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The de Havilland Firestreak was Britain's first operational air-to-air guided weapon, entering service in 1959. Firestreak, first known as Blue Jay, was an with infrared homing air-to-air guided missile fired by one aircraft at another aircraft. In other words, it replaced the guns of an aircraft. This missile was fitted to Lightnings, Javelins and Sea Vixens, and it had only one disadvantage: it could be fired only when the aircraft is actually in pursuit of its victim. It could not be fired at an aircraft which is approaching it, or at another aircraft which is broadside on to it. It seemed to some that it was of very limited value. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Government purchased different missiles which can be fired at aircraft from all directions.

By 1957, the air-to-air guided missile, Fireflash, has started full-scale Service trials on the Swift 7. The purpose of these trials is both to work out the tactics for using air-to-air missiles and also to get practical experience in the handling of such weapons. In this way, the entry of the next air-to-air missile, Firestreak, for which substantial orders have been placed, would be made easier. Although acceptance trials of Firestreak weapon did not start until later in the year, it had already been tested in research and development firings in Australia. These firings have shown how effective the weapon is; several target aircraft were shot down at a variety of heights.

This weapon, with its range of about 10 miles, had been developed for use both by the Navy and the RAF. The DH.110 Sea Vixen all-weather fighter was fitted with the air-to-air guided missile Firestreak, which would improve radically, both by day and by night, the killing power of the aircraft. The Lightning Mk. l's main armament was the air-to-air missile Firestreak. Later marks of Lightning would carry an improved missile. There were certain restrictions, in relation to firing the present weapon, but they are not considered by the military authorities as being in any way seriously detrimental to the weapon. The new weapon will have, as one of its main features, a much wider field of attack.

Fire-streak, originally estimated to cost £4 million, was by 1960 estimated to cost £43 million. Firestreak was originally estimated to cost £4 million, and the total cost is now estimated to be £33 million plus an additional £20 million for the cost of the Mark IV variant.

The government placed a contract on Firestreak which failed to incorporate any specifications whatever and which was so vague that work started on Mark IV under the financial authorisation relating to Mark I and went on for fifteen months without any contract authority. The Ministry stated that the terms of the original contract were such that work on different Marks of the weapon could properly be carried out under it. The separate contract placed later was made for the Ministry's convenience. It did not contain a specification, but required certain preliminary work to be carried out in a given period to the satisfaction of and in accordance with a programme approved by the Ministry's Controller of Guided Weapons. A detailed specification was not incorporated in the contract until January 1960. That was eight years after the programme had begun—for eight years it was operating without a detailed contract—and during the eight years tens of millions of pounds had been spent.

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Page last modified: 14-05-2013 19:27:15 ZULU