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Encyclopedia > Operation Igloo White

Text on this page is modified (with permission) from Paul N. Edwards, The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996).


Operation Igloo White was an expensive military operation run by the United States Air Force from 1967 to 1972 that used computers and sensors to automate the bombing of North Vietnamese convoys on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in southern Laos. Seal of the Air Force. ... 1967 was a common year starting on Sunday of the Gregorian calendar. ... 1972 was a leap year that started on a Saturday. ... A computer is a device or machine for processing information from data according to a program — a compiled list of instructions. ... This article needs to be cleaned up to conform to a higher standard of quality. ... Automation (ancient Greek: = self dictated) or industrial automation is the use of computers to control industrial machinery and processes, replacing human operators. ... The Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRVN) (Vietnamese: Việt Nam Dân Chủ Cộng Hòa), also known as North Vietnam, was founded by Ho Chi Minh and was recognized by China and the USSR in 1950. ... The Ho Chi Minh trail was a network of roads built from North Vietnam to South Vietnam through the neighbouring countries of Laos and Cambodia to provide logistical support to the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army during the Vietnam War. ...


Operation Igloo White was based out of Infiltration Surveillance Center (ISC) at Nakhom Phanom in Thailand, at the time the largest building in Southeast Asia. At the ISC, technicians analyzed banks of video displays which were controlled by IBM 360/65 computers connected to thousands of sensors hidden along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. Disguised as twigs, plants, and animal droppings, the sensors were designed to detect various forms of human activity: body heat, truck engines, motion, even scent. Location of Southeast Asia Southeast Asia is a subregion of Asia. ... This article needs to be cleaned up to conform to a higher standard of quality. ... International Business Machines Corporation (IBM, or colloquially, Big Blue) NYSE: IBM (incorporated June 15, 1911, in operation since 1888) is headquartered in Armonk, NY, USA. The company manufactures and sells computer hardware, software, and services. ... The IBM System/360 (S/360) is a mainframe computer system family announced by International Business Machines on April 7, 1964. ...


When the sensors detected a human presence, it was represented as a moving white "worm" on a map grid at the ISC. The computers at the ISC would then calculate the "worm"'s direction and speed, and radio the coordinates to Phantom F-4 jets which were patrolling the area. The navigation system on the planes would allow the ISC computers to guide them to the map grid square to be attacked (the "box"), and the ISC computers could even control the release of the bombs without the pilot's involvement. Most of the time no Air Force personnel even saw the target, the system was primarily used at night. A map of the world by Johannes Kepler A map is a simplified depiction of a space, a navigational aid which highlights relations between objects within that space. ... F-4 re-directs here; for alternate uses, see F4 The F-4 Phantom II (simply F-4 Phantom after 1990) is a two-place (tandem), supersonic, long-range, all-weather fighter-bomber built by (originally McDonnell Aircraft Corporation) McDonnell Douglas Corporation. ... Jet aircraft are aircraft with jet engines. ... Massive ordinance air-burst bomb. ... The word pilot has several meanings: In shipping, a pilot is someone who guides ships through the waters near a harbour, or especially narrow or otherwise dangerous coastal waters. ...


The system cost around $1 billion per year to operate, but was justified by the military as being responsible for massive blows to the North Vietnamese forces. Officials claimed that Igloo White destroyed 35,000 North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao trucks, with each carrying 10,000 pounds of supplies meant for the Communist insurgency in South Vietnam. Pathet Lao was the name of the Laotian Communist movement from the 1950s to the 1970s and the Laotian equivalent of the Khmer Rouge, Viet Minh and Viet Cong. ... Communism - Wikipedia /**/ @import /w/skins-1. ... Official language Vietnamese Capital Saigon Last President Duong Van Minh Last Prime Minister Vu Van Mau Area  - Total  - % water 173,809km² N/A Population  - Total  - Density 19,370,000 (1973 est. ...


