The General made the comment in a recent conference on the victory of “Hanoi – Dien Bien Phu in the Air”.

Power of the B-52 Stratofortress

One of the weapons that the U.S. was proud of in this operation is B-52 Stratofortress. How was B-52’s power used in  Operation Linebacker II?

B-52 is a heavy bomber manufactured by Boeing according to a contract with the Pentagon to conduct nuclear bombardment operations. After five retrofits, 744 B-52s were made and they have been in the list of strategic air power of the U.S. Air Force since the 1950’s and is expected to be retired in the 2040’s.

The B-52 is operated by a six man crew and is 49.5m long with the wing span of 56.39m, reaching a top  speed of 960km/h, flight altitude of over 16km, and flight range of over 16.000km without air refueling.

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The B-52 Stratofortress. Photo: extremetech.com 

B-52s’ armament is worth mentioning as each can carry 18 to 30 tons of bombs, or in modern times,12 to 20 ALEM cruise missiles or eight ACM stealth cruise missiles, as well as defensive tail guns.

Moreover, B-52s are also equipped with many electronic warfare devices to jam the enemy’s radar or communications abilities.

When this kind of plane was put in use, it was introduced as the super Stratofortress, a symbol of the U.S. Air Force, product of the most miraculous achievements of the leading aeronautics industry in the world.

Especially, B-52s are always protected by a group of fighters, making the so-called “unbreakable fence|” around them.

When attacking the North of Vietnam, B-52s’s sorties were conducted at night to avoid being identified by sight.

Mobilizing total military strength

In Operation Linebacker, the U.S. mobilized 1,192 aircraft and other kinds of weapons and equipment. Importantly, the U.S. used 193 out of its 400 B-52s, accounting for nearly 50% of the number of its B-52s. The U.S. also used 999 out of 3,043 of its other kinds of aircraft and six aircraft carriers.

Moreover, the U.S. also used over 50 refueling aircraft and other supporting ones to jam, conduct aerial reconnaissance or air traffic control, command etc., together with 60 warships of the 7th Fleet. The density and volume of munitions used during 12 days and nights in late December 1972 to attack the North of Vietnam outnumbered any other air attacks conducted by the U.S. in history to date.

According to Lt. Gen. Nguyen Duc Soat, the U.S. was so confident that with its jamming system, the B-52 could neutralize Vietnam’s air defense system and it therefore only had to worry about MiGs (MiG 21’s in particular).

Therefore, to dominate the space right from beginning, F-111s were tasked to engage to pave the way for the B-52s by flying low to avoid being detected by radar and then suddenly bombs airbases. During the campaign, many groups of tactical aircraft of F-111, F-105, F-4, and A-6 were used in an effort to neutralize the North Vietnam’s radar systems, anti-air artillery and missile sites while continuing to raid airbases, especially targeting runways.

The strength of the U.S. strategic air power used in this campaign was not only mobilization of a huge number of B-52s and other aircraft but also a strong jamming power, affecting all frequencies of the North Vietnam and therefore blinding  North Vietnam’s radars. Jamming was the main tactic during the operation.

Additionally, the U.S. also used fake jamming signals by sending squads of F-4s or F-111s to fly in a formation at the same altitude as the B-52s did and sending jamming signals together to pretend they were B-52s.

Meanwhile, the F-4s and F-105s that were used to neutralize air defense systems were equipped with air-to-ground missiles that can attack the systems whenever they found radar signals. The facts showed that North Vietnam found it hard to deal with these kinds of missiles.

At that time, the Pentagon declared that with its jamming ability, the U.S. Air Force could effectively blindfold all of North Vietnam’s radar systems and neutralize all of its air defense systems. Therefore, the U.S. could bomb any targets in North Vietnam like “going for a walk”. The U.S. also said that B-52s were not attackable and would only fall due to weather or technical failures, not by the fire power of North Vietnam.

(To be continued)

Translated by Nam Long