AGM-48 Skybolt

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The Douglas GAM-87 Skybolt (AGM-48 under the 1962 Tri-service system) was an air-launched ballistic missile (ALBM) developed during the late 1950s. The UK joined the program in 1960, intending to use it on their V bomber force. A series of test failures and the development of submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) eventually led to its cancellation in the mid-1960s. The UK had decided to base its entire 1960s deterrent force on Skybolt, and its cancellation led to a major confrontation between the UK and US, known today as the "Skybolt Crisis". This was solved during a series of meetings that led to the Royal Navy gaining the UGM-27 Polaris missile and construction of the Resolution class submarines to launch them.

Contents

History

Background

Nuclear weapons theorists had speculated about how to integrate the flexibility and positive control (over the attack) of the manned bomber with the invulnerability (in the attack) of the ballistic missile. The introduction of useful surface-to-air missiles in the 1950s rendered flight over enemy territory much more dangerous. Yet the Air Force and military planners were, in the mid-1950s, reluctant to simply hand over the nuclear strike capability to missiles, which after launch were no longer under positive control, could not be recalled or redirected, and would reach their targets within a matter of minutes after the order to fire. The missiles of the day were all required to be loaded with their fuels prior to launch (they all used nonstorable propellants); and they could only be launched from above ground (after long pre-launch checkouts) launch pads, making them vulnerable to attack - the first ICBMs, Atlas 1 and Titan 1 were of this type.

In addition, the inaccuracy of missiles in the 1950s made them useless as precision strike weapons. They could attack area targets like cities, but could not reliably and accurately attack precision strike targets like enemy bomber bases, hardened command and control centers, naval bases, or weapons storage areas. Initially, western ballistic missiles could not even reach such targets, which would be located deep within interior of the Sino-Soviet land mass in Asia. Therefore the potential integration of aircraft with the invulnerability of the ballistic missile was intriguing prospect to 1950s military planners.

Basing the strike package on aircraft offered a flexibility that missiles could not match. For instance, the bombers could stand off from the targets and wait for instructions from secure command centers to attack targets that were missed in an initial strike. Additionally, the bombers could use long-range weapons to strike known air defenses, and then overfly them to deliver precision strikes with conventional bombs.

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