Vietnam People's Air Force

Vietnam People's Air Force
Vietnam People's Air Force
Không Quân Nhân Dân Việt Nam
Flag of the Vietnam People's Air Force

Flag of Vietnam People's Army and flag of the Vietnam People's Air Force
Active 1959 -
Country Vietnam (North Vietnam in the past)
Size 30,000 personnel (2009)
551 active aircraft
Anniversaries 3 April - first claimed shootdown of US fighter (1965)
Engagements Vietnam War
Cambodia-Vietnamese War
Sino-Vietnamese War
Roundel Roundel of the Vietnamese Air Force.svg
Aircraft flown
Attack Su-22, Mi-24
Fighter Su-30, Su-27, MiG-21
Patrol Ka-27, Ka-25
Reconnaissance M-400, An-30
Trainer Yak-52, Yak-130, L-39
Transport An-38, M-28, An-24, UH-1, Mi-8, Mi-17

The Vietnam People's Air Force (Vietnamese: Không quân Nhân dân Việt Nam) is the air force of Vietnam. It is the successor of the former North Vietnamese Air Force and the absorbed Republic of Vietnam Air Force following the re-unification of Vietnam in 1975.


General history

Beginning-1964 (North Vietnam)

The first Vietnamese aircraft were two trainers, a de Havilland Tiger Moth and a Morane-Saulnier, which were initially the private property of the emperor Bao Dai.[1] In 1945, Bao Dai gave the aircraft to the Vietnamese government. On March 9, 1949, Ho Chi Minh ordered the organization of the Air Force Research Committee (Ban Nghiên cứu Không quân).[1] The first Vietnamese service aircraft flight was made by the Tiger Moth on August 15, 1949.[1] A small-scale training was carried out in following years.

Further development of aviation in North Vietnam began in 1956, when a number of trainees were sent to the USSR and China for pilot training. They were organized into two groups, for pilots and mechanics, respectively; and among others, utilized the Czechoslovak Zlin Z-226 and Aero Ae-45. The first unit of the VPAF was the No. 919 Transport Regiment (Trung đoàn Không quân Vận tải 919), organized on May 1, 1959, with An-2, Li-2, Il-14 aircraft, followed by the No. 910 Training Regiment (Trung đoàn Không quân 910) with Yak-18 trainers.[1] In 1963 the Air Force and Air Defense Force were merged into the Air and Air Defence Force (Quân chủng Phòng không - Không quân).

1964-1974 (North Vietnam)

The first North Vietnamese combat plane was a T-28 Trojan trainer, whose pilot defected from the Laotian Air Force; it was utilized from early 1964 by the North Vietnamese as a night fighter. The T-28 was the first North Vietnamese aircraft to shoot down a U.S. aircraft, a C-123, on February 15, 1964.[1]

The North Vietnamese Air Force (NVAF) received its first jet fighter aircraft, the MiG-17 in February 1964, but they were initially stationed at air bases in Communist China, while their pilots were being trained. On February 3, 1964, the first fighter regiment No. 921 (Trung đoàn Không quân Tiêm kích 921), aka "Red Star squadron", was formed, and on August 6 it arrived from China in North Vietnam with its MiG-17s.[1] On September 7, the No. 923 fighter regiment, aka "Yen The squadron", led by Lt. Col. Nguyen Phuc Trach, was formed. In May 1965, No. 16 bomber company (Đại đội Không quân Ném bom 16) was formed with Il-28 twin engine bombers. Only one Il-28 sortie was flown in 1972 against Laotian forces.

The North Vietnamese Air Force's first jet air-to-air engagement with U.S. aircraft was on April 3, 1965. The NVAF claimed the shooting down of two US Navy F-8 Crusader, which was not confirmed by US sources, although they acknowledged having encountered MiGs.[1] Consequently, April 3 became "North Vietnamese Air Force Day". On April 4 the VPAF (NVAF) scored the first confirmed victories to be acknowledged by both sides. The US fighter community was shocked when relatively slow, post-Korean era MiG-17 fighters shot down advanced F-105 Thunderchief fighters-bombers attacking the Thanh Hoa Bridge. The two downed F-105s were carrying their normal heavy bomb load, and were not able to react to their attackers.[1]

In 1965, the NVAF were supplied with supersonic MiG-21s by the USSR which were used for high speed GCI controlled hit and run intercepts against American air strike groups. The MiG-21 tactics became so effective, that by late 1966, an operation was mounted to especially deal with the MiG-21 threat. Led by Colonel Robin Olds on 2 January 1967, Operation Bolo lured MiG-21s into the air, thinking they were intercepting a F-105 strike group, but instead found a sky full of missile armed F-4 Phantom IIs set for aerial combat. The result was a loss of almost half the inventory of MiG-21 interceptors, at a cost of no U.S. losses. The VPAF (NVAF) stood down for additional training after this setback.

