Duncan Sandys and the manned aircraft


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4 June 2006
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Did Duncan Sandys' views on manned aircraft and missiles represent the general feeling in the British government at the time or was his an extreme view compared to others?
If you have a look into contemporary magazines, or books about military aviation,
there's always considerable enthusiasm about missiles and "fully automated" weapons
systems, no matter of the country. Even manned fighters are very often described as
"manned missiles", with the pilot regarded just as a kind of passenger.
Duncan Sandys point of view probably was an extreme one, but I think it was shared by
many other politicans of this era, and even as the british minister of defence, he would have
needed to be backed up by other members of the government, I think. The "end of the manned
aircraft" was another episode in the frequent changes of military thinking, very similar to the
"jeune ecole" of the end of the last century, and maybe similar to the boom of UAVs/ACAVs,
which began its rise some years ago and is, as it seems just declining a little bit now. Enthusiasm
is very often followed by disillusion ! ;)
Who in the various other aircraft manufacturing countries has the same reputation Sandys has in the UK?
Was it Deifenbaker?
After all they did to the Avro Canada Arrow what the UK government did to the TSR.2.
Khrushchev and his cronies axed dozens of projects for aircraft and engines at the end of the 1950s in the USSR, switching whole swathes of industry to missile work.
In the course of researching my book on Hawker P.1103/1121 I've actually begun to realise that Sandys wasn't actually quite such a "villain" as he is painted.

The main thing to understand is the context of the times. The role of Fighter Command in the mid 1950s was very narrowly defined. There was no expectation of being able to defend the British Isles as a whole in a war situation; the role of Fighter Command and the Air Defences of the UK was to protect the V Bomber airfields and hence keep intact the British nuclear deterrent. The secondary peacetime role was to prevent incursions over British airspace. Everyone, including the Air Ministry staff, knew that Fighter Command would be drastically scaled down; they wanted a few more squadrons than they got, but didn't differ on the need for cuts.

In the context of the need for large cuts in defence expenditure, Britain in 1957 was pursuing 3 different interceptor projects; the Lightning, SR.177 and F155T. Sandys cancelled two, leaving the Lightning (perfectly adequate for the short term) and suggested that it was likely that in the future, SAMs would increasingly take on the air defence role. Not really an unusual position in 1957.
It was the cancelation of the SR.177 that is likely to have hit hardest, and for a while the RN variant survived until it too was canceled. In its place it seems there was more effort on SAM's.

RAF plans had the SR.177 as the prefered light interceptor and was felt to have the longer career potential.
Certainly the lightning did'nt sell that well, its complexity and cost put a lot of potential customers off.
Whereas the Saunders Roe machine had potential to mach the Mirage, Starfighter and Mig21 for sales.

It seems that 1957 is also the periode when monies where made available for the Sea Vixen purchase and the Scimitar, but only in the most 'basic' forms for each. Such parsimony was actualy wasting cash over the long term to save money in the short.

RR's work on the RB106 and its various scaled options, seems a key waste and something that would've far more appropriate for something like the F4 than the Spey.
France too as a wake of cancellations circa 1958. But reasons were the Algerian war, nuclear deterrent program, and budgets cuts, rather than SAMs...

In the USAs there was also a strong move in favor of the Boeing BOMARC rather than manned interceptors, but strong protests from pilots made that only the F-108 Rapier was killed in the end...

Seems that Sweden was also tempted by Drakken cancellation, but this was not taken seriously.
zen said:
Was it Deifenbaker?
After all they did to the Avro Canada Arrow what the UK government did to the TSR.2.

Yes it was, John Diefenbacker. As Sandys, he's not main responsible of "the cancellation", and he's neither a villain. TSR-2 and Arrow histories are just like JFK murder, too much silly teories over the years mask interesting facts...

The Arrow was cancelled because of SAMs (such as BOMARC) and ICBMs (such as the R-7 ICBM) plus cost of its weapon system (Astra I and Sparrow II).

Victims of french 1958 budgets cuts were
- Vautour and SMB-2 orders (cut to 30 and 180 machines)
- Trident, Leduc 022, SO-4060 were cancelled
- PA.58 Verdun was more or less cancelled at the same time, along more Clemenceaus
I remember someone (I think it was Gunston or Mark Lambert) recalling that Maurice Brennan, the designer of the SR.53 and SR.177, was fond of saying that the SR's guidance system "weighs 180 pounds and drinks gin."
There is a very good article, written by Andrew Brookes in the current AirInternational issue.
It sheds some new light on this much discussed paper and shows, too, that probably much
of those discussions aren't based on the knowledge of its contents.
PMN1: was his an extreme view compared to others? Who else (took the same line).
McNamara chopped more - B-58B, B-70, about which US industry/writers have made far less fuss than DS has endured. Nothing that he chopped did not deserve it. (P.1121 is the only deletion that might be contested, but he did not chop that. The Board of HS Group did. RAF neither inspired, nor were interested in it). How could firms expect Ministers to pour in more money for exoticisms when they were incapable of delivering equipment funded since 1948? RAE and RAF accepted GW would displace manned combat types...in the MAD case, which was the only case. That changed with Flexible Response, whereupon DS initiated iron-bomb TSR.2.
When Sandys made his decision, the UK was effectively bankrupt. The deal that Churchill struck to bring the USA into WW2 mandated that we give independence to our empire - cutting the supply chain of our whole economy - and pay billions in debt repayments to the USA for the following 50 years!! The UK GDP in 1957 was just above the 1940 level - and the cost of an AVRO 730 or TSR.2 was a bit more than a Lancaster or a Mosquito (although we'd have fewer airframes). Sandys had very little money to spend. Given that the UASF were following a strategy of keeping the planes out of danger and investing more heavily in missiles and smart bombs, his decision was probably the correct one.

During the 20th century, the RAF seemed intent on rebuilding WW2 aircraft with new technology, not really realising that nuclear weapons and NATO membership changed the whole game. The weapons we have now make symmetrical war too costly for the first world powers to fight. The Harrier is a great plane but an example of this thought process - what targets could the Harrier hit during a 'hot' cold war that hadn't already been wiped out by nuclear weapons? Fortunately, it was a good design for a small carrier and the expeditionary wars that we have been fighting since WW2. Shame that the FAA took 20 years to see the benefit of the Harrier!!

At Cosford there is a TSR2 and a Tornado close to each other. I can help but think which one would be like a barn door for an Iraqi air defense gunner in the gulf war. Whilst it's a beautiful aircraft and was a technical marvel it was a bit of a white elephant!
zen said:
In its place it seems there was more effort on SAM's.
Ironic really... bit of a friendly fire incident. Sandys' way of showing how effective SAMs are: they can kill aircraft that aren't built yet! The cancellation of the SR.177 was a real pity, regardless of the situation of the time. It could've been the European Starfighter.

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