total effort to stymie any enemy air defense network. Electronic intelligence aircraft such as the EP-3E Aries II help build the enemy Order of Battle by sniffing out the types and numbers of enemy air defense assets, a general idea of their location, and the frequencies they operate on, as well as the general trends of how an opponent uses those assets.
When first told of their obviously dangerous mission of flying into the teeth of the SAM sites, the universal response was, “You Gotta Be Shittin’ Me!”