Meanwhile, the disappointing performances of US Air Force and US Navy (USN) airmen, even though flying the contemporary advanced aircraft of those times, combined with a legacy of successes from World War II and the Korean War, resulted in a total revamping of aerial combat training for the USN in 1968 (Top Gun school; established 1969). The designs for an entire generation of aircraft, with engineering for optimized daylight air to air combat (dog fighting) against both older, as well as for emerging MiG fighters, were being put to the drawing board. US forces could not consistently track low flying MiGs on radar, and were hampered by restrictive rules of engagement (ROE) which required pilots to visually acquire their targets, nullifying much of the advantage of radar guided missiles, which often proved unreliable when used in combat.

Although there were many so-called "political restrictions" placed on US airmen, such as when and where NVAF jet fighters could be attacked, the successful exchange ratio which US pilots had had over enemy fliers during the Korean War (1950–1953) was not to be repeated over North Vietnam; with the notable exceptions of the successes by USN airmen who had completed training from the TOPGUN training center at Miramar, California (USA).

The VPAF (NVAF) was a defensive air arm, with the primary mission of defending North Vietnam, and until the last stages of the war, did not conduct air operations into South Vietnam; nor did the NVAF conduct general offensive actions against enemy naval forces off the coast. However it did conduct limited attacks on the opposing naval vessels, notably damaging the United States destroyer USS Higbee (DD-806) in 1972. In a separate incident, MiG-17s that ventured over water were shot down by surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) fired by U.S. warships.

The VPAF (NVAF) did not engage all US sorties. Most US aircraft were destroyed by SA-2 surface-to-air missiles or anti-aircraft artillery (AAA), and in some cases, even small arms. Typically, VPAF MiGs would not engage unless it was to their advantage. Some of the aerial tactics used were similar to Operation Bolo, which lured the NVAF to the fight.

On March 24, 1967, regiments Nos. 921, 923 and 919 were incorporated into the 371st Air Division "Thang Long" (Sư đoàn Không quân 371). In 1969, No. 925 fighter regiment was formed, flying the Shenyang J-6 (the Chinese-built MiG-19). In 1972 the fourth fighter regiment, No. 927 "Lam Son", was formed.[1]

U.S. Navy ace Randy Cunningham believed that he shot down a Mig-17 piloted by the legendary "Nguyen Toon" or "Colonel Tomb" while flying his F4 Phantom. However, no research has been able to identify any "Col. Tomb" as actually existing. Most likely he downed a flight leader of the 923rd Regiment.[2] Many North Vietnamese pilots were not only skilled but unorthodox, as Cunningham found out after making elementary tactical errors.[3] The resulting dogfight became extended. Cunningham climbed steeply, and the MiG pilot surprised Cunningham by climbing as well. Using his Top Gun training, Cunningham finally forced the MiG out ahead of him and destroyed it.

There were several times during the war that the U.S. bombing restrictions of North Vietnamese Airfields were lifted. Many VPAF (NVAF) aircraft were destroyed on the ground, and those that were not, were withdrawn to a sanctuary in China. In December 1972, the North Vietnamese air defences nearly exhausted their supply of surface-to-air missiles trying to down the high-flying B-52 raids over the North. The North Vietnamese Air Defense Network was degraded by electronic countermeasures (ECM) and other suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD) measures. However, with the counter-measures and a effective air-defense network, for 12 days of Operation Linebacker II, over 81 US aircraft were claimed as shot down, including 34 of the B-52 heavy bombers, two attributed to the VPAF, during the last weeks of 1972 (Operation Linebacker II).[4] After the negotiated end of American involvement in early 1973, the No. 919 transport air group (Lữ đoàn Không quân vận tải 919), was formed; and equipped with fix-winged aircraft, as well as helicopters (rotor-wing) in November.

