Chapter 8 The Decline of U.S. Support
Military Assistance, Fiscal Year 1974
U.S. military assistance to South Vietnam was "service funded." This meant that, unlike other programs funded by Congress in a military assistance appropriations act, the money for support of the Vietnamese military was contained in the Army, Navy, and Air Force sections of the Department of Defense appropriations bill. A carryover from the days of active U.S. military participation in the war, the Military Assistance Service Funded (MASF) program for Vietnam became obsolete with the departure of American forces from Indochina in January 1973. But months passed before the Defense Department, the Services, and the Congress could adjust to the changed situation with a new military assistance program. In the interim, DAO Saigon requisitioned supplies and equipment for the RVNAF under continuing congressional resolution authority, based on the program of assistance developed jointly with South Vietnam's Defense Ministry and JGS in early 1973 and in anticipation of adequate funds in the Defense Appropriation Actfor fiscal year 1974.
The U.S.-funded part of the RVNAF budget for fiscal year 1974 called for expenditures of $1.1 billion. But on 19 December 1973, Rear Adm. T. J. Bigley, Director for East Asia and Pacific Region, International Security Affairs (ISA) Department of Defense, cabled General Murray warning that the Senate committee had reduced service-funded military assistance for Vietnam and Laos to $650 million of new obligational authority in the 1974 Defense Appropriation bill. The House committee had recommended slightly more than $1 billion, and the two committees in conference agreed to $900 million. Admiral Bigley told General Murray that Vietnam's share of the $900 million would be about $813 million. Although the ceiling for Vietnam and Laos spending during the fiscal year was set by the Congress at $1,126 million, General Murray was asked for ideas on how the Vietnam MASF program could be adjusted to the lower limit of FY 74 money. (Msg, Bigley to Murray, 192200Z Dec 73, Log 907-73.)
Meanwhile, Headquarters Department of the Army, taking note of the reduction being contemplated in the Congress, suddenly cut off all operational and maintenance funds for Vietnam for the rest of the fiscal year. When General Murray found out about this, he asked Ambassador Graham Martin for authority to tell Lt. Gen. Dong Van Khuyen, Commanding General of the Central Logistics Command, so that the Vietnamese could adopt some procedures to conserve supplies until the new appropriation made more money available. The Ambassador refused on the grounds that disclosure would be too unsettling politically. (The near disastrous result was that the South Vietnamese continued requisitioning and using up supplies at their usual rate. With a four-month order-to-ship time, the supply line dried up in April and the system was never to recover.)
Less than 24 hours later, Admiral Bigley had General Murray's reply, which was prefaced with the remark that General Murray was not able to discuss the cut with the South Vietnamese authorities because of the political sensitivity. He would leave that onerous task to Ambassador Martin. He also pointed out that Admiral Bigley's request for an immediate response precluded a detailed review of the MASF program; he could offer only rough observations. First, the source of prior year funds - theoretically $313 million which would bring the Laos and Vietnam programs up to the $1,126 million ceiling authorized by Congress - had not yet been identified, and about $723 million of the FY 74 program had already been obligated. This meant that if the true ceiling turned out to be $813 million - that is, if the additional $313 million could not be found - only $90 million remained to carry the Vietnam program for the six months remaining in the fiscal year. Add to this about $200 million worth of unbudgeted critical shortages already identified - shortages that were the result of the unexpectedly heavy combat actions of 1973 - and anyone could see that a dangerous situation was developing.
General Murray's list of critical shortages included $180 million for ground ammunition, $5 million for medical supplies, $4.3 million for subsistence, $8 million for air ammunition, and an undetermined sum to buy or operate more landing ships, tank (LST), as a hedge against the enemy's capability to close the land route to Hue. General Murray tentatively identified budgeted savings of $33 million by eliminating the RVNAF dependent shelter program, a project that had high morale value for the armed forces and had been promised by President Nixon. Improvements to lines of communication would also be cut, and spare parts for ships and
aircraft reduced to a critical level. Although he offered some other saving alternatives, General Murray admitted that none was feasible. He also noted that the considerable cost of packing, crating, handling, and shipping of military assistance supplies had not been budgeted; these costs would also have to be borne within the ceiling.
