In 1964, American President Lyndon Johnson, after convincing Congress that the North Vietnamese attacked American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin, received approval for the outbreak of the Vietnam War. The US military assumed that the power of the US Air Force would make it possible to deal with a recalcitrant country in a short time.
The war in the airspace of Vietnam became the largest after the air battles of the Second World War. The opposing sides used dozens of types of aircraft in it, but the main burden fell on two planes. The results of the fights between them became decisive in the air war. The Americans had such a heavy twin-engined McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom double-engine fighter with a take-off weight of about 20 t, created in the 1958 year. By the start of the 1960, the Phantom had become one of the most famous American aircraft. F-4 Phantom had excellent flight performance, powerful on-board surveillance and sighting radar, as well as a unique weapon system.
MiG-21 (921-th SP)
The main rival of the F-4 was the Soviet front-line fighter MiG-21, also created in the 1958 year. In contrast to the “American”, the MiG-21 was created for operations over the front line, at a short distance from the home airfield. Therefore, it had a smaller flight range (about 1500 km), and its take-off weight was only 8 T. However, the maximum speed and practical ceiling of the MiG-21 was not inferior to the F-4.
The armament of the MiG-21 was significantly weaker than that of the “American” - two (later - four) medium-range P-3s air-to-air missiles with infrared homing, as well as one 23-mm or 30-mm gun .
For the first time, the F-4 Phantom met in a battle with the North Vietnamese 9 aircraft on April 1964. The Americans subsequently stated that in the 8 hours of the 40 minutes, the US Navy F-4B fighter from the Ranger aircraft carrier attacked four North Vietnamese MiG-17 aircraft. One of them was shot down with a Sparrow missile, but another MiG-17 went into the tail of the F-4B and opened fire on it from a cannon. As a result, pilot T. Murphy and cameraman R. Fagan died.
Subsequently, the air battles with the participation of F-4 and MiG-17 took place quite regularly, and the Americans behaved very carelessly at these meetings. However, this carelessness disappeared with the appearance in the sky of Vietnam of the Soviet MiG-21 fighters and the use of C-75 anti-aircraft missile systems.
Since the beginning of 1966, the main opponents of the F-4 were the supersonic MiG-21F-13 and MiG-21PF-V, equipped with missiles UR R-Zs with TGS or units with 55 mm unguided aviation missiles (NAR) S-5. The first battle involving the MiG-21 took place on April 23, 1966 and ended to no avail.
Vietnamese pilots rush to their aircraft to engage in battle with the approaching enemy
26 April F-4 fighters managed to bring down the first MiG-21, thereby opening an account in a duel that lasted more than two decades in many local conflicts.
From May to December 1966, the United States lost its 47 aircraft in air battles, destroying only 12 North Vietnamese fighters.
MiG-21 attacked the enemy, usually at supersonic speeds, performing a rocket launch from the rear hemisphere, and then quickly broke away from the pursuit. It was difficult for American pilots to oppose such tactics. Practiced and joint actions of the MiG-21 with the MiG-17.
The air battle that occurred on July 14 of the year 1966 and was described later by Captain B. Schwender was quite typical: “At the head of the F-4C link I flew out of Tahli airbase. The armament of my aircraft consisted of four Sparrow and four Sidewinder.
Refueling over Laos from the KS-135, we met up with a trio of “Thunder Chifs” who were going to the Plat Yen airfield (escorting these planes was our task). We descended and followed at a distance of 1000 - 1500 m from fighter-bombers.
Suddenly, the leader of the group “Thunder-Chifov” said that he was in danger (which one, I did not have time to disassemble). Having decided that we are talking about enemy anti-aircraft missiles, I was going to fly around the threatened area to the right. However, after turning to 180 degrees, the third plane of my flight said: “MiG, the direction of“ eight hours ”, is approaching us!” Turning quickly to the left, I looked over my shoulder and saw a rapidly diving MiG. Turning sharply to the right, I dropped the underwing tanks, preparing for the attack, but the enemy disappeared in dense clouds. Soon, in the direction of “two hours,” I saw the MiG-21 approaching the “Thunder-Chefam”.
