- Chapter XVI:
- This monograph demonstrates
that Vietnam was a war of innovations. The contestants, the equipment,
the arena, and the rules of engagement were different from previous
wars. In the beginning, there was a great variety of recently
developed hardware but a general lack of doctrine concerning
insurgency-type operations. Improved equipment was rushed through the
development phase, and successful ideas originated in the field. Some
of the innovations described in the preceding chapters are peculiar to
the Vietnam situation, while others represent more significant
advances that can be used in future conflicts.
- Many of the major innovations
in Vietnam were time-sensitive, that is, they were effective only for
a given period of time. This period could best be measured as the time
required for the enemy to figure out what the Americans were doing and
to develop effective countermeasures. Sound innovations lasted for
long periods of time, and some are as valid today as when they were
conceived. Others were useful for days or weeks or for a few months
only. The enemy soon punished the commander who followed set patterns
or precise procedures. The innovative leader usually met with success.
- The widespread use of the
helicopter was the most significant advance of the Vietnam War.
Combined with a new air-assault concept, it led to the refinement of
the airmobile division that proved to be an unqualified success,
incorporating all the advantages that the helicopter provided. It is
.difficult to exaggerate the capabilities of the airmobile team in
Vietnam; the team represented the most revolutionary change in warfare
since the blitzkrieg. However, airmobile tactics may also be
time-sensitive, and the helicopter has problems with respect to future
- Improvements in communications
paralleled or even exceeded the progress made in mobility. Not since
before the Civil War has a brigade commander been able to see and talk
to all his platoon leaders. The division commander had an abundance of
hot lines, secure voice radios, and instant communications up the
chain of command, down to every tactical unit, and across to other
services or allies. Compared
- the EE-8 and SCR-300 of Korea,
communication equipment in Vietnam was a technological miracle of
infinite value to the commander.
- Firepower progressed along with
mobility and communications. The infantry soldier had a greater variety
of more powerful weapons than ever before. Artillery and armor pieces
were more mobile and more effective. Aerial fire support increased many
times, and much of it was available from among the Army's own resources.
Furthermore, the role of firepower expanded from one of softening the
enemy in preparation for the final infantry assault to one of entirely
eliminating enemy resistance.
- The sensors, target acquisition
equipment, and night observation devices, combined with the automatic
data processing equipment, represent a major advance in military systems
management at the battalion level and higher. Development of such
equipment has progressed rapidly within the U.S. Army. As a result,
there is high expectation for improved intelligence-gathering methods
and a more efficient use of combat power. The G-2 and G-3 (intelligence
and operations assistant chiefs of staff) will not only be in the same
tent in the future, they will also use the same computer.
- In the field of tactics, the
age-old principles did not change. U.S. forces conducted a huge mobile
defense for over five years. They fought off the invader from fixed
bases; however, in doing so they used almost purely offensive tactics.
An intelligence network superior to anything known in previous wars and
great tactical mobility allowed the U.S. forces to pre-empt most of the
enemy's meticulously rehearsed plans. The riverine. operations, the
ambushes, logistic support of armored formations by air, and the
saturation patrolling demonstrated that the commander at every level was
equal to the task of outthinking the enemy.
- Contact with the enemy was
normally made by battalions or smaller units in contrast to the larger
unit operations of World War II and Korea. In Vietnam, U.S. infantry on
the ground had the mission of finding the enemy by means of saturation
patrolling and never-ending reconnaissance in force, guided by a whole
new world of intelligence-gathering sensors and air cavalry. Having
found the enemy, invariably at less than 100 yards range, the infantry
commander called forth overwhelming reinforcement and firepower. The
main attack was wherever and whenever the enemy could be found.
- The air cavalry, armored
cavalry, tanks, and mechanized infantry all proved their versatility and
effectiveness in low-intensity warfare against an unsophisticated enemy.
The battles reported throughout the monograph show these forces seeking
out and destroying the enemy at close quarters. The U.S. armored
vehicles and armed helicopters, dedicated to the offensive, were well
suited to overwhelming the enemy's hidden light infantry.
- The adaptation of U.S. forces to
the countrywide battlefield evolved through a process of trial and
error. Not since the American Revolution has a theater of operations
been occupied with friendly and enemy military forces in the same
general areas simultaneously. Success was not clear-cut; control of the
population was often in doubt; victory or defeat lay at the grass-roots
level after the maneuver battalions had done their work. Thus, there
were two wars going on: the purely military battle against the enemy's
main force and the pacification operation. The two were completely
entwined, however, and the commander at every level fought in both.
- Pacification was an
unprecedented addition to the commander's mission. Although it was
basically a civilian endeavor, the military played a vital and
continuous part because the restoration of security in the countryside
was a prerequisite to pacification. Furthermore, the local Vietnamese
administration was often almost wholly military in character and was
dependent upon the Americans for necessary skills and equipment. Winning
the war meant winning the hearts and minds of the people, and all
friendly forces participated in this effort.
- Vietnamization of the war, which
later received a great deal of publicity, actually started with the
first advisers and progressed through increasing U.S. -Vietnamese
co-operation. It was always the goal of U.S. forces to leave behind in
Vietnam an indigenous force able to defend itself. Specific units from
each country were paired up, not only to insure co-ordination but also
to provide cross-training. Vietnamization took its place alongside
pacification and military operations as a primary mission of the U.S.
- There was one area, however,
where American ingenuity failed: countermine warfare. Considering the
magnitude of the enemy's effort in mines and booby traps, U.S. experts
failed to find the answer to the problem of how to counter them. Another
aspect of the war in Vietnam which many tactical commanders would revise
was the large base camp. Because of the size to which these camps grew,
they detracted far too much effort from the primary combat mission.
- Finally, the question might be
asked: Has the U.S. Army been successful in Vietnam? Certainly the
United States has not been victorious in the traditional sense. But in
1965 ARVN units were being beaten in every quarter of the country. The
South Vietnamese government had lost control of most of the countryside.
Total defeat was imminent. By the early 1970s most of the major U.S.
Army formations had come to Vietnam, made their contribution, and been
withdrawn. As a result, the ARVN has become one of the most powerful
military forces in the Free World, and the Republic of Vietnam now
controls the majority of its people. (Chart 3) The U.S. Army in Vietnam
carried on its traditions of ingenuity, imagination, and flexibility. It
kept pace with the hectic technological progress of today's
CHART 3 - POPULATION STATUS SOUTH
world and demonstrated the American soldiers' ability to outthink the
enemy. It showed its sophistication in materiel advances, its strength of
will in guerrilla warfare, and its compassion in pacification.
- page created 15 December 2001
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