Cuban missile crisis, 1962, value of photo intelligence,

Previous Next

deliveries of offensive weapons to Cuba. The President had chosen a course which he had judged would not push Khrushchev beyond the brink. It would demonstrate US resolve, and it would provide the President and his advisers the time and the leverage they required in their communications with Khrushchev to demand that the USSR withdraw its missiles and bombers from Cuba.   Our aerial reconnaissance of Cuba took a quantum leap both in volume and in precision of detail with the low-level missions. The Navy and Marine Corps pilots assigned to Light Photographic Squadron 62 were flying the single-engine reconnaissance RF-8A version of the F-8 Crusader fighter. It carried five cameras. The Air Force pilots of the 363rd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing were flying the RF-101 reconnaissance version of the F-101 Voodoo fighter.  
President Kennedy's report to the American people on the Soviet missile and bomber buildup in Cuba was delivered from the White House Oval Office at 7:00 p.m., 22 October, one week after the discovery of the MRBMs at San Cristobal. I was with Navy photo interpreters in Suitland, Maryland. We listened to the President's somber, electrifying words. As stated in the second of his announced actions, the President had ordered low-level surveillance photo missions by Navy and Air Force tactical reconnaissance squadrons to begin the following morning.        
   The RF-101's reconnaissance eyes were the KA-53 aerial reconnaissance cameras with black-and-white and color emulsion 5-inch aerial roll film loaded in 250-foot film cassettes, cameras with shutter speeds up to 1/3000th of a second. The combination of   
   planes and cameras in these Navy and Air Force tactical units was as remarkable in its sophistication as was the technology aboard the U-2s.  
   The RF-8As and RF-101s covered their targets 500 feet off the ground at speeds of 600 mph. With this speed and altitude, the Soviets and Cubans had no warning, only the sonic roar as the reconnaissance planes flew by on flight profiles that brought them in low over the Gulf of Mexico with a pop-up over the target. At the successful conclusion of each mission, the VP-62 pilots would paint another dead chicken on the fuselages of their Crusaders to symbolize Castro's chickens coming home to roost.'  
Given the array of MiG-21 fighters, antiaircraft guns and SAM defenses that would confront our reconnaissance planes, tactical intelligence support was vital to their success. In turn, their success would be essential to the President's strategy. As we worked to prepare for the following day's briefing, there was a profound sense of urgency.    
Low-Level Missions         
    The reconnaissance photography these pilots were delivering was spectacular. It was clear, large-scale documentation. It permitted us to gain full understanding of the MRBMs that would be operational by the 28th and to track the continuing intensive construction of the IRBM sites. The photography provided our combat-mission planners with the precise detail they required in the event the President were to order a strike against the island.   
Shortly after dawn on 23 October, Navy pilots of Light Photographic Squadron 62 and Air Force pilots of the 363rd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing took off on the first low-level photo missions over Cuba. Later that day, the President issued Proclamation 3504: Interdiction of the Delivery of Offensive Weapons to Cuba. It stated that as of 2:00 p.m., 24 October, forces under his command had instructions to intercept any vessel or craft proceeding toward Cuba and to interdict the delivery of surface-to-surface missiles; bombers; bombs; air-to-surface rockets and guided missiles; warheads; mechanical and electrical equipment for such weapons; and any other materials subsequently designated by the Secretary of Defense.    
 As soon as each low-level mission delivered its film to the squadron and wing photo labs, it was developed and flown to Washington and to other photographic analysis centers.  





Previous Next

Posted: May 08, 2007 08:59 AM
Last Updated: May 08, 2007 08:59 AM