This blog has been created to describe personal experiences based on my work for the Navy as a design engineer and project manager at two Navy locales, White Oak, Maryland and Tucson, Arizona.
My name is Chuck Johnson. I spent over 35 years of my professional life working for the Navy as a design engineer, project manager and Technical Representative for Standard Missile. At the tail end of my career, I consulted with private industry primarily in advanced fuzing concepts. My Navy career started in 1959 At the Naval Ordnance Laboratory (NOL), White Oak, Maryland and ended in 2007 with the Navy Technical Representative Office (TechRep), Tucson, Arizona. Along the way I participated in a number of weapon development projects with fuzing my specialty.
The Naval Ordnance Laboratory came into being in 1929 with the merger of two Washington Navy Yard components, Mines and Experimental Ammunition. In 1946, the Laboratory moved to a large campus in the Maryland suburb, White Oak, and, during the laying of the cornerstone of its first building on 15August 1946, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal described the mission for which it was created and which it pursued until its closure in 1995. In 1974, the Laboratory was merged with the Naval Weapons Laboratory in Dahlgren, Virginia to form the Naval Surface Weapons Center which name (apparently) caused sufficient confusion with the Naval Weapons Center at China Lake, California as to lead to its final name the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC). This merger was not well received by many at White Oak.
I joined NOL in July 1959 with a BS Degree in Physics. I was slated to join the Solid State Research department doing research into solid state materials. It soon became apparent that I was neither inclined nor talented enough to make significant contributions in this field so I joined an Electrical Engineering group that provided an opportunity to acquire on-the-job training in the application of electrical/electronic principles to ordnance. My first electrical engineering challenge was to learn about and create fuzing designs based on the use of square loop magnetic cores which were temporarily in vogue as being able to provide low power fuzing designs. When it was discovered that the “g” forces experienced when weapons were launched were sufficiently high as to scramble the magnetic memory all future development was terminated. However, a patent resulted from my time spent in this area (US3668557). Shortly thereafter, I was assigned as a design engineer in the development of an electric bomb fuze which became the foundation for all subsequent career design activities and focused my efforts in the field of weapon fuzing.
In 1987, I left NOL/NSWC to join Advanced Technology and Research (ATR) as Division Head for Army business. Nothing noteworthy happened during my stay at ATR beyond meeting and marrying a co-worker. My ATR career ended January of 1992 when I left to pursue opportunities of a non-technical nature.
In 2000, I rejoined the Navy civilian work force at the Standard Missile Technical Representative Office, Tucson. The Standard Missile Technical Representative Office (TechRep) was created in 2000 as an on-site coordinator of Navy activities related to the manufacture of Standard Missile at the Raytheon Missile Systems Tucson, Arizona facility. I joined the organization in November 2000 as the Senior Hardware Specialist for Standard Missile. I remained with TechRep into early 2007 when I left TechRep and joined Raytheon in an abortive attempt to more deeply involve myself with weapon design.
In July 2008, I left Raytheon and created an LLC, Johnson Ordnance Engineering, to provide design support in the field of ordnance. This venture lasted into 2010 when my primary source of funds, Special Devices Incorporated (SDI), was bought out and my funding disappeared.
The first sixteen years of my career (1959-1975) intertwined with the US involvement in Vietnam and form the basis for the Vietnam part of this blog with accounts of both the Navy projects I supported and Navy missions during the Vietnam War. Current blog scope covers my NOL/NSWC years. Future blog scope will add TechRep and Johnson Ordnance Engineering projects.
Many of my stories capture different aspects of the Navy efforts in Vietnam with corollary efforts involving the Marines. The Ants logo reflects the sense that the many operations conducted by the Navy/Marine Corps during the Vietnam War were about as effective as stomping on an ant hill. The ants are temporarily discouraged, but in a few days will be back in business. Some might take offense with analogizing the NVA/VC to ants; but, philosophical considerations aside, the level of dedication to the tasks at hand in each community are, in my view, analogous.
Vietnam War Period – Navy presence in Vietnam began in 1950 with support to the French recolonization effort in Vietnam. Following the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu, Navy support was provided to the newly formed South Vietnamese Government. Over the next several years the US Navy worked to develop a South Vietnamese Navy (VNN) and to prosecute a war against North Vietnam. From 1959 to 1972, the VNN grew from 5,000 sailors and 122 vessels to over 42,000 men and 1,500 vessels.
The French debacle at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 led to the Geneva Accords that separated Vietnam into two parts along the 17th parallel and called for elections within two years to determine a final political solution for Vietnam. South Vietnam went through a period of political turmoil with Ngo Dinh Diem declaring himself the first president of South Vietnam and cancelling elections. Despite the Accords, North Vietnam’s intention was always to reunify North and South into one political entity under communist control. The North Vietnamese aim was fully supported by an insurgent group in the south, the Viet Cong (VC) that was committed to the overthrow of the South Vietnamese government and actively conducted guerilla operations against the Diem and subsequent governments.
