The First Talos RGM-8HAnti Radiation Missile Combat Firing
Phillip R. Hays PhD, LT USNR-R
I was Nuclear/Special Weapons Officer on the USS Oklahoma City (CLG-5) from January 1970 to April 1972. I was assigned to GM Division which 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 in March 1971, to train the crew with the ARM missiles. 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 BARLOK 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 rendezvous with the USS Chicago (CG-11) and do some “radar hunting.” We were looking for another BARLOK radar in the vicinity of the Mu Gia Pass, although few people aboard knew this. 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, we were under the command of the squadron commander who was on the USS Chicago. The Okie Boat was a single end (stern) Talos light cruiser, and the Chicago was double end (two missile batteries, bow and stern) Talos heavy cruiser.
We were sailing off the coast of North Vietnam near Vinh one night in early February 1972 with RGM-8H missiles in the Ready Service Magazine waiting for a chance 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. *
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. 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 BARLOK operators would have noticed if we had missed and shut down their radar! However, the EW guys did hear a change in the signal just before it went silent.* The next day our Weapons Department head CDR Foreman showed me aerial recon photos. The radar antennas were scattered all over SE 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 sailed 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 in Olongapo 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.