I was Nuclear/Special Weapons Officer on the USS Oklahoma City (CLG-5) from January 1970 through April 1972. I was assigned to GM Division that maintained and operated the Talos missiles and launching system. I served as the Weapons Control Officer, and was on duty in Weapons Control when the first combat surface-to-surface anti-radiation (radar) missile shot was fired. It was the first surface-to-surface combat missile shot in US Navy history, and personnel directly involved with the mission received the Navy Achievement Medal for this action.
North Vietnam was trying to set up mobile air traffic control radars to allow them to vector fighters and SAMs (Surface to Air Missiles) to intercept our bombers. Without air coordination their air force was not very effective. The US Navy, Marines and Air Force had pretty much blown away every fixed radar installation. The NVN had some Russian mobile radar vans, and cleared flat spots on mountain tops so they could park the mobile radars at a number of places. When they detected our aircraft headed their way they shut down and hid under camouflaged cover. The Pentagon wanted a long range fast strike capability to attack these mobile units. The Talos RGM-8H ARM (Anti Radiation Missile) missile was developed for this purpose in the late 1960s. The Oklahoma City conducted some of the development shots off California in 1968 before returning to WESTPAC.
In the spring of 1971 the Oklahoma City executed an underway replenishment to take aboard the new, highly classified, RGM-8H anti-radiation version of the Talos. We conducted a test firing off Okinawa to train the crew with the ARM missiles on 12 April, 1971. Then we waited for an opportunity to use them.
In late 1971 the NVN army was massing equipment and personnel just north of the DMZ for a Tet offensive in February 1972, and moved missiles and aircraft south to provide cover for the buildup. They used their mobile radars to coordinate SAM and MiG operations and shot down several US aircraft. The Air Force flew "Wild Weasel" radar suppression aircraft to attack radar sites, but they had to approach to within about 30 miles to attack the radars, giving the NVN ample warning to launch missiles or shut down the radars. In December 1971 an Air Force Wild Weasel used an AGM-78 Standard ARM missile to destroy a BARLOCK radar site near the Barthelemy Pass in North Vietnam. Covert personnel on the ground examined the site immediately after it was destroyed and discovered it had been manned by Russian personnel. *
In January 1972 the Oklahoma City steamed to the Gulf of Tonkin to do some "radar hunting." We had RGM-8H missiles in the Ready Service Magazine waiting for a chance to use the new missiles. We were looking for another BARLOCK radar in the vicinity of the Mu Gia Pass, although few people aboard knew this. We maintained a position about 30 miles off the coast of North Vietnam near Vinh (18° 43.6' N 106° 15.8' E) from 28 January to 4 February waiting to shoot. During this period we operated at Condition II AAW with the 5"/38 guns manned, and with either the USS Decatur DDG-31 or the USS Mahan DLG-11 "riding shotgun" with their Tartar and Terrier missiles.
The USS Chicago CG-11 was also operating nearby on a similar radar hunting mission. The Chicago was a double end (two missile batteries, bow and stern) Talos heavy cruiser. The USS Oklahoma City was 7th Fleet flagship, but we were assigned to a cruiser/destroyer squadron for this action. So, although we were carrying The Boss, the operation was under the command of the squadron commander who was on the USS Chicago.
One night (I have so far been unable to determine the exact date and time) we got our opportunity to use the new missiles - it happened on my watch. The electronics warfare (EW) folks in CIC (Combat Information Center) detected emissions from a BARLOCK air traffic control radar and the fun started. The EW watch provided continuous updates to the fire control team, watching for frequency changes that might interfere with the shot.
I was on-watch that night in the EW shack and was on the receiver and picked up the BARLOCK ATC radar that the Vietnamese were using. I remember the incident pretty vividly... how long we'd trained to be able to pick up those threat emitters, determine the key characteristics so we could pass on just the kind of info that was used to program the TALOS that night. Some of the measurement gear was NOT part of a standard electronics package. A few OW-div buddies and I collaborated to put together a couple pieces of outboard 'off-the-shelf' test equipment (an audio signal generator and XY scope so we could accurately determine PRR frequencies of incoming signals). It was this set up that allowed us to pass on not one...but three of the frequencies that BARLOCK was using that night (since it was a Frequency Scanning...FRESCAN...radar to allow it to determine bearing/range AND approximate altitude).RD2 Doug Rasor, OK City 68-72
Of course, everyone wanted to be the first to use the new missiles. The squadron commander gave the first shot to his ship. The Chicago fired one missile and it self-destructed shortly after launch. I was told later that the data link antenna on the missile that maintained communication with the ship had not been lock wired in place, and it had fallen off in the Ready Service Magazine due to vibration before the missile was launched. The Chicago fired a second missile, and it failed. I don't know if a cause was ever determined.
Well, we were all a bit frustrated at this point. As I recall, our Captain sent the squadron commander a message asking if he would like us to show them how it should be done. We got the OK, fired one missile, and blew a 30 foot diameter hole where the radar van was sitting.
I remember passing parameters on to the fire control folks continuously as the missile was being prepared for launch (BARLOCK radars were notorious for changing frequencies during operation). I remember feeling/hearing the launch... I continued to monitor the signal as the missile was in-flight. After a minute or so (I didn't have a stopwatch on it) I remember hearing a weird screeching... then the signal went silent. Apparently that was the precise moment of the impact/explosion that "killed" the radar.RD2 Doug Rasor, OK City 68-72
However, at the moment we didn't know if we had hit the target. The Electronics Warfare people in CIC told us the radar signal had disappeared about the same time the missile arrived, but you can bet the BARLOCK operators would have noticed if we had missed and shut down their radar! The next day our Weapons Department head CDR Foreman showed me aerial recon photos. The radar antennas were scattered all over southeast Asia, and what remained of the van was lying on its side at the edge of the crater.
This was all classified Top Secret at the time, and our missile crews were told to keep quiet. Of course everyone aboard knew something was going on (missile shots were very noisy). I overheard one sailor say we had fired a nuclear warhead and he had seen the explosion! Such is scuttlebutt!
After a few days and no more firing opportunities we left the area and went to Subic Bay in the Philippines for R&R. The Chicago was in port when we arrived. Imagine our surprise when we learned that the bar girls knew about the shot before we got there! One of our first class POs told me that as they walked into a bar one of the girls saw the ship's name patch on his sleeve and started asking about the missile shot! So much for secrecy!
I think that is a pretty good first-hand description of what happened with the Talos anti-radar shot.