The Phantom Menace: the F-4 in Air Combat in Vietnam

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The F-4 Phantom II was the United States' primary air superiority fighter aircraft during the Vietnam War. This airplane epitomized American airpower doctrine during the early Cold War, which diminished the role of air-to-air combat and the air superiority mission. As a result, the F-4 struggled against the Soviet MiG fighters used by the North Vietnamese Air Force. By the end of the Rolling Thunder bombing campaign in 1968, the Phantom traded kills with MiGs at a nearly one-to-one ratio, the worst air combat performance in American history. The aircraft also regularly failed to protect American bombing formations from MiG ... continued below

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Hankins, Michael W. August 2013.

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  • Hankins, Michael W.

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The F-4 Phantom II was the United States' primary air superiority fighter aircraft during the Vietnam War. This airplane epitomized American airpower doctrine during the early Cold War, which diminished the role of air-to-air combat and the air superiority mission. As a result, the F-4 struggled against the Soviet MiG fighters used by the North Vietnamese Air Force. By the end of the Rolling Thunder bombing campaign in 1968, the Phantom traded kills with MiGs at a nearly one-to-one ratio, the worst air combat performance in American history. The aircraft also regularly failed to protect American bombing formations from MiG attacks. A bombing halt from 1968 to 1972 provided a chance for American planners to evaluate their performance and make changes. The Navy began training pilots specifically for air combat, creating the Navy Fighter Weapons School known as "Top Gun" for this purpose. The Air Force instead focused on technological innovation and upgrades to their equipment. The resumption of bombing and air combat in the 1972 Linebacker campaigns proved that the Navy's training practices were effective, while the Air Force's technology changes were not, with kill ratios becoming worse. However, the last three months of the campaign introduced an American ground radar system that proved more effective than Top Gun in improving air-to-air combat performance. By the end of the Vietnam War, the Air Force and Navy overcame the inherent problems with the Phantom, which were mostly of their own making.

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  • August 2013

Added to The UNT Digital Library

  • April 23, 2014, 8:20 p.m.

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  • Nov. 16, 2016, 2:35 p.m.

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Hankins, Michael W. The Phantom Menace: the F-4 in Air Combat in Vietnam, thesis, August 2013; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc283785/: accessed September 22, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .