Cam Ranh Air Base is located on Cam Ranh Bay in Khánh Hòa Province, Vietnam. It was one of several Republic of Vietnam Air Force (VNAF) air bases built and used by the United States Air Force (USAF) during the Vietnam War. Between 1979 and 2002, the facility was used by the Soviet/Russian Navy. At the end of 2013, Russia resumed the use of the base by its Navy and in 2014 by its Air Force.
On May 19, 2004, after major reconstruction, Cam Ranh Airport received its first commercial flight. As Vietnam considers the facility to be important to its defense, a small garrison of troops are stationed there.
In mid-1965, the American construction consortium RMK-BRJ was directed by the Navy Officer in Charge of Construction RVN (OICC RVN) to construct a new airfield at Cam Ranh Bay, starting with a temporary 10,000-foot (3,000 m) runway consisting of 2.2 million square feet (200,000 square meters) of AM-2 aluminum matting to accommodate jet fighter-bombers. By September, RMK-BRJ had employed 1,800 Vietnamese workers for the work, over half of whom were women. The runway was completed in 50 days, with Admiral U.S.G. Sharp, CINCPAC, laying the last AM-2 plank on 16 October 1965. The airfiled was opened for U.S. Air Force operations on 1 November 1965. A 1.3 million square feet (120,000 square meters) cargo apron using pierced steel planking, airport facilities and utilities, mess halls, and 25,000 square feet (2,300 square meters) of living quarters were also prepared for use by the U.S. Air Force. By the end of 1966, RMK-BRJ and OICC RVN completed construction of an additional 10,000-foot (3,000 m) concrete runway and taxiway at the air base.
Cam Ranh Air Base was a part of the large Cam Ranh Bay logistics facility built by the United States. It was the major military seaport used by the United States for the offloading of supplies, military equipment and as a major Naval base. Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force units all had compounds and units assigned to the Cam Ranh Bay facility from its opening in 1965 until its closure in 1972 as part of the drawdown of United States military forces in South Vietnam.
Cam Ranh Air Base served as a United States Air Force tactical fighter base, the first in South Vietnam to base the F-4C Phantom II tactical fighter-bomber. The air base also was used as a strategic and tactical airlift facility. Cargo and personnel would arrive from the United States into the logistics facilities at Cam Ranh Bay by ship and also by large Military Air Transport Service/Military Airlift Command airlifters, and then be transferred to tactical airlift for movement within South Vietnam by the 483d Tactical Airlift Wing, using C-7 Caribou and C-130 Hercules transports. Outgoing cargo and personnel would also be processed though the large aerial port facility.
The first USAF unit to be stationed at Cam Ranh AB was the 12th Tactical Fighter Wing, which was assigned on 8 November 1965, being deployed from MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. The 12th TFW was the first permanently assigned F-4C Phantom II wing assigned to Southeast Asia. In time, the F-4C took over the bulk of the heavy tactical bombing over both North and South Vietnam. Operational squadrons of the wing at Cam Ranh were:
From Cam Ranh AB the wing carried out close air support, interdiction, and combat air patrol activities over both Vietnam and Laos. Following the capture of the USS Pueblo, the 558th TFS was sent on temporary duty to augment the 475th TFW in South Korea. When that later became a permanent assignment, the 558th and 391st traded designations.
In March 1970, as part of the Vietnamization process and phase out of the F-4C, the aircraft and personnel of the 12th were dispersed, and fighter operations at Cam Ranh Bay AB were halted, the F-4Cs were transferred back to the United States and assigned to the Air National Guard.
