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Buckingham, William - USAF and herbicides in SEA 1961-1971 (ebook)

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Operation Ranch Hand - The Air Force and Herbicides in Southeast Asia 1961-1971

William A. Buckingham Jr

Office of Air Force History, Washington DC 1982


One of aviation's more unusual military applications occurred in Southeast Asia, where American and Vietnamese planes sprayed large areas of Vietnam and Laos with herbicides in an effort to deny cover and conceal- mei.t to the enemy, and to destroy his food supply.

In 1961, President Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam asked the United states to conduct aerial herbicide spraying in his country. In August of that year, the South Vietnamese Air Force initiated herbicide operations with American help. But Diem's request launched a policy debate in the White House and the State and Defense Departments.

At last, in November 1961, President Kennedy approved the use of herbicides, but only as a limited experiment requiring South Vietnamese participation and the mission-by-mission approval of the United States Embassy, the Military Assistance Command Vietnam, and South Vietnam's government. Operation Ranch Hand, the designation for the program, began in January 1962. Gradually limitations were relaxed and the spraying became more frequent, and covered larger areas. By the time it ended nine years later, some eighteen million gallons of chemicals had been sprayed on an estimated twenty percent of South Vietnam's -jungles, including thirty-six percent of its mangrove forests. The Air Force also carried out herbicide operations in Laos from December 1965 to/September 1969 with the permission of the Laotian government.

The book is a model study of the process by which military policy was made in the Southeast Asia War. Major Buckingham relates the intense controversy, both within the government and among the public, over the military, political, and ecological effects of the program. He connects policy to the operations, showing how pressure from scientist5 and disagreements among government policy- makers and military leaders imposed limitations on the spraying program. He explores the technical difficulties in using herbicides: the right chemical agents had to be delivered in sufficient quantity it the optimal time of the growing season, only against certain crops and categories of vegetation, and only in areas where the destruction provided harm to the enemy and no danger to friendly or neutral populations. And-Major Buckingham pays tribute to the bravery of the Ranch Hand airmen who flew their planes 'low and s!ow' over territory often heavily defended by the enemy. Remarkably, Ranch Hand's UC-123 Providers took more than seven thousand hits from ground fire, but lost only a 1.w crews and aircraft. Indeed, the most celebrated of the planes, "Patches," survived over six-hundred hits.


257 pages – in English