The day after Christmas, Ambassador Martin sent his analysis of the military assistance situation to the White House. Trailing General Murray's hurried response by six days, the Ambassador's message contained a more complete review, and the shortfalls in the program had been refined by General Murray and his staff. Consequently, the shortage cited by Ambassador Martin was more than double that earlier anticipated by General Murray. The Ambassador's message is quoted here in full (Msg, Martin to White House, 26 Dec 73, Log 930-73.):
1. It seems quite clear that a new review at the highest levels of the future priorities to be accorded U.S. Military Assistance to the Republic of Vietnam is imperative. Although we tend to concentrate, quite properly, on the still existing deficiencies in the ARVN in order to correct and improve them, such concentration leads us to overlook the inescapable act that the process of "Vietnamization" so ably implemented by General Abrams with the assistance of all the U.S. Armed Services has, in fact, worked out very well. The ARVN has not only held well, but has up to now kept the other side off balance. If we remain constant in our support, and determined to carry out the commitments we have made at the highest level, we have every right to confidently expect that the GVN can hold without the necessity of U.S. armed intervention. Therefore, the additional resources necessary to discharge the commitments already made will, in reality, return enormous dividends in the achievements of U.S. objectives not only in southeast Asia, but throughout the world.
2. Perhaps it will contribute to perspective to recall that in the last six months we have witnessed an evident consolidation of internal support for President Thieu and his administration; the reorganization of that administration to better cope with the economic realities, and the conclusion of economic agreements with the FRG, France and Japan which will help surmount current problems and act as a catalyst in attracting other donors. The joint GVN and U.S. actions in publicizing massive North Vietnamese violations of the Paris agreements has successfully conditioned world reaction to accept the strong GVN reactions to these DRVN violations as quite proper and natural responses to North Vietnamese aggression. The highest officials of the Polish and Hungarian ICCS Delegation have privately informed us that they estimate the NVN/VC forces control 20 percent less territory than on January 28, 1973. Politically, the NVN/VC proselytizing has clearly been unsuccessful. Obviously, Moscow and Peking have been informed that, both politically and militarily, the initiative is passing to the GVN side.
3. Yet the military capability of NVN forces is now greater than at the time of the Easter 1972 offensive. Whether it will be utilized in another major force offensive or be maintained as a deterrent to GVN elimination of PRG forces is a decision which, I believe, has not yet been taken in Hanoi. It will be greatly influenced on their estimate of the will, the morale, and the military capability of the RVN. This in turn, will be greatly conditioned on the RVN estimate of the present validity of our commitments to them.
4. It is a bit hard here in Saigon to determine the practical effects of the just passed defense appropriation bill on our ability to carry out the commitments made solemnly and unequivocally by the U.S.G. to the GVN. However, we have received some preliminary indications of Washington thinking that trickle half way around the world. If these are only partly true, then we are in considerable danger of very soon being in open, glaringly obvious default of those commitments.
5. The immediate repercussions on the increasingly evident self-confidence and up-beat morale of the GVN and the ARVN, while not possible to calculate with precision, will certainly be adverse and could be more serious. The short range effect on the presently delicate and fragile relationship with the Soviets, the Chinese, the Middle East and even with Europe, should we welsh on our commitments here, can best be determined in the White House. But it seems self-evident that the one most single precious commodity we possess just now is the faith of others in the constancy and reliability of American commitments. The cost of our failure to keep it here, even in dollar terms, will be incalculably greater than the immediate sums that now seem to be in question.
6. I am quite aware that reserves of all the services have been dangerously depleted by the emergency demands of enhance, enhance plus, and the recent emergency requirements for Israel. Nevertheless, I am convinced that the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the armed services can find ways to meet our requirements, if only our civilian leaders will unequivocally establish the overriding national priority that must be accorded meeting these requirements.
7. Before the January agreements, at the time of the January agreements, after the January agreements, again at the time of the June communique, and most especially at the San Clemente meeting in April between President Nixon and President Thieu, we have reiterated the commitment that we will maintain the armament level existing on a one-for-one replacement basis. Yet, almost from the beginning every action we have taken seems, upon review, to have been calculated to convince senior officers of the ARVN that we were not really serious about keeping that pledge. Of the many examples I will mention only two:
8. The fact is that with 52 percent of the VNAF total personnel strength in training, it is understandable that maintenance of VNAF aircraft would constitute a problem. Both the VNAF and we have instituted corrective action with the help of the USAF. Yet when suggestions are received from Washington to add 8 perfectly flyable FSA's to those scheduled to be removed for "corrosion control," and it just so happens that the addition of this particular number coincides with the need perceived in Washington for Iran and Korea repayment, the RVNAF and ARVN quite naturally wonder about the purpose of this kind of game playing. The current end result is that President Thieu has ordered the VNAF to inflict maximum possible damage in retaliatory raids in response to DRVN violations of the ceasefire, but to lose no aircraft in the process since all will be desperately needed when a major force attack is made. Consequently, the VNAF, although willing and able to aggressively press low level attacks, are not permitted tofly low enough over targets to achieve the precision results of which they are capable. If I could inform President Thieu that replacements of FSA's would be automatic, the results would be startling. Under present circumstances I cannot do this, despite the fact that we are committed to do so.
