Operation Arc Light

During Operation Arc Light (Arc Light, and sometimes Arclight) from 1965 to 1973, the United States deployed B-52F Stratofortresses from bases in the US to Guam to provide close air support to ground combat operations in Vietnam.[1] The conventional bombing campaign was supported by ground-control-radar detachments of the 1st Combat Evaluation Group (1CEVG) in Operation Combat Skyspot. Arc Light operations usually targeted enemy base camps, troops concentrations, and supply lines.

Operation Arc Light Memorial
Arc Light Memorial on Andersen AFB, Guam

Aircraft used

Previously dedicated to carrying nuclear weapons, in 1964 the U.S. Air Force began to train strategic bomber crews to deliver conventional munitions flying the B-52F.

The B-52Fs were deployed to Andersen Air Force Base in Guam and U-Tapao Royal Thai Navy Airfield in Thailand. To add conventional bomb capacity, Project Big Belly modified all B-52Ds to enable them to carry 30 tons of conventional bombs.

By the middle of April 1966, all B-52Fs were redeployed back to the US and were replaced by the Big Belly modified B-52D. Later in the Vietnam War, the B-52G was also deployed with the B-52D.[2]

Operations in Laos and Cambodia

Congressional investigations of secret CIA activities in Laos revealed that B-52s were used to systematically bomb targets within Laos and Cambodia.

Operational use

The bombers were first used in Southeast Asia on June 18, 1965. Flying out of Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, twenty-seven aircraft dropped 750 pounds (340 kg) and 1,000 pounds (450 kg) bombs on a Viet Cong stronghold.[2] During this mission two B-52Fs were lost in a mid-air collision; another was lost when it was unable to conduct air refueling.

Missions were commonly flown in three-plane formations known as "cells". Releasing their bombs from high in the stratosphere, the B-52s could neither be seen or heard from the ground. B-52s were instrumental in wiping out enemy concentrations besieging Khe Sanh in 1968,[2] and in 1972 at An Loc and Kontum.

Bombs from B-52 Arc Light strike exploding
Bombs from B-52 Arc Light strike exploding

Arc Light was re-activated at Andersen on February 8, 1972 when President Richard Nixon resumed bombing of North Vietnam in an effort to move peace talks along. Over 15,000 men were sent to Andersen on temporary duty over the next 90 days. With limited barracks and other facilities tents were set up behind for use by men working 80-hour weeks.

Arc Light missions continued until the cessation of hostilities by all U.S. forces on August 15, 1973. Between June 1965 and August 1973, 126,615 B-52D/F/G sorties were flown over Southeast Asia. During those operations, the U.S. Air Force lost 31 B-52s, 18 from hostile fire over North Vietnam and 13 from operational causes.

The typical full bomb loads were:

  • B-52F: 36 500-lb. and 750-lb. bombs in a mixed load, or 51 500-lb. bombs, 27 in the bomb bay and 24 on underwing pylons.
  • B-52D: 108 500-lb. bombs, or a mixed load of 64 500-lb. bombs in the bomb bay and 24 750-lb. bombs on underwing pylons.
  • B-52G: 27 bombs, all in the bomb bay, no external bombs were carried.


Communication leaks undermined the effectiveness of the campaign. According to Stephen Budiansky, "Despite NSA's occasional success in tightening up particularly leaky communication practices, the problems continued throughout the war. Strategic Air Command...was by far the worst offender, giving the North Vietnamese as much as eight hours' warning and often revealing exact launch times and likely targets."[3]

Combat Skyspot Memorial

Nineteen technicians of the 1st Combat Evaluation Group (1CEVG) were lost in ground combat.[4] On September 21, 2010, President Barack Obama presented the Medal of Honor to the sons of Chief Master Sergeant Richard L. Etchberger for his actions in the battle of Lima Site 85. A memorial to all 1CEVG technicians is located directly behind the Arc Light memorial.[5]


