Drone War Vietnam

...from Pen & Sword

Title: Drone War Vietnam
Author: David Axe
Publisher: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 978-1-52677-026-4

I suspect that many people who have an interest in modern military history and equipment would know of drones such as Reaper, Predator or Global Hawk, there are so many in use with military forces around the world. I wonder how many will be familiar with the Firebee or Lightning Bug drones. This new 166-page hardback tells the much earlier story of pilotless drones, and their extensive use during the Vietnam war.
The story is split over 16 chapters, using information from military records, official histories and published personal accounts of some of those involved. Starting from the simple target drones made by Ryan Aeronautical which proved very useful, events around manned reconnaissance flights using aircraft such as the U2 became ever more public after the famous shoot-down of US pilot Gary Powers. The natural proposal was therefore to use remote drones rather than risking pilots. Despite opposition to the idea from some, especially in the USAF, work progressed, enabling the drones to operate with a useful reconnaissance capability, range, and the ability to fly higher than interceptors of the day could reach. The drone launch and recovery techniques are all described, along with the technology they used. In time, they attracted the attention of new missile systems, such as the Soviet built SA-2. As time went on, they were also used to pick up the signals of the SMA systems so that counter-measure could be worked out, and this did prove successful. There was even a requirement to make decoy drones, flying at lower levels, to enable the higher flying ones to operate without interference. Later on the Lightning Bugs gathered new information on enemy radar systems, allowing the jammers carried by USAF aircraft to use them effectively when the B52 bombers later returned to North Vietnam. Armed versions were planned, but the war ended before they were used. The final chapter looks at the work on the D21 drone that was associated with the SR-71 Blackbird.
I learnt a lot in reading the book about the early development and deployment of drones, and a large number of archive images will interest many, and encourage modellers I suspect. The DC-130 launch aircraft are illustrated, along with the helicopters that recovered the drones on their return, lowered on a parachute. A really interesting addition to the stories of the Vietnam War and work with drones that has gone largely unnoticed. A fascinating read.
Thanks to Pen & Sword for our review copy.