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 known officially as the V-force or Bomber Command Main Force. The bombers, whose names all started with the letter "V" and which were known collectively as the V-class, were the Vickers Valiant (first flew 1951, entered service 1955), Avro Vulcan (first flew 1952, in service 1956) and Handley Page Victor (first flew 1952, in service 1958). The V-Bomber force reached its peak in June 1964, with 50 Valiants, 70 Vulcans and 39 Victors in service.
RAF Bomber Command ended the Second World War with a policy of using heavy four-piston-engined bombers for massed raids and remained committed to this policy in the immediate post-war period. The RAF adopted the Avro Lincoln, an updated version of the 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 uncertain military relationship with the United States, particularly in the immediate postwar years when American isolationism made a short-lived comeback, led the UK to decide it needed 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 U.S. 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."
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