During the Vietnam War, NVAF used the MiG-17F, PF (J-5); MiG-19 (J-6), MiG-21F-13, PF, PFM and MF fighters.[1] They claimed to have shot down 266 US aircraft, and US claimed to have shot down or destroyed 204 MiGs aircraft and at least six An-2s, of which 196 were confirmed with solid evidence (100 MiG-17s, 10 MiG-19s and 86 MiG-21s). However, VPAF admits only 154 MiGs were lost through all causes, including 131 in air combat [5]). Like that, total kill ratio would be 1:1.3 to 1:2.[6][7] With the number of losses to MiGs confirmed by US (121 aircraft shotdown and 7 damaged[6][7]), the kill ratio turn 1.7:1 against the MiGs, or 1.1:1 even accepting the VPAF's figure of only 131 in air combat.

1975-present (reunified Vietnam)

The VPAF did not play a major role during the Ho Chi Minh Campaign in 1975. The only sorties flown were conducted by five captured VNAF A-37s. SA-2s were transported into South Vietnam to counter possible US military air strikes. The US could not bring back their air power during the 1975 offensive, which had proven decisive in 1972, and the VNAF did not have the capability to strike targets in the north nor to defend against the onslaught in the south.

After the end of the Vietnam War (called the American War in Vietnam) in May 1975, more regiments were formed. No. 935 fighter regiment "Dong Nai" and no. 937 fighter-bomber regiment "Hau Giang", followed by no. 918 transport regiment "Hong Ha" and no. 917 mixed transport regiment "Dong Thap" were created in July 1975. In September 1975, the four newly created regiments were formed into the 370nd Air Division "Le Loi" and the 372nd Air Division "Hai Van" was formed, including among others the 925th fighter regiment.[1]

On May 31, 1977, the Vietnam People's Air Force (Không quân Nhân dân Việt Nam) was separated from the Air Defense Force (Quân chủng Phòng không).[1]

When Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1979, former VNAF A-37s flew most of the ground support missions. These aircraft were more suited to the role than the MiGs. Former VNAF F-5Es, C-123s, C-130s, and UH-1s were used by the VPAF for many years after the end of the War.

In the years between 1953 and 1991, approximately 700 warplanes, 120 helicopters, and 158 missile complexes have been supplied to North Vietnam by the USSR and PR China (primarily the MiG-19 (J6 series). Even today, three-quarters of Vietnamese weaponry has been made in post-Cold-War Russia. [1] Today the VPAF is in the midst of modernization. It still operates late model MiG-21s, Su-22s, aircraft of the cold war era [2] [3]. However, it has recently been modernizing its air force with models of the Su-27-SK air superiority fighter following closer military ties, and an array of arms deals with Russia. To date, Vietnam has ordered and received 12 of these aircraft. In 2004, it also acquired 4 modified variants of the Su-30 MK2V, newer models of the Su-27. In May 2009, they have inked a deal to procure additional 12 aircraft from the Russian to bolster their aging fleet. The Vietnamese air force has also acquired new advanced air defense systems, including two S-300 PMU1 (NATO designation: SA-20) short-to-high altitude SAM batteries in a deal worth $300 million with Russia [4].

Vietnam War (US)

Air Division and Regimental Names of the VPAF[8]

Command Division Regiment Name Aircraft flown
High Command of Air Defense and Air Forces 371st Air Division
Thang Long Air Wing
921st Fighter Regiment Red Star Squadron MiG-21bis/UM
923rd Fighter-bomber Regiment Yen The Squadron Su-22M-4/UM-3K, Su-30MK2
927th Fighter Regiment Lam Son Squadron MiG-21bis/UM
931st Fighter Regiment Yen Bai Squadron MiG-21bis/UM
916th Helicopter Regiment Ba Vi Squadron Mi-6, Mi-8, Mi-24D, Mi-171
918th Air Transport Regiment Hong Ha Squadron An-2, An-26, An-30, M-28
372nd Air Division
Hai Van Air Wing
929th Fighter-Bomber Regiment Son Tra Squadron Su-22M-4/UM-3K
954th Helicopter Regiment Da Nang Squadron Ka-25, Ka-28, Ka-32, Mi-171
940th Air Training Regiment Phu Cat Squadron Su-27SK/UBK/PU, Su-30MK2
370th Air Division
Le Loi Air Wing
937th Fighter-Bomber Regiment Hau Giang Squadron Su-22M-4/UM-3K, Su-27SK/PU
935th Fighter Regiment Dong Nai Squadron Su-30MK2
917th Mixed Air Transport Regiment Dong Thap Squadron UH-1H, Mi-8, Mi-171
Air Force Officer School 910th Air Training Regiment Julius Fučík Squadron L-39C, Yak-18, MiG-21bis/UM
920nd Air Training Regiment Cam Ranh Squadron L-39C, Yak-52, MiG-21bis/UM