Nguyen Van Kok (9 air victories, right) and Nguyen Doc Soat (6 air victories, left) listen to Pham Tan Ngan (center, 8 air victories) telling about one of his victories
I began a rapprochement with the enemy so that my operator D. Battel could conduct his capture of the radio sight. Soon he succeeded, I clicked on the trigger, letting Sparrow go, and at the same moment, out of the corner of my eye, noticed on the radar screen that the target mark disappeared. In a matter of moments, I switched the type weapons and again pressed the trigger, firing into the enemy Sidewinder, although the angle for the attack was unsuitable.
The rocket passed over the cabin of the MiG, not exploding. The Vietnamese pilot, having turned on the afterburner, abruptly went to the right and began to rapidly gain altitude. Soon it began to look like a bright luminous spot against a blue sky - an excellent target for rockets with a thermal head. Having launched the second Sidewinder, I gnashed my teeth out of anger, realizing that the rocket was going past the target, but then he took himself in hand and launched the third rocket. MiG, dodging rockets, was spinning in circles among the smoke plumes they left. I thought that we had missed again, but at that moment a huge fireball appeared on the site of the Vietnamese fighter ... "
It should be noted that the American pilots won a victory in this battle due to the fact that they constantly saw the North Vietnamese fighter, and he could not detect them in time due to poor visibility back from the cockpit of the MiG-21 PF.
In total, on the first stage of the air war from April 1965 to November 1968, 268 air battles took place in the sky of Vietnam, during which 244 American and 85 North Vietnamese aircraft were shot down. Of these, 46 battles occurred between the MiG-21 and F-4 - the result of these meetings was disappointing for the latter - the losses were 27 F-4 Phantom and 20 MiG-21.
To achieve superiority over the MiG-21 fighters, the Americans organized special retraining courses for Air Force pilots, where they practiced air battles with squadrons equipped with Nortrop F-5 fighters that played the role of MiG-21 aircraft. The same courses were organized for the pilots of naval aviation, where for five weeks intensive training of pilots took place in conditions as close as possible to the combat ones.
In June, 1971, the United States resumed raids on North Vietnam. A year later, having increased the size of their aircraft to 1000 airplanes, the Americans conducted a large-scale air operation "Linebayer-1", during which they struck 40 with powerful bomb strikes against North Vietnamese communications and airfields, which significantly weakened the combat capabilities of North Vietnamese aviation.
Fierce air battles between the F-4 and MiG-21 fighters flared up again. 16 On April, two North Vietnamese MiG-21 PFs were shot down in a battle with twelve F-4. 27 On April, the F-4 unit met with a pair of MiG-21 - as a result of the battle, one American plane was shot down. 6 May, the F-4 link entered into battle with the four MiG-21; despite six rockets fired at one of the MiGs, the North Vietnamese pilot, however, managed to dodge them. Unfortunately, the volley of three more American missiles still shot down the MiG-21, but the pilot managed to safely eject.
The culmination of the air war in the sky of Vietnam was 10 on May 1972, when North Vietnamese aviation conducted 15 air battles, shooting down seven F-4. In this case, the American pilots destroyed two MiG-21, two MiG-17 and one J-6. In one of the fights of this day, the MiG-17 unit performed the release of a neighboring airfield, knocking down one F-4. The second link pair began a maneuverable air combat with the F-4 four, losing one MiG-17 in it, but this allowed the MiG-21 pair to rise into the air from a blocked aerodrome and knock down a pair of F-4, using only two P-ES missiles.
The 11 in May, a pair of MiG-21, having played the role of "bait", led the four F-4 to two MiG-21 that were patrolling at low altitude. They unexpectedly attacked the F-4 and shot down two of them with three missiles.
