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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Blue Steel

Blue Steel was designed to be carried by the Victor B.2 and Vulcan B.2; it extended the useful life of the V-bombcr delivery system by several years. Hawker Siddeley began development in the late 1950s of the Blue Steel air-to-surface missile with a range of over 100 miles at a speed of Mach 2.5. Blue Steel entered service with No. 617 Squadron (The Dam Busters) in February 1963, equiped with a 1-megaton thermonuclear warhead. As large as a fighter, the missile was 35 feet long with a wingspan of 13 feet and an overall weight of 15,000 pounds.

This great weapon system was the major responsibility of the Weapons Research Division of A. V. Roe and Co. The work was centered at the Division's plant at Woodford, Cheshire, although once it reached the flight-test stage it was involving such other establishments as the R.A.E. Aberporth and the range at Woomera.

The aerodynamic surfaces comprised a rear-mounted delta wing with ailerons; a dorsal rudder; a ventral fin (which folded sideways to provide ground clearance when the missile is carried by the Victor); and delta foreplanes which provided control in pitch only. Detail points are that the foreplanes are cropped at the tips to what appears to be a Mach angle suggesting M 2, and that the tips of the wings had anhedral in order to clear the tailpipes of the Victor.

The finely streamlined fuselage had a circular section over most of its length, terminating in a section suited to the de Havilland Double Spectre rocket engine. The latter consisted of a fixed-thrust chamber mounted above a fully variable chamber, both being fed by individual turbopumps with H.T.P. and kerosine. This engine, which was described as being fitted in "the initial type of Blue Steel," had a sea-level thrust of 16,000 lb. Chief contractor for guidance was Elliott Bros. (London) Ltd. The all-inertial system was linked with the guidance system of the parent aircraft up to the moment of launching, and each system monitored the other to improve the overall accuracy.

Once the missile had been launched it is entirely self-contained and, after an inbuilt program had controlled the missile during the acceleration to supersonic speed and the subsequent zoom to high altitude (probably at least 90,000 feet), the trajectory is controlled in such a way that the flight path would provide the greatest difficulty for defending weapon systems. The missile could approach its target either at low level (and from any direction) or it could dive vertically. Blue Steel's structure was described as incorporating "special precautions to combat aerodynamic heating," suggesting that a speed well over M 2 may be reached during the final dive. Obviously a thermonuclear warhead can be carried.

Following extensive trials with scale models, the final configuration was agreed and intensive research with full-scale vehicles was in hand. Numerous launchings had been made from a Valiant and test vehicles had also been seen beneath at least one Vulcan. According to Aviation Week, by 1959 Avro did not yet have a production contract, but this would seem to be merelv a matter of time.

The Blue Steel rocket was the subject of great criticism by the Public Accounts Committee, especially concerning cost. The last available figure from the Comptroller and Auditor General, when the Report was issued in September, 1960, was that this weapon was costing 60 million. That was two years ago. It did not come into the Service until December, 1962, so, no doubt, it had cost far more than that. The current version, as far as one can gather, had a range of 150 miles.

It would appear that there was to be an extended version that might be stretched out to 400 miles' range, that was scrapped. In 1959, work on the improved Blue Steel 2 (with a 700-mile range and Mach 3+0 speed) was cancelled. Even if the Vulcans were armed with a 400-mile Blue Steel, let alone the 150-mile version, they can still be intercepted by the Russian Fiddler interceptor fighter operating well beyond the ground-based radar. Blue Steel, like Skybolt, was said to be essential. If the Vulcans were to be the proper air missile launcher that the Secretary of State wishes them to be, Skybolt would give them safety because of its 1,000-mile range. This would have allowed them to be outside radar coverage and fighter interception.

Primary Function:
Power Plant:
Thrust: at altitude, about 19,000 lb
Length: about 36ft
Wingspan: about 13ft 4in
Speed: (estimated from foreplane tip angle), M 1.6 (1,060 m.p.h),
Ceiling: well over 60,000 ft
Weight: probably of the order of 15,0001b;
Range: several hundred miles;
Date Deployed:

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