  1. ^ Bowman, John S. (1985). The Vietnam War: an Almanac. New York: World Almanac Publications. p. 118. ISBN 0911818855.
  2. ^ a b c Operation ArcLight from The Air Force Historical Studies Office (AFHSO). Archived November 9, 2005, at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Budiansky, Stephen (2016). Code Warriors. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 262–264. ISBN 9780385352666.
  4. ^ 1CEVG member. "Combat SkySpot". unit history. Tripod. Archived from the original on 1 November 2010. Retrieved 26 July 2011.
  5. ^ member. "The COMBAT SKYSPOT memorial at Andersen AFB Guam, September, 1999". unit history. limasite85.us. Retrieved 23 Sep 2010. The memorial consists of an AN/MSQ-77 (AN/TSQ-81) parabolic antenna poised at 45 degrees elevation…situated directly behind the ARC LIGHT Memorial, a B52D Stratofortress…. The aircraft and the radar are facing the Vietnam theater, in solemn tribute to the men who flew the weapons and the men who directed them over targets of opportunity.
1968 Kadena Air Base B-52 crash

On November 19, 1968, a B-52 crashed at Kadena Air Base, on the island of Okinawa, Japan.

20th Bomb Squadron

Not to be confused with XX Bomber CommandThe 20th Bomb Squadron is a unit of the 2d Operations Group of the United States Air Force located at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. The 20th is equipped with the Boeing B-52H Stratofortress.

Formed in May 1917 as the 20th Aero Squadron, the squadron saw combat in France on the World War I Western Front. It took part in the St. Mihiel offensive and Meuse-Argonne offensive.

After the war, it served with the Army Air Service and Army Air Corps as the 20th Bombardment Squadron During the 1920s and 1930s, the squadron was involved in field service testing of new bomber aircraft, notably the Y1B-17 Flying Fortress.

During World War II the squadron fought in the North African and Italian Campaigns. It was awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation for its actions during a raid on Steyr, Austria.

It was a part of Strategic Air Command during the Cold War. As a medium bomber squadron it deployed to stand alert at forward bases in "Reflex" operations. After equipping with Boeing B-52 Stratofortresses stood nuclear alert, but during the Viet Nam War the squadron deployed frequently to perform Operation Arc Light bombing missions. Since 1993, the 20th Bomb Squadron has flown the B-52H Stratofortress long-range strategic bomber, which can perform a variety of missions. Today the squadron is engaged in the Global War on Terrorism.

305th Air Refueling Squadron

The 305th Air Refueling Squadron is an inactive United States Air Force unit. It was last assigned to the 305th Air Refueling Wing, stationed at Grissom Air Force Base, Indiana. It was inactivated on 20 August 1993.

42nd Air Division

The 42nd Air Division was a unit of the United States Air Force. It was established as the 42 Bombardment Wing (Dive) on 8 February 1943. The wing first saw combat in September 1943. It was inactivated in 1991.

441st Air Expeditionary Squadron

The 441st Air Expeditionary Squadron is a provisional United States Air Force unit. It was converted to provisional status in May 2011.

Its last assignmentas a regular unit was to the 320th Bombardment Wing at Mather Air Force Base, California, where it was inactivated on 30 September 1989.

The squadron was first activated during World War II as the 441st Bombardment Squadron. It served in combat in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations, where it earned two Distinguished Unit Citations and the French Croix de Guerre with Palm. After V-E Day, the squadron returned to the United States for inactivation.

Although briefly active in the reserve from 1947-1949, the squadron was primarily a Strategic Air Command bomber unit, first with Boeing B-47 Stratojets, then with Boeing B-52 Stratofortresses. Although it did not serve as a unit, the squadron was one of the first to deploy aircraft and aircraew for Operation Arc Light missions in Vietnam. The squadron was inactivated in 1989, in connection with the reduction of strategic forces and the closure of Mather.

57th Air Division

The 57th Air Division is an inactive United States Air Force unit. Its last assignment was with the Fifteenth Air Force, based at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota. It was inactivated on 24 June 1991.