9. The second example is that despite the commitment for one-for-one replacement, despite the pace of the fighting since the "ceasefire" in January and June which has resulted in a greater total of casualties than the total of U.S. casualties during our years of active engagement, USARPAC's tentative ammunition replacement through the balance of this fiscal year would leave a projected balance on 1 July far below the ceasefire level that represents a minimum safety position against both enemy capabilities and also present estimates of their intentions. The following table graphically illustrates the problem. [In thousands. First figure is cease-fire level; second is projected, end June.]
[See Table 5: Arms Replacement: Cease-Fire vs. Current Levels]
10. These rounds have been selected as examples because they are unique to ARVN ammunition requirements. As used in the Delta the 40 MM round has effectively increased mobility of ARVN forces in resisting enemy activities. The 60 MM and 81 MM ILLUM are mortar rounds substituting for heavy artillery requirements within the small ARVN defense perimeters. The 60 MM LAW is the main ARVN weapon for defense against the very real enemy tank threat which now exists.
11. These are only two examples, but are enough to underscore the problem. The quickest, easiest and least expensive way to achieve the objectives we have formally set for ourselves is to reaffirm the priorities already established and permit the armed services to proceed with the implementation of the programs they now have before them. Original estimates were made on the assumption that the ceasefire would be reasonably respected by the other side. Given the increased level of military activity throughout South Vietnam we estimate that we will need a minimum of $494.4 million more than the projected $1,126 in FY 74. This is broken down as follows:
$180 for ground ammunition. $69.7 for equipment not called forward or above program levels. $200 for priority RVNAF requirement (estimate). $10 for medical supplies. $3 to operate additional LST's. $4.3 for subsistence. $9 for air munitions. $18.4 for POL. $494.4 total.
12. The addition of this total of $494.4 million to the $1.126 billion brings us to the total of $1.62 billion we will need in the fiscal year to reasonably discharge our commitments. I reiterate I am fully aware of the burden this will put on the services but I also reiterate my conviction that, given clear and unequivocal statement of the priorities and goals by the highest levels, their ingenuity and resourcefulness will find the way to implement such decisions.
The next day Admiral Bigley clarified the funding situation somewhat in a message to General Murray. (Msg, Bigley to Murray, 272200Z Dec 73, Log 936-73.) Since $826.5 million had already been obligated, only $300 million remained for both countries for the last half of the fiscal year, despite the fact that $562.1 million of unobligated prior year funds remained.
Meanwhile, General Murray clarified the requirement for funds above the originally budgeted amount and specifically identified the critical need for ammunition funds. (Murray to Brig. Gen. Richard H. Thompson, ODCSLOG, DA, 2 Jan 74, Log 09487.) About $221 million was necessary to build up ammunition stocks and only $43 million remained of unobligated FY 74 funds. General Murray was not a patient man; considerate of others, thoroughly professional, perceptive, and highly skilled in the use of colorful language, but not patient. From Christmas on he had been on the receiving end of a plethora of vague - and sometimes inaccurate - messages from Washington and Honolulu concerning cuts in the MASF program, none of which provided him or the RVNAF staffs the information they required to plan fuel and ammunition usages, flying hours, maintenance or any other budgeted military activity for the next six months. His small capacity for forbearance virtually disappeared by 11 January, and he asked for the answers he hadbeen searching for since first warned of the impending MASF reductions. In a message to CINCPAC and the Department of Defense (ISA), he put it this way (Msg, Murray to Brig. Gen. Charles A. Jackson, CINCPAC/J8, 11 Jan 74, Log 038-74.):
1. During the past month there has been a deluge of front and back channel messages from services and DSAA on FY 74 status and impact of new legislation.
2. Information appreciated but nothing conclusive or consistent enough to lock in on where we actually stand. No two messages cite the same figures, and volume of information has created much concern, many questions and virtually no answers.
3. Cannot determine whether funds here have been cut or, if so, from what to what. Reduction intimated, but nothing concrete. Concerned chiefly that dollar apportionment among RVNAF services may be out of balance before year-end since MILDEPS handle funds separately.
4. Understand FY 74 ceiling for Vietnam and Laos $1, 126 million, including $900 million NOA (new obligational authority). Reportedly, $814 million of NOA is Vietnam and $86 million Laos. Do not know Laos and Vietnam breakout of total $1,126 million or significance of $226 million difference above NOA. All this too inconclusive to establish meaningful priorities for requisitioning balance of year or to know to what extent service and country priorities should be inter-related.
5. Basic questions (applicable to Vietnam - not Laos) are:
A. Do we now have FY 74 country dollar ceiling to be managed overall as in regular MAAG, or do our services at Washington still have separate ceilings managed through channels to DAO service divisions?