Because of its close proximity to Cam Ranh Bay, Cam Ranh Airfield became an important part of the airlift system operated by 315th and 834th Air Divisions. In early 1966 C-130s from 315th Air Division squadrons based in Japan and Okinawa began "shuttle" missions out of the airfield. C-130s from Tan Son Nhut Air Base and Nha Trang Air Base made pickups at Cam Ranh, as did C-123s. In October 1966 the 483rd Troop Carrier Wing activated at Cam Ranh under the recently activated 834th Air Division to command the former Army CV-2 Caribous which were transferring to the Air Force. 834th Air Division's 2nd Aerial Port Group included the 14th Aerial Port Squadron which operated the aerial port facilities on the airfield. In 1966 a new ramp was constructed on the west side of the airfield to handle airlift operations. Cam Ranh remained as the Air Force's primary airlift base in South Vietnam until it closed. Cam Ranh-based C-130s were involved in the resupply of Khe Sanh, airdrops into A Luoi Airfield in the A Shau Valley, the evacuation of Kham Duc and countless other combat airlift operations.
Military Airlift Command aircraft also operated into Cam Ranh. In July 1966, the 9th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron was elevated to become the 9th Aeromedical Evacuation Group. It had been flying throughout Vietnam and to facilities in Japan and the Philippines. The group flew C-9 Nightingale as well as Douglas C-118 Liftmasters
The PACAF 483d Tactical Airlift Wing was activated at Cam Ranh on October 15, 1966 under the 834th Air Division based at Tan Son Nhut AB. The mission of the wing was to manage tactical airlift operations, using air transport to haul cargo and troops, which were air-landed or air-dropped, as combat needs dictated to U.S. Army and allied ground forces throughout South Vietnam. Specifically, the 483d was assigned ex-Army CV-2B "Caribou" light transports. Upon transfer to the USAF, the aircraft was redesignated as a C-7A.
Squadrons assigned to the 483d TAW were:
The unique capabilities of the C-7 for short landing and takeoff made Caribou transports absolutely vital to the war effort. On many occasions the C-7s flew emergency airlift missions to airstrips and combat areas that no other aircraft could reach. Most notable were those in support of special forces camps in the Central Highlands.
In June 1968 the wing flew a record 2,420 combat troops in three days between Dak Pek, Ben Het and Đắk Tô. In August 1968 pinpoint night airdrops were accomplished at Duc Lap, Ha Thanh and Tonle Cham Special Forces camps. Ammunition and medical supplies were parachuted into 75-foot (23 m)-square drop zones while the camps were under attack. In June 1969 during the siege of Ben Het more than 200 tons of ammunition, petroleum/oil/lubricants (POL), rations, water and medical supplies were airdropped into a 100 x 200-foot (61 m) zone with every load on target and 100 per cent recovered. In April 1970, the 483rd helped break the siege of Dak Seang. The wing flew 100 air-drop sorties under heavy hostile fire in ten days delivering some 400,000 pounds of vital supplies.
During their five years' flying for the 483rd, the C-7 Caribous carried more than 4.7 million passengers, averaging more than one million a year during 1967-69. At the same time the wing averaged more than 100,000 tons of cargo each year.
In addition to the C-7 squadrons, the wing supported rotating C-130 Hercules squadrons rotated frequently from the 463d Tactical Airlift Wing at Clark AB. These squadrons were operated as Detachment 1. 463d Tactical Airlift Wing. These squadrons were the 29th TAS (QB); 772d TAS (QF); 773d TAS (QG); 774th TAS (QW). In addition, various C-130Es from the 374th Tactical Airlift Wing at Ching Chuan Kang Air Base, Taiwan, and the 315th Air Division from Naha AB, Okinawa performed short frequent rotating deployments to Cam Ranh.
With the inactivation of the 12th Tactical Fighter wing, the 483d became the host wing at Cam Ranh Bay on March 31, 1970. On December 1, 1971, the wing was reassigned from the 834th Air Division directly to Headquarters, Seventh Air Force at Tan Son Nhut AB. It gained a tactical electronic warfare mission in mid-1971 and a special operations mission in the autumn of 1971. These squadrons were:
The 90th SOS inactivated in place May 31, 1972; the 360th TEWS was reassigned to 377th Air Base Wing at Tan Son Nhut Air Base February 1, 1972; the 361st was inactivated in place December 1, 1971 and the 362d was assigned to the 366th TFW at Da Nang Air Base on February 1, 1972.
