Intelligence Needs of Area Security/Pacification Operations (VIETNAM)

ADMIN NOTE: This is a continuation of notes on Intelligence successes and failures in Vietnam. You can read Part One of this series here: https://guerrillamerica.com/2020/10/07/the-intelligence-problems-in-vietnam-lessons-learned-pt-1/

U.S. Forces in Vietnam conducted area security/pacification operations “to establish or restore effective government control in contested areas.”

Accomplishing this mission included the following tasks:

  • neutralization of local insurgent forces
  • destruction of insurgent infrastructure
  • protecting the populace from insurgent harassment, terror, and propaganda
  • enacting programs to gain the confidence/support of the local populace

In order to accomplish the mission, tactical commanders needed intelligence. What follows is a list of their Intelligence Requirements, in order of importance:

  • North Vietnamese unit locations/disposition
  • North Vietnamese unit strength
  • Base areas
  • Terrain and environmental conditions (terrain can vary greatly between rainy and dry seasons, for instance)
  • Population composition, attitudes, activity patterns
  • Viet Cong infrastructure (tunnels)
  • Local Viet Cong strength and composition
  • Local Viet Cong weapons
  • Cache sites
  • Offensive and defensive combat capabilities
  • Intentions
  • Communications capabilities

U.S. Forces were concerned with fighting both North Vietnamese Army (NVA) units and the Viet Cong, which was a band of communist guerrillas who blended in with the populace to build armed opposition and frustrate the American efforts. In other words, they had both a conventional adversary (NVA) as well as an irregular adversary (VC).

Intelligence platforms like the Airborne ADPS (People Sniffers) and infrared sensors had difficulties with distinguishing between villagers gathering rice and cutting firewood, and Viet Cong activity. Given that both pattern of activity/life of local villagers and VC were priority requirements, the inability of sensors to distinguish between villagers and fighters was problematic. (Today there are cell phones that map a pattern of life for virtually everyone.)

Another line of effort was air interdiction to disrupt logistics and transportation of supplies and personnel into South Vietnam.

What follows is a list of Intelligence Requirements for targeting:

  • Rear services command organization (Who/what should we strike? Which node, facility, or person would cause the greatest loss or disruption?)
  • Unit HQ locations
  • Unit strengths
  • Lines of communication (Can they be severed by air strikes?)
  • Transportation/mobility vulnerabilities, such as choke points
  • Rate and direction of travel (logistics and transportation)
  • Target active defenses or surface to air missiles (air defense)
  • Locations of active defenses (Take these out to increase survivability for aircraft)
  • Target passive defenses (camouflage; what should imagery analysts know that may mark radar or air defense sites?)
  • Target communications
  • Target recovery capability (how long a target would be out until repair or replacement; a target that can easily be easily replaced is probably not a high value target, and you should dedicate your limited strike capabilities towards other targets)
  • Battle Damage Assessment (What happened to the radar and air defense sites we bombed? Are they still operational? Did we successfully destroy all three batteries? Did we miss any?)

What we’re seeing is the tactical combat commander who is clearly focused on killing the enemy (direct) and disrupting his supply and logistics (indirect).

A mountainous jungle is probably the absolute best terrain for waging an insurgency. We can already see the kinds of problems that U.S. intelligence encountered from the jungle canopy alone.

If you’re the U.S., you start with difficult physical terrain and then you add a difficult human terrain where you don’t speak the language, you don’t understand the culture, nearly every possible advantage (except for air mobility and superior firepower) is stacked against you, and you can’t compete anywhere except in “the killing part” of war.

And add onto this that tactical commanders consistently said that their intelligence needs were rarely satisfied and then intelligence that was useful was typically late due to a long production cycle.

But let’s look at what tactical commanders said intelligence “always” got right:

“terrain & vegetation, weather, potential landing zones and drop zones”.

Here’s the matrix so you can read for yourself. “I” is the top priority, “<III” is still useful but least important of all.

What’s most interesting to me is what’s included in Never: Enemy Supply Level and Intentions of Key Enemy Commanders, which I’ll follow up on in another post.

Author: Sam Culper
Former Intelligence NCO and intel contractor. OEF & OIF veteran. Bama alum. Marshall Tucker nationalism. Austin, Republic of Texas. @culper_intel on most social media platforms.

1 thought on “Intelligence Needs of Area Security/Pacification Operations (VIETNAM)

  1. Hey! I remember your prior blog incarnation, read it for a while but it never seemed that applicable to me and I distracted myself with more tacticool interests.

    With the most colorful year to date, I sure as heck regret that and am glad to see you back. I’ll be paying more attention this time!

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