Skybolt: At Arm's Length


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The untold story of the hitherto secret projects that lead to the development of inertial navigation in the UK, and the many missiles that were designed for the RAF’s bomber force. The result was the Blue Steel missile, which was deployed in 1963. These were cruise type missiles, and in 1959 the RAF decided to participate in the American Skybolt air launched ballistic missile. But Skybolt was cancelled by the American Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, which brought about a crisis in Anglo-American relations, only resolved when the UK obtained Polaris on acceptable terms.
The cancellation brought about another crisis: Polaris would not be available until 1969, and so short-term stop gaps were needed to tide over the British deterrent until then. Many potential projects are examined in the book.
But what if the UK had not been able to obtain Polaris on acceptable terms? The final chapters examine what options would have been open to Britain: ground based missiles or air launched missiles? What part could the TSR 2 have played in this?
The book is the result of much archival research, and there are extensive quotes from contemporary documents to illustrate the thinking of the time.

This title will be released on December 3, 2019


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It says something about the publishers that you know the publication date before the author does!
I have to say I am really looking forward to this. Both "A Vertical Empire" and "An Atomic Empire" were brilliantly researched, well illustrated and very readable. Skybolt is a logical narrative follow-on to the Blue Streak chapters in "A Vertical Empire". We have discussed UK Inertial and Astro navigation systems R&D on this forum, at a relatively shallow level, so it will be interesting to see how much more has been dug up. The same for Skybolt alternatives, I have a vague memory of seeing a document at Kew that listed potential options (IIRC up to and including an indigenous SLBM) with some suspiciously round cost estimates next to them - I always wondered how they were arrived at.
Chris Gibson did a good job on Skybolt alternatives in Vulcan's Hammer but I'm sure this will be an informative read and certainly time that Skybolt got more coverage with recent research.
I have a copy of Blue Streak by John Boyes and it has very full chapters on Skybolt
I think there was an article related to this in a JBIS magazine at one point. Only part II though IIRC.
I'll see if I can find it again

And a review:
Another excellent book from Fonthill Media, along with author Nicholas Hill. Skybolt was a planned nuclear missile of the early 1960's being designed and built in the USA but which the RAF were also keen to have and operate as the British independent nuclear deterrent. In the end it was cancelled and we eventually went for the submarine launched Polaris, but this gives a fascinating view of the complexities of major weapons development.
The book does an excellent job in examining all the elements that were involved with Skybolt. Starting from the options of a silo based missile, the Blue Streak programme and the changes in defences that meant the idea of a high altitude conventional bomber (the V-Bombers) delivering free-fall bombs was no longer a realistic option, so low level and some sort of stand-off capability was an alternative. Technology was going through a huge period of change, and that is well illustrated with this development programme. If all this wasn't enough, there were disagreements between scientists about what was possible, rivalries not only between the services (RAF and Royal Navy) but also different government ministries. Add in the different solutions being offered by different manufacturers, including both Avro (the Vulcan) and Handley Page (the Victor) there were so many influences at work. It is worth remembering that this was all taking place long before we had modern miniaturised computer systems. Even the weight of a usable nuclear warhead was a factor in the many equations. Add the fuel options, maintenance, service life, guidance system etc there is so much to it. Then of course politics plays another significant part. Anglo-US relations were involved, budgets and even how such co-operation between the UK and the US could upset the European nations who at that point we wanted to join in the Common Market.
With access to many files in the National Archives, though some are still restricted, the author has put together a really interesting book, and which paints such a vivid picture of the Skybolt story within the Cold War period. One of the arguments put forward involved how Skybolt and its' carrier aircraft could be stopped by the Russians exploding a nuclear weapon in the path of the attacking aircraft in order to bring it down.I find it hard to believe that such a defence was given serious consideration with the damage that would have caused to their own country. Today the basic idea is in service as the Cruise Missile, though some aspects of it would still contradict some of the objections raised against Skybolt. With photos, various sets of drawings and diagrams to illustrate the story, very nicely done. An excellent read. "
I have finally acquired a copy of Skybolt: At Arm's Length and it lives up to the high expectations I had for it. Nicholas does a wonderful job of describing the interplay between the various departments and services in the UK, such as the Navy and RAF and the RAF and the MoA. His extensive archive research and willingness to reproduce large sections original documents tells the story in a compelling and evidenced fashion that is all-to-often rare in British Aerospace history writing. The linking of this political and policy narrative to actual weapons concepts and their proposed operational use completes the package. For those more interested in prospective hardware there is plenty of narrative and images of proposed weapons systems in the context O.1182 and the stopgaps that were proposed after the cancellation of Skybolt, I particularly enjoyed the 1960 RAE concepts for cruise missiles sized to fit the TSR-2 bomb bay - using identical (and in hindsight prescient/brilliant) logic to the BAC ballistic missile proposal inspired by the same customer request.

As a final observation, Skybolt has reinforced my sense that the combined Blue Streak system, with its decoys and hardened silos, really was a belt and braces approach to providing a deterrent whereas the Skybolt saga was an extreme reaction to the cost of that abandoned programme in that it sought to leverage the sunk cost of the V-Force and US R&D funds.
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Two stage Minuteman is mentioned as a possible alternative, what would be the dimensions of a Minuteman less the first stage.
Skybolt: At Arm's Length by C N Hill.

This book, by the author of the rather excellent "A Vertical Empire", is much more than simply an account of the UK's engagement in the Skybolt air-launched ballistic missile program, it's an impeccably researched look at the entire subject of the RAF's attempt to secure the ongoing role of nuclear weapon delivery in a changing world. Hill does an amazing job of succinctly explaining the rather byzantine system of rival ministries, department and services and the political and technical arguments which ensued. He quotes extensively from the original source documents, allowing the reader to draw his or her own conclusions. As well as a detailed view of Skybolt development from the British view, various carrier aircraft proposals feature, along with alternative British designs for stand-off nuclear weapons. The result is a very complete look at the policies, procurement, technical development and operational considerations of stand-off air to surface ballistic and cruise weapons in the UK.

Highly recommended to any serious aviation enthusiast. I purchased the Kindle version of this book primarily to save on postage, and its a pretty decent version, but I think I'll need a printed copy too.
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