For its service in Vietnam, the 483rd was awarded two Presidential Unit Citations (January 21 – May 12, 1968; April 1 – June 30, 1970) and three Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards with combat "V" device (January 1 – April 30, 1967; May 1, 1967 – April 30, 1968; July 1, 1970 – December 31, 1971).
Beginning on January 1, 1972, the 483d Tactical Airlift Wing phased down its activities, and active flying ended by March 31. The unit was inactivated and Cam Ranh Air Base was turned over to the South Vietnamese government on May 15, 1972, ending USAF use of the facility.
After the turnover to the VNAF the base was largely abandoned. It was, quite simply, much too big for the Vietnamese to use. The base was slowly looted for its usable equipment, such as air conditioners, desks, refrigerators, and other furniture along with windows, doors and corrugated tin roofs from the buildings left by the Americans, leaving what could be categorized as a deteriorating ghost town of abandoned buildings.
The VNAF used the airfield at Cam Ranh Bay as a storage facility for many of their propeller-driven aircraft (A-1E, T-28) while their replacement jet F-5s and A-37s were used in operations against the North Vietnamese army from other, smaller bases.
On April 3, 1975 North Vietnamese forces captured Cam Ranh Bay and all of its remaining facilities.
In 1979, the Soviet Union started leasing the base rent-free from Vietnam under a 25-year leasing treaty. The base, aside from serving as a communications and signal-intelligence collection centre, eased Soviet logistical support of its naval forces that were deployed in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. The base was especially important given the nature of the Soviets' Pacific bases, which, unlike the warm-water Cam Ranh Base, were restricted to various degrees due to ice. The first Soviet naval ships arrived at the base in March 1979. In addition to the two piers, the Soviets added five more, as well as building two dry docks, installations to admit nuclear submarines, fuel- and weapons-storage facilities, and barracks. Under Soviet administration, Cam Ranh became its largest naval base for forward deployment outside the Warsaw Pact. Some 20 ships were berthed daily at the base, along with six attack submarines.
In addition, the Soviet Air Force stationed MiG-23 fighters, Tupolev Tu-16 tankers, Tupolev Tu-95 long-range bombers, and Tupolev Tu-142 maritime reconnaissance aircraft at Cam Ranh Air Base. During the 1980s many Tokyo Express flights went to and from the base, sometimes violating Japanese airspace.
Offensive weapons, including the MiG-23s and Tu-16s, had been withdrawn by 1989, and the number of personnel was halved to 2,500 from a high of 5,000.
The Russian government continued the earlier Soviet arrangement in a 1993 agreement that allowed for the continued use of the base for signal intelligence, primarily on Chinese communications in the South China Sea. By this time, Russian aircraft had been withdrawn, with only support personnel for the listening station remaining.
In June 2001, the Vietnamese government announced that following the expiry of Russia's lease in 2004, Vietnam would "not to sign an agreement with any country to use Cam Ranh Bay for military purposes". On 17 October that year, the Russian government announced that it would be withdrawing from Cam Ranh Bay completely before its rent-free lease was to expire in 2004, due to what was assumed to be a dwindling defense budget. The reversion of the base back to Vietnamese control took place on 2 May 2002.
On 25 November 2014, an agreement was signed during a visit to Sochi by Nguyễn Phú Trọng, that established standards of use of Russian warships in the port of Cam Ranh simplified procedure: Russian ships would only have to give prior notice to the Vietnamese authorities before calling on Cam Ranh Bay, while other foreign navies would be limited to only one annual ship visit to Vietnamese ports.
In January 2015, Russia's Defense Ministry said that Russian Il-78 tanker aircraft had used Cam Ranh Bay in the previous year, enabling the refueling of the Tu-95 strategic bombers conducting flights in the Asia-Pacific region.
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