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CHAPTER 1.INTRODUCTION………………………………………………….2




The Political and Military Leadership………………….3

Background To Air Power Decision…………………….3


CHAPTER 3. STRATEGY ANALYSIS………………………………………….6

What Is It About…………………………………………..6

National Military Strategy vs. Political Objectives……..6

The Limitations of Military Power………………………7

The Alternatives to be considered………………………..8

The Opinions of the public and the government………….9

Lessons Learned from Previous Campaigns…………….10




First Phase (December 18,1972- December 20,1972)…….13

Interim Phase(December 21,1972- December 25,1972)…..13
Final Phase (December 26, 1972-December 29,1972)……..14





Linebacker ii bombing campain in vietnam



The Vietnam War was a conflict in which communist forces from the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV or North Vietnam) and the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam, also known as the Vi?t C?ng (or VC) fought against anti-communist forces from the Republic of Vietnam (RVN or South Vietnam) and its allies — most notably the United States — in an effort to unify Vietnam into a single independent state.The United States, in particular, deployed large numbers of personnel to South Vietnam. US military advisors were involved in Vietnam from 1950, when they began to assist French colonial forces. In Operation LINEBACKER II began action on December 18, 1972, 3,000 sorties, 11 days, and 40,000 tons of bombs penetrated the most concentrated air defense of the war. President Richard Nixon had handed complete control of the Vietnam war over to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Thomas Moorer on December 14, 1972 with orders “to win this war”.

Beginning with a brief review of the events leading to what led to the Vietnam conflict, We also discuss how the coalition leadership developed and chose linebacker II using the six campaign analysis questions. A synopsis of the campaign execution follows with emphasis on the results achieved with the overall strategy. Finally a summary of the explanation for adopting linebacker II also describing specific doctrinal implications from this campaign to future stategists.




Vietnam is an ancient country with a more-than- 2,000-year history.  From 111 BC to 939 AD, Vietnam was colonized by China.  In due advantage of China’s weakness in 939 AD, the Vietnamese, won their independence, led by Ngo Quyen,  From the 10th to 18th century, Vietnam expanded southward as far as the Mekong River delta, displacing prior inhabitants and assuming her contemporary dimensions.  In 1802, the Nguyen dynasty couldn’t prevent the French colonial powers from taking over as France did conquer all of Vietnam.  However, the French never were fully able to control the relentless Vietnamese efforts to regain their independence.  Vietnamese Communists came to dominate all nationalist movements and finally regained Vietnam’s independence from France in 1945.  In 1954, the country was divided by the Geneva Conference.  North Vietnam, now a communist state then immediately waged a revolutionary war against South Vietnam, which still struggled to establish her own democratic government.  Eager to win the war, North Vietnam gradually changed the conflict into a conventional battle during the Nixon years.  This change in warfare marked by two full-scale invasions by North Vietnam’s regular forces.


The Political and Military Leadership

President Nixon’s knowledge and experience of Vietnam War played a crucial role in his successful presidential campaign in 1968.  During his presidential campaign, Mr. Nixon promised to deliver a possible plan to end Vietnam War in an honorable fashion for the US.  President Nixon announced in the summer of 1969 to reduce the US ground troops in Vietnam by 25,000 by the year’s end.  To make up for the reduction in US ground troops, President Nixon expanded the air war against North Vietnam

