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Project CHECO Report

Gatlin, Col. Jesse C. Project CHECO Southeast Asia Report #117 - Special Report: IGLOO WHITE (Initial Phase)

The counterinsurgency and unconventional warfare environment of Southeast Asia has resulted in the employment of USAF's airpower to meet a multitude of requirements. The varied applications of airpower have involved the full spectrum of USAF aerospace vehicles, support equipment, and manpower. As a result, there has been an accumulation of operational data and experience that, as a priority, must be collected, documented, and analysed as to current and future impact uppon USAF policies, concepts, and doctrine. (Gatlin 1968, ii)

The above statement serves as the opening contextual paragraph for a prolific series of reports produced by the US Air Force in Vietnam. Beginning in 1962, Project CHECO--"Contemporary Historical Examination of Current Operations"--sought to provide "timely and analytical studies of USAF combat operations" in Southeast Asia (1968, ii). The documents were often assigned Secret classification status, and covered operations that included the herbicide programme and "unofficial" air campaigns in Laos and Cambodia. The electronic barrier programme was also the subject of repeated examination and review under Project CHECO's Southeast Asia's catalogue of reports, featuring as the primary subject of increasingly detailed and lengthy documents by Gatlin (1968), Caine (1970), and Shields (1971).

Any reader must remain cognisant that these documents are internal institutional histories, and as such, are inevitably entangled with the institutional politics of the Air Force. However, what is evident from the CHECO reports is that the electronic barrier was neither static nor linear in development, and not without its failings. The "contemporary historical" framing of these documents, written from within the programme as it unfurled, enunciates the idea that the barrier was an experiment urgently deployed in live warfare: the reports document the aforementioned elaboration of the system, feeding back performance data for different generations of sensors, noting failures and inconsistencies (Gatlin 1968, 26-29); explaining the technical functionality of the data readout equipment (Shields 1971, 105-10); illustrated with myriad diagrams, maps, tables, and photographs. In later reports, they speculate on what value an electronic barrier might have for US interests at home and overseas (Shields 1971, 95-104). The three documents serve as a valuable point of departure for a broader analysis, one that offers insights into the vast bureaucratic scale of the electronic barrier system and the continuously shifting technologies and organisations it relied on.