"We used to say we were dropping a Cadillac," -- retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Dean Failor.
The basic operational concept for laser guidance and targeting
from a combat aircraft was simple. The Weapons System Operator would use a laser marking device mounted on the back-seat canopy of one F-4 to illuminate that target. Another F-4 loaded with the laser
guided bombs would make the attack dive bomb run. Depending on fuel loads, the Phantom could carry two 2,000 pound guided bombs. The number was fewer because the fixed guidance fins on the bomb only
allowed one bomb per station on the fighter. In later versions of the Paveway bomb, folding rear fins allowed for two bombs to be loaded on aircraft bomb station hardpoints.
Later in the Vietnam War fighters used pods and could designate their own targets or a target for a flight of F-4s, but even the buddy system, which put two aircraft at risk instead of one, was deemed so
accurate by the Air Force it went into combat trials and was later dubbed the Pave Light system (PAVE is an acronym for Precision Avionics Vectoring Equipment) when the back-seat illumination routine was used
in combat. Later, Pave Knife pods, the primitive precursor to current day targeting pods, were carried by a single F-4 in a two or four ship flight. The pods allowed one aircrew to
illuminate a target and several to drop their guided bombs on it.
This was a particularly useful tactic for well protected, sturdy bridges. By summer 1973, just before airstrike operations
from bases in Thailand were canceled, F-4s were equipped with the more advanced Pave Spike pod which featured a television-laser combination tracking and targeting system, a
bomb release computer and an easy access cockpit mounted control panel. The pod, which resembled a long tube with a big bulging bulb on the forward end, was mounted on one of
the Phantom's centerline Sparrow missile wells. This freed up a wing station for more ordnance.
After initial test practice runs for aircrews, the bombs were
easy to use, unlike the complicated optical glide bombs and missiles of the day. More importantly to the Air Force, the bombs not only came within the thirty foot target designation, they were cheap. When compared to other "precision"
guided weapons at the time, Paveway I was a frugal investment. The GBU-8 television guided bombs which had a higher failure rate, cost the government around $17,000, but the initial Paveway bombs
were priced at around $4,000, Word remembers, and as the production lines geared up near the end of the Vietnam War the bomb prices had dropped to $2,000 a copy.
Compared to the pay stub of a young Air Force officer of the time, though, the bombs were deemed expensive, but the aircrews wouldn't have traded them for the bomb's weight in
gold in combat. "We used to say we were dropping a Cadillac," retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Dean Failor recalled. "They were very accurate, and I guess compared to
other munitions of the time cheap, but to us 'Crew Dogs' they were Cadillacs. They were worth a Cadillac too, because they worked. We really didn't like the electo-optical guided bombs
because they didn't always work." Failor was a WSO who used laser guided bombs from 1970-1973 in tours of duty in Southeast Asia including the Linebacker I and II campaigns.
The bombs were used for more that just dropping bridges, Failor said. "They were very versatile. We used them for cutting road junctions along the (Ho Chi Mihn) Trail, hitting bulldozers, just about all hardened targets and even
destroying tanks," Failor recalled. "I remember one bulldozer we hit that had been hidden in a bomb crater at a difficult angle (to strike). We put the laser guided bomb right on it, and the dozer just started
tumbling end over end."
Within Texas Instruments there was a lot of hoopla surrounding Paveway bombing accuracy, Tom Weaver thought. "A lot of people say those
bombs were coming within seven to ten feet of the target. I don't think we ever got them that close, but we sure got them within the 30-foot range," Weaver said.
Although very accurate, Paveway bombs were not magic bullets. Launch parameters, which pilots call a "basket," had to be followed or the bombs would not guide. The release
parameters were much the same as dive bombing -- roll in on the target around 20,000 feet, acquire the target and release the bomb at about 10,000 feet. The laser guidance allowed
the pilots to pull out the desired 10,000 foot altitude mark, largely above the bulk of the deadly ground fire. "You had to be good at what you were doing," Failor said. "There's no
doubt about that. There had to be cooperation between the guy in back and the pilot and a general understanding of how the bomb worked. Once you got that down, though, it went
well. When you used it properly the laser guided bomb was so much better than a regular iron bomb that there is just no comparison."
Drawbacks to the weapons usage were cloudy weather, and
also haze and smoke from previous bomb runs could pose a problem. The first Paveway systems had no night time capability. Even with the drawbacks, though, the bombs
racked up a 68-percent kill record. By the end of the conflict in Vietnam, the Air Force had used more that 25,000 laser guided bomb units, and 17,000 had been judged successful.