MiG-17 and MiG-21 Aces of the VPAF[1][9]

Name Victories VPAF Aircraft Regiment Service
Nguyễn Văn Cốc Nine kills MiG-21 921st Fighter Regiment 1967-69
Mai Văn Cường Eight kills MiG-21 921st Fighter Regiment 1966-68
Nguyễn Hồng Nhị Eight kills MiG-21 921st/927th Fighter Regiment 1966-72
Phạm Thanh Ngân Eight kills MiG-21 921st Fighter Regiment 1967-69
Đặng Ngọc Ngự Seven kills MiG-21 921st Fighter Regiment 1966-72
Nguyễn Văn Bảy Seven kills MiG-17 923rd Fighter Regiment 1966-72
Lê Hải Six kills MiG-17 923rd Fighter Regiment 1967-72
Lê Thanh Đạo Six kills MiG-21 927th Fighter Regiment 1971-72
Lưu Huy Chao Six kills MiG-17 923rd Fighter Regiment 1966-68
Nguyễn Đăng Kỉnh Six kills MiG-21 921st Fighter Regiment 1967-68
Nguyễn Đức Soát Six kills MiG-21 921st/927th Fighter Regiment 1969-72
Nguyễn Ngọc Độ Six kills MiG-21 921st Fighter Regiment 1967-68
Nguyễn Nhật Chiêu Six Kills MiG-17/MiG-21 921st Fighter Regiment 1965-67
Nguyễn Tiến Sâm Six kills MiG-21 921st/927th Fighter Regiment 1968-72
Vũ Ngọc Đỉnh Six kills MiG-21 921st Fighter Regiment 1966-70
Nguyễn Văn Nghĩa Five kills MiG-21 927th Fighter Regiment 1972

About the other pilots, see this


Vietnamese military officer make first visit aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74).

Some airbases in the south were built by the French, Japanese* (World War II), United States Air Force or United States Navy for South Vietnam. The northern bases were likely built with assistance and/or use by the French; Communist Chinese, or Soviet Union during the Vietnam War.

  • Operation Cleansweep
  • Kep Airbase (VVKP/KEP)
  • Bien Hoa Air Base (VVBH/VBH)
  • Dong Hoi Airport (VVDH/VDH)
  • Hoa Lac Airbase (VVHL/VHL)
  • Gia Lam Airbase (VVGL/VGL)
  • Lam Son Airbase (VVLS)
  • Anh Son Airfield
  • Thanh Son Airbase (VVPR/VPR)
  • Thanh Hoa Airbase - reside training school for Vietnam fighter pilot.
  • Truong Sa Airfield (VVSA)
  • Tan Son Nhut Air Base
  • Yen Bai Airbase - (VVYB) training school for Vietnam fighter pilot.
  • Cam Ranh Airport (VVCR/CXR) - open for commercial flights in 2005
  • Vung Tau Airfield (VVVT) operates for offshore helicopter services
  • Can Tho Airfield - (VVCT/VCA) open and upgrade for logistic support air group.
  • Note: Japanese Nell bombers took off from airfields in the former South Vietnam on 10 December 1941, attacking and sinking the British battleship HMS Prince of Wales and battlecruiser HMS Repulse.

The following bases have been retired from the VPAF:

  • Ben Tre – Ben Tre Airfield
  • Bien Hoa – Xuan Loc Airfield
  • Binh Thuan– Phan Thiet Airfield
  • Dak Lak – An Khe Airport
  • Hanoi – Bach Mai Airfield
  • Long An – Tan An Airfield
  • Quang Tri – Dong Ha Airfield
  • Tay Ninh – Tay Ninh AIrfield
  • Tra Vinh – Tra Vinh Airport
  • Vinh Long – Vinh Long Airfield
  • Nha Trang Airport - closed in 2005 and replace by Cam Ranh Airport. (Commercial flights were moved to Cam Ranh, military and cargo still work from this airbase for take off and landing practice using YAK-52)
  • Note: While Nha Trang Airport is shown as "retired" by the VPAF, that means primarily that it's no longer an airbase where regular air force units are stationed. A VPAF flight training school is active on the boundary of the field, however.