B. What is country ceiling (or service ceilings)?
C. What are other dollar restrictions, if any, e.g., MPA, PEMA etc,?
D. What is NOA dollar limitation, and what is service breakout of NOA, if service ceilings apply?
E. What is exact significance of difference between NOA and ceiling, and what is service breakout, if service ceilings apply?
6. Propose CINCPAC become focal point for clarifying current funding status and for funneling DSAA and MILDEP funding developments to DAO balance of FY 74. This in consonance with MASF category IV procedures and would eliminate or reduce uncertainties, confusion and message traffic. Also assist in staying within ceiling contraints. With ground ammo alone running at over a million dollars a day, matters can get quickly askew unless we know that such a pace is within the ceiling and appropriation restraint.
The response he got from Hawaii shed some light - diffused though it was - on the subject. The news was not all comforting. (Msg, Jackson to Murray, 160413Z Jan 74, Log 053-74.) The Defense Department comptroller had determined that Vietnam's share of the new obligational authority would be about $820.5 million rather than the original $813-814 million estimate. But the question regarding the $1,126 million ceiling, and where the money would come from to permit obligations up to it, was not definitely answered. The administration was planning to ask the Congress to raise the authorization to $1.4 billion for FY 74; this, according to CINCPAC would "allow use of all possible dollars, including prior years." CINCPAC reminded General Murray, although General Murray was already painfully aware of it, that much of the $820.5 million of FY 74 money had already been obligated, and the ceiling increase was required to authorize additional obligations, assuming that prior year funds could be found and used.
Answers to General Murray's other questions were deferred for further study. But the most crucial issue, how much total money would be available for the FY 74 program, remained in doubt, although Washington advised General Murray on 20 January that a supplemental increase would be requested of Congress to bring the country program up to $1,054.8 million. (Msg, Maj. Gen. Peter C. Olenchuck, ODCSLOG, DA, to Murray 202208Z Jan 74, Log 066-74.)
This amount would reduce the concern in Saigon substantially, but Congressional response to such a request would most likely be negative. Meanwhile the war continued and supplies dwindled as moratoriums were imposed on requisitioning pending the outcome of the budgetary impasse.
General Murray did not wait for further definitive word from Washington or Hawaii. Early in January he began a series of conferences with the RVNAF logistics staff, principally with General Khuyen and General Cao Van Vien, Chief of the Joint General Staff, to impress upon them the need to conserve supplies, particularly ammunition. Without divulging all that he knew about the FY 74 program, he urged them to apply strict controls against the likelihood of diminished resources. General Vien reacted immediately. New available supply rates (ASR) were applied on all critical ammunition items on 25 February, reducing further the ASRs General Vien had ordered on 25 January.
Meanwhile, General Murray continued to receive new interpretations of the money situation from Washington. The $1,126 million ceiling on obligations during FY 74 for Vietnam and Laos, whether from current or prior year funds, was reiterated. Against this ceiling, the Department of Defense had allocated $700 million for the Army (of which $301 million was ammunition for Vietnam), $26 million for the Navy, and $400 million for the Air Force. Since $826.5 million had already been obligated as of 30 November 1973, only $229.5 million remained for all services (and this included funds for Laos). In this message, General Murray was advised that the Department of Defense was planning to ask Congress to raise the ceiling to $1.6 billion, rather than to $1.4. (Olenchuck to Murray, ODCSLOG, DA, 0422107Z Feb 74.)
General Murray viewed this information with some skepticism, since he understood the mood of the Congress and the effects of Watergate on President Nixon's Vietnam commitments about as well as anyone did in Washington. The most he could plan on was the Vietnam share of the $1,126 million, which by this time had been refined by the Department of Defense to $1,059 million.
In early February, General Murray tried to explain in a message to CINCPAC and Washington why the ceiling imposed overly severe restrictions on the Vietnam program, how the situation had changed since the program's drafting in early 1973, and the impact of those changes on RVNAF requirements. Since the FY 74 program had been agreed upon, significant price increases had occurred in equipment and fuel and the level of combat anticipated for a cease-fire period did not pertain. Increasing enemy capabilities created a high-threat environment; an inflation rate of 65 percent in South Vietnam drove subsistence costs correspondingly up; the imposition of a ceiling after 75 percent of the funds had been obligated left no flexibility for adjustment of priorities; the inability to identify the status of prior year funds to be applied to the $1,054 million ceiling created the possibility of overcommitment and compelled the suspension of all Army requisitions for the past two months; the apparent inclusion of other unanticipated costs within the ceiling, such as packing, crating, handling, and shipping further reduced the amounts available for RVNAF support; and bookkeeping adjustments had placed considerable FY 73 costs onto FY 74 funds. (Msg, Murray to Lt. Gen. William G. Moore, CofS, CINCPAC, 0910332 Feb 74, Log 130-74.)