Background To Air Power Decision

Air power doctrines evolved considerably from the end of WW I to the beginning of WW II .On the purpose of war, the view changed from crushing the enemy resistance to the elimination of the enemy economic power by destroying its production facilities. US air leaders adopted the new concept of warfare pioneered by General Douhet and Mitchell.  By 1941, the Air Corps theorized the air offense would attack upon the key targets in the enemy national structure.  Air doctrine emphasized heavily the strategic offense role against the enemy air power and its national structure.  Due to the technical advancement in making large planes, the bombardment doctrine also evolved steadily. WW II writings showed that US employed strategic air power played an important role in the execution of Allied strategy in the war.   The Combined Bomber Offensive helped create conditions favorable for the cross-channel invasion.  The strategic bombing also affected the surrender of both Germany and Japan.  These achievements would probably credit to the Air War Plans Division-1 (AWPD-1) document completed in August 1941.  The air mission derived from the AWPD-1 required a sustained air offensive against German military power and its allies.  Specifically, the air mission required the air force “to support a final offensive, if it becomes necessary to invade the continent” and “to conduct effectively air operations in connection with Hemisphere Defense and a strategic defensive in the Far East”.  To support challenging “three lines of air actions” derived from the plan, the planners of AWPD-1 advocated a combination of daylight and precision bombing against principal targets.  The planners believed the escort planes (with range and speed slightly superior to the bombers) were contributory to US air power.  The planners reasoned the principal role of pursuit was defensive.  Bombers alone, they theorized, could achieve the air superiority .  The fortuitous WW II Operation Combined Bomber Offensive helped re-enforce the belief of US military leaders in strategic bombardment.  Many Allied and captured German military leaders thought the Combined Bomber Offensive was the principal responsibility for the destruction of Germany, making the invasion of Europe possible, and greatly reducing casualties in our forces.

In due light to the Vietnam war, due to similarities between the Vietnam war and WW II strategy needs, it was conceived that strategic places like railways, runways, electrical plants, radio posts be destroyed. But trying to meet the demands of USAF own doctrinal beliefs, the goals of the other services, and the desire of the administration to keep political influence over the use of military power, the air force leaders helped prepare the USAF mission in concert with the political objectives.  This political agenda could limit US air power to express its real capabilities.  In Linebackers, the US air power for the first time in Vietnam War was able to exercise their full potential and to concentrate their energies on the sorts of strategic targets that the air power had been designed to destroy.  The US successful destruction of strategic targets combined with Hanoi’s shift to conventional warfare helped prove the doctrinal belief advocated by US military leaders.






What Is It About.

, President Nixon who promised to end Vietnam War in his presidential campaign held firmly the American commitment to South Vietnam through his continued escalation and massive buildup.  But when heavily involved in the conflict, President Nixon, was faced with considerable domestic and international pressure from the public, recognized that the war must be ended and signaled to Soviet and China that the US was in search for a political settlement in Vietnam. He thus reset the objective of his administration through the paradoxical rhetoric:  “The true objective of this war is peace.”  His plan to end the war consisted of a gradual withdrawal of US ground troops and escalation of air coercion, while simultaneously strengthening South Vietnam to defend her own territory.  Prior to Linebackers, President Nixon’s political objectives were revealing.He believed any sign of US softness in dealing with North Vietnam might invite communist block to escalate their support to North Vietnam.  At the same time, President Nixon tried to normalize relationship with Soviet and China.  President Nixon also would like to maintain his commitment to South Vietnam.  Therefore, he decided to use his military strength in a clear and decisive manner.

National Military Strategy vs. Political Objectives

Initially, Vietnam was not a main concern of the US politics.  Domestic issues and the containment of Soviet and China were the US major preoccupation.  Thus, as many experts observed, US political objectives in Vietnam were not clear and consistent in most of the war.  In the Johnson administration, US policy makers were not able to connect the political ends to its military means for a desired outcome.  President Johnson recognized that crushing the fighting will of North Vietnam was vital to end the war.  But his limited use of air power through Rolling Thunder did not significantly damage Hanoi’s war making capabilities.  Learning from the past and his own, President Nixon successfully linked the political with military objectives to achieve the administration goals.  He stunned North Vietnam with his decision to use devastating air power in 1972 through two consecutive campaigns.  His political goals in Linebacker I and II were to convince North Vietnam to give up its will and force it to seriously continue the Paris negotiations to reach a cease-fire agreement.  This 1972 military objective was tailored from the 1970 military objective, in which the main goal was “to eject enemy forces from a specific area to gain time for Vietnamization.”  This clarity helped the air leaders to define the specific and attainable objectives for Linebacker I and II air campaigns.

