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Protecting the Force: Air Base Defense

Watchtowers along the seaside perimeter of Tuy Hoa Air Base, South Vietnam.  Being located on the coast required Security Police to also defend against waterborne attack. (U.S. Air Force photo).

Watchtowers along the seaside perimeter of Tuy Hoa Air Base, South Vietnam. Being located on the coast required Security Police to also defend against waterborne attack. (U.S. Air Force photo).

U.S. Air Force Air Police in South Vietnam in 1966. (Image courtesy of the Security Forces Museum).

U.S. Air Force Air Police in South Vietnam in 1966. (Image courtesy of the Security Forces Museum).

Flares light the night sky during an attack on Tan Son Nhut in December 1966. (Image courtesy of the Security Forces Museum).

Flares light the night sky during an attack on Tan Son Nhut in December 1966. (Image courtesy of the Security Forces Museum).

Jeep-based Sabotage Alert Team (SAT) at Tan Son Nhut in the mid-1960s. These mobile teams moved quickly in response to enemy attacks. They were later renamed Security Alert Teams. (Image courtesy of the Security Forces Museum).

Jeep-based Sabotage Alert Team (SAT) at Tan Son Nhut in the mid-1960s. These mobile teams moved quickly in response to enemy attacks. They were later renamed Security Alert Teams. (Image courtesy of the Security Forces Museum).

Security Police finally started receiving badly-needed armored vehicles in late 1968.  Pictured here are V-100 armored personnel carriers. The one in the front is also equipped with a searchlight. (U.S. Air Force photo).

Security Police finally started receiving badly-needed armored vehicles in late 1968. Pictured here are V-100 armored personnel carriers. The one in the front is also equipped with a searchlight. (U.S. Air Force photo).

Air Police search for remaining enemy troops the morning after an attack on Tan Son Nhut in December 1966. (Images courtesy of the Security Forces Museum).

Air Police search for remaining enemy troops the morning after an attack on Tan Son Nhut in December 1966. (Images courtesy of the Security Forces Museum).

Air Police search for remaining enemy troops the morning after an attack on Tan Son Nhut in December 1966. (Images courtesy of the Security Forces Museum).

Air Police search for remaining enemy troops the morning after an attack on Tan Son Nhut in December 1966. (Images courtesy of the Security Forces Museum).

Air Police search for remaining enemy troops the morning after an attack on Tan Son Nhut in December 1966. (Images courtesy of the Security Forces Museum).

Air Police search for remaining enemy troops the morning after an attack on Tan Son Nhut in December 1966. (Images courtesy of the Security Forces Museum).

Security Police badge. (U.S. Air Force image).

Security Police badge. (U.S. Air Force image).

U.S. Air Force AC-47 gunships’ miniguns (inset) provided critical fire support for air base defense. AC-47 crews also dropped flares to reveal the enemy at night. (U.S. Air Force photo).
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U.S. Air Force AC-47 gunships’ miniguns (inset) provided critical fire support for air base defense. AC-47 crews also dropped flares to reveal the enemy at night. (U.S. Air Force photo).

U.S. Air Force Ranch Hand crews sprayed defoliants to clear jungle hiding places around air base perimeters. (U.S. Air Force photo).
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U.S. Air Force Ranch Hand crews sprayed defoliants to clear jungle hiding places around air base perimeters. (U.S. Air Force photo).

Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI) agent SrA Richard D. Emmons (l) and Republic of Korea Army Colonel Lee (r) display weapons captured from the enemy near Phu Cat Air Base. Though not part of the Security Police, Air Force OSI agents gathered valuable intelligence that helped in the defense of U.S. Air Force air bases. (U.S. Air Force photo).
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Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI) agent SrA Richard D. Emmons (l) and Republic of Korea Army Colonel Lee (r) display weapons captured from the enemy near Phu Cat Air Base. Though not part of the Security Police, Air Force OSI agents gathered valuable intelligence that helped in the defense of U.S. Air Force air bases. (U.S. Air Force photo).

DAYTON, Ohio -- "Protecting the Force: Air Base Defense" exhibit in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- "Protecting the Force: Air Base Defense" exhibit in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio -- "Protecting the Force: Air Base Defense" exhibit in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- "Protecting the Force: Air Base Defense" exhibit in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

"It is easier and more effective to destroy the enemy's aerial power by destroying his nests and eggs on the ground than to hunt his flying birds in the air."
- Gen. Giulio Douhet, noted air power writer, in 1921

In previous wars, most air bases were far behind the front lines. All of South Vietnam was a battlefield, though, making air bases there vulnerable to ground attack. The U.S. Air Force Air Police (later called Security Police) planned, organized and conducted the ground defense of USAF bases in Southeast Asia.

After insurgents attacked U.S. air bases in South Vietnam, the U.S. sent Army and Marine troops in 1965 to defend the areas around them. The U.S. Air Force was responsible for defense within its air base perimeters.

Personnel in U.S. Air Force Air Police squadrons developed their new combat mission under challenging conditions. At the time, they did not have combat training and important equipment like heavy weapons and armored vehicles.

Air Force Air Police established and manned defensive positions along base perimeters -- including bunkers and watch towers -- and controlled access at entry gates. They also regularly patrolled along the perimeter, with an emphasis on the hours of darkness when attacks usually occurred.

Reflecting their larger mission, Air Police became "Security Police" in 1966. By then, the Security Police had improved their organization, training and tactics. Still, even though other Air Force assets like gunships were integrated into air base defense, they lacked needed weapons and combat vehicles.

In 1968 U.S. Air Force Security Policemen saw their largest combat actions of the war during the enemy's country-wide Tet Offensive. The ferocity and scale of the Tet attacks forced the Air Force to provide heavy weapons and armored vehicles to the Security Police. Also, under OPERATION SAFE SIDE, the Air Force formed specially trained, heavily-armed combat Security Police squadrons that could be quickly sent to threatened air bases.

As the U.S. began turning the war over to the South Vietnamese in 1969, U.S. Air Force Security Police numbers in Southeast Asia declined. By 1971, responsibility for the defense of air bases in South Vietnam reverted to the South Vietnamese military.

Click on the following links to learn more about the Southeast Asia War.

U.S. Air Force Dog Handlers
Security Police Weapons
The Threat
Cadillac Gage V-100 (XM706E2) Commando

Click here to return to the South Vietnam: Tet Offensive and Vietnamization Overview.

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