Rules of Engagement After the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, 5 August 1964

Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 3, pp. 517-518

5 Aug 64


A. JCS 7700
B. CINCPAC INSTR 03710.2 OF 24 MAY 1961
D. JCS 2084/80 OF 1 JUL 1964
E. JCS 3796 MAR 62

1. Events in Gulf of Tonkin accentuate need for clarification and changing rules of engagement under which US forces must operate in situations short of open hostilities.

2. Following are rules of engagement currently in effect as understood here:

A. Situation: unprovoked attack by hostile vessels against vessels in intertional waters.

(1) Rule: US vessels authorized to defend, pursue and destroy attacking ;sels up to 11 miles from NVN coast and 4 miles from offshore islands. US craft authorized to pursue and destroy attacking vessels while operating in airspace up to 3 miles from NVN coast. Authorized by ref A.

B. Situation: unprovoked attack by hostile aircraft against U.S. vessels, aircraft, or personnel.

(1) Rule: US aircraft authorized to take immediate and aggressive protective measures, including immediate pursuit into hostile airspace if necessary and feasible. Authorized by ref B and C in case of attacks against any US forces; page 11 of reference D in case of attacks against US aircraft only. (Note: there are no geographic restrictions on U.S. aircraft in case of attacks by hostile aircraft).

C. Situation: overflight of RVN by hostile aircraft.

(1) Rule: US aircraft operating in RVN authorized to engage and destroy hostile aircraft within airspace over RVN territorial airspace. Authorized by ref E (original R/E for water glass/candy machine).

3. Above compilation of current rules indicates following voids which should be filled ASAP.

A. There are no R/E for intercept, pursuit and destruction of hostile aircraft which violate Thailand airspace.

B. US forces intercepting hostile aircraft over RVN are not authorized immediate pursuit outside of RVN territorial airspace.

4. Recommend following R/E be promulgated:

A. R/E to authorize US forces based in Thailand or operating within Thailand airspaces to intercept, engage and destroy hostile aircraft, to include immediate pursuit into hostile airspace if necessary and feasible. Such rules would, of course, require concurrence of rtg. R/E for RVN (ref E) could serve as model, with minor modifications.

B. Amend ref E to include immediate pursuit into hostile airspace.

5. General comments.

A. Hostile forces which initiate unprovoked attacks against our forces whether on the high seas or ashore should not be afforded sanctuary from which they can repeat the attack. The best way to preclude repeated attacks is to pursue and destroy the attackers. Such action is not punitive per se but primarily defensive. For self protection, US forces should be authorized immediate and unrestricted pursuit.

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