The Limitations of Military Power

When comparing the will and resources to wage a war between the US, North Vietnam, and their allies, one may find that the scale tilted toward North Vietnam.  Linebacker I destroyed important targets that crippled North Vietnam’s Easter Offensive, but, within a few months, North Vietnam was able to restock their war materiel and rebuild lines of supplies from Soviet and China sources to the battlefields in South Vietnam.  The strength of North Vietnam’s air defense system during Linebacker II proved that Soviet and China continued their military and advisory aids to North Vietnam regardless of US diplomatic efforts.  Secondly, Hanoi and the National Liberation Front determined that they were willing to sacrifice any cost to achieve their territorial ambition.  Their losses in lives and materials as shown during the Nixon administration proved this determination.  On the US side, President Nixon remarked in many of his announcements that the Congress could vote him out of the war at any moment.  The American public support for the war in Vietnam reached an all-time low at the end of Nixon administration.  The US political objectives in Vietnam were constantly changing and often not connected with the military objectives.  In addition, the international community criticized the US military coercive method.  These factors undermined the exercising power of US military machine in Vietnam.  From the history of air power and his own experience in air coercion, President Nixon learned that air power could not do the job alone and air coercion was extremely hard to use.  The conventional coercion could be attained only if the leaders were fully prepared to impose their demands by a decisive force.

The Alternatives to be considered

With an enormous pressure imposed by the US Congress and American public wanted to find a solution for Vietnam problem, President Nixon faced a challenge that carried very few alternatives.  He knew that only a peace agreement from all parties could gracefully end the war for the US.  Therefore, when North Vietnam intentionally lengthened the talk and South Vietnam questioned the US commitment, President Nixon left with no alternative but to resume the powerful air coercion.  He made absolutely clear with the US military leaders that he aimed to inflict the maximum damage to North Vietnam.  To keep his options open, President Nixon communicated to Hanoi that he would stop the bombing if they would seriously negotiate again for the settlement.  Hanoi consented to talk after 11 days of devastating bombing and temporarily withheld their long-term goal.


The Opinions of the public and the government.

The American antiwar movement emerged in 1965 when President Johnson increased American involvement in Vietnam.  In the political circle, the war also generated intense debate on American interests in Vietnam.  Some Republicans showed disbelief in the policy of limited war and favored a total effort to defeat communist expansionism in Vietnam.  Some criticized that politicians prevented the military from winning the war.  Some Democrats questioned the American involvement in Vietnam and believed the war was in a stalemate.  Most Americans supported the idea of seeking a solution to end the war with North Vietnam and quickly using a decisive military strategy in combination with negotiations.  By 1968, antiwar sentiment even affected electoral politics.  President Johnson decided to withdraw from the presidential race.  Mr Nixon with the promise to end the war defeated the democratic and third party opponents.

The public support for President Nixon wore thinner every year since 1969 with the administration inched toward the “end of war” promise.  From the revival of My-Lai incident and NY Times’ release of “Pentagon Papers”, many Americans were now convinced that Kennedy and consequently Johnson administration misled them about the intervention in Vietnam.  Some started question the political leaders’ decision to send American troops to Vietnam or even the morality of the war.  The public approval of President Nixon’s policy toward Vietnam dropped to a low of 31 percent (29).  President Nixon learned that he had to reach a peace agreement with North Vietnam in order to win the re-election.  North Vietnam detected the vulnerability of the administration during the election year.  They timely launched the Easter Offensive.  With the home front’s disillusionment with the war and North Vietnam’s strong belief in its victory, President Nixon responded in kind with Operation Linebacker I in April 1972.  Linebacker II followed in December 1972 to complete the political objectives.

Lessons Learned from Previous Campaigns

What made the US leaders in 1972 believe that air power could achieve the established political objectives?  This belief perhaps was a legacy of the experience derived from President Johnson’s Rolling Thunder and Nixon’s own Freedom Train and Linebacker I campaigns.  The concept of “controlled” and “gradual” escalation which characterized the use of air power in Vietnam were applied in President Johnson’s Rolling Thunder and Nixon’s Freedom Train air campaigns.  In most of his presidency, President Johnson limited air power in both duration and scale.  He and his White House staff strictly controlled the plan and execution of Rolling Thunder.  Rolling Thunder was finally terminated in October 1968 and regarded by many authorities as a failure.  From an air power doctrine, this failure was inevitable.  The campaign was not a concentrated effort and did not aim to destroy the strategic targets that would crumble Hanoi’s will and capability to wage war.

