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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

TSR-2 (Tactical Strike/Reconnaissance 2)

More than forty years after its cancellation, the BAC TSR2 is still a controversial aircraft. Years ahead of its time, it was abruptly cancelled by a new government when flight testing had ony just begun. Built to a demanding RAF requirement, the BAC TSR2 was a revolutionary low-level strike aircraft able to deliver a tactical nuclear weapon at supersonic speed and low altitude to evade enemy radar.

The first flight of the TSR2 supersonic strike/reconnaissance aircraft, designed as a replacement for the Canberra, took place on 27 September 1964. Based originally on Operational Requirement 339 for a Canberra replacement, the TSR-2 was expected to enter service with RAF Bomber Command by 1967. Designed primarily for the low-level reconnaissance and strike role, the TSR-2 carried nuclear or conventional weapons may be carried in an internal bay and on underwing pylons. Orders were placed for eighteen development and pre-production machines prior to the project's cancellation. This highly advanced project was cancelled by the Labour government in Apr 1965 as part of a massive defence cuts program citing rising costs as the main reason for termination.

The Tactical Strike/Reconnaissance 2 (TSR-2) was an ill-fated Cold War strike aircraft developed by the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) for the Royal Air Force in the early 1960s. It was designed to penetrate a well-defended forward battle area at low altitudes and very high speeds, and then attack high-value targets in the rear with close-in bomb runs and precision drops. TSR-2 included a number of advanced features that made it the highest performing aircraft of this type in the world. The prototype TSR-2, XR219 flew from Boscombe Down on 27 September 1964 and the test programme soon made good progress despite some initial problems. However, a Labour Government had taken office shortly after the TSR-2's first flight and the writing was on the wall. XR219 was the only example to fly, the project being cancelled controversially in favour of the General Dynamics F111, a procurement that was itself later cancelled. Thankfully the ordered destruction of all the TSR-2 prototypes did not happen. XR219, along with prototypes XR221 and XR223 were lost, having been taken to Shoeburyness range in Essex and used for target practice. The other two prototypes were rescued and XR220 was placed on display at RAF Cosford's Aerospace Museum, while XR222 was initially sent to the College of Aeronautics at Cranfield and is now on display at the Imperial war Museum at Duxford.

Designed for high-speed, low-altitude penetration of well-defended battlefields, the British Aircraft Corporation's TSR.2 was first flown on September 27, 1964. The short-lived TSR.2 development program produced a high-performing, aerodynamically sound aircraft that was easily able to meet its performance specifications. Unfortunately, problems with the engine and undercarriage led to delays and the ultimate exclusion of the aircraft from the 1964 airshow at Farnborough, which would have greatly increased its chances of success. By 1965, critics of the TSR.2's projected costs and the parallel development of General Dynamics' F-111 had succeeded in ending the project and the few completed aircraft were handed over for display in British museums.

The principal competitor was the British Aircraft Corporation's Tactical Strike and Reconnaissance (TSR-2) aircraft. However, the development and subsequent abrupt cancellation of the project in 1965 was politically charged. While it was suggested at the time that Australia played a key role in the demise of the TSR-2, there appears to have been many other contributors to its downfall.

From the mid 1950s, the RAF [and subsequently the RAAF] identified the need to replace the Canberra bomber, focusing on a nuclear-capable aircraft. Given the rapid advances in anti-aircraft weaponry capability, having supersonic strike aircraft that could slip under radar surveillance was seen as a priority.

The development of the TSR-2 was also the result of the British Government's focus in the late 1950s on rationalising the eight main British aircraft manufacturers that then existed. On New Year's Day 1959, Vickers-Armstrong and English Electric, amalgamated as the new British Aircraft Corporation (BAC), were awarded the contract to combine their earlier individual designs into the TSR-2. Later that year Bristol-Siddeley were awarded the contract for development of the Olympus engines which were to power the aircraft.

Like the development of any aircraft, the TSR-2 had its technical problems. In late 1964, three completed prototypes had made it off the production line and the maiden flight was undertaken by XR219 from Boscombe Down. A three-month delay between the first and second test flights occurred, due to the engines on the aircraft not being up to specification, trouble with the undercarriage, and fuel pump oscillation that led to cockpit vibration at the same frequency as the human eyeball which affected the vision of the pilot.

While these were not minor problems, two other factors of greater import arose that sounded the death-knell for the TSR-2: a change of government, and projected costs. The newly elected Labour Government which promised defence expenditure cutting measures in its election campaign announced in the 1965 Budget that the TSR-2 was cancelled 'forthwith' and the remaining aircraft on the production line were sent to scrap merchants. It is said that the melted TSR-2 parts went on to serve the nation as washing machines.

It was also claimed that the Labour Party and Treasury officials believed that America would provide the UK with F-111 aircraft at a fixed price, something that BAC could not offer, and this would amount to a saving of 300 million pounds over the TSR-2. The UK took out an option on 24 F-111s to be in service by 1967 but once this order got caught up in the same delivery delays that Australia experienced the commitment was cancelled. These decisions made the British aircraft industry feel abandoned by their own government, which failed to appreciate the advanced sales methods of the Americans and also that in many cases the US adopted aircraft production techniques that were developed in the UK.