Vice Adm. Raymond Peet, Director of Military Assistance in the Department of Defense, appreciated General Murray's lucid assessment and assured him that it would help support the Secretary of Defense's request to raise the congressional ceiling to $1.6 billion. (Msg, Peet to Murray, 222212Z, Feb 74, Log 168-74.)
Formal hearings on appropriations for South Vietnam began in the Senate Armed Services Committee on 12 March 1974. Meanwhile, the severe controls Generals Vien and Khuyen had placed on ammunition expenditures were having some saving results. By mid-April, however, the on-hand stockage of the most critical item of ammunition - 105-mm. howitzer, high explosive - was still dangerously low; only about 52 days of supply remained and less than that if high consumption rates required to repel a major offensive were applied.
Aside from the opposition of many influential members of the House and Senate to any sizable assistance for Vietnam, the Department of Defense and the services were further handicapped in their efforts to convince the responsible committees that additional monies should be made available for Vietnam because seemingly no one in any Defense agency knew how much prior year money had been obligated or what supplies and equipment had already been provided. In any case, the Senate Armed Services Committee refused to raise the $1,126 million ceiling on 3 April, responding in large measure to Senator Edward M. Kennedy's leadership. The next day, the House rejected the administration's request to raise the ceiling to $1.6 billion, as well as a compromise increase to $1.4 billion. The issue was dead, but the Defense Department kept trying. It informed the House and Senate Armed Services Committees that it had discovered $266 million of unobligated prior year funds and asked to have this amount excluded from the ceiling. The committees agreed that this would be proper, but on 6 May, the Senate passed a resolution, sponsored by Senator Kennedy, to the effect that any expenditures over $1,126 million in FY 74 would be illegal.
The dispute between the administration and Congress over the FY 74 Vietnam program, clearly won by the latter, was only the preliminary to the main event: the fight for the FY 75 authorization and appropriation.
By imposing rigid controls, the RVNAF managed to survive through the summer. Many of its vehicles were on blocks, its aircraft grounded because of parts and fuel shortages, its radios silent for lack of batteries, and its far-flung outposts suffering from inadequate artillery support. The stream of supplies had dwindled to a trickle, and weeks would pass after the start of the new fiscal year before the pipeline would again be flowing.
Meanwhile, General Murray arrived in Washington at the end of April 1974 to consult with the Defense Department and services on military assistance programs. He followed this visit with a brief, much needed vacation and returned to Vietnam toward the end of May. On 23 May, Admiral Bigley cabled General Murray that the House had passed the Defense Authorization Bill for FY 74 with the familiar ceiling of $1,126 million for MASF, while the Senate Committee was recommending $900 million. The best compromise in committee conference that Defense could expect was a $1 billion ceiling, but the likelihood that this would be trimmed on the Senate floor was great. The Admiral asked General Murray to furnish some impact statements describing the results in Vietnam if the authorized program for FY 75 were $1,126 million, or reduced respectively to $900 million, $750 million, or $600 million. (Msg, Bigley to Murray, 23211 87Z May 74, Log 353-74.)
General Murray saw Admiral Bigley's message upon his return from Washington. His staff began working on the reply immediately, and a 30-page message, carefully drafted by General Murray and bearing the unmistakable marks of his incisive rhetoric, was dispatched on 1 June. (Msg, Murray to Bigley, 0111157, June 74, Log #377-74.)
It would seem from half way around the world that enormously effective use could be made of Secretary Schlesinger's comments to the press on 21 May. The most telling argument is the point he made so eloquently that it was we who told the South Vietnamese that we would give them the tools and they would have to finish the job. It was we who undertook a commitment to replace their combat losses on a one-for-one basis. It should be emphasized that all of us hoped in January 1973, at the time of the cease-fire, the other side would really observe it. It should be kept in mind that the GVN losses not only in manpower, about which we can do nothing, but in materiel have not been replaced as we promised. The importance of the above needs to be reemphasized after reading Senator Kennedy's comments during the debate on his amendment to eliminate the $266 million repayment authority. The Senator was extremely careful to try to point out that his proposed amendment would not really cripple the South Vietnamese military effort and implicitly recognized the obligations which the Secretary had pointed out, as recorded above. Therefore, it would seem useful to take the Secretary's comments as the point of departure and to drive home that any further reductions will seriously cripple the South Vietnamese capability to defend themselves and will be a violation of the clear understandings they had from us at the time of the ceasefire.