817th Air Division

The 817th Air Division is an inactive United States Air Force organization. Its last assignment was with Strategic Air Command, assigned to Second Air Force, at Pease Air Force Base, New Hampshire, where it was inactivated on 30 June 1971.

The division was activated in early 1956 to provide a single headquarters at Pease in anticipation of the move of the 509th Bombardment Wing to join the 100th Bombardment Wing there. The division also commanded the Pease host unit, the 817th Combat Support Group. As the Boeing B-47 Stratojet began to be phased out in 1965 and 1966, the division became an operational headquarters for dispersed Boeing B-52 Stratofortress wings in the Northeastern United States. In 1970 two of its wings began converting to the General Dynamics FB-111. It was inactivated in 1971 and its mission, personnel and equipment were transferred to the 45th Air Division.

821st Strategic Aerospace Division

The 821st Strategic Aerospace Division is an inactive United States Air Force organization. Its last assignment was with Fifteenth Air Force at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, where it was inactivated on 30 June 1971.

The division was activated as the 821st Air Division at Ellsworth in 1959 to command Boeing B-52 Stratofortress units of Strategic Air Command (SAC), which had been dispersed along the northern border of the United States to reduce their vulnerability to Soviet missile attacks.

In 1962, the 44th Strategic Missile Wing was activated at Ellsworth and assigned to the division along with a second Minuteman missile wing in Montana. At the same time, the B-52 wings formerly assigned to the division were transferred, except for the 28th Bombardment Wing at Ellsworth. The division's units assumed a heightened alert role during the Cuban Missile Crisis, including the first SAC LGM-30A Minuteman I to be put on alert.

The division continued at Ellsworth until June 1971, when SAC organized its divisions on a weapons system basis, and its bombardment and missile wings were reassigned to different divisions.

823d Air Division

The 823d Air Division is an inactive United States Air Force organization. Its last assignment was with Strategic Air Command (SAC)'s Second Air Force at McCoy Air Force Base, Florida, where it was inactivated on 30 June 1971.

The division was first activated in June 1956 at Homestead Air Force Base, Florida to command the two Boeing B-47 Stratojet wings stationed there when the 19th Bombardment Wing moved to Homestead to join the 379th Bombardment Wing. Each wing deployed to Morocco in 1957, and continued to maintain a portion of their aircraft on alert in Morocco in Operation Reflex as long as they flew the B-47.

In 1961, after the 379th Wing at Homestead inactivated and the 19th Wing had begun its conversions to the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, the wing became a multibase division, assuming command of the 2d, 306th and 321st Bombardment Wings at bases in Florida and Georgia. By 1963, these wings had either converted to the B-52 or been reassigned. Other wings stationed in Georgia, North Carolina and Puerto Rico and flying the B-52 were assigned to the division before it was inactivated.

The division's wings maintained half their combat ready aircraft on alert, except when their aircraft or aircrews were deployed. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, all combat ready aircraft were on ground or airborne alert, although the wings in Florida deployed to other stations as their bases were needed for shorter range tactical and air defense aircraft. Beginning in 1965, division B-52s began to deploy to the Pacific, where they flew Operation Arc Light missions, while its tankers supported Arc Light and tactical aircraft as part of the Young Tiger Task Force.

The division moved to McCoy Air Force Base in July 1968, when command of Homestead was transferred from SAC to Tactical Air Command. It continued to maintain aircraft on alert and deployed aircraft to Southeast Asia until June 1971, when it was inactivated and replaced by the 42d Air Division, which took over its resources and dispersed wings.

900th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron

The 900th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron is a provisional United States Air Force unit. It was last known to be assigned to the 398th Air Expeditionary Group at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey.

The squadron was first activated during World War II as the 600th Bombardment Squadron. The squadron saw combat in the European Theater of Operations with Eighth Air Force and returned to the United States, where it was inactivated in the fall of 1945.

