Vietnam People’s Air Force

Không Quân Nhân Dân Việt Nam

Vietnamese Air force or Không Quân Nhân Dân Việt Nam is the air force of Vietnam. It was the successor the North Vietnamese Air Force and absorbed the Republic of Vietnam Air Force following the re-unification of Vietnam in 1975.

General History

Beginning-1964 (North Vietnam)

The first Vietnamese aircraft were two trainers, a De Havilland Tiger Moth and a Morane-Saulnier that were initially owned privately by the emperor Bao Dai. In 1945, Bao Dai gave the aircraft to the Vietnamese government. On March 9, 1949, Ho Chi Minh ordered the organization of the Air Force Research Committee (Ban Nghiên Cứu Không Quân). The first task was to send pilots and mechanics to the USSR and China for training. The first Vietnamese service aircraft flight was made by the Tiger Moth on August 15, 1949.

1956 saw the first organized pilot training schools in North Vietnam. The first unit of the Air Force (Không Quân Nhân Dân Việt Nam) was the No. 919 Transport Regiment (Trung Đoàn Không Quân Vận Tải 919), organized on May 1, 1959, followed by the No. 910 Training Regiment (Trung Đoàn Không Quân 910) with Yak-18 trainers. In 1963 the Air Force and Air Defense Force were merged into the Air and Air Defence Force (Phòng Không – Không Quân Nhân Dân Việt Nam).

1964-1974 (North Vietnam)

The first North Vietnamese combat plane was a T-28 Trojan trainer , captured from the Laotian Air Force by its pilot, and utilized from early 1964 by the Vietnamese as a night fighter (shooting down the first US aircraft C-123 on February 15, 1964).

North Vietnam received its first fighter aircraft, the MiG-17 in February 1964, but they first arrived at air bases in China, where the pilots were trained. On February 3, 1964, the first fighter regiment No. 921 “Sao Do” was formed (Trung Đoàn Không Quân Tiêm Kích 921), and on August 6 it arrived from China in Vietnam with its MiG-17s. On September 7, the No. 923 fighter regiment “Yen The”, led by Lt. Binh Bui, was formed. In May 1965, No. 929 bomber squadron (Đại Đội Không Quân Ném Bom 929) was formed with Il-28 twin engine bombers. Only one Il-28 sortie was flown in 1972 against Laotian forces. Many were destroyed in US air strikes.

The North Vietnamese fighters first air-to-air engagement with U.S. aircraft was on April 3, 1965. The Vietnamese claimed the shooting down of one US Navy F-8 Crusader, which was not confirmed by US sources although they acknowledged having encountered MiGs. Therefore, April 3 became the Vietnamese Air Force Day. On April 4 the VPAF scored the first confirmed victories acknowledged by both sides. The US fighter community was shocked when relatively slower, post-Korean era MiG-17 fighters shot down advanced F-105 Thunderchief fighters-bombers attacking the Thanh Hoa Bridge. The two F-105s lost were carrying a heavy bomb load and did not react to their attackers.

In 1965, the Vietnamese were supplied supersonic MiG-21s by the USSR that were used in high speed GCI controlled hit and run intercepts against USAF strike groups. The MiG-21 tactics became so effective by late 1966 that an operation was mounted to especially deal with the MiG-21 threat. Led by Colonel Robin Olds on January 7, 1967, Operation Bolo lured MiG-21s into the air thinking they were intercepting a F-105 strike group, but instead found a sky full of missile armed F-4 Phantom II Phantoms eager for aerial combat. The result was loss of almost half the inventory of MiG-21 interceptors and no US losses. The VPAF stood down for training after such a reversal in fortune.

Meanwhile, disappointing performances of US Air Force and US Navy pilots in supposedly advanced aircraft with a legacy of success from WWII and the Korean War resulted in a total revamping of air combat training in 1968 for the Navy, and the design of an entire generation of aircraft with design optimized for daylight dog fighting against the range of old and emerging MiG fighters. US forces could not completely track low flying MiGs on radar, and were hampered by restrictive Rules of Engagement (ROE) were required to visually acquire their targets, nullifying much of the advantage of radar guided missiles, which often proved unreliable even when used.

There were also other many political restrictions placed on when Vietnamese fighters could be attacked. The successful exchange ratio enjoyed by Americans over the North Korean MiGs was not to be repeated over Vietnam except for notable success by the U.S. Navy after the impact of TOPGUN training bore fruit in 1972. Overall, by the end of the War, the exchange ratio had reverted back in favor of the U.S. Forces.

