Many Naval Security Group personnel who served during the Vietnam Era are familiar with PIRAZ station – the Primary Identification Radar Advisory Zone established in the Gulf of Tonkin (GOT) in 1966 to track hostile and friendly air traffic over North Vietnam and the GOT.
PIRAZ was continuously manned from its inception until after the cessation of hostilities and the return of the POWs from Hanoi in 1973. Since any ship assigned PIRAZ duties (most were cruisers or DLGs) had a NAVSECGRU detachment, quite a few CTs earned membership in the “Gulf of Tonkin Yacht Club.”
Based on the success of the PIRAZ concept, and following the shootdown of a USN EC-121M reconnaissance aircraft (PR-21) by the North Koreans on April 15, 1969, a similar picket station was established in the Sea of Japan (SOJ). The purpose of this picket station was to provide better warning to support the resumption of the Peacetime Aerial Reconnaissance Program (PARPRO) missions flown along the coasts of the Soviet Union and the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea (North Korea). Similar to PIRAZ in the GOT, ships were assigned on a rotating basis, operating as part of Task Force 71 with the designator CTU 71.0.4.
Ships assigned to PARPRO picket duties were supported by an embarked NSG team from NSGA Kamiseya, Japan. Each team had an Officer-in-Charge and an enlisted complement of 13 to 15 Communications Technicians. PARPRO station teams joined their ship in Yokosuka or Sasebo, rode for the duration of the picket duty (usually a month or less), and then returned to Kamiseya.
One of the ships frequently assigned was the USS Mahan (DLG-11). Mahan was home ported in Yokosuka from September 1968 until her return to San Diego in October of 1970, and during this time she was assigned to PARPRO Station seven different times for a total of 111 days on station, more than any other ship. Another frequent occupant was the USS Sterett (DLG-31).
Duty on PARPRO station almost always drew some reaction, typically from Soviet Naval Air Force TU-16 BADGERs or TU-95 BEAR D reconnaissance aircraft. The Soviets reacted with surface forces as well, typically a destroyer. Perhaps deterred by the presence of missile capable USN warships, the North Koreans never reacted to PARPRO station.
PARPRO station remained active into 1970, but at some point a decision was made to reduce the presence, and PARPRO station became a victim of the larger requirement for CG/DLGs in the GOT. PARPRO flights continued, and the tracks were adjusted and extra precautions were taken to preclude another shootdown.
Would like to hear from anyone who spent some time on PARPRO station, especially any who spent time there on the Mahan. Please contact me at email@example.com.
Featured image is the USS Mahan (DLG-11).
By LCDR Bob Morrison (USN, ret.)