The Largest Security-Cleared Career Network for Defense and Intelligence Jobs - JOIN NOW

Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Blue Streak - Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile

By the end of 1956 the focus of British defense policy would be an independent nuclear deterrent. It would be provided by a V-bomber force to begin with, followed by Blue Streak - a nuclear intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) developed by the British with a good deal of American help, but wholly under British control and with a British warhead. The possibility of deploying the Thor IRBM in Britain as a stop gap until Blue Streak became operational was also emerging. The United Kingdom eventually operated American-built Thor IRBMs under dual key arrangements.

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. Blue Streak was cancelled as a weapon on 13 April 1960. Blue Streak was designed to succeed the V-bomber force the British nuclear weapon carrier and, if the UK had not developed Blue Streak it would have had to develop a new generation of bombers. the initiation, continuance and cancellation of the Blue Streak missile which has involved the expenditure of a large amount of public money on a project long believed and later officially declared to be of no military value. The Minister of Aviation, Duncan Sandys, had personal responsibility at every important point. He had clear personal responsibility for the decision effectively to go ahead.

Throughout the 1930s there was the same suspicion of blundering, of spending money ineffectively, of backing the wrong horses and of failing to provide the right things for our defence. The right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) persistently tried to persuade the House that issues ought to be inquired into, that Ministers were not being candid, that the situation was not as Ministers said it was, that if war ever came and if, unhappily, we ever needed our defences, we would find ourselves naked and without them. Because he could never persuade the majority of the need for an inquiry, they never found out how right he was until the day came, and the hardware was not there.

Britain had spent about sixty million pounds on the Blue Streak missile. Then there arose the decision as to whether the development of this missile should be continued. Britain was a small and heavily populated island, and the missile would have to be situated near towns where it would be subject to observation and would be exposed to agitators. The Prime Minister had talked to President Eisenhower about the problem and had indicated the British were going to chuck it if they could get anything else. The British made an agreement to buy Skybolt.

Blue Streak died unwept as a weapon, and its transfiguration into Europe's space launcher seemed to make good sense. Eldo became the first token of Britain's historic decision to throw in her lot with Europe, using technology as her admission ticket. But it became a monument to political technology, having been conceived in a political rapture without due care for cost or commercial purpose. By the end of the 1960s, though Blue Streak had fired perfectly, Eldo was foundering in disillusionment.

In 1955, Britain began developing a long-range liquid-fueled missile, the Blue Streak. Although initial concepts included an inter-continental range missile [ICBM], work soon focused on an intermediate range missile [IRBM]. This single stage silo-based missile, raised vertically on an elevator for launch, was projected to have a range of 2,500 miles.

It was intended to deploy 5-10 underground launching sites around a central domestic and technical facility. The form of the deployment of the sites will be such that no more than one site can be destroyed by a 20 megaton yield weapon either air-burst or ground-burst. Each site must be self-supporting, in an emergency prior to an expected attack, for a minimum of three days, including a limited capability to repair the system by replacement.

The research program was split between Rolls Royce and Dehavilland (later Hawker Siddley). Dehavilland were responsible for the airframe and Rolls Royce for the RZ 2 rocket engines. The project featured an inertial guidance system designed and built by Sperry Gyroscope Co. Ltd. The engines were built by Rolls Royce using Atlas missile technology licensed from North American Rocketdyne. Blue Streak static test firing facilities were established at Spadeadam in Cumbria, and flight tests were conducted in Woomera, Australia. The first rocket firing took place in August 1959, but by this time the Fixed Site Ballistic Missile (FSBM) was being phased out, after the deployment of American THOR missile sites in eastern England.

The British Ministry of Defence had become increasingly conscious of the fact that a ballistic missile designed for "hard" emplacement is extremely costly and by no means invulnerable. To be speci.ic, the Blue Streak LRBM was going to cost more than had originally been hoped; and with about 300 high-yield warheads a potential enemy could destroy everything in the British Isles, including any Blue Streaks which might be based here. As a result our Defence and Air staffs have been taking a closer look at delivery systems which do not need a fixed base.

The Blue Streak program was cancelled in favor of the air-launched Skybolt program on 13 April 1960 on the grounds of cost and vulnerability. Blue Streak was then adapted to be used as the first stage of the ELDOs (European Launcher Development Organisation) Europa satellite launcher. The first Blue Streak first stage launch was carried out at Spadeadam's twin site of Woomera, Australia on June 5th 1964 - 4 other first stage launches were carried out successfully, but second and third stage launches were unsuccessful.In 1967 Britain announced that in 1971 it would pull out of the Europa program. The last Woomera launch was on 12th January 1970 and the last ELDO launch was carried out in French Guyana in 1971; by April 1973 the European project was cancelled totally.

The weight of military as well as political opinion had moved against Blue Streak, the clinching argument being that by the end of the 1960s, when Blue Streak would be fully deployed, Soviet missilery would be able to destroy a high proportion of the Blue Streak sites. In other words, if Blue Streak was vulnerable to a preemptive strike, it could have credibility only as a first-strike weapon, whereas British politics would be easier to manage if the deterrent was credible as a retaliatory weapon.

Join the mailing list

One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias

Page last modified: 09-11-2017 18:28:27 ZULU