During the Vietnam war, America was trying to cut the Vietcong supply route.
They used F105s to drop bombs on it.
The North Vietnamese countered with surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) to shoot down the F105s.
So the Americans equipped the F105s with radar jamming pods, which stopped the missiles.
The North Vietnamese countered by using MiG 21 fighters to attack the lumbering F105 bombers.
The MiGs were lighter and more agile.
So the Americans countered by using faster F4 Phantoms to shoot down the MiGs.
But the Phantoms didn’t have the radar jamming equipment.
This meant, although the Phantoms could take out the MiGs, they could be hit by the SAMs.
Which meant the Americans had to stop using the Phantoms, and the MiGs were free to shoot down the F105s.
The Americans were stuck.
If they sent the F105s on their own, they’d get shot down by the MiGs.
If they sent the Phantoms to protect the F105s from the MiGs, they’d get shot down by SAMs.
What could they do?
They couldn’t attack the MiG airbases because they were in North Vietnam, staffed by the Russians and Chinese.
If the Americans started killing Russians and Chinese it might start World War 3.
So the pilots did what pilots in that situation will always do.
They sat around and bitched.
They said this is nuts, we come in every day at the same time, we refuel from the same airborne tankers, then we jam the North Vietnamese radar, then they know we’re flying F105s, so the MiGs jump us.
They know we’re coming, there’s no surprise, we’re too predictable.
Then the pilots went quiet.
And one by one they saw how to turn a problem into an opportunity.
How to turn the enemy’s strength into a weakness.
They found a way to get upstream and turn a problem you can’t solve into one you can.
And they planned ‘Operation Bolo’ using predatory thinking.
As the next mission started, the Vietnamese saw the familiar F105s dotting their radar screens as usual.
They saw the F105s refuel, same time, same place, from the same airborne tankers, as usual.
They saw the radar jamming being switched on, as usual.
And, because these were F105s, they didn’t even turn on their SAMS, they scrambled their MiGs, as usual.
But when the MiGs got there they couldn’t find any F105s.
Just a sky full of Phantoms.
And the Phantoms began shooting down MiGs.
The MiGs were lighter than the Phantoms, because they carried less fuel.
So they turned to run for their airbases in North Vietnam where the Americans couldn’t follow.
But they ran straight into more Phantoms who were waiting for them to do just that.
By the end of Operation Bolo nine out of fourteen MiGs had been shot down, for the loss of no American planes.
That represented over half of the North Vietnamese Air Force in that sector.
What the Americans had done was capitalise on North Vietnamese complacency.
They disguised the Phantoms as F105s by gaving them the same radar-jamming pods, using the same radio signals, refuelling at the same tankers, at exactly the same time.
The North Vietnamese had no reason to think this was anything but another predictable F105 raid.
And because they didn’t think they were Phantoms, they didn’t even have their SAMs switched on.
So not a single Phantom was shot down.
The North Vietnamese were shocked.
They, and their Russian and Chinese allies, were forced to ground all their remaining aircraft for many months.
While they worked out what to do about it.
And the Americans had the freedom of the skies.
They’d turned the enemy from predators into prey.