Australia expressed a high degree of interest in the TSR-2 when the TFX (later to become the F-111) was still on the drawing board. While the majority of Australia's air force budget from 1959 to 1965 was devoted to the purchase of the Mirage III, Australia was actively canvassing for a bomber replacement. In August 1960, the Commonwealth Chiefs of Staff were briefed on the TSR-2 which had a marked effect on the Australian delegation. In March 1962, the Chairman of BAC came to Australia to brief Prime Minister Menzies, Minister of Defence Townley and the Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee, Air Marshal Scherger to discuss the TSR-2. Subsequent to this meeting, Scherger was kept 'fully and frankly' informed of the progress of the TSR-2 but a few fateful events swayed Scherger and the Australian Government against the aircraft.

First, the UK Ministry of Defence turned down a suggestion by BAC that the later stages of the flight program involving terrain following and weapon delivery should be carried out at Woomera. Second, in April 1963 Scherger went to Paris for a SEATO conference and paid a short visit to London during which he met with Lord Mountbatten, the UK Chief of Defence Staff. Mountbatten expressed doubt that anything would come of the TSR-2 project on the grounds of cost and complexity, and made it clear that he was arguing in favor of the Buccaneer aircraft over the TSR-2. In his book "Murder of the TSR2", Stephen Hastings, a decorated World War II army officer and Conservative MP (as well as a director of aircraft company Handley Page), claims 'that three and half years of painstaking promotion, technical explanation and sales preparation during which a seemingly impregnable position had been built up by BAC, were dissipated overnight'.

On Scherger's return to Australia, in May 1963, the Australian Government announced that they had authorised the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Sir Valston Hancock, to evaluate the Canberra replacement. He decided to consider the French Mirage IV, the British TSR-2, and the US Phantom and Vigilante, in that order. At that point the F-111 did not feature on the shortlist. When Hancock visited the UK, it was suggested that V-bombers could be provided to Australia as an interim arrangement until TSR-2 deliveries were made. However, this offer was conditional upon the force being both crewed and under the command of the RAF ? a proposal that clearly did not appeal to the Australian Government or the RAAF.

Another telling shortcoming in the TSR-2 development process was that BAC did not receive a firm order from the UK Government for 21 development and preproduction TSR-2 aircraft until shortly after the Australian decision to order the F-111 in October 1963. After that, the TSR-2 project did not gain sufficient momentum and was finally ended by the fateful Labour Government decision.

Today only two TSR-2s remain. One (XR 220) is at the RAF Museum at Cosford and the other (XR 222) at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford. The only TSR-2 to fly (XR 219) and two unfinished air frames (XR 221 and XR 223) were used as gunnery targets. The haste with which the Labour Government made its decision has been the source of argument and bitterness ever since.

Successive generations of jet fighters and strike aircraft have exhibited few radical changes in their fin and rudder design. With the exception of the Vampire / Venom / Sea Vixen family, fighters of all nations employed single fins with conventional hinged rudders. Only the TSR-2 featured an all-moving fin, utilizing its control power to provide artificial stability at supersonic speed.

The design of the cockpit structure and transparencies of the TSR.2 was governed by the oonflioting requirements of providing a good field of view for the pilot, and providing a structure which will withstand a bird strike and meet the thermal requirements of the high Mach mmuber flight plans of the aircraft. The ultimate solution inevitably was some ocmpromise between these requirements. Proposals were made in the initial brochure for the assessment of the view from representative mock-ups. The T.S.R.2 was designed for automatic operation at high speed at low level, so the pilot's view from the cockit may not be as important as from a manually oontrolled aircraft in the same role. However the pilot must have a sufficiently good view to be able to monitor the automatic system, and to be able at least to return to base and land in the event of its failure.

The Concorde aircraft that emerged from the joint Anglo-French design effort had a thin, fixed ogee wing and was powered by a "civilianized" version of the Olympus 22R - a then 10-year-old military engine that had been developed by Bristol-Siddeley for the TSR-2 multimission combat plane (which was canceled in 1965 after $532 million had been spent).

Primary Function:reconnaissance and strike
Length 89 ft in (27.12 m) / 90 ft.
Wingspan 37 ft 1 in (11.27 m) / 35 ft.
Height 23 ft 9 in (7.24 m) / 23 ft.
Weight 54,750 lb (24,834 kg) empty;
102,200 lb (46,357 kg) max. takeoff
100,000 lbs
Powerplant 2 x Bristol-Siddeley Olympus BO1.22R (Mk. 320) turbojet
Thrust:approx. 30,000 lbst each with afterburners
Maximum speed 845 m.p.h. at sea level (Mach 1.12)
1,190 m.p.h. at 40,000 ft. (Mach 1.8)
Mach 2.15
Ceiling 54,000 ft (16,459 m)
Range 3,500-4,000 miles
1,200 miles normal mission radius
1,150 (1,850 km)
Armament 1 Red Beard (nuclear) or
6 x 1000 lb (450) HE bombs internally; or
4 x 37 rocket packs or
nuclears on inner pylons only
Crew 2

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Page last modified: 24-07-2011 04:50:43 ZULU