General Murray then reviewed the current situation and the impact FY 74 funding constraints had on the RVNAF. "Cuts and economies have mortgaged the future," he told Washington. The entire program was in trouble. Because stock replenishment had been at a virtual standstill for over four months, the stockage of many common supplies was below safety levels. Included in this category were clothing, spare parts, tires, batteries, and M-16 rifle barrels. Despite intensive management of shortages to afford minimum combat support to engaged units, the deadline rate on vehicles, weapons, and communications equipment was bound to increase during the next quarter. In other words, even if the authority to requisition the supplies needed were provided at that moment, the lag in order-to-ship time would prevent immediate recuperation.
When it had first become apparent that the assistance program was in trouble, economies had been made in the usage of motor vehicle and marine fuels. The RVNAF staff had estimated that they could afford to operate about 70 percent of the vehicle and naval fleets. But even this drastic measure was not enough. The reduction in the fuel program permitted support of only 55 percent of South Vietnam's equipment operating at severely curtailed levels.
The quality and responsiveness of the medical service had also suffered. Stocks of supplies, many of which were in the lifesaving category, were seriously depleted, such as blood collection bags, intravenous fluids, antibiotics, and surgical dressings. Meanwhile, hospital admissions of wounded increased from 8,750 per month during the first three months of 1974 to over 10,000 per month by summer and would continue to rise as enemy operations intensified. The onset of the wet monsoon would bring with it the scourge of falciparum malaria in the northern provinces, and the supply of insect repellent for the troops was exhausted. In fact, the total supply picture was bleak. Roughly half the items on stockage lists were not there, and shipments into the depots had fallen off dramatically: from about 24,000 metric tons received in March to less than 8,000 in May.
Other effects of the cut-back in funds were readily apparent. The moratorium imposed on requisitions prevented the timely ordering of essential parts for the engine-rebuild program, and the lack of certain long-lead-time parts would soon stop production lines of truck and jeep engines, as well as power generators. The dependent shelter program was cancelled in its entirety. The ARVN engineers had to adopt less expensive and less durable methods in the program to improve lines of communication, a temporary saving to be offset by increased maintenance costs.
Because of the severe controls placed on ammunition usage, and because ammunition was given top priority for available funds, the stockage of ammunition had remained relatively constant during the last half of the fiscal year. Nevertheless, an NVA attempt to seize and hold the Iron Triangle had imposed new demands on the system. These demands were likely to increase. Roughly 177,000 short tons of ammunition had been on hand in South Vietnam at cease-fire. Including ammunition in transit through April 1974, DAO calculated that only 121,000 short tons would be available by the end of that month. With only $301 million allocated for ammunition purchase in FY 74, it would be impossible to regain the cease-fire ammunition posture. That amount of ammunition, $301 million worth, could be used in less than three months of intensive combat and would disappear in nine months even at the austere rates imposed by JGS.
The adequacy of ammunition stockage had no been foreseen as a problem when the Military Command, Vietnam, was preparing to turn over the management of U.S. military assistance to DAO, Saigon. The MACV planners expected that the cease-fire would take hold enough to permit cutting ARVN ammunition usage by up to 70 percent in some categories. Further, it was anticipated that by reducing the allowable expenditure rates, the level of combat would drop accordingly, providing more encouragement for a true cease-fire environment to develop. While the U.S. could and did impose ammunition restrictions on the RVNAF through the budgetary process and by establishing "defense expenditure allocations," which amounted to dictating the number of rounds that could be expended per weapon per day, unfortunately no such restriction applied to the NVA. Consequently, as the tempo of combat increased, the ARVN was compelled to exceed the expenditure limits, and the funds allocated to replace the stocks were not sufficient. Furthermore, although the RVNAF exceeded the rates on which the $301 million allocation was based, the ammunition expenditures were far below those of prior years, even though the level of combat in many individual engagements was equivalent to the most intense periods of the 1968 and 1972 offensives.
While ammunition constituted a management problem for the DAO and JGS, the impact of the restrictions in the field was immediate and often decisive. Experienced infantrymen, accustomed to carrying six grenades into battle but now limited to two, responded with less confidence and aggressiveness to orders to advance and were less tenacious in holding threatened positions. Defenders in beleaguered outposts, restricted to two or three mortar or artillery rounds, were not inclined to wait and watch enemy sappers break through the wire and drag their recoilless rifles into firing position after ARVN artillery had fired its meager allocation. Artillery was limited to clearly identified targets, and harassing fires were stopped altogether. While experienced infantrymen and artillerymen could argue the worth or extravagance of such fires placed on trails and suspected assembly areas, they made enemy operations more difficult and hence had some value, however difficult to quantify. Although tactical and long-line communications were in poor condition, the need to economize still pertained. The RVNAF took measures to reduce the consumption of radio batteries by 25 percent. By combining nets, such as air/ground with command, they reduced the number of radios in operation and even then could plan on operating fewer than 20 days per month. As tactical efficiency suffered, casualties mounted. After noting that 41 percent of the authorized stockage list for tactical communications equipment had been depleted, General Murray reported (Ibid.):
Equipment in the combat divisions is suffering between 30 to percent deadline rate. The divisions are losing communication flexibility and in MR 2 can no longer provide telephone and teletype communications to attached forces such as ranger units that do not possess VHF TO/E assets. The AN/PRC-25 radio operational readiness had decayed to 67 percent. 848 module and other repair parts ASL lines are at zero balance and are stopping the repair production lines for this radio. AN/FGC-25 teletype equipment in the area communications system is suffering from lack of repair parts. ARVN has adjusted to priorities and are reducing tactical divisions to 40 percent of authorized TO/E teletype assets. Equipment will be withdrawn from the divisions and used in the area communications system where the high volume of record traffic is processed and transmitted. Continued depletion of communications parts stocks is creating a catastrophic threat to an already seriously degraded tactical communications posture.
