V bomber

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Avro Vulcan

Handley-Page Victor nose

Valiant V bomber in 1961

The term V bomber was used for the Royal Air Force (RAF) aircraft during the 1950s and 1960s that comprised the United Kingdom's strategic nuclear strike force. The bombers were the Valiants (first flew 1951), Victors (first flew 1952) and Vulcans (first flew 1952). The V-Bomber force reached its peak in June 1964, with 50 Valiants, 39 Victors and 70 Vulcans in service.

RAF Bomber Command ended World War II with a policy of using heavy four-piston-engined bombers for massed raids, and remained committed to this policy in the immediate postwar period, adopting the Avro Lincoln, an updated version of the WW2 Lancaster, as their standard bomber. The development of jet aircraft and nuclear weapons soon made this policy obsolete. The future appeared to belong to jet bombers that could fly at high altitude and speed, without defensive armament, to perform a nuclear strike on a target. Even at the time there were those who could see that guided missiles would eventually make such aircraft vulnerable, but development of such missiles was proving difficult, and fast and high-flying bombers were likely to serve for years before there was a need for something better. Massed bombers were unnecessary if a single bomber could destroy an entire city or military installation with a nuclear weapon. It would have to be a large bomber, since the first generation of nuclear weapons were big and heavy. Such a large and advanced bomber would be expensive on a unit basis, but would also be produced in much smaller quantities. The arrival of the Cold War also emphasised to British military planners the need to modernise UK forces. Furthermore, the United Kingdom's up-and-down relationship with the USA, particularly in the immediate postwar years when American isolationism made a short-lived comeback, led the UK to decide on the need for its own strategic nuclear strike force. After considering various specifications for such an advanced jet bomber in late 1946, the Air Ministry issued a request in January 1947 for an advanced jet bomber that would be at least the equal of anything the US or the USSR had. The request followed the guidelines of the earlier Specification B.35/46, which proposed a "medium-range bomber landplane, capable of carrying one 10,000 pound (4,535 kg) bomb to a target 1,500 nautical miles (2,775 km) from a base which may be anywhere in the world." The RAF's current jet bomber the English Electric Canberra could only have reached the Soviet border and had a capacity of 6,000 lb. The request also indicated that the fully loaded weight not exceed 100,000 pounds (45,400 kg), though this would be adjusted upward in practice; that the bomber have a cruise speed of 500 knots (925 km/h); and that it have a service ceiling of 50,000 feet (15,200 m). The request went to most of the United Kingdom's major aircraft manufacturers. Handley Page and Avro came up with very advanced designs for the bomber competition, which would become the Victor and the Vulcan respectively, and the Air Staff decided to award contracts to both companies, as a form of insurance. While the Vickers-Armstrong submission had been rejected as too conservative, Vickers lobbied the Air Ministry and made changes to meet their concerns, and managed to sell the Vickers Valiant design on the basis that it would be available much sooner than the competition, and would be useful as a "stopgap" until the more advanced bombers were available. Apparently, the Air Ministry didn't think there could be too much insurance. Despite the technical obstacles of the British nuclear arm, the V-Bombers still constituted an effective military force. A white paper produced by the Royal Air Force for the British government in 1961 claimed that the RAF's nuclear force was capable of destroying key Soviet cities such as Moscow and

Kiev before bomber aircraft from the United States' Strategic Air Command reached their targets. Throughout the early stages of the Cold War, NATO relied on the Royal Air Force to destroy key cities in European Russia. The RAF concluded that the V-Bomber force was capable of killing eight million Soviet citizens and wounding another eight million before American bombers reached their targets. The development of effective anti-aircraft missiles made the deterrent threat increasingly threadbare. After the failed Blue Streak missile program and the cancellation of the American Skybolt and the Mk. 2 version of the British Blue Steel missile already in service, the long-serving Vulcans were displaced in the 1960s, in the strategic role, by the Polaris missile designed to be launched from nuclear submarines. The Valiant was removed from service as a nuclear bomber first; taking on roles as a tanker, low level attack and photo-reconnaisance. Fatigue problems meant they were removed from service completely by 1965. In addition to the roles they were designed for, all three V-Bombers served as air-to-air refuelling tankers at one time or another; the Valiant was the RAF's first large scale tanker. As a means of replacing the loss of the Valiant, Victor B.1s were converted into the AAR role. When the Victor was withdrawn from service as a bomber, a number of B.2s were then converted into tankers. Finally, due to delays in the entry into service of the Lockheed Tristar, six Vulcan B.2s were converted into tankers, and served from 1982 to 1984.