The first consideration of herbicide operations in the RVN came in July
1961 when CHMAAGV suggested they might be used to improve
visibility along communication routes, and to deny the enemy his source
of food. As the result of this suggestion, the Combat Development Test
Center began research on the practicability of crop destruction and
defoliation operations in the RVN with the first test conducted in
1961, along Route 13 in Chon Thanh province.
On 6 December 1961, six C-123s and 69 personnel set up temporary
operations at Clark AFB, Philippines. On 7 January 1962, three aircraft
were moved to Tan Son Nhut, RVN. The project was named RANCH HAND and
was tasked with testing the soundness of the defoliation concept as
well as to determine optimum chemical concentrations and methods of
RANCH HAND aircraft flew their first experimental mission on 12 January
1962 on a target along Route 15, northwest of Saigon. In
addition to RANCH HAND aircraft, the VNAF used one C-47 aircraft and
several H-34 helicopters to test the herbicide concept. Other tests were
conducted in the Ca Mau Peninsula region. -The initial test continued
until 20 March 1962, when they were terminated to await evaluation of
chemical effects on the foliage. An Army brigadier general arrived in
Vietnam it' April 1962 with a team of herbicide experts from Army
Chemical Corps to "determine the feasibility of the use of chemicals
applied as spray by aircraft or ground equipment against tropical
in selected target areas in South Vietnam. " The team was
primprflconcerned with the ability of the spray "to improre roadside and
visibility as an aid in aerial and giound surveillance of routes of
enemy movemcnt and supply, to reduce ambush opportunities for the enemy,
to aid in exposing enemy jungle areas. " The team evaluated 21 targets
in 11 areas and concluded that, when evaluated from the air, herbicides
were 70% effective, and irom the ground, 60% effective in imnrovina
horizontal and vertical visibility. Heavier concentrations of
and spray equipment improvements were also recommended.
During the period January-March 1962, many training missions were also
flown. It was on one such low-level mission, in February, 1962,
that a RANCH HAND aircraft crashed, destroying the aircraft and killing
the three crew members. The cause of this crash has never been
determined. A replacement aircraft was immediately flown from Clark AFB
to keep RANCH HAND's strength at three aircraft.
In March 1962, the remaining two aircraft were flown from Clark to
During the evaluation period, three of the five RANCH HAND aircraft had
the spray equipment removed and were used for logistics missions as part
of Project MULE TRAIN, also operating out of Tan Son Nhut.
On one of these missions, the second RANCH HAND C-123 was totally
destroyed while attempting a short field takeoff. The crew, however, was
Information from declassified report "SCIENTIFIC ADVISORY GROUP WORKING
PAPER NO. 10-68
A REVIEW OF THE HERBICIDE PROGRAM IN SOUTH VIETNAM (U)
William F. Warren - August 1968
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