One of the most dangerous missions flown by the pilots of the 469th Tactical Fighter Squadron was "Iron Hand." The purpose of an Iron Hand mission was to suppress and/or destroy enemy surface-to-air missile sites. In early 1966, standard F-105Ds with no special electronic counter measures equipment accompanied F-100 Wild Weasel I aircraft equipped with basic ECM equipment. In general, the F-100 would identify the SAM site and the F-105Ds would fly the actual strike. The mission gradually evolved with the addition of new weapons and ECM equipment until the F-105D was replaced by the more capable and specialized two-place F-105F and -G models.
The following two segments show the evolution of Iron Hand missions and tactics. The first was written by Maj. Bob Krone, 469th TFS Commander in the spring of 1966. The second is from the 1967 version of the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing tactics manual. Note some of the comments made in the first article were incorporated into the second; especially, the idea of identifying and avoiding SAM sites (when possible) rather than attempting to destroy them.
Iron Hand Operations
As the Wild Weasel I Detachment of F-100 electronic equipped aircraft was stationed at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, the 469th TFS participated in the first Iron Hand missions and continued to participate in them throughout the first half of 1966. In the beginning of the program it was felt that the concept of search-and-destroy for the SA-2 missile sites was premature for the equipment capabilities and the weapons available. As the Weasel aircraft had no range estimation capability the searching was haphazard and could not be carefully preplanned. The SA-2 sites were invariably in heavily defended areas and protecting the "hard" targets. In many areas there was more than one site within range of the Iron Hand flight. This forced the Iron Hand flight to expose itself to the heaviest concentrations of enemy antiaircraft, automatic weapons, and small arms fire in North Vietnam, in addition to the SAM threat. The use of free fall bombs or unguided rockets by the strike aircraft necessitated visual acquisition of the site before destruction could be expected. The necessary maneuvers to deliver these weapons also required considerable exposure to enemy defenses.
F-105 pilots felt that the Weasel capability was valuable for the detection and avoidance of enemy radar controlled weapons and for harassment. It was noted that the enemy radar transmissions were curtailed after the commencement of Iron Hand operations. However, it was the consensus of the pilots of the 469th TFS that the early concept of operations should have been the protection of the strike force through detection and avoidance of SA-2 sites rather than search and destroy.
With the addition of the AGM-45A Shrike missile there was no longer the requirement for visual acquisition of the target and the same harassment could be effected without the high degree of risk to the attacking flight. However, the small warhead, the inability of the early Shrike to discriminate and track one radar signal, and lack of an adequate tracking flare and spotting charge were limitations to effective Shrike employment.
The addition of the APR 25/APR 26 (Vector) system in the F-105 aircraft added a significant capability to the Iron Hand mission as well as providing other strike missions with a warning device for enemy radar controlled weapons, and ground controlled intercept (GCI) coverage.
The mission of Wild Weasel aircrews generally falls into two roles "Iron Hand" to suppress; Wild Weasel to destroy. The tactics employed on the Iron Hand missions are primarily designed to suppress the SA-2 and gun-laying radar defenses of North Vietnam during the ingress, attack and egress of the main strike force. In the suppression role, AGM-45 Shrike missiles are employed to kill, or at least harass, the SA-2 and/or FIRE CAN radar transmitters. Coincidentally, the threat presented by the Iron Hand flight also serves to divert the attention of the enemy radar operators from the main strike force and this, in itself, is a form of suppression. The actual destruction of SA-2 sites is normally of secondary importance in the suppression role and will not normally be carried out unless a particular site can be destroyed without sacrificing the protective suppression the strike force requires from other threatening sites. However, for particular targets SA-2 site destruction may be the best and most permanent form of suppression.
The second role of Wild Weasel is performed in a hunter-killer role. In this role, protective suppression for a strike force is not a factor and the Weasel flight directs its entire efforts to seeking out and destroying SA-2 sites of FIRE CAN radars. At the present time , the hunter-killer tactics are only employed in the lower route packages when the strike forces do not require protection.