Operation Popeye, Motorpool, Intermediary, Compatriot: Weather Warfare Over Vietnam
The chemical weather modification program was conducted from Thailand over Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam and allegedly sponsored by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and CIA without the authorization of then Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird who had categorically denied to Congress that a program for modification of the weather for use as a tactical weapon even existed.
- Softening road surfaces
- Causing landslides along roadways
- Washing out river crossings
- Maintain saturated soil conditions beyond the normal time span.
Operation Popeye first came to public light in March 1971, when reporter Jack Anderson published a story based on a secret 1967 memo from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to President Johnson. The memo read: “Laos operations – Continue as at present plus Pop Eye to reduce the trafficability [sic] along infiltration routes & Authorization requested to implement operational phase of weather modification process previously successful tested and evaluated in some area”. (US Senate, Subcommittee on Oceans and International Environment; 26 July 1972; p. 5).
Mr DOOLIN: I speak in a personal capacity and not in my official capacity, Mr. Chairman. I have been in this job for 5 years, and I didn’t have this clearance even though Southeast Asia is in my area of responsibility in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The first I learned of it was, as the result of a Jack Anderson column, and I made inquiries at the time - simply for my own edification… [US Senate, Subcommittee on Oceans and International Environment; 20 March 1972; p. 111]
Few aviation writers and historians seem to be aware that there were three WC-130As. These three were originally trash-haulers, borrowed from TAC in late 1966 for use in Operation Popeye, the rain-making mission in Southeast Asia, set to begin the following year. The intent of the mission was to create enough year-round rain to keep the Ho Chi Minh trails impassable with mud. Tests were conducted over Laos in 1966, and the operational missions began in March of 1967 from Udorn RTAFB, Thailand. They were flown by crews of the 54th WRS, rotated on a regular basis from Guam. In addition, 54th crews were sometimes called upon to conduct synoptic weather reconnaissance from Udorn over various areas of Southeast Asia, out to and including the Bay of Bengal.
The A-models were modified for weather reconnaissance, probably at WRAMA, with the AN/AMR-1 system. They were not configured for atmospheric sampling. Two were kept at Udorn, with the third rotating to and from Guam for maintenance, repair, and crew changes, from June 1967 through late 1970. When the third one was not enroute to/from Thailand, it was used for normal weather reconnaissance activities from Guam. In late 1970 the A’s were replaced with three 1958 B-models, and the rain-making mission continued through mid-1972 with whichever B- or E-models were available from the 54th. After re-conversion to transport, the A’s were transferred to Air Force Reserve units. During their brief stint as rain-makers, they flew a total of 1435 combat sorties, and it is reported that at least one of them received battle damage. All three A-models wore the standard Southeast Asia camouflage colors and markings, but with no unit designations of any kind. In 1973, 56-0519 was given or loaned to the South Vietnamese Air Force, and it became one of the spoils of war on April 30, 1975. The last reliable sighting was in April of 1999, which reported her corroded and derelict at Tan Son Nhut Airport, Ho Chi Minh City.
US Congress, Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, Subcommittee on Oceans and International Environment, Hearing: Prohibiting Military Weather Modification, Washington, DC: US Govt. Printing Office, 26-27 July 1972, 162 pages.
US Congress, Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, Report: Prohibiting Environmental Modification as a Weapon of War, Report no. 93-270. Washington, DC: OS Govt. Printing Office, 27 June 1973, 7 pages.
US Congress, Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, Subcommittee on Oceans and International Environment, Hearing: Weather Modification, Washington, DC: US Govt Printing Office, 1974, 123 pages.
US Congress, House, Committee on Foreign Affairs, Hearing: Weather Modification as a Weapon of War, Washington, DC: US Govt. Printing Office, 24 September 1974, 39 pages.
US Congress, House, Committee on International Relations, Subcommittee on International Organization, Hearing: Prohibition of Weather Modification as a Weapon of War, Washington, DC: OS Govt. Prlnting Offlce, 29 July 1975, 51 pages