Freedom Train campaign was initiated in April 1972 with an effort to corrupt North Vietnam endurance.  As similar to the early stage of Rolling Thunder, the campaign aimed to create a recognizable pattern of bombing escalation.  Though Freedom Train was a massive deployment of air power, its strategy was superficial effort to manipulate civilian morale. The Nixon administration learned the flaw of their Freedom Train strategy and quickly adopted the interdiction strategy for the successful Linebacker I.  Linebacker I’s military objectives were to destroy and prevent the flow of war material already in Vietnam and interdict the flow of troops and materiel from North to South Vietnam .  Linebacker I aimed to strike a broad set of major military targets in North and South Vietnam and mined Haiphong ports.   In combination with South Vietnamese forces, Linebacker I helped thwart the Easter Offensive and brought North Vietnam’s delegate back to Paris





















Operation Linebacker II operations started on 18 December 1972 and was directed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) to continue until further notice. The primary objective of the bombing operation would be to force the North Vietnamese government to enter into purposeful negotiations concerning a cease-fire agreement. The operation employed air power to its maximum capabilities in an attempt to destroy all major target complexes such as radio stations, railroads, power plants, and airfields located in the Hanoi and Haiphong areas. Unlike previous bombing campaigns, Linebacker II provided the Air Force and U.S. Naval forces with specific objectives and removed many of the restrictions that had previously caused frustration within the Pentagon. Operation Linebacker II was a resumption of the Linebacker bombings conducted from May to October, except that the emphasis would be on massive attacks by B-52s rather than fighter aircraft.

A large force of B-52s each carrying 27 or 42 750-pound bombs (depending on their configuration) unleashed 11 nights of air strikes against Hanoi and Haiphong with devastating results. The North Vietnamese fired most of their SAM missile inventory in defense, damaging 10 B-52s and shooting down 15. Privately, the administration knew that politically the bombings could not continue indefinitely; the operation was intended to convince South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu that the United States was willing to exert maximum pressure on Hanoi to defend the South.

The attack was placed in three phases

First Phase (December 18,1972- December 20,1972)
The first three missions were flown as planned by SAC on three consecutive nights beginning December 18. On the first night 129 bombers were launched, 87 of them from Guam, and 3 were lost, two B-52G’s from Anderson and a B-52D from U-Tapao, all out of the first wave. 220 SAMs had been fired at the attackers, and only one of the three downed crews could be rescued. On the second night 93 sorties were flown, and although 185 SAMs were fired and a number of bombers damaged, none were lost.

The combination of repetitive tactics, degraded EW systems, and limited jamming capability led to the loss of 6 aircraft on the third night, December 20, when 99 B-52s were sent. 2 B-52Gs and a B-52D were lost by both the first and third waves of the mission, with over 300 SAMs fired. Two crews were rescued. The wing commander at U-Tapao, Thailand sent a message to SAC headquarters sharply criticizing SAC’s tactics and control of the operation. SAC turned planning over to Eighth Air Force headquarters on Guam. General Johnson, Eighth Air Force, Guam, then ensured that the U-Tapao commander, Brigider General Glenn R. Sullivan, the hero of the operaton who saved the lives of the of AF pilots of the operation with his moral courage, was not mentioned in the official history of the operation.

Interim Phase(December 21,1972- December 25,1972)
Recognizing that the B-52Gs were vulnerable, SAC scaled down the next four missions to just 30 bombers each, using only D-models, while the overall tactics were reconsidered and additional jammers were installed in the B-52Gs. An immediate change in tactics was made by reducing separation between cells and the time between each reaching the target. Two bombers were shot down the first night of the truncated raids, but subsequent missions saw neither losses nor battle damage, followed by a 36-hour pause in the bombing over the Christmas holiday. 124 Arc light missions were also flown against NVA forces in South Vietnam. 22 crews were transferred from Guam to Thailand to bolster U-Tapao’s crew strength.

