Cable from the Joint Chiefs of Staff Revising the Rules of Engagement (JCS 7947), 15 August 1964

Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 3, pp. 537-538

15 Aug 64

JCS 7947

Subject: Rules of Engagement (U)

1. This message rescinds JCS 3976.

2. The JCS authorize the destruction of hostile aircraft and seaborne forces by US forces in Southeast Asia under the following rules of engagement:

a. US forces operating in Southeast Asia are authorized to attack and destroy any vessel or aircraft which attacks, or gives positive indication of intent to attack US forces operating in the international waters and air space over international waters of Southeast Asia. This includes hot pursuit into territorial waters or territorial air space as may be necessary and feasible.

b. US forces operating in Southeast Asia are authorized to engage and destroy hostile aircraft over South Vietnam and Thailand. Hot pursuit may be conducted as necessary and feasible over international waters or into North Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia against hostile aircraft as defined in subpara 2 f (1) (b) below.

c. US forces operating in Laos are authorized to attack and destroy any aircraft which attacks or gives positive indication of intent to attack US forces. Hot pursuit may be conducted as necessary and feasible into North Vietnam, Cambodia, South Vietnam, and Thailand.

d. No pursuit is authorized at this time into the territorial waters or air space of Communist China.

e. US forces entering territorial waters and/or territorial air space as authorized by these rules are not authorized to attack other hostile forces or installations therein unless attacked first by them, and then only to the extent necessary for self defense.

f. Definitions:

(1) Hostile aircraft-A hostile aircraft is defined as one which is:

(a) Visually identified, or designated by the US director of a Joint Operations Center or his authorized US representatives, as a communist bloc aircraft over-flying RVN-Thailand territory without proper clearance from the government concerned;
(b) Observed in one of the following acts:

1. Attacking US or friendly ground forces or installations.
2. Attacking US or friendly aircraft.
3. Laying mines within friendly territorial waters.
4. Attacking US or friendly vessels.
5. Releasing parachutes or gliders over sovereign territory when obviously not in distress; or
6. Acting or behaving in a manner which is within reasonable certainty that air attack on US or forces is intended.

(2) Territorial waters include the territorial sea and waters. The territorial sea is the belt of sea adjacent to three miles in breadth measured from the low water mark [word missing]. Inland waters are waters to landward of the territorial sea.

These rules are not intended, in any manner, to infringe traditional responsibility of a military commander to guard against unprovoked armed attack. In the event of such attack, commander concerned will take immediate, aggressive action [word missing] attacking force with any available means at his command. Declaration of aircraft or vessels as hostile will be made with judgment and discretion. There may be cases where destruction of communist bloc forces would be contrary to US interests, examples of such cases are: due to navigation error, communist civilian aircraft over-fly RVN-Thailand territory; communist aircraft or vessels, manned by defectors attempting to land with the intention of surrendering themselves. All available intelligence should be considered in determining action to be taken in such cases.

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