At its inception this monograph was visualized as a brief treatment of "Operations Research Techniques as Applied to the Battlefield in Vietnam." Initially, it was assumed that there was little documented use of these techniques in Vietnam. However, initial research disclosed that there was a fairly common use of the simpler types of such techniques and consequently more material than could be managed usefully. The primary difficulty lay in evaluating second hand the extent to which military judgment on the one hand and analytical techniques on the other contributed to the final result of various studies and operations.

It was therefore decided that this monograph should be narrowed to focus on the use of analysis in combat operations and to concentrate on the use of such techniques in situations with which the authors were personally familiar. The monograph therefore covers primarily the systematic blending of military judgment, data collection, and simple problem-solving techniques as performed in the 9th Infantry Division and II Field Force Vietnam in the period 1968-1970. Considerable success was achieved in improving combat effectiveness fairly rapidly by these means. However, this use of analysis was neither systematic nor sophisticated. A more organized effort might have had a greater payoff.

There is a tendency in the Army to distrust operations research due to some rather unpleasant experiences with its use (or misuse) during the Robert S. McNamara-Dr. Alain C. Enthoven regime. However, one can take little exception to the definition of operations research contained in AR 320-5, Dictionary of United States Army Terms: "The analytical study of military problems, undertaken to provide responsible commanders and staff agencies with a scientific basis for decision on action to improve military operations. Also known as operational research, operations analysis."

Quite simply, operations analysis is an approach to problem solving that makes it possible to use systematic logic and often mathematical techniques to arrive at a decision which will optimize an operation or objective. The key factor in a decision problem is to determine the objective. The task of the decision maker then is




to choose a course of action which optimizes this objective function.

Every decision problem involves one or more inputs which are subject to the control of the decision maker. Any combination of controllable variables is called a course of action. Therefore, the essence of decision making is the selection of the appropriate con-


trollable inputs. As we will discuss later our most important inputs were infantry units and aviation assets. There may often be uncontrollable variables also. This can lead to real problems.

Quite often a problem has conflicting objectives. In Vietnam, almost all decisions had at least these three objectives: (1) to protect our own personnel and material resources, (2) to damage the enemy, and (3) to assist in the pacification of an area. These objectives were almost always in conflict in greater or smaller proportion. Therefore, one had to rely to a great extent on the judgment and skill of commanders.1

Although the element of judgment is crucial, perhaps the most critical of all attributes for decision making is the intellectual toughness to make a decision in a timely fashion. In the Vietnamese environment with its great amount of risk, uncertainty, and conflict, where an improper decision cost human lives, decisions were difficult.

We, like the other combat units, determined our objectives, gathered as best we could the data required, analyzed the data, considered alternatives, and made decisions. These analyses were as detailed as one might expect in a combat environment, but they were not sophisticated. We barely scratched the surface of combat analysis techniques. In this monograph we do not elaborate on the normal military decision making methods which are well understood and were utilized extensively. We stress the extension of these more normal decision making devices by analytical methods. It is our contention that when these analytical methods were properly used in Vietnam they were very helpful.

Dr. Enthoven has stated in his latest book, How Much Is Enough?, that operations research was used very little in Vietnam. He is probably correct if he was referring to systems analysis and cost effectiveness which are normally used to analyze high-level problems. The Vietnamese war was so complex, so varied, and so changeable that these high-level approaches tended to be very difficult to use with any confidence. However, simple, straightforward operations analysis, while not easy to use, posed less of a problem and was used extensively. The Army Combat Operations Vietnam study was a good example. By combining military judgment, data collection, and use of operations research methods, it was able to rationalize a standard infantry battalion organization which saw good service during the latter stages of the Vietnamese


war (see the Four-Rifle Company Conversion, page 18) . The Mechanized and Armored Combat Operations Vietnam study conducted in late 1966, studied armored and mechanized organization, equipment, tactics and techniques and served as a vehicle to update knowledge in these areas. Both of these used operations research (or operations analysis) techniques to a certain extent. Major General George L. Mabry, Jr., the Army Combat Operations Vietnam study chief, stated:

I found that:

a. Analytical methods used during the ARCOV study were very useful up to a point.
b. Results of an analysis could assist one in reaching conclusions and developing alternative courses of action.
c. Results of an analysis could not replace military judgment.

