During the early stages of the Vietnam era, Helicopter Combat Support Squadron ONE provided detachments of helicopter gun ships to support the "Brown Water Navy" effort in the Mekong Delta region of South Vietnam. Operating the UH-1B gun ships, the two plane detachments staged from small amphibious-type vessels to provide a quick reaction, close air-support role for the Riverine Forces, SEAL Teams, and other units of the Navy's Special Warfare Groups. As the effectiveness of the helicopter attack mission became more evident, the mission requirements increased, creating the need for more centralized administrative, operational, and maintenance support. In April 1967, Helicopter Attack Squadron (Light) THREE was established in South Vietnam with headquarters originally in Vung Tau, and then later on, in Binh Thuy. The gunship detachments were increased to a total of nine, and were located at strategic support positions throughout the Mekong Delta area. Operating with an annual flight hour program of approximately 35,000 hours, each of the HAL-3 "SEAWOLF" flight crews flew an average of 600 combat missions during a twelve month tour. In 1972, having played a highly successful role in support of operations in South Vietnam for five years, Helicopter Attack Squadron (Light) THREE was disestablished.
With the establishment of HAL-5 at NAS Point Mugu, California in June of 1977, the Navy again possessed the quick reaction, close air-support capability which is so vital to Special Warfare Group subsystems. HAL-5 possessed the same type of firepower as the aircraft used by HAL-3 in South Vietnam; however, the ammo load was greater due to increased lift capability in the HH-1K. The M-21 weapons subsystem included two GAU-2B/A Gatling type miniguns and two rocket launchers each capable of carrying fourteen 2.75 inch Folding Fin Aerial Rockets (FFAR). The mini-guns, which could deliver up to 4000 rounds of 7.62mm ammo per minute, were normally operated by the co-pilot, and the 2.75 inch FFAR's were fired by the pilot. In addition, the aircraft had two M-60's which fired 7.62mm ammunition and were operated by the two enlisted air crewmen.
With the rapid advancement and world-wide distribution of weapons technology since the Vietnam conflict, weapons systems had to be designed and flight crews trained to meet the challenges for new high-threat combat environments; example, HAL-5 aircraft were specially painted to minimize detection by weapons that have infrared guidance systems. The potential presence of hand-held or highly mobile weapons dictated that aircraft flight in a tactical environment be conducted utilizing terrain masking techniques to avoid detection, so squadron aircrews had also to be proficient in the use of night vision goggles which enable the aircraft to be flown at tree-top level and below in total darkness. These techniques and others allowed the safe and expeditious insertion and extraction of SEAL Teams behind the enemy's defense perimeter.
With eight helicopters, ten flight crews and 150
maintenance/administrative support personnel, HAL-5 operated in close
support of the Commander of the Naval Special Warfare Group ONE and other
specialized Navy units. HAL-5 was deactivated October 20, 1988 to become
HCS-5 at that time.