The Tonkin Gulf Resolution led to an increased US commitment to South Vietnam and involved supplying men and materiel to support the South Vietnam government; attacking targets in North Vietnam (Operations Rolling Thunder and Linebacker I and II) and attempting to stop North Vietnam from supporting the Viet Cong guerillas in South Vietnam. North Vietnam supplied the Viet Cong with men and materiel primarily using two supply paths; the Truong Son Road (Ho Chi Minh Trail) and the sea.
A US intelligence briefing in September 1966 estimated that in the October/November 1965 period 4500 enemy troops per month and 300 tons of supplies per day were flowing along the Trail. Interdicting this flow became a top priority and involved numerous strike missions flown by US Navy, US Marine and US Air Force pilots. Then, on 16 February 1965, the interception of a trawler landing arms and ammunition at Vung Ro Bay (Vung Ro Bay Incident) in northern Khánh Hòa Province provided the first tangible evidence of a separate North Vietnamese supply operation. Seaborne supply of materiel and small numbers of key personnel to the Viet Cong under the control of North Vietnam’s NVN 125th Naval Transportation Group had begun sometime prior to 1962 and was a major component of the Viet Cong resupply operation.
Operation Market Time was initiated in March 1965 as a comprehensive effort to eliminate the offshore supply routes south of the DMZ using air and sea resources. In April 1966 a new command, Task Force 115(TF-115), was created to oversee Market Time.
Operation Sea Dragon, initiated in 1965 and lasting for three years, was directed at eliminating the offshore supply routes north of the DMZ using sea resources. This operation complemented the air operation Rolling Thunder and ended when Rolling Thunder ended.
Additionally, the myriad of waterways that suffused the Mekong Delta region of South Vietnam provided supply routes for men and weapons supporting the Viet Cong. To counter this threat Operation Game Warden was initiated and assigned to Task Force 116 (TF-116). Separately, a Mobile Riverine Force (a joint Army-Navy riverine operation) was created and assigned to Task Force 117 (TF-117).
When Vietnam was partitioned along the 17th parallel (the line of partition followed the Ben Hai River from the South China Sea at 17 degrees 0 minutes 54 seconds North latitude to its headwaters about 35 miles WSW then to the Laotian border) a demilitarized zone (DMZ) was created which extended 5 kilometers on either side of the partition line and was restricted from use by conflicting forces. While the US observed this stricture, North Vietnam ignored it and the demilitarized zone effectively became a southern extension of North Vietnam. This was hugely problematic for Marines operating south of the DMZ. US observation of the Accords severely restricted operations in and north of the DMZ and impacted the ability of some naval operations (e.g. Sea Dragon) to fully cope with the North Vietnamese threat.
Navy Roles – Vietnam War
The Navy had many roles during the Vietnam War, some of which I will describe in a series of papers that will provide some insight into each role supplemented, as appropriate, by personal knowledge. While the Vietnam War may be regarded by many as a mistake of historic proportions, it should not be forgotten that, rightly or wrongly, the Vietnam War was an attempt to curtail the spread of communism in Southeast Asia. It is impossible to know whether the attempt could have been successful if the war had been executed in a manner consistent with the recommendations of the field commanders and if the South Vietnamese government had been more stable. Navy ships and aircraft filled the following roles:
- Attack inland targets in North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos
- Lay Mines
- Provide naval gunfire against sea and land targets
- Patrol the South Vietnamese coast and interdict arms shipments
- Patrol the waterways that suffused South Vietnam (Mekong Delta)
- Support Marine Amphibious Operations
The first, second and third roles involved the use of deep draft vessels collectively known as the “Blue Water Navy”. CTF77 (Carrier Task Force 77) stationed off the North Vietnam coast at Yankee Station with three or more aircraft carriers and supporting vessels conducted airstrikes against prescribed targets. Destroyers, an occasional cruiser and briefly the battleship New Jersey used naval gunfire to attack accessible near shore and in shore targets and to support land operations within the range of their guns.
The fourth role used air and sea resources (including Coast Guard ships) to stem the flow of men and materiel from North Vietnam into South Vietnam along coastal routes south of the DMZ.
The fifth role required shallow draft vessels to circumnavigate the Mekong Delta’s shallow rivers and canals and came to be known as the “Brown Water Navy”.
The sixth role required a complement of ships dedicated to supporting a Marine Amphibious Assault.
Books have been written that comprehensively cover the above roles. I have selected a few specific operations that, in my words, capture the essence of each of the above roles and, occasionally reflect personal experiences.
In writing about each of these roles, I have relied on my limited personal experiences and material taken from the records of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Marine Corps (in depth archives located at Texas Tech University), the Commander in Chief Pacific (CINCPAC), the Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV), the Pentagon Papers (Mount Holyoke), the individual records of ships and other combat elements and other written material. Through these records I have vicariously met many men whose jobs were to help their commands succeed in their assigned roles. Some of these men, in my opinion, were not up to the task. Two men who seemed to fully understand the theater within which they were operating and the vacuity of many of the assignments handed to them were: U. S. Grant Sharp and Victor H Krulak.