Aircraft inventory

Most of the VPAF's aircraft were supplied from the Soviet Union & PRC, but hundreds were left over by the Americans via the Republic of Vietnam; most of which are no longer in service.

Aircraft Origin Type Versions In service Notes
Fighter Aircraft
Sukhoi Su-30MK2V "Flanker"  Russia Multi Role fighter Su-30MK2V 7 12 on order [10]
Sukhoi Su-27SK/UB Flanker  Russia Air Superiority fighter Su-27 11 SK/UBK[10]
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23ML/UB Flogger  Russia Air Defence fighter MiG-23 36 30 MiG-23ML & 6 MiG-23UB
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21Bis Fishbed L/N/UM  Russia Fighter MiG-21 144[10]
Sukhoi Su-22M3/4 Fitter-J/K  Russia Ground attack Su-22 38[10]
Trainer Aircraft
Aero L-39C Albatros  Czechoslovakia Trainer L-39C 24 12 on order from Czech Republic
Yakovlev Yak-130  Russia Advanced trainer / Light attack Yak-130 8 on order[citation needed]
Yakovlev Yak-52  Russia Trainer Yak-52 36
An-30 Clank Flag of Ukraine.svg Ukraine Reconnaissance An-30 6
CASA C.212 Aviocar  Spain Reconnaissance CASA C.212-400 3[11][12][13] Swedish Space Corporation (SSC) MS6000 maritime surveillance system with Side-Looking Airborne Radar. Under Vietnam Marine Police control.
Attack Helicopter
Mil Mi-24 Hind  Russia Attack helicopter Mil Mi-24A/D 36
Transport Aircraft
An-26 Curl Flag of Ukraine.svg Ukraine Transport An-26 48
An-24 Coke Flag of Ukraine.svg Ukraine Transport An-24 12
An-28 Cash Flag of Ukraine.svg Ukraine Light Transport An-28 6
An-2 Colt Flag of Ukraine.svg Ukraine Light Transport An-2 15
PZL M28 Skytruck  Poland Light Transport M-28 11 some fitted with MS-600 radars
Transport Helicopter
Mi-8 Hip  Russia Transport helicopter Mil Mi-8 66
Mi-17 Hip-H  Russia Transport Total
Mil Mi-17Sh
Mil Mi-172
Mi-6 Hook-A  Russia Heavy lift helicopter Mi-6 10-15
PZL W-3 Sokol  Poland VIP helicopter/ SAR helicopter Total
Kamov Ka-32S Helix-C  Russia SAR Helicopter Ka-32 10
Kamov Ka-25 Hormone  Russia ASW helicopter Ka-25 12
Ka-27 Helix  Russia ASW helicopter Ka-27 18
Eurocopter Dauphin  France SAR helicopter SA-365 N2 4 From the Ministry of Defence
Eurocopter Ecureuil  France Light utility helicopter AS-350 B3 2 From the Ministry of Defence
Aérospatiale Puma  France Civilian transport SA-330J 9 From the Ministry of Defence
Aérospatiale Super Puma  France Civilian transport AS-332L2 7 From the Ministry of Defence. 1 Super Puma operated by Southern Service Flight Company (SFC) was lost in sea transportation mission for offshore platform in 2007.
UH-1H Huey  United States Utility UH-1H 15+
Miscellaneous Aircraft
M-400 UAV  Vietnam UAV M-400 12?
VNS-41  Vietnam Amphibious VNS-41 12-15? Domestic produced light plane type ULM with floatation devices.


Some jet fighters (F-5s and A-37s) were auctioned in 1998, and are currently owned by private companies, and individuals in America, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe.

The current procurement plan of the VPAF is to equip up to 3 regiments with 3 x 24 Sukhoi Su-30 "Flanker" until 2015.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l S.V.Ivanov, Boyevoye primenenye MiG-17 i MiG-19 vo Vietnamye
  2. ^
  3. ^ Hall, George (1987). Top Gun: The Navy's Fighter Weapons School. Presido Press. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Migs over North Vietnam: The Vietnam People's Air Force in Combat, 1965-75, Stackpole Military History
  6. ^ a b
  7. ^ a b
  8. ^ MiG-17 and MiG-19 Units of the Vietnam War by István Toperczer
  9. ^ MiG-21 Units of the Vietnam War by István Toperczer
  10. ^ a b c d "The AMR Regional Air Force Directory 2011". Journal. Retrieved 31 August 2011. 
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^

External links

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