The squadron was activated again under Strategic Air Command in 1962 as the 900th Air Refueling Squadron. It maintained aircraft on alert at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas and deployed aircraft and crews to support Operation Arc Light and Operation Young Tiger in Southeast Asia. It was inactivated in 1966.

In 1985, the two squadrons were consolidated, but remained inactive until activated as the 900th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron.

902nd Air Refueling Squadron

The 902d Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron is an inactive United States Air Force unit. It was last assigned to the 70th Bombardment Wing at Clinton-Sherman Air Force Base, Oklahoma, where it was inactivated on 31 December 1969.

The squadron's first predecessor was the 602d Bombardment Squadron. The unit served for a time as a training unit before deploying to the European Theater of Operations, where it saw combat during World War II as an element of Eighth Air Force. The squadron participated in the strategic bombing campaign against Germany before returning to the United States in 1945, where it was inactivated.

The 902d Air Refueling Squadron served with Strategic Air Command (SAC) at Clinton-Sherman starting in 1958. It maintained an alert status to refuel SAC bombers and deployed aircraft and aircrews to support Operation Chrome Dome and to Southeast Asia to support Operation Arc Light and participated in the Young Tiger Task Force supporting tactical aircraft in Southeast Asia until it was inactivated.

In 1985 the 602d Bombardment Squadron and the 902d Air Refueling Squadron were consolidated into a single unit. The consolidated unit was converted to provisional status in February 2001 as the 902d Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron.

903d Air Refueling Squadron

The 903d Air Refueling Squadron is an inactive United States Air Force unit. It was last assigned to the 100th Bombardment Wing, stationed at Beale Air Force Base, California. For much of its existence, the squadron focused on refueling SR-71 Blackbird aircraft, which were stationed at Beale after 1965. It was inactivated on 30 September 1976.

Andersen Air Force Base

Andersen Air Force Base (Andersen AFB, AAFB) (IATA: UAM, ICAO: PGUA, FAA LID: UAM) is a United States Air Force base located approximately 4 miles (6.4 km) northeast of Yigo near Agafo Gumas in the United States territory of Guam. Along with Naval Base Guam, Andersen AFB was placed under the command of Joint Region Marianas on 1 October 2009. The two bases are about 30 miles apart at opposite ends of the island. Administration offices for Joint Region Marianas are about half-way in between, at Nimitz Hill.The host unit at Andersen AFB is the 36th Wing (36 WG), assigned to the Pacific Air Forces Eleventh Air Force. A non-flying wing, the 36 WG's mission is to provide support to deployed air and space forces of USAF and foreign air forces to Andersen, and to support tenant units assigned to the base.

Andersen AFB was established in 1944 as North Field and is named for Brigadier General James Roy Andersen (1904–1945). The 36th Wing Commander is Brig. Gen. Gentry W. Boswell. The Vice Wing Commander is Colonel Matthew J. Nicholson and the Command Chief Master Sergeant is Chief Master Sergeant Gary R. Szekely.The most important U.S. air base west of Hawaii, Andersen is the only one in the Western Pacific that can permanently base U.S. heavy strategic bombers (one of the four Air Force Bomber Forward Operating Locations), including B-1B, B-2, and B-52 bombers. Andersen is one of two critical bases in the Asia-Pacific region. The other location is Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. Guam's almost unrestricted airspace and the close proximity of the Farallon de Medinilla Island, a naval bombing range 184 miles (296 km) north, makes this an ideal training environment.