Final Phase (December 26, 1972-December 29,1972)
On December 26, 1972, the revised tactics came into play: instead of multiple waves, all bombers would be in and out of the Hanoi area within 20 minutes, would approach Hanoi from multiple directions and at different altitudes, and would exit by varying routes. The steep post-target turns were eliminated. 10 targets in both the Hanoi and Haiphong areas were attacked with the bombers approaching in seven bomber streams, four of them off the Gulf of Tonkin. 78 bombers took off from Anderson in one time block, the largest single combat launch in SAC history, while 42 came from Thailand. In addition to the changes in tactics, the numbers of supporting fighters was also increased to more than 100 per mission, providing chaff drops, escort fighters, Wild Weasel SAM suppression, and Electronic countermeasures support.

The North Vietnamese air defense system, though still capable, was overwhelmed by the number of aircraft to track in a short period of time and a dense blanket of chaff that was laid down by Seventh Air Force fighter-bombers. Almost 950 SAMs had been fired previously, and the strain on the remaining inventory showed as only 68 were fired against the mission. Two of U-Tapao’s B-52s turned back for mechanical reasons but their cells continued the mission. As a consequence a B-52 in each cell was lost, including one that crashlanded at base, killing most of its crew.

On the next night 60 bombers flew the mission, with some attacking SAM sites. One B-52 was destroyed while attacking one of the sites, and a second damaged so heavily that its crew ejected over Laos, where they were rescued. Two further nights of missions were flown, each by 60 bombers, and were virtually unopposed.
















With the ability to understand the national interests, marry the political and military objectives, capture the strengths and limits of air power and US home front, learn lessons from past experience, and apply prevailing doctrine, the US leadership formulated the most effective strategy for Linebacker II which successfully achieved the combined political and military objectives.  The US leadership decided to adopt Operation Linebacker II for several reasons.  After failing to win the war through escalation and coercion, President Nixon was eager to settle Vietnam War using diplomatic means.  He believed that ending the war this way would preserve the “peace with honor” for all involved parties.  President Nixon’s decision also reflected the will of the American public and US Congress who were more impatient about the Vietnam situation.  In addition to sending an emergency aid to South Vietnam, President Nixon used the devastating air campaign to assure South Vietnam for their cooperation in the negotiation.  From the success of Linebacker I that stalled Hanoi’s Easter Offensive and crumbled its war-making capability, President Nixon learned that the strategic air power like Linebacker I could force Hanoi back to the negotiation table by inflicting the maximum loss to its war infrastructure.  With these reasons, President Nixon decisively ordered Linebacker II.

The US air campaigns in Indochina, particular the Linebackers, generated a high number of studies due to their influence in future air doctrines.  For doctrinal implications, Operation Linebacker II offered many interesting lessons.  One of the most intriguing lessons was that the air coercion might work on an enemy who adopted a conventional warfare vulnerable to air power.  Since adopting the conventional warfare during Linebacker campaigns, Hanoi’s capabilities were severely weakened due to the destruction of their war making materiel and infrastructure.  Secondly, Air coercion might not be effective on some enemies who were willing to bear tremendous costs to achieve its ultimate goals.  Conventional harms inflicted on the morale of Hanoi’s population, who was forced to bear any cost for their government strategic goal, did not make a significant difference during President Johnson administration .

Comparing Nixon’s Linebackers and Johnson’s Rolling Thunder, one can learn that the outcome of an military campaign depended on the leaders’ abilities to link the political with military objectives and capabilities to correlate one’s military objectives with an enemy’s strategic goals .  In addition, the success of Linebackers surely came from the US leaders’ abilities to connect the divergent objectives and formulate the clear and concise objectives for the operations. The effective use of air power required a precise and realistic understanding of its strengths and weaknesses from the leaders who called it into action.  Learning from Johnson’s Rolling Thunder, President Nixon gave the US air warriors the mission and conditions that they were well prepared to perform .

On the technological side, the usage of strategic bombers, B-52s, in Linebacker II provided some invaluable lessons to the US designers and practitioners.  Linebacker II taught the USAF planners about the effectiveness of the manned bomber force in case of a nuclear war.  Secondly, the application of B-52s in Linebacker II reassured and validated the fundamental design features for future strategic bombers, such as the B-1.  Finally, unfriendly weather experienced by Linebacker II campaign allowed only limited usage of guided munitions.  This experience suggested the USAF planner to design and use a mix of guided and unguided munitions in future campaigns in case of adverse weather.


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