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The Defense of Tan Son Nhut Air Base, 31 January 1968: A Study in the Nature of Air Base Security

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Master's thesis

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The U.S. Air Force USAF employs various safeguards to protect its resources and personnel from ground attacks. Perhaps the most obvious are physical barriers fences and checkpoints, barbed-wire entanglements, cement barricades, hardened aircraft shelters, and so forth. The USAF also maintains its own Security Forces, also known as Security Police, to protect USAF assets from limited ground attacks. Significantly, the USAF and other U.S. military institutions have approached air base security in much the same way they approach aircraft development, as a vast engineering project. In other words, the U.S. military traditionally views air base defense as a technical problem-one focused on the number and placement of fences, barriers, and Security Police personnel. Nevertheless, a careful analysis of actual attacks on USAF bases suggests that the central issue of providing security to U.S. air bases is essentially a human problem. U.S. Air Force base security ultimately depends on dedicated local defense terms-Security Police-posted at the point of greatest danger, trained to shoot to kill and with the authority do so. This thesis analyzes the nature of USAF base security on several levels, but its principal illustration is a study of air base security during the Vietnam War, when Security Police successfully defended Tan Son Nhut air base on 31 January 1968. The reports four sections investigate air base security in progressively decreasing spans of time and space. Each level of analysis explores a single example in depth, and each example is a logical extension of the one before it. The report suggests that a lack of continuity in the U.S. air base security efforts undermined effective security methods, and that the U.S. entered the Vietnam War with an unrealistic concept of USAF base security.

Subject Categories:

  • Defense Systems
  • Logistics, Military Facilities and Supplies

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