Combat Skyspot

Combat Skyspot was the ground-directed bombing (GDB) operation of the Vietnam War by the United States Air Force using Bomb Directing Centrals and by the United States Marine Corps using Course Directing Centrals ("MSQ-77 and TPQ-10 ground radars"). Combat Skyspot's command guidance of B-52s and tactical fighters and bombers—"chiefly flown by F-100's"—at night and poor weather was used for aerial bombing of strategic, close air support, interdiction, and other targets. Using a combination radar/computer/communications system ("Q" system) at operating location in Southeast Asia, a typical bombing mission (e.g., during Operation Arc Light with a "cell" of 3 Boeing B-52 Stratofortresses) had an air command post turn over control of the mission to the radar station, and the station provided bomb run corrections and designated when to release bombs.Planning of Vietnam GDB missions included providing coordinates with 10 m (11 yd) accuracy to the radar sites, handoff of the bomber from air controllers (e.g., a DASC) to the site, tracking the aircraft by radiating the bomber (e.g., activating the 400 Watt Motorola SST-181 X Band Beacon Transponder), and radioing of technical data from the aircrew to the radar site such as the airspeed/heading for the central to estimate wind speed on the bomb(s). With the bomber near a designated "Initial Point" the GDB site would begin a radar track (Bomb Directing Centrals would calculate a computer track and solve the "bomb problem" for the aircraft position.)

For B-52 missions the site personnel verbally transmitted guidance commands to the aircraft crew by radio (lead aircraft for multi-ship formations) to adjust the flight path toward an eventual release point for the actual bomb(s). Site personnel verbally directed release of the ordnance from the aircraft by voice countdown. This was a manual process requiring training, practice and adherence to procedure. Both the site and aircrew were authorized to "withhold" release at any point if doubt arose. All communications were tape recorded by the aircrew for post strike debriefing.


The GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB , commonly known as "Mother of All Bombs") is a large-yield bomb, developed for the United States military by Albert L. Weimorts, Jr. of the Air Force Research Laboratory. At the time of development, it was said to be the most powerful non-nuclear weapon in the American arsenal. The bomb is designed to be delivered by a C-130 Hercules, primarily the MC-130E Combat Talon I or MC-130H Combat Talon II variants.

The MOAB was first dropped in combat in the 13 April 2017 airstrike against an Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province (ISIS) tunnel complex in Achin District, Afghanistan.

List of United States Air Force air divisions

List of United States Air Force air divisions is a comprehensive and consolidated list of USAF Air Divisions.

List of United States servicemembers and civilians missing in action during the Vietnam War (1961–65)

This article is a list of US MIAs of the Vietnam War in the period 1961–1965. In 1973, the United States listed 2,646 Americans as unaccounted for from the entire Vietnam War. By August 2017, 1604 Americans remained unaccounted for, of which 1026 were classified as further pursuit, 488 as no further pursuit and 90 as deferred.

Operation Tiger Hound

Operation Tiger Hound was a covert U.S. 2nd Air Division, later Seventh Air Force and U.S. Navy Task Force 77 aerial interdiction campaign conducted in southeastern Laos from 5 December 1965 till 11 November 1968, during the Vietnam War. The purpose of the operation was to interdict the flow of People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) supplies on the Ho Chi Minh Trail (the Truong Son Strategic Supply Route to the North Vietnamese) from the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), through southeastern Laos, and into the northern provinces of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). The missions were originally controlled by the 2d Air Division until that headquarters was superseded by the Seventh Air Force on 1 April 1966.

The geographic boundary of the operation was carved from the area of Laos already under bombardment under Operation Steel Tiger. This was done at the behest of the American commander in South Vietnam, General William C. Westmoreland, who saw the area of Laos that bordered the five northernmost provinces of South Vietnam as an extension of his area of operations. The U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed. Unlike Operation Barrel Roll and Steel Tiger, however, the bombing in the new area would be conducted by aircraft of the Republic of Vietnam Air Force and by U.S. Air Force units based in South Vietnam (aircraft participating in Barrel Roll and Steel Tiger were generally based in Thailand).

By the end of 1968 and the absorption of Tiger Hound operations by Operation Commando Hunt, 103,148 tactical air sorties had been flown over Laos. These missions were supplemented by 1,718 B-52 Stratofortress sorties under Operation Arc Light. During the same time period, 132 U.S. aircraft or helicopters were shot down over Laos.

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.