Long-line communications, which the U.S. mission also relied on for its own needs, were in similar difficulty. Even though emergency action had been taken to reprogram FY 74 funds for the long-line system, all communications were expected to decay, and if sufficient funds were not provided in FY 75, a collapse could be predicted.
The funding pinch was felt in the VNAF program as well. Requisitioning of essential "move-shoot-communicate" items for aircraft and supporting equipment had been severely curtailed since January 1974. The result was that one-fifth of the force was grounded for maintenance, a condition bound to worsen before FY 75 funds would have any effect.
The situation with ground combat equipment was similar. For example, in early March, the deadline rate for medium tanks was 25 percent, by mid-May, the lack of repair parts had forced the rate to 35 percent. The availability of armored personnel carriers, the main fighting vehicle of the armored cavalry, was sinking to only one-half of organizational strength. In December 1973, RVNAF's mobility, exemplified by the air movement of the ARVN 23d Division from Kontum and the rapid shift of the 22d Division to cover the gaps, had been crucial in rescuing Quang Duc Province. This mobility had all but vanished with the decline in funding for maintenance requirements and the skyrocketing costs of all supplies, particularly fuel.
Military Assistance, Fiscal Year 1975
Such was the situation facing the RVNAF as Congress began to deliberate the FY 75 military assistance program. A proposal of $1.45 billion had been developed in Saigon in September 1973 based on requirements and prices known at that time. After hearings on the FY 75 Military Procurement Bill, the House Armed Services Committee recommended $1.4 billion for the FY 75 Vietnam MASF Program, but the House on 22 May passed its version of the bill with a $1.126 billion limit.
Although in the ten intervening months much had happened to change priorities, the changes could be managed under a $1.45 billion program, and the critical elements could be done within a $1.126 billion ceiling. General Murray was especially concerned about the need to expand depot repair facilities. Below $1.126 billion, this requirement was out of reach. But the greatest problems were caused by inflation. Ground ammunition was programmed at $400 million; when April 1974 prices were posted, the cost was $500 million. The prices of other common, high-volume supplies had undergone comparable increases. What had appeared to be a generous program during the 1973 planning days had become an austere one.
Another matter of concern was that South Vietnamese Air Force and Navy equipment losses had not been replaced in FY 74 and the U.S. commitment to replace losses on a one-for-one basis had not been fulfilled. Although surpluses existed in some categories at cease-fire and all lost equipment need not have been replaced, the almost complete lack of replacements hindered tactical operations, particularly those of the VNAF. Specifically, as General Murray pointed out, VNAF pilots were taking such extreme measures to reduce losses that their bombing and strafing techniques were ineffective. VNAF had lost 281 aircraft since the cease-fire (including 66 transferred to the USAF) and had received only eight O-1's as replacements. The Navy had lost 58 ships and boats, and none had been replaced. In essence, if the FY 75 program were held to $1,126 million, the minimum operational requirements of the RVNAF could be supported, but one-for-one replacement of losses could not be accomplished, and very little investment inlong-term projects was possible. The current restrictions on mobility - only 49 percent of the vehicles would be operated, for example - and the severe controls on ammunition usage would be continued. General Murray concluded his discussion on RVNAF capabilities under the constraints of a $1.126 billion FY 75 program with an unequivocal, prophetic statement: RVNAF would be capable of defending the country against the FY 74 level of enemy activities and of countering country-wide high-points of enemy activity, but not capable of defending against a sustained major offensive. (Ibid., msg. of 1 Jun 74.)
