This article serves as a continuation of Operation Rolling Thunder, delving into the post-Vietnam developments and the challenges faced by the Wild Weasel community in their relentless pursuit to stay one step ahead of the emerging surface-to-air threat.
Only a few stories resonate with as much audacity and bravery as that of the Wild Weasels. A group of fearless aviators whose sole purpose was to confront the perilous menace of surface-to-air missile (SAM) threats, the Wild Weasels played a crucial role in safeguarding American air power during the Vietnam War and beyond.
The term “Wild Weasel” was coined during the Vietnam conflict to describe a specialized group of aviators and aircraft tasked with the Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD). Their mission was clear but perilous: to confront and neutralize the ever-increasing threat posed by North Vietnamese SAM sites. Operating under the call sign “Weasel,” these courageous pilots and their aircraft became the unyielding guardians of the skies, tirelessly engaging enemy radar and missile sites, clearing the way for U.S. strike aircraft to execute their missions safely.
The Vietnam Challenge
The Wild Weasels faced a formidable challenge as the conflict progressed, grappling with over a hundred operational North Vietnamese SAM sites by August 1966. Armed with the AGM-45 Shrike missile, capable of homing in on enemy radar antennas, they posed a more significant threat than previous weaponry. However, the Shrike suffered from limited range, hampering their ability to combat the SA-2s they sought to neutralize. Nonetheless, tactical innovations gradually enhanced the lethality of the Shrike, but the increasing number of SAM sites necessitated the development of a new weapon.
The AGM-78 Standard Anti-Radiation Missile (ARM)
Enter the AGM-78 Standard Anti-Radiation Missile (ARM), a game-changing development in the Wild Weasels’ arsenal. Equipped with a larger warhead and extended range, the AGM-78 significantly boosted the effectiveness of these brave aviators. Despite this enhancement, their missions remained treacherous, and they endured significant losses—dozens of aircraft and the tragic sacrifice of forty-two aircrew who were either killed, declared missing, or became Prisoners Of War (POWs).