The Dragon’s Jaw Bridge: An Example Of Weapon Effectiveness

One of the many challenges experienced by military weaponeers is matching available weapons with designated targets. An example of how a challenging target was finally defeated with new technology is the Thanh Hóa (aka Hàm Rồng, Dragon's Jaw) Bridge, found in the Thanh Hóa Province of former North Vietnam.

A fighter jet in areal combat.
- Jaws of the Dragon - Illustration by Stan Stokes

- Early in the Vietnam war, the Thanh Hóa bridge was identified as a primary supply link for the Communist's movement of men and war supplies to support South Vietnam operations. Upon designation as a high-value target, American Navy and Air Force airmen flew a total of 873 sorties against the bridge with no success. Missions against this site, which became known as Hàm Rồng, Dragon's Jaw, resulted in the loss of 104 pilots.

In 1960, the first successful demonstration of a new technology known as the LASER occurred at the Hughes Research Lab in Malibu, CA. At the Army Missile Command's laboratory at Redstone Arsenal, AL, scientists and engineers became aware of this device and began investigating LASER light to designate targets. Nothing similar had ever been done. Still, these innovators successfully built and demonstrated a prototype LASER designator system in 1964. While not an Army mission at the time, the DoD's acquisition community immediately saw potential and awarded contracts to the industry for advanced prototypes. Success as an operational system was demonstrated, again, at Eglin AFB in 1966. A production acquisition soon followed it in 1967.

On 27 April 1972, Air Force F-4 Phantoms, equipped with the world's first laser-guided bomb (LGB), flew a single mission against the Thanh Hóa Bridge. The target was destroyed with no loss of American aircraft or casualties. This story illustrates the value of science and technology and the role of the military's technical base in developing innovative solutions to difficult problems.

As we in ETC continue to build the justification for increased investments in next- generation energetic materials, we should always remember that weapon performance and effectiveness are critical to military success. With existing precision targeting and weapon guidance, warfighters can place a weapon exactly where it needs to go. However, adversaries continue to harden their high-value assets making defeat with available weapons difficult, as was seen with the Dragon's Jaw. We need to continue our pursuit of improving weapon effectiveness with new energetics and innovative systems design approaches.