June 13 link MiG-21 intercepted a group of fighter F-4 Phantom. A pair of MiGs wedged in the order of the Americans, causing panic among them: the pilots violated the system and began to maneuver randomly. At this time, the second pair of MiGs launched a rocket attack and shot down two F-4.
On May 18, North Vietnamese aviation conducted 26 combat missions and conducted eight air battles that cost the Americans four F-4 Phantom. North Vietnamese fighters suffered no casualties that day. During one of the fights, a pair of MiG-21 intercepted the F-4 link, while the leader attacked with a half-turn and the first missile shot down the F-4.
In the summer of 1972, the intensity of the air battles decreased, and air collisions became more episodic. 12 June, the F-4 Phantom link fought a pair of MiG-21, losing one machine. The next day, as a result of two fights, the Americans lost two more F-4.
According to American data, from June to September 1972 in air battles over North Vietnam, the US Air Force and Navy planes destroyed 17 North Vietnamese fighters, including 11 MiG-21, 4 MiG-17 and 2 J-6, having lost 11 F 4 Phantom - 9 belonged to the Air Force and 2 Navy. Interestingly, not the newest F-4E Phantom turned out to be more productive, but the older F-4D Phantom, at the expense of which nine victories were recorded in the air (seven over the MiG-21 and two over the J-6). F-4J shot down 1 MiG-21 and 4 MiG-17, and F-4E - 3 MiG-21. Sparrow missiles destroyed eight MiG-21, Sidewinder - three MiG-21, two J-6 and four MiG-17.
In the course of the “air offensive” undertaken by American aircraft in the spring and summer of 1972, by the fall, at the 360 combat theater, tactical fighters of the US Air Force and 96 fighters of the Navy (mostly F-4 Phantom of the latest modifications) were opposed by North America’s 187 fighters (MiG-17) , MiG-21 and J-6), but only 71 of them was combat-capable aircraft. Just 1972 year between US and North Vietnamese aircraft occurred 201 air battle, which resulted in lost 54 North Vietnamese fighters (including 36 MiG-21, one MiG-21US, 12 MiG-17 and five J-6) and 90 American cars (including the F-74 fighter 4 and two RF-4C reconnaissance aircraft). At the same time, the MiG-21 fighters destroyed 67 enemy planes, on the account of the MiG-17 and J-6 were, respectively, 11 and 12 enemy planes.
Calculations show that the confrontation between the MiG-21 and the F-4 Phantom in the sky of Vietnam ended with the defeat of the F-4 fighter during the fighting from 1966 to 1972, only the 54 of the MiG-21 fighter was shot down during the year, while the MiG-21 fighters 103 destroyed 4 F-4 Phantom. It should be noted that the F-21 cost American taxpayers in an amount several times higher than the cost of one MiG-4 (in comparable prices). At the same time, it should be noted that the F-4 Phantom aircraft had to solve uncharacteristic tasks in Vietnam: the heavy interceptor, created for the defense of attack aircraft carrier formations from raids of high-speed bombers and anti-ship cruise missiles, was used to gain air supremacy confrontation with a MiG-21 aircraft that is more suited to this role. Therefore, the defeat of the Americans is not due to the mistakes of the designers of the company McDonnell-Douglas, who managed to create an outstanding combat aircraft for their time, but the lack of a lightweight fighter for the United States for air combat, able to withstand MiG-21.
However, the F-4 strike aircraft as a tactical proved to be excellent. F-4 Phantom was widely used to strike bridges, power stations, and North Vietnamese rail transport. The planes continuously combed communications of the enemy, in places completely paralyzing movement during the daytime.
The experience of the Vietnam War had a tremendous impact on the military aircraft industry in both the United States and the USSR. The Americans reacted to the defeat in the air battles of the F-4 Phantom by creating highly mobile fourth generation fighters.