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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM)

It is sometimes assumed that any states with a moderate scientific and technical base can develop ballistic missile weapons systems without great difficulty. The only states that have developed ballistic missile systems using essentially native resources have been World War II Germany, the USSR, and the United States, and both of the latter initially made extensive use of German equipment, personnel, and experience in their programs. In the decades immediately after World War II, five other states established serious programs to acquire missile deliveryv systems capable of carrying nuclear payloads. These were Communist China, France, Israel, Egypt, and the UK. Despite a great investment of time and effort, the UK, which received substantial assistance from the US, terminated its development efforts in favor of purchasing a US system.

An Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) has a range up to 1500 nautical miles. This term was applicable to the Thor and Jupiter, both of them US Air Force Missiles. Thor (PGM) was propelled by a liquid-fuel rocket at a speed of Mach 10. Thor was provided with an inertial guidance system. The Air Force initiated development of the Thor in 1954 as a tactical missile that could deliver a nuclear warhead up to 2,300 miles from a launch site in the U.K. On Dec. 27, 1955, Douglas Aircraft Corp. was awarded the prime contract for the airframe and integration of components. The first Thor flight was Jan. 25, 1957.

At the NSC meeting on January 11, 1957, a presentation was made on our ballistic missiles programs which included a discussion of possible deployment of IRBM units in the United Kingdom. At that time, no decision was sought as to deployment. The same presentation was later made the basis of discussion with Minister of Defense Sandys during the U.S.–U.K. defense talks of January 28–February 1, 1957. This presentation was based upon the Thor missile.

The proposed deployment discussed with Sandys including the “emergency capability” would place in the British Isles the entire presently planned IRBM operational inventory through June 1960 and would have placed it entirely in the hands of the United Kingdom by the end of 1960. This raises major strategic and political questions.

Four regular sites would be developed as rapidly as possible, the experimental squadron being disbanded as these become available. The first two would be constructed by the United States and manned [Page 703]initially by U.S. service personnel. They would hope to have these operational by 1959. In parallel, the United Kingdom would undertake construction of two further sites with a view to bringing them into operation with British personnel at the earliest possible date. The target was that these two additional sites plus the United Kingdom takeover of the other two sites would be achieved by December 1960.

The US Department of Defense, having carefully weighed all the strategic considerations, concluded that the proposed deployment to the United Kingdom of the entire presently planned IRBM production through mid-1960 was the right course of action. The Department of State concurred, and the Department of Defense was studying what additional deployments of IRBMs should be undertaken in the U.K. and/or in other areas, both in the period through mid-1960, and in the period following 1960.

Departments of State and Defense therefore recommend that if the IRBM proposal is to be put to the British Government it be reshaped so as to modify the original proposal that all four squadrons of IRBMs will be placed in British hands by the end of 1960. Instead, the British would be assured that two squadrons (30 missiles) will be transferred to them, with the remaining two squadrons to continue in United States hands, without prejudice to a decision at any time to transfer the two United States squadrons to British hands if such action should be mutually acceptable to the two governments. This would not cause any delay in bringing the IRBM capability into existence.

Arrangements would be made for coordinating the selection of the targets against which IRBMs transferred to British hands would be used with over-all U.S.–U.K. target selection and coordination plans.

On Dec. 11, 1959, the U.S. and U.K. declared Thor Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles operational. Beginning in August 1958, 60 missiles deployed to U.K. to be operated by 20 RAF Bomber Command squadrons at Driffield, Hemswell, Feltwell and North Luffenham. Each base had five squadrons with three closely sited missiles, totaling 15 per base. RAF crews manned the missiles while U.S. personnel maintained the warheads. The first operational unit transferred to U.K. Bomber Command 77 squadron at RAF Feltwell in June 1959.

In the 1957 White Paper on Defense, the British made clear that they intended to maintain their independent deterrent throughout the 1960s. In his letter to the President, Prime Minister Macmillan justified this decision on the grounds that the independent British nuclear deterrent added to the strength of the overall deterrent of the West. This view ran counter to the U.S. position.