The VPAF was primarily defensive and did not challenge US air supremacy over South Vietnam or their counterparts, the VNAF of the Saigon government, or over US Navy carriers stationed off the coast. Two Mig-17s that ventured over water were shot down with Surface-to-Air Missiles fired by U.S. Navy ships.


USS Higbee DD 806 was attacked by Mig-17s

The VPAF did not engage most US sorties. Most US aircraft were destroyed by SA-2 Surface to Air Missiles or Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA). Typically, most VPAF MiGs would not engage unless it was to their advantage. Tactics were used like the ones in Operation Bolo to lure the VPAF to fight.

On March 24, 1967 regiments Nos. 921, 923 and 919 were incorporated into the 371st Air Division “Thang Long” (Sư Đoàn Không Quân 371). In 1969, No. 925 fighter regiment was formed, flying the Shenyang J-6 (the Chinese-built MiG-19). In 1972 the fourth fighter regiment, No. 927 “Lam Son”, was formed.

There were several times during the war that the U.S. bombing restrictions of North Vietnamese Airfields was lifted. Many VPAF aircraft were destroyed on the ground and many fled to sanctuary in China during these times. During Operation Linebacker I & II in 1972 the VPAF fighter force was virtually destroyed and made ineffective by heavy US bombing. The North Vietnamese exhausted their supply of Surface to Air Missiles trying to down the high flying B-52 raids over the North. The North Vietnamese Air Defense Network was degraded by Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) and other Suppression of Enemy Defenses (SEAD)measures. However the sheer volume of missiles claimed many slow, older B-52s.

After the negotiated end of American involvement in early 1973, the No. 919 transport corps (Lữ Đoàn Không Quân 371), was formed and equipped with aircraft and helicopters in November.

During the Vietnam War, North Vietnam used the MiG-17F, PF (J-5); MiG-19 (J-6), MiG-21F-13, PF, PFM and MF fighters.

1975-present (Reunified Vietnam)

The VPAF did not play much of a role during the Ho Chi Minh Campaign in 1975. The only sorties flown were with five captured VNAF A-37s. SA-2s were transported into South Vietnam to counter possible US military air strikes. US held back air power which had been decisive in 1972, and the VNAF did not have the capability to strike targets in the north.

After the end of the Vietnam War (called the American War in Vietnam) in May 1975, more regiments were formed. No. 935 fighter regiment “Dong Nai” and no. 937 fighter-bomber regiment “Hau Giang” (Trung Đoàn Không Quân Cường Kích 937), followed by no. 918 transport regiment “Hong Ha” (Trung Đoàn Không Quân Vận Tải 918) and no. 917 mixed transport regiment “Dong Thap” were created in July 1975. In September 1975, the four newly created regiments were formed into the 372nd Air Division (Sư Đoàn Không Quân 372). In December 1975, the 370th Air Division “Hai Van” was formed, including among others the 925th fighter regiment.

On May 31, 1977, the Vietnam People’s Air Force (Không Quân Nhân Dân Việt Nam) was separated from the Air Defense Force (Phòng Không Việt Nam).

When Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1979, former VNAF A-37s flew most of the ground support missions. These aircraft were more suited to the role than the MiGs. Former VNAF F-5Es, C-123s, C-130s, and UH-1s were used by the VPAF for many years after the end of the War.

In the years between 1953 and 1991, 700 warplanes, 120 helicopters, and 158 missile complexes have been supplied to Vietnam from the USSR. Even today, three-quarters of Vietnamese weaponry has been made in post-Cold-War Russia. Today the VPAF is in the midst of modernization. It still operates late model Mig-21s, Su-22s, aircraft of the cold war era. However, it has recently been modernizing its air force with models of the Su-27-SK air superiority fighter following closer military ties and an array of arms deals with Russia. So far, Vietnam has ordered and received 12 of these aircraft. In 2004, it also acquired 4 modified variants of the Su-30 MK2, newer models of the Su-27, bringing the total Su-27 aircraft inventory to 15, (1 Su-27 has crashed). The Vietnamese air force has also acquired new advanced air defense systems, including two S-300 PMU1 (NATO designation: SA-20) short-to-high altitude SAM batteries in a deal worth $300 million with Russia





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