Operation Arc Light


Operation Arc Light
Part of Second Indochina War (VietnamLaosCambodia), Combat Skyspot
Operation Arc Light Memorial.jpg
Arc Light Memorial on Andersen AFB, Guam
TypeClose air support operations
Commanded byUnited States Air Force; National Security Agency; Richard Nixon
TargetVietnam, Laos, Cambodia
Executed byUS Air Force, Strategic Air Command, Combat Skyspot; National Security Agency
Casualties34 B-52F Stratofortresses lost

During Operation Arc Light (sometimes Arclight) from 1965 to 1973, the United States deployed B-52F Stratofortresses from bases in the US to Guam to provide battlefield air interdiction, including strikes at enemy bases, supply routes and behind the lines troop concentrations, as well as occasionally providing close air support directly 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.[citation needed]

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 Big Belly-modified B-52Ds.[citation needed] Later in the Vietnam War, the B-52G was also deployed with the B-52D.[2]

B-52Ds were also used from Kadena AFB, Okinawa, Japan from the 376th Strategic Wing. The 96th Strategic Air Wing from Dyess AFB deployed for Arc Light in June, 1970 for 180 days. Upon completion of the Arc Light deployment the 376th SW B-52Ds either returned to the continental United States or were sent to U-Tapao. The 376th SW then ceased bomber operations, but continued flying Young Tiger tanker missions.

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 from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, 27 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 on June 19, 1965, while circling over the South Pacific Ocean, approximately 250 miles offshore at the point of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), unable to conduct mid-air refueling in awaiting arrival of KC-135A tankers for pre-strike air refueling.

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

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 for use by men working 80-hour weeks.[citation needed]

Arc Light missions continued until the cessation of hostilities by US 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 US Air Force lost 31 B-52s, 18 from hostile fire over North Vietnam and 13 from operational causes.[citation needed]

The typical full bomb loads were:[citation needed]

  • 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 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. 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.