Secretary McNamara in Athens May 4–6, 1962 made clear the US view that relatively weak nuclear forces with enemy cities as targets are not likely to be adequate to perform the function of deterrence. As Secretary McNamara said: “In a world of threats, crises, and possibly even accidents, such a posture appears more likely to deter its owner from standing firm under pressure than to inhibit a potential aggressor. If it is small, and perhaps vulnerable on the ground or in the air, or inaccurate, it enables a major antagonist to take a variety of measures to counter it. Indeed, if a major antagonist came to believe there was a substantial likelihood of it being used independently, this force would be inviting a pre-emptive first strike against it. In the event of war, the use of such a force against the cities of a major nuclear power would be tantamount to suicide, whereas its employment against significant military targets would have a negligible effect on the outcome of the conflict. In short, then, weak nuclear capabilities, operating independently, are expensive, prone to obsolescence, and lacking in credibility as a deterrent.”

The British themselves were clinging to the doctrine of first reliance on nuclear weapons and are not responding as well as some other countries to the US emphasis on the need for a conventional build-up. This was evident in both the Berlin and NATO contexts. In the military sub-group on Berlin, the British continued to express opposition to US arguments on strategy. In other words, the U.K. put so much emphasis on a strategy of early use of nuclear weapons that it is willing to go along with an action which would considerably enhance the Soviet conventional capability.

If the V-Bombers were not replaced by a sea-borne missile force, the independent British deterrent would expire, since the British had already decided to phase out land-based Thor’s by about 1964. All Thor units were inactivated by September 1963.

By 1970 the United Kingdom occupied a somewhat unique position with respect to the missile proliferation problem in that it had one of the best capabilities to develop and produce sophisticated ballistic missile systems, but chose to put this capability to use mainly in native and multinational space research programs. Except for a few weaknesses, the British had a good to excellent capability for the development of ballistic missiles.

Their development capability in reentry vehicles was also high, primarily because of a cooperative test program with the US and access to US technology. They had a good capability for developing solid—propellant boosters and high—energy stages (e.g., liquid oxygen / liquid hydrogen). However, this capability was inferior to that of the French, who were receiving considerable assistance from the US. In most other aspects of missile development, the British were generally quite competent - equal to the French and superior to other Western European countries.

Despite the size of the UK aerospace industry, by 1970 [and thereafter] there were no native ballistic missile development programs, although there are a number of tactical missiles being developed or in production. The British strategic missile program was based on the purchase of the US Polaris system with the Mark 2 reentry vehicle, less warhead.

The native British rocket—motor program consisted of the development and production of a very few types of sounding rockets, the first stage of the ELDO satellite launch vehicle, and a native satellite—launch vehicle. Their first successful space research vehicle was the solid—propellant Skylark Sounding rocket. The largest vehicle under development was the liquid- propellant Blue Streak which originally was conceived in 1955 as an IRBM but cancelled in 1960. Subsequently, it was taken over by the European Launcher Development Organization (ELDO) and successful flight tests were conducted at Woomera in Australia.

Another liquid—prepellant vehicle, the single- stage Black Knight, was developed (by Westland Air Craft, Ltd., in collaboration with the Royal Aircraft Establishment) as a reentry test vehicle for nose cone and warhead development for the Blue Streak IRBM. A two—stage version with a solid- propellant second stage was used for reentry experiments.

Even though the UK had no native ballistic missile effort, its high level of technology in most facets of missile development made it a very likely source for missile technology and components for a lesser developed country wishing to developa ballistic missile system. The British could be of greatest assistance in the guidance field, which is the most critical factor in the development of such a system. Some of the key components (e.g. , gyros) used in their most advanced systems were produced under license from several US firms and probably would not be available for export. However, cheaper , less sophisticated, but adequate components of British design would not have this restriction, and a less expensive inertial guidance system could be developed based on such components.

Although such a system would undoubtedly be less accurate than systems using US—developed components (i.e., probably one to two nautical miles versus less than one nautical mile at a range of 200 nautical miles), it would be adequate for a ballistic missile being developed by a lesser developed country.

The British also could be of great assistance in the field of reentry technology for longer range ballistic missiles, probably the next most difficult problem after guidance. The British might export guidance technology and components, but they would not be likely to release reentry technology. In the less critical fields of missile technology, the British could be of considerable assistance. They were largely free of licensing restrictions. Very little ballistic missile related technology or components have been exported as far as is known. Although the British Government may have a policyagainst exporting such assistance, -it is possible that verylittle has been requested because such assistance was available until from the US.

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