However it is unlikely that the official estimates were reflective of actual war success. In 1971 a United States Senate subcommittee report noted that the "truck kills claimed by the Air Force [in Igloo White] last year greatly exceeds the number of trucks believed by the Embassy to be in all of North Vietnam." Reconnaissance flights flown by day almost always failed to locate the supposedly destroyed vehicles. In response, the military claimed that perhaps the Vietcong were to have "dragged" the destroyed trucks into the jungle during the night. 1971 is a common year starting on Friday (click for link to calendar). ... Seal of the Senate The United States Senate is one of the two houses of the Congress of the United States, the other being the House of Representatives. ... Mixed reconaissance patrol of the Polish Home Army and the Soviet Red Army during Operation Tempest, 1944 Reconnaissance is the military term for the active gathering of information about an enemy, or other conditions, by physical observation. ... A Viet Cong soldier, heavily guarded, awaits interrogation following capture in the attacks on Saigon during the festive Tet holiday period of 1968. ...


The more realistic answer is that the Vietnamese soldiers had simply learned to confuse the sensors using decoys, provoking countless tons of bombs released onto empty jungle, which they could then cross safely as the bombings would destroy the sensors until they were replaced. In 1972, despite four years of computer-controlled bombing of their supply lines, the North Vietnamese were able to field a major tank and artillery offensive inside South Vietnam. Despite these obvious shortcomings, the military establishment continued to regard Igloo White as a success, claiming it had destroyed up to 90% of the equipment transported along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. A decoy is usually a person, device or event meant as a distraction to conceal what an individual or a group might be looking for. ... Historically, artillery refers to any engine used for the discharge of projectiles during war. ...


The historian of technology Paul N. Edwards has argued that Operation Igloo White The history of science and technology (HST) is a field of history which examines how humanitys understanding of science and technology has changed over the millennia. ...

"resembles a microcosmic version of the whole United States approach to the Vietnam War. Under Robert McNamara, the Department of Defense completed a process of centralization begun by President Truman, making the service secretaries responsible to the Secretary of Defense in practice as well as in principle."

Edwards links Operation Igloo White to a process of automation and internationalization of military conflict which became predominant in the Cold War, by which the minutiae of wars became managed less by field commanders as by The Pentagon, using high technology to augment or replace human action. The Vietnam War or Second Indochina War was a conflict between the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRVN, or North Vietnam), allied with the National Liberation Front (NLF, or Viet Cong) against the Republic of Vietnam (RVN, or South Vietnam), and their allies—notably the United States military in support of... Robert McNamara in 1964 Robert Strange McNamara (born June 9, 1916), is an American business executive and a former United States Secretary of Defense. ... The United States Department of Defense, abbreviated DoD or DOD and sometimes called the Defense Department, is a civilian Cabinet organization of the United States government. ... Centralization is the process by which the activities of an organization, particularly those regarding decision-making, become concentrated within a particular location and/or group. ... Harry S. Truman (May 8, 1884 – December 26, 1972) was the thirty-fourth Vice President (1945) and the thirty-third President of the United States (1945–53), succeeding to the office upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt. ... The United States Secretary of Defense is the head of the United States Department of Defense, concerned with the armed services and The Secretary is a member of the Presidents Cabinet. ... For the generic term for a high-tension rivalry between countries, see cold war (war). ... A pre-9/11 view of The Pentagon, looking east with the Potomac River and Washington Monument in the distance. ...


Further reading

  • Paul N. Edwards, The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996).

External links

  • Text from Edwards' book regarding Igloo White
  • Page with many technical details about Igloo White

  Results from FactBites:
 
Air Force Magazine (4304 words)
Igloo White would be the name by which the entire program would be best remembered.
Igloo White consisted of three parts: the sensors, the orbiting aircraft to relay the signal, and the Infiltration Surveillance Center at Nakhon Phanom Air Base in Thailand.
The nerve center for Igloo White was located at Nakhon Phanom, which the Americans called “NKP,” in eastern Thailand, across the Mekong River from Laos.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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