U. S. Grant Sharp (Ulysses Simpson Grant Sharp Jr.)1 a four star Admiral who served as Commander in Chief, United States Pacific Fleet (CINCPACFLT) from 1963 to 1964 and Commander-in-Chief, United States Pacific Command (CINCPAC) from 1964 to 1968. Admiral Sharp’s great aunt was married to Ulysses S. Grant, civil war general and two term president. Admiral Sharp saw action in WWII, Korea and Vietnam and made the cover of the August 14, 1964 issue of TIME Magazine. He wrote:
“We Could Have Won in Vietnam Long Ago”, a 1969 Reader’s Digest article and “Strategy for Defeat: Vietnam in Retrospect” a 1979 book.
Marine Corps General Victor H Krulak,2 nicknamed “Brute” by his Annapolis classmates for his massive stature of 120 pounds packed on a 5’4”frame. I first met General Krulak in the book “A Bright Shining Lie – John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam”. I then met him again while doing research on the part of the McNamara Line called the Strongpoint Obstacle System (SOS). He was totally dedicated to the Marine Corps and did not gladly accept mission assignments, like the McNamara Line, which he felt were an abuse of the men for whom he was responsible. General Krulak saw action in WWII, Korea and Vietnam.
He wrote the book: “First to Fight: An Inside View of the U.S. Marine Corps”
Personal Experiences – Vietnam War
Circa 1965 I was assigned as a design engineer in the development of an electric bomb fuze (MK344). The development effort ended in 1967 with successful Navy Operational Evaluation (OPEVAL) testing and a release of the design to production. Post production release, I monitored production activities at the primary manufacturer’s site.
In 1967 I participated in the design review of one of the early acoustic sensors deployed in Vietnam. The first sensor developed for use in Vietnam was an adaptation of an anti-submarine sensor, Acoubuoy.
In 1968 I was tasked with the design of a fuel consumption monitor for a Program 5 Flame Monitor. This effort included my designing; overseeing the manufacture of and personally installing twelve black boxes in six Flame Monitors in San Diego and participating in sea trials off the San Diego coast. I also installed a training system at the Naval Inshore Operations Training Center (NIOTC) at Mare Island, CA.
From 28 December 1970 through 15 January 1971, I was a member of a team whose mission was to introduce a new Electric Bomb Fuzing system to western Pacific Fleet elements including the Marines. From February 1971 through September 1971, I was a member of the Naval Research and Development Unit – Vietnam (NRDU-V) as a Sensor Specialist supporting the Navy Sensor program at Navy Riverine bases in the Mekong Delta (Project Dufflebag).
From 1972 through 1975 I was the lead electrical engineer in the development of a solid state replacement (FMU-117B) for the MK344 electric fuze. This fuze successfully completed OPEVAL (Operational Evaluation) and was my last Vietnam era project.
Post Vietnam (NSWC) – My Vietnam experience was followed by several projects at NSWC that involved a wide variety of design challenges.
From 1975 through 1984 I designed the electronics portion of the EX416 Precision Time Fuze that included a semi-custom CMOS integrated circuit. I also oversaw the initial development of the EX419 Multi-Option Fuze. During this period I became involved with the development of an Inductive Fuze Setter that was designed to program information into the Navy’s Semi-Active Laser Guided Projectile (SAL-GP). My initial efforts in this area were interesting and reflect an absence of collegiality between the White Oak and Dahlgren parts of NSWC.
From 1984 through 1986 I was the Chief Engineer and Project Manager for an Advanced Seeker Fuze Target Detecting Device (ASFTDD) while continuing to manage the transition of the EX419 fuze from Exploratory Development into Advanced Development.
In 1985 I was briefly involved with the creation of a Tomahawk missile variant that employed “Blackout Technology”.
In late 1986 I briefly served as Branch Head for G43, the NSWC Air and Surface Fuzing Branch.
In April of 1987 I left NSWC and joined Advanced Technology and Research (ATR).
Navy Standard Missile Technical Representative (TechRep) – My TechRep experience began in November 2000 and ended in April 2007. TechRep had no design responsibilities which I often found frustrating and our operating motto (passed down from above) was: “Help Raytheon succeed”. This was a very different environment from White Oak and required a period of acclimation that did not always go smoothly. My primary responsibilities were managing the approval and implementation of proposed hardware design changes to Standard Missile which ranged from cosmetic to complex. I once said to the Raytheon Chief Engineer for Standard Missile that a change Raytheon was proposing would be implemented “over my dead body”. As it turned out this particular change was never implemented and in its not being implemented I had “helped Raytheon succeed”.
I plan to write papers on the Navy’s role in the Vietnam conflict and on my personal work experiences. I hope you find them interesting.
The Green Glass Ball was written for a granddaughter, who enjoys it. Maybe you will, too. Click here.
Beau Charger was a Navy/Marine Corps amphibious operation. This paper describes the operation in some detail. To read it, click here. MK344 Fleet Introduction provides a snapshot of Carrier operations off the Vietnam Coast in 1971 based on a trip to the fleet made by the author. Read it here. Operation Pocket Money was an …