YGBSM! The Birth of the Wild Weasel.

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.

The Air Force’s next response was a crash program to form and equip an elite cadre of fighter pil0ts and Electronic Warfare Officers specially equipped to hunt down the SAMs and attack them.

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.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0TBpswks2f8]

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWGvHe-1aHc]

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.

YGBSM?

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!”

Wild Weasel

With the late 1965 introduction of the S-75 (SA-2) surface to air missile system in North Vietnam, the US Air Force began looking for methods to counter this deadly threat to its strike forces. Locating and suppressing batteries of SAMs was a challenging role, hampered not just by the difficulty of the mission, but by poor equipment. Two seat F-100F fighters were the first platform used. But they had virtually no sensors beyond the human eyeball. The F-100 also had limited range and payload. The crews of these SAM hunters lacked almost everything but sheer guts. They cheerfully took on the role of attacking not just into the teeth of the enemy’s defenses, but the very defenses themselves. This “in your face” boldness led them to name themselves the Wild Weasels. Their motto, YGBSM, similarly noted their valor.

Soon after they began operations, the need for more range and payload, and room for growth for sensors lead the Air Force to assign the Wild Weasels the F-105F two-seat operational trainer version of the Thud. Of 143 “F” models built, eventually 54 were converted to EF-105F* configuration. Added Radar Homing and Warning devices and receivers allowed these Wild Weasels to locate, triangulate, and range the location of SAM sites based on the transmissions of their search and fire control radars.

Even more useful, the EF-105F added the AGM-45 Shrike anti-radiation missile to the available weapons. The Shrike, modified from the design of the AIM-7 Sparrow III missile, had a passive seeker that homed in on the fire control radar of the SA-2. Vietnamese radar operators could avoid the Shrike by shutting down their radar, but while that radar was down, the Weasel crews could close in and attack with conventional bombs and cluster munitions. More importantly, while the SAM site was suppressed, the main body of a strike force could carry out their mission unmolested by SAMs.

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Further improvements to the “F” led to the F-105G** which served as the Air Force’s primary Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) platform until replaced by the F-4G Advanced Wild Weasel. The F-4G was replaced shortly after Desert Storm by the F-16CJ Wild Weasel.

*Not an official designation, it was still handy to differentiate them from vanilla two-seater Thuds.

**This time an official designation.