“Palace Dog” was a shadowy and deadly US-led operation to fight the Laotian “Secret War”. The Geneva Accords, 1962, established Laos as a neutral country in Southeast Asia. However, North Vietnamese troops were still occupying parts of the country. As the saying goes, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, and soon Laos was seeking the covert aid of the United States to get North Vietnam out of Laotian territory. The North Vietnamese held the claim that no troops were within the borders of Laos. The United States saw the Laotian government as an ally in a “containment” zone.
In 1962, US advisors arrived in Laos. These advisors were US Air Force pilots who carried no official military identification and were dressed as civilians at all times. Then, operating under the radio callsign “Butterfly”, these pilots (6 in total by 1966) flew observation and targeting runs with the CIA’s Air America. Subsequently, these flights provided intel for USAF strikes inside of Laos. (Source)
Operation Barrel Roll was a covert bombing campaign carried out from inside Laos into North Vietnam beginning in 1964 and ending in 1973. The operation began bombing runs on the Ho Chi Minh Trail that stretched thru Laos and South Vietnam. (Source) Subsequently, the operation then spread its wings to close air support missions within northern Laos. The “Butterfly” operators were the reconnaissance wing of Barrel Roll in the early stages of “The Secret War.”
Butterfly would set the foundation for one the largest covert operations in history, codenamed Palace Dog.
The “Butterfly” operation had its wings clipped in 1966 and replaced with Palace Dog. An expanded and even more shadowy operation, Palace Dog’s role was to provide full support for air missions operating out of Laos. All of the operators in Palace Dog were put on leave and placed under the employment of the US Air Attache in Laos, who was employed by the US Embassy in Laos. (Source)
The Ravens and Project 404
An organ of Palace Dog was the Raven Forward Air Controllers. They were USAF fighter pilots who subsequently operated exactly like those in “Butterfly”. They marked targets for strikes within northern Laos. The Ravens would launch smoke rockets at targets for destruction, then report on bomb damage after strikes. The Raven’s preferred aircraft was an O-1 Bird Dog. Usually equipped with smoke rockets and signalling devices. (Source)
The cycle rate of Ravens was high, the hours were long, and the flights were rife with operational hazards. The Ravens never had more than 22 operators at a time. They had 157 operators in total. 23 of those 157 men lost their lives. (Source)
Certainly, these men are in some part responsible for making Laos one of, if not the most, bombed countries on the planet.
Project 404 was the logistical and supply wing of Palace Dog, and its operational ladder allowed the Ravens to fly as well as train the Royal Laotian Air Force to meet a combat capacity. In conclusion, Project 404 is thought to have had 100 members. (source)
Project 404 staff and operators trained RLAF forces and facilitated Raven FAC operator’s flights at 5 sites in Laos. (Source) These sites were:
- Vientiane’s Wattay Field (Lima Site 08)
- Pakse (Lima Site 11)
- Savannakhet (Lima Site 39)
- Luang Prabang (Lima Site 54)
- Long Tieng (Lima Site 20A).
Palace Dog’s legacy leaves it as one of the most extensive covert operations in history. The covertly packaged power of the United States Air Force in Laos was made possible by a handful of skilled and dedicated operators. In turn, history, geopolitics, and the Laotian landscape were forever changed.