Major General Arthur L. West, Jr., the Mechanized and Armored Combat Operations Vietnam study leader, concluded:

My major point is that military judgment was, at all stages of MACOV, the controlling factor . . . MACOV was structured from the outset to combine military judgment with the techniques of operations research and systems analysis .... In summary, I submit that military judgment, though being the controlling factor, must often times be validated by analytical methods. In the case of MACOV the analytical methodologies utilized were essential for the support of one military judgment against an opposing military judgment.

Perhaps one of the earliest published accounts of Operations Research in Vietnam was the war gaming directed by General William C. Westmoreland and conducted by II Field Force Vietnam under command of Lieutenant General Jonathan D. Seaman. The study was initiated when senior personnel became concerned about the adequacy of the defense of Tan Son Nhut Air Base and other key areas in the spring of 1966. The purpose of the war games was to determine the capability inherent in a maximum effort by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army against U.S. Forces in the late spring and summer of 1966. Actual tactical changes, made as a result of these war games, later paid off in an impressive fashion.

The 25th Infantry Division under Major General Ellis W. Williamson carried on a great amount of operations analysis during the period August 1968 to September 1969, which almost parallels the period of this monograph. The 25th Division also utilized computers to a great extent to study such problems as countermine warfare, target acquisition, and operational planning.

In addition to the analyses conducted by in-country military units and by Department of the Army support agencies excellent


research was also sponsored by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Affairs and the Advanced Research Projects Agency. Some of these studies, such as "A Look at the VC Cadres: Dinh Tuong Province, 1965-1966," were conducted by the Rand Corporation and had a direct and specific application to the 9th Division area of operations in the delta.

The Army Concept Team in Vietnam consistently used the soldier-scientist team approach to solve military problems.

From this small sample of the more prominent studies it can be seen that the use of low level operations analysis was fairly widespread throughout Vietnam. This monograph gives examples of organized critical analysis of operations in a small sector of the Vietnam War-the 9th Infantry Division area of operations in the Mekong Delta and also in the larger II Field Force and III Corps area around Saigon. As this approach was not, strictly speaking, a classical use of operations research or analysis, we have described it as combat analysis. This is a reasonably accurate description of the actual process.

Strategic Background

The strategy and grand tactics of the Vietnamese war will probably not be well understood for years. In general, the war and its total environment were so foreign to classical western experience, military and civilian, that one could not grasp it well at the time much less understand it. In addition much of the writing concerning the war has concentrated on specific aspects to the extent that general lessons have not been clearly deduced. The press, in particular, was greatly handicapped by the dispersed and obscure nature of the war and, with some praiseworthy exceptions, found it difficult to report accurately what was actually taking place. Objective works on the Vietnam war are few and far between.

However, recognizing these pitfalls, one might conclude tentatively that the Communist strategy in Vietnam followed the traditional Maoist three stage theory. When it became apparent, after the Geneva agreements, that South Vietnam would not submit to the Lao Dong (North Vietnamese Communist) party of its own accord, the first or organizational phase was put in high gear by the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong. In the chaos following the overthrow of the Ngo Dinh Diem regime, the second or guerrilla phase came on strong, and by 1964 the third or open warfare phase was well underway. The North Vietnamese intervention with regular units in 1964 and thereafter was probably designed to top the third phase off with a rapid victory.


On the South Vietnamese and Allied side the strategy was very uncertain and experimental. The succession of coups necessarily led to a rather spasmodic approach. After many false starts, the effective organization of the government and the people began in 1967 and 1968. The defensive operations against the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong main force units began to take effect with the introduction of U.S. units in 1965 and was going well by 1967. The general mobilization of South Vietnam to flesh out the seriously understrength army and to form hundreds of new Regional and Popular force units did not start until the summer of 1968 and was not fully effective until 1970.

