Wild Weasels Undertake the US Air Force’s Most Dangerous Missions

Photo Credit: 1. Staff Sgt. Sarayuth Pinthong / United States Air Force / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain 2. United States Air Force / National Museum of the United States Air Force / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

There is nothing we love more than a good motto! The unofficial slogan for the US Air Force’s Wild Weasel crew is “YGBSM” – an acronym for “You’ve gotta be sh****n’ me!” After learning about the Wild Weasels, we think this is pretty accurate!

McDonnell Douglas F-4G Phantom II in flight
McDonnell Douglas F-4G Phantom II shows its undercarriage holding four different missiles: AGM-45, AGM-65, AGM-78 and AGM-88. (Photo Credit: United States Air Force / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

Wild Weasel is a codename given by the Air Force to any type of aircraft equipped with anti-radiation missiles that’s tasked with destroying the radar and surface-to-air missile (SAM) installations of enemy air defense systems. The missions undertaken by the Wild Weasels are some of the most dangerous jobs faced by today’s fighter pilots.

Wild Weasel tactics and techniques were developed during the Vietnam War. The concept was originally proposed in 1965 to counter the increasing North Vietnamese threat. “Project Wild Weasel” started in the summer of 1965 and formally went into effect that August. The Air Force and US Navy relied on volunteer crews to test out aircraft platforms outfitted with radar-seeking missiles throughout the next two years.

Republic F-105 Thunderchief in flight
Republic F-105 Thunderchief carrying an AGM-45 Shrike anti-radiation missile. (Photo Credit: United States Air Force / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

The first tactic used by the Wild Weasels in Vietnam was known as the “Hunter Killer.” They used Republic F-105 Thunderchiefs – or “Thuds” – to hunt down enemy air defense systems. The Wild Weasel would be teamed with a more conventional aircraft, like the McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II, and it was up to them to destroy missile radar emitters, clearing the way for the F-4Es to destroy the rest of the site.

Another tactic used by the Wild Weasels was to act as a decoy to protect the strike force during regular missions. The F-105s would try to entice SAM launches. If successful, the launches would create enough smoke to make them visible, allowing the strikers to hone in on their targets. The Wild Weasels would continue to orbit the area to further reveal any enemy fighters, air artillery shells and SAMs.

Wild Weasel patch
A weasel, nicknamed Willie, features prominently in many official and unofficial Wild Weasel patches and logos. (Photo Credit: United States Air Force / National Museum of the United States Air Force / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

The unofficial motto of “YGBSM” came from Boeing B-52 Stratofortress Electronic Warfare Officer Jack Donovan. When Donavan was introduced to the tactics and mission details, he replied, “You want me to fly in the back of a little tiny fighter aircraft with a crazy fighter pilot who think he’s invincible, hone in on a SAM site in North Vietnam, and shoot it before it shoots me? You gotta be sh*****g me!”

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Donovan’s reaction encompasses the danger surrounding the Wild Weasels, so it’s no surprise it stuck around as the unofficial motto! Today, Wild Weasel missions are performed by specially-trained General Dynamics F-16J Fighting Falcon crews. They continue to carry on the dangerous tradition and motto established by the F-105s in combat over Northern Vietnam throughout the 1960s and ’70s.

Madeline Hiltz

Maddy Hiltz is someone who loves all things history. She received her Bachelors of Arts in history and her Master’s of Arts degree in history both from the University of Western Ontario in Canada. Her thesis examined menstrual education in Victorian England. She is passionate about Princess Diana, the Titanic, the Romanovs, and Egypt amongst other things.

In her spare time, Maddy loves playing volleyball, running, walking, and biking, although when she wants to be lazy she loves to read a good thriller. She loves spending quality time with her friends, family, and puppy Luna!