National Museum of the USAF   Right Corner Banner
Join the Air Force

Home > Fact Sheets > F-111A in Southeast Asia


Posted 3/6/2015 Printable Fact Sheet
Previous ImageNext Image
General Dynamics F-111A
COMBAT LANCER F-111A at Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base in September 1968. It is loaded with 24 500-pound bombs. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Download HiRes

At the start of Operation Rolling Thunder in 1965, the U.S. Air Force did not have an all-weather precision fighter-bomber. The highly-advanced F-111A provided this vital capability. Introduced to combat prematurely in 1968, the F-111A later returned triumphantly to play a key role in Linebacker operations over North Vietnam in 1972.

The poor weather common over North Vietnam prevented visual bombing by USAF fighters during Rolling Thunder. Although B-52s could bomb through clouds, they were not used around Hanoi for political and military reasons. The Air Force tried other bombing methods, but none worked well.

The revolutionary "swing-wing" F-111A offered the answer. Its sophisticated terrain-following radar automatically flew the aircraft at a very low level, even over hills and mountains. The F-111A's advanced attack radar provided excellent bombing accuracy. Developing its complicated systems, however, delayed the F-111A's operational use.
Harvest Reaper/Combat Lancer (1967-1968)
In 1967 Det 1, 428th Tactical Fighter Squadron, began testing pre-production F-111As under the code name Harvest Reaper. Though problems remained, the USAF sent six of these F-111As to Thailand in March 1968 for operational tests called Combat Lancer.
Combat Lancer F-111As flew single aircraft precision strikes at night or in poor weather at low altitude. The enemy had little or no warning because the F-111A crews did not have to visually see the target to hit it, and they could strike on the first pass. Highly praised by its crews, the F-111A did not need aerial tankers, fighter cover or surface-to-air missile (SAM) protection like other aircraft.

Though the F-111A showed great promise, it had serious problems. Accidents or malfunctions caused the loss of three F-111As and four crewmembers in 55 combat sorties (one mission by one aircraft equals one sortie). After the third aircraft loss, combat testing ended.

Triumphant Return: Linebacker Operations and Beyond (1972-1975)
By 1972, the F-111A was thoroughly tested, technical issues had been resolved, and the aircraft was fully operational. The F-111A and its crews performed brilliantly and with great success during Operations Linebacker and Linebacker II. They struck heavily-defended enemy airfields and SAM sites. Between October 1972 and March 1973, F-111A crews flew over 4,000 combat sorties but lost only six aircraft in combat.

The F-111A also had one last important role to play in Southeast Asia. In May 1975, Cambodian communists hijacked the SS Mayaguez. Search aircraft could not locate the missing ship, but an F-111A crew used the aircraft's powerful radar to find it. An F-111A also sank one of the communist gunboats guarding the hijacked ship.

Click here to return to the North Vietnam: Linebacker and Linebacker II Overview.

Find Out More
Blue line
Related Fact Sheets
North Vietnam: Rolling Thunder
General Dynamics F-111A Aardvark
Boeing B-52D Stratofortress
Final Combat: The Mayaguez Incident at Koh Tang
Blue line
Note: The appearance of hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the National Museum of the USAF, the U.S. Air Force, or the Department of Defense, of the external website, or the information, products or services contained therein.

 Inside the Museum

ima cornerSearch

ima cornerSEA History


tabRelated Links

Museum Virtual TourMuseum Facebook PageMuseum Twitter PageMuseum Instagram
Museum Google Plus PageMuseum Pinterest PageMuseum YouTube ChannelMuseum Flickr Page
Museum PodcastsMuseum E-newsletter Sign-upMuseum RSS Feeds

Site Map      Contact Us     Questions     Security and Privacy notice     E-publishing  
Suicide Prevention    SAPR   IG   EEO   Accessibility/Section 508   No FEAR Act