However, the Allied strategy became fairly clear at this stage. The Communist main force units were progressively fragmented and driven away from the populated areas in the period 1965-1969. Starting with the accelerated pacification campaigns of 1968 and 1969, the control of the rural population was largely taken away from the Communists. By late 1969 the Communist seaborne supply routes had been cut and their in-country supply routes heavily interdicted. The Cambodian operation in early 1970 cut the Sihanoukville seaborne supply route, leaving the Ho Chi Minh trail as the only route for support of in-country Communist forces. The Vietnamization program to turn the primary responsibility for their own defense over to the South Vietnamese people was progressing well in 1970.

With this overview as a backdrop let us look at the ground tactics of the war in recent years. In the big unit period of the Vietnamese war (1965-1967) , the North Vietnamese evidently felt that they could defeat United States and South Vietnamese units in face-to-face combat in engagements of their own choosing. During this period, while it was not easy to bring the enemy to combat, it was a manageable problem. During this phase the Communists sustained a continuous series of major defeats and, as a result, in mid or late 1967, went to ground and changed their approach to a degree. The Communists devoted the bulk of their energies to rebuilding while avoiding contact, and accepted combat only when cornered or when the odds looked particularly favorable. During this period the tactics which had worked well for US units for several years became less effective. The enemy, then, shifted gears, changing their tactics by adopting a "high point" policy which resulted in weeks or months of "evasion" followed by a "high point" of attacks. The best known "high point" was, of course, the Tet 1968 attacks. It gradually became clearer that the situation called for a change in tactics by the friendly troops.


Thus, in 1968 the problem became one of bringing evading enemy units to battle during the quiet periods, and limiting their damage during the high points so that they could not interfere with the pacification program, which was just going into high gear. This was particularly true at division level.

The Mouth of the Dragon

Prior to the move of the 9th Division Headquarters to the Delta at Dong Tam, the Division had a tactical area of interest about the size of New Jersey both south and east of Saigon. This large area was very difficult to handle because of its size and complexity and the rather light friendly troop density. The move to the delta greatly reduced our Tactical Area of Interest giving us primary responsibility for only four provinces: Long An in southwestern III Corps Tactical Zone south of Saigon and Dinh Tuong, Kien Hoa and Go Cong in northeastern IV Corps Tactical Zone, the northern delta region. Dinh Tuong is one of the most heavily populated of the Vietnamese provinces with almost 700,000 inhabitants. (Map 1) It is closely followed by Kien Hoa with well over a half million. Both of these provinces had only approximately one-third of their people under the control of the Vietnamese government in 1968. Long An with over 400,000 people has long been a key province because of its rich rice crops, its closeness to the capital, Saigon, and its control of the highway routes to the delta. The total population of the four provinces is 1,815,000, about 18 percent of the country's population, of which almost 80 percent or 1,470,000 are rural and mostly farmers.

The land surface is extremely low and flat, averaging about two meters above sea level. The main crop is rice, but palm, coconut, and assorted fruit trees are grown around the canals and streams. The surface drainage is poor due to the lack of gradients necessary to create a good run off condition. Six major rivers constitute the major drainage network. A great number of canals and streams connect these rivers. There are four major highways: QL-4 running the length of Dinh Tuong and Long An Provinces is one of the major highways of the delta, carrying produce from the delta to Saigon; TL-24 connects My Tho city with Go Cong city; TL-26 connects with Ben Tre city and Ba Tri city in Kien Hoa Province; and LTL-5A connects Go Cong with Saigon, although it was not usable for much of its length at that time because of ferry and bridge destruction by the VC.

The most common relief features in the area are the rice paddy dikes which are 0.3 to 1.0 meters high and 0.3 to 0.6 meters wide.


Map 1: 9th Division Tactical Area


Scattered throughout the area are many small higher areas that have localized elevations from 1 to 3 meters above the terrain. The hamlets and villages are generally located on these higher areas.

