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Bristol Bloodhound

The Bristol Bloodhound and the English Electric Thunderbird were surface-to-air guided missiles with intricate radar tracking devices, in production for the R.A.F. and the Army, respectively. Thunderbird was originally an Air Force and Army project. Later, two different operational requirements became obvious and the Army went for the Thunderbird and the Air Force for the Bloodhound. Sweden, Switzerland and Australia bought the Bloodhound.

The Cold War represented a period of political tension between the Soviet Union and the United States and their respective allies from the end of WW2 to the 1990s. During this period the UKís defences were hugely important as a deterrent against the possible nuclear threat represented by Soviet Union hostilities. Most important amongst the non-nuclear deterrent was the Bloodhound Missile, Britainís primary air- defence system during this period. To be launched from fixed installations along the coast, Bloodhound Missile bases were to be found along the north-east and south-east coast of Britain during this period. None were ever launched in anger.

In April 1957, the Defence White Paper, with its emphasis on missiles in preference to manned combat aircraft, announced the demise of most of these promising projects; the Blue Streak intermediate-range ballistic missile would assure strategic deterrence, and long-range surface-to-air weapons, such as the Bloodhound, would assure the integrity of U.K. airspace.

The Bloodhound was boosted by a solid-propellant rocket to a velocity of 1,500 feet per second and is sustained on the remainder of its flight by two Bristol 16-inch Thor ram-jets delivering 15,000 pounds of thrust. The Bloodhound is 15 feet long and 16 inches in diameter. It was guided by a semiactive homing system.

In July 1958 the Bloodhound surface-to-air missile entered service with Fighter Command at North Coates in Lincolnshire. With the arrival of the Bloodhound surface-to-air missile in 1958 and the contraction of the number of fighters and fighter airfields, the scene was set for the UK to become one of NATOís 4 air defence regions in 1960 and for the Commandís air defence squadrons to be assigned to SACEUR in 1961.

Surface-to-air guided weapons formed part of the air defence system. By 1959 the first Bloodhound squadron had been formed, and deliveries of the weapon were building up. Steps to develop its full operational capability were under way. One of the biggest tasks was to fit guided weapons into the air defence system as a whole. Some of the problems which arose were, for example, the allocation of targets between guided weapons and fighters; the control of air space to avoid fighters crossing accidentally into the guided weapon area; or to allow fighters to pass safely back through such an area on their way home after a sortie.

The trials results had been good. In 1960 about 70 percent of firings against pilotless aircraft have resulted in a "kill", and a remarkable number of these had been direct hits.

The contract was for the production of an entirely new type and design of weapon system of which neither Ferranti nor the Department had had previous experience. Exceptional inspection standards were demanded. An exacting time schedule was set. The work therefore carried special risks, but it was nevertheless completed on time and met the very high performance standards which the Department required.

Bloodhound I was an entirely new missile in advance of anything yet invented or produced. At the time the project started, Ferranti made available a works which was particularly suitable for production, but to do this it abandoned all radio and television work going on then. The closing down of radio and television production in this factory, and the holding together of the labour during the interim period, cost the company substantially over £1 million. The pre-production or development work an Bloodhound I was done, by arrangement with the Government, on a 4 per cent profit basis, but, owing to inflation, this actually meant a loss.

For the Bloodhound contract, the Government said categorically that they must have a fixed contract which would allow for profit at a rate of 7 percent on turnover. This was due to a ruling of the Treasury in pre-war days. It will be realised how difficult it is to estimate the actual cost of a new missile such as this. The Government had two teams of experts, one, the technical costs officers, the other, the accountants representing the Comptroller and Auditor General's department. The estimated cost of materials was agreed by both the Ministry and Ferranti representatives at £1,760,000. In fact, they were £500,000 too little and the materials actually cost much more, which meant a loss to Ferranti on that part of the work of about 30 percent. This shows the impossibility of accurate estimation in matters of this kind.

Bloodhound I was not all that good. There was some little doubt about its ceiling. Bloodhound was found to be vulnerable to switch jamming even before it was first made operational. Bloodhound I came into service in 1958. Bloodhound Mark I was withdrawn from service by 1964 because it had fulfilled its purpose. Some parts of the missiles and some of the associated equipment continued to be of use; apart from minor sales the rest are being scrapped. Research and development expenditure on Bloodhound I and its launching system began in 1949 and totalled £32 million. The production cost 1196 of the RAF's Bloodhound I missiles was £23 million; these operational missiles were manufactured between 1958 and 1962.

Bloodhound II was more sophisticated, has a little more height and can operate at a lower range. Bloodhound II was, by some accounts, the most successful missile of its kind produced in this or indeed any other country, and it was been bought by two of the most objective customers, Sweden and Switzerland, who were under no pressure to buy British, American or anything else. The first squadron of Bloodhound 2s was deployed to Singapore in 1964. But Bloodhound III was cancelled. When Bloodhound III was cancelled the Minister of Aviation said the cost was £600,000.

In December 1975 it was announced that Bloodhound surface-to-air missiles which had become available from withdrawals from overseas would be deployed in eastern England to supplement our air defences. The units will be deployed at West Raynham, North Coates and Bawdsey, and at a fourth site the location of which had been finally selected, but which was likely to be in the same general area.

It was not until 1975 that a dedicated separate air defence command was set up in the UK, the United Kingdom Air Defence Region, (UKADR). This region was established because of the United Kingdoms strategic position. In the event of a (conventional) war with the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom would be in geographical terms of strategic importance in two ways; firstly in protecting and safeguarding supply routes into Europe from North America and secondly in its importance as a forward base for the United States in Europe. The UKADR was spread from the English Channel in the South to the Faeroes in the North and from the North Sea in the East to almost the middle of the Atlantic in the West.

The principal defensive components of the UKADR were early warning radars, surface to air missiles (SAM) and a long and short-range fighter component. The radar system was based on the United Kingdom Air Defence Ground Environment (UKADGE) that was part of the NATO Air Defence Ground Environment (NADGE). This comprised the long distance NADGE radar chain from Saxa Vord on the Shetland Island of Uist down to Hartland Point in Cornwall and the shorter-range tactical radar system on the eastern side of the United Kingdom from Buchan in the North to Neatishead in the South. The principal long-range surface to air missile component, the Bloodhound, was again based in a north south line of the East Coast including the stations, Bawdsey, North Coates, Wyton, Barkston Heath, West Raynham and Wattisham. Point defence at RAF and USAF airfields was provided by the Rapier SAM.

The Bloodhound Mk II system in service in 1981 was manufactured between 1961 and 1966, first entering service in 1964. The RAF Germany Bloodhounds are being brought back to the United Kingdom and will be deployed to provide area cover for a wide range of potential targets in East Anglia. By 1983 the Bloodhound Mk II system was said to have many years of useful life left, and there were no plans for an early replacement. By 1987 it was expected that the Bloodhound missile will remain in RAF service into the 21st century.

On 02 May 1991 the Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Alan Clark) announced "We have decided that the Bloodhound surface-to-air missile will be withdrawn from service this year, and that the force will be disbanded. Bloodhound is aging and increasingly ineffective in the face of modern electronic counter-measures, and it is no longer cost-effective to keep it in service. We are currently considering the requirement for medium surface-to-air missiles in the context of our overall air defence planning."

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Page last modified: 14-05-2013 19:27:13 ZULU