Reductions below the $1,126 million ceiling could only have a disastrous effect on RVNAF capabilities and morale, and correspondingly enhance the enemy's potential. If the ceiling were reduced to $750 million, no investment program, that is, equipment buys, could be supported at all. Critical operational requirements - fuel, ammunition, spare parts, medical and communications supplies - would not be met. The construction program would be eliminated. VNAF flying hours would be further reduced. Training would be slashed severely, as would the maintenance programs of the Army, Navy, and Air Force. The impact on RVNAF capabilities would be that the RVNAF could no longer defend the country against a level of enemy activity approximating that of the past 12 months. A program of $750 million "would cause the GVN to abandon large segments of the country and weaken possibilities and probabilities of a negotiated settlement."
In his concluding paragraph, General Murray summarized the impacts of successively austere support (Ibid.):
In the final analysis, you can roughly equate cuts in support to loss of real estate. As the cutting edge of the RVNAF is blunted and the enemy continues to improve its combat position and logistical base, what will occur is a retreat to the Saigon-Delta area as a redoubt. In a nutshell, we see the decrements as follows: (a.) $1.126 billion level - gradual degradation of equipment base with greatest impact in out-years. Little reserve or flexibility to meet a major enemy offensive in FY 75. (b.) $900 million level-degradation of equipment base that will have significant impact by third or fourth quarter of FY 75. No reserve or flexibility to meet major offensive in FY 75. (c.) $750 million level - equipment losses not supportable. Operations ("O") funds would not support hard-core self-defense requirements. Any chance of having Hanoi see the light and come to conference table would be sharply diminished. If enemy continues current level of military activity, RNVAF could only defend selected areas of country. (d.) $600 million level - write off RVN as bad investment and broken promise. GVN would do well to hang on to Saigon and Delta area. The Vietnamese are a determined people, capable of defending themselves and progressing economically, provided they are given the tools we promised them when we decided to end our own military participation. $1.450 billion will provide the essential elements of a viable defense.
On 11 June, the Senate passed the FY 75 Military Procurement Bill with a $900 million limit on Vietnam MASF. In Senate-House conference the limit was raised to $1 billion, and a bill including that amount was signed by the President on 5 August. But it soon became apparent that the appropriation for Vietnam would be much less. On 23 and 24 September, the House and Senate appropriated only $700 million for Vietnam in the Defense Appropriation Bill for FY 75. The $1 billion ceiling became irrelevant. The $700 million appropriation, furthermore, covered all shipping expenses, certain undelivered FY 73-74 items and commitments, as well as the operational costs of the DAO itself, leaving less than $500 million to be applied to the operational requirements of the RVNAF.
His term of assignment completed, and facing retirement, General Murray left Saigon in August and devoted his final active duty days to squeezing as much out of the $700 million and prior year funds as possible. Meeting with Defense officials and service chiefs, he managed some small successes. But none could reverse the trend of diminishing U.S. support.
Meanwhile, Deputy Commander of USSAG, Maj. Gen. Ira Hunt came over to Saigon from his headquarters in Nakhon Phanom, Thailand, to fill in as Defense Attache until the newly appointed Maj. Gen. Homer Smith could arrive. General Hunt continued the conferences and working sessions between DAO and RVNAF staffs to revise the MASF program within the $700 million appropriation, which at that time was all but certain. The ARVN would get about $410 million, half of what it needed. Army ammunition requirements alone, originally estimated at $400 million, would be $500 at 1974 prices. The VNAF would receive about $160 million, less than 30 percent of its requirement, while the Navy would have to make do with about $9 million.
Draconian measures were applied. Only 55 percent of available transportation could be fueled, and tactical movement required the approval of the corps commander. Bandages and surgical dressings were washed and reused, as were other disposable surgical supplies such as hypodermic syringes and needles, intravenous sets, and rubber gloves. Replacement criteria for combat boots were changed from six to nine months, and the issue of boot socks dropped from three to two pairs per year. Ammunition issues were even more rigidly controlled than before. In the Air Force, squadrons were reduced from 66 to 56; no replacements were ordered for 162 destroyed aircraft; flying hours, contractor support, and supply levels were further reduced; and 224 aircraft were placed in storage, among them all 61 remaining A-1 bombers, all 52 C-7 cargo airplanes, 34 C-47 and C-119 gunships, all 31 O-2 observation airplanes, and 31 UH-1 helicopters. Among other operational reductions, the Navy inactivated 21 of its 44 riverine units. This was hardly the posture for an armed force on the eve of its final battle for survival.
Note on Sources
General Murray's message file was a prime source of information. Ambassador Graham Martin contributed his own message on the subject, and General Murray provided the author a comprehensive review of the entire chapter, adding significant new information and insight.
The author participated in frequent discussions on the subject while in DAO Saigon and referred to his own notes and recollections. The DAO Security and Assistance Division's fact sheets and reports were also essential sources of precise fiscal data.
Newspaper accounts were used to report congressional activity and DAO Saigon Quarterly Assessments were used for information concerning the status of RVNAF during this period.