Cover and concealment are determined by the interplay of land forms and vegetation and for the most part concealment is best in the palm groves generally found spotted across the countryside in the vicinity of canals and rivers. Most of the palm canopy provides fair concealment from aerial observation. Ground observation is limited by light undergrowth although the rice fields offer little concealment. The Plain of Reeds, stretching from northern Dinh Tuong to Cambodia, offers excellent ground concealment everywhere due to tall reeds and grasses. By Vietnamese standards,




the country is relatively open, but the Viet Cong were most skillful at utilizing what cover and concealment were available.

The suitability of this area for military operations varies seasonally. Contrary to popular belief, light infantry can operate year round within the area although their capabilities are limited in the marshes and mangroves near the coast. During the wet season small boats (sampans) can be used widely. The canals and streams are usable for sampan movement year around. Airmobile operations are facilitated during the dry season by numerous helicopter landing zones. During the wet season the excess surface water and mud hamper heliborne operations somewhat. Tactical air operations are hampered by early morning low cloudiness and fog during both seasons. Armored operations are not possible. Mechanized vehicles (armored personnel carriers) can be utilized with care in the dry season and with extreme difficulty in the wet season.

The climate is characterized by two major seasons: the southwest (wet season) monsoon from mid-May through October and the northeast (dry season) monsoon from early November to mid-March. The average rainfall from May to October is about five






inches a month, but the number of days with precipitation in the six-month period from November through April is normally less than a dozen. Thunderstorm activities are prevalent May through October and can be accompanied by gusty winds strong enough to hamper helicopter operations. The temperature varies but slightly throughout the year, the average monthly mean high temperature is about 90 Fahrenheit and the mean low temperature is about 75 Fahrenheit.

The major waterways, canals, and streams offer excellent routes for sampans and thus facilitate rapid movement of communist troops and supplies. The tidal range is as much as six to seven feet and its effect on military operations must be taken into consideration.

In summary, the Upper Delta is a densely populated, flat, almost swampy area with a dense waterway network and limited concealment. Because of its rural nature, closeness to Cambodia and good water transportation it facilitates enemy combat operations and resupply. On the other hand, the level, open terrain enhances Allied airmobile operations. The climate is divided into a wet and a dry season. During the wet season overland movement is extremely difficult, whereas in dry season the ground is capable of supporting armored personnel carriers of the M-113 type (but not medium tanks) .

This then was the area of operations of the 9th Infantry Division, unusual perhaps in the annals of warfare for US forces in sustained combat and unusual even in Vietnam.2  This Delta region of the Mekong (The Nine Dragon) River is sometimes referred to as "The Mouth of the Dragon."

A Twofold Quest

From the beginning we initiated a double barrelled effort to enhance the operational capabilities of the 9th Infantry Division. One effort was directed towards providing the maximum number of fit, motivated, well-equipped and properly supported infantry soldiers to the field on a daily basis, night and day. In other words, we wanted to optimize our working assets. In fundamental or basic terms, our success in resources management could be measured by the number of fighting men in the paddy on a daily basis. This depended upon good personnel, logistical, and unit management and included such items as strength accounting, aircraft availability,


and the use of facilities. Aircraft availability was a most important factor. Concurrently, another effort was directed towards making these fighting infantrymen in the field as efficient as possible in the performance of their missions. The enhancement of combat capabilities depended upon the improved performance of units and derived from our intelligence, tactics, combat activities and pacification efforts.

In our twofold quest to optimize our assets and improve combat efficiency, we used operations analysis to reinforce our military judgment and thus "Sharpen the Combat Edge"


Endnotes for Chapter I

1 This point has been emphasized by most analyses of operations, reference the Army Combat Operations Vietnam and Mechanized and Armored Combat Operations Vietnam studies cited subsequently. (click here to go back)

2 Such terrain was encountered in the Seminole Indian War and at times during World War II in the Southwest Pacific. (click here to go back)

page updated 19 November 2002

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