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Ambiguity and DeterrenceBritish Nuclear Strategy 1945-1964$

John Baylis

Print publication date: 1995

Print ISBN-13: 9780198280125

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198280125.001.0001

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(p.418) Appendix 8 Chiefs of Staff Committee/Air Defence Committee Working Party

(p.418) Appendix 8 Chiefs of Staff Committee/Air Defence Committee Working Party

Future Air Defence of the United Kingdom 1960–1970

Ambiguity and Deterrence
Oxford University Press

DEFE 8/48

AD (WPS) (54) 18

23rd July 1954

Note by the Staff

Part 1 The Threat

  1. 1. The H-Bomb threat, with all its implications, now dominates the whole conception of defence. Its immense lethality and comparative cheapness together with the technical possibilities for delivery which are in sight, are such that anything short of fully effective defence means annihilation. Such a complete defence appears impossible at present. It is evident that there are two complementary methods of warding off nuclear attack. The first and most important method is to wield an unstoppable nuclear threat ready for instant retaliation. Whilst secondly, to build a defence to a degree of effectiveness which will cause the enemy to consider whether the cost of building an offensive capable of success against it, is not too great for his economy. In short, our only hope lies in prevention of nuclear war happening at all.

  2. 2. (Once nuclear weapons are available to the USA and Russia in what are thought to be sufficient numbers for annihilation of the other, further superiority in numbers has no meaning). Thereafter a global war would inevitably be a nuclear one. Under these conditions the nuclear bomb will have little value as a compulsive instrument of foreign policy since its use would provoke unstoppable retaliation in kind. This might result in a nuclear stalemate which would tend to neutralise the large scale use of air forces. Thus the present peripheral wars will probably be typical of the ultimate means by which foreign policy will be implemented in future.

  3. (p.419) 3. Retaliation does not, however, provide a global defence. It can only defend areas which are completely integrated politically. For instance, when New York is vulnerable to retaliation, the USA will not use her strategic weapon in defence of London. We therefore submit, with the greatest emphasis, that the UK must have its own retaliatory offensive weapon and, further, that development of this must not be prejudiced by expenditure on purely defensive means. However, the logic of defence by retaliation may take some time to become fully established. Until it has been so established, a strong air defence system is manifestly desirable. Thereafter, any marked disparity between the defence systems of ourselves and the enemy will result in upsetting the retaliatory equilibrium. The difficulties for the defence are so great that neither side is likely to achieve the absolute level which they can readily achieve in offence. Thus the future arms race may be mainly on the defence, where each side strives to attain a decisive lead. (Efforts on the defence are therefore a vital adjunct to the nuclear offensive).

  4. 4. Should Russia at sometime in the future decide to precipitate global war, then her strategy will be dictated by the requirement to neutralise forthwith any sources from which the Western powers can exert their nuclear retaliation. It appears, therefore, that the only course open to her would be an instant, simultaneous and surprise attack on all the allied strategic air bases. These would include those in the peripheral ring built around Russia by the USA (which would include those in the UK) and also those in North America.

  5. 5. Summing up, therefore, in the worst case we must prepare for a global war, which will take the form of nuclear attack and retaliation and be a fight for survival, necessarily of short duration. On the other hand, it is possible that the realisation of the frightful consequences, even to the victor, of such an atomic war may restrict future conflict to peripheral or limited wars. This sets the limits of the threat. The problem is where, between these limits, should be set our planning level for defence to form as effective a deterrent as possible, consistent with our national economy. Before this can be solved it is necessary to establish in quality and numbers of weapons the maximum threat to the UK and then to assess the cost of an effective defence against it.

The Threat in Practical Terms

  1. 6. A factual assessment of the Russian strategic air threat to the UK in the period 1960–1970 is seriously handicapped by lack of intelligence of Russian weapon development. From the intelligence (p.420) available certain trends can, however, be detected and these can be brought into focus by regarding them from the viewpoint of estimated Western capabilities in the period under review.

  2. 7. Russia must regard the USA as her ultimate enemy and must realise that it would be impossible to envisage a major war involving America and not the Western European powers or vice versa. If she contemplates starting a major war, her military planning would cover a family of weapons capable of attacking both the USA and her Western allies and would be mainly concerned with her ability to prosecute the short surprise war, which we consider to be the only policy likely to bring her success.

  3. 8. Broadly speaking, the Soviet Union has three possible lines of development:—

    1. (a) Ballistic rockets, in which the Ministry of Armaments has already a large investment and for which there is considerable evidence of practical development work.

    2. (b) Manned strategic bombers.

    3. (c) Supersonic unmanned vehicles; a project which has attracted a good deal of attention in the highest Soviet circles from 1946 onwards.

Ballistic Rockets

  1. 9. Bearing in mind the keen Russian interest in V2, the ballistic rocket solution would be certain to attract plenty of support. However, to develop it in one generation to a size suitable for attack on the USA would be technically out of the question. It is known that a 500 mile rocket had been developed by 1948/50: the next step would be to develop an intermediate type of rocket of 1,500 to 2,000 miles range. If such a weapon had been started in 1948/50 with full development effort, it would be possible at British rates of development, to have it in production by 1965. Whilst we are sure that the Russians will produce ballistic rockets, there is no intelligence which enables us to give an estimate of their production capabilities in this field. We can, however, say that, in view of the lethality of the nuclear warhead and the comparative invulnerability of the ballistic rocket, only a comparatively small number would be required for decisive attack against the UK.

Manned Strategic Bombers

  1. 10. There is evidence that the Russians are continuing with the development of conventional bombers of both medium and long (p.421) range. It is probable that the long range bomber, which might be the present type 37 or development of it, could be in service by 1957 and would be capable of:—

    1. (a) High altitude attacks on the USA at high subsonic speeds. It is not likely that a supersonic bomber of range sufficient to reach the US could be available till 1970.

    2. (b) High altitude attacks on the UK at supersonic speeds (M = 1.5).

    3. (c) Low level attacks on the UK at high subsonic speeds.

  2. 11. The threat to the UK from such an aircraft would be considerable, but expected improvements in defensive measures could probably make its employment on medium and short range work uneconomic.

  3. 12. In the medium range, the Russians could probably produce by 1963/64 a manned supersonic bomber capable of high altitude attacks on the UK at speeds of about M = 2.5. This aircraft could also be used at low level but would then be limited to about M =0.9.

  4. 13. We do not believe that these aircraft would fly in close formation since, even if this should be tactically desirable, it would not be possible for a variety of technical reasons.

Supersonic Unmanned Vehicles

  1. 14. As well as a manned supersonic medium range bomber, Russia could probably also develop an unmanned vehicle of comparable performance. It would, however, be much more difficult to achieve the desired terminal accuracy and this solution, as it gives no performance advantage, does not therefore seem very attractive. However, the Russians were interested in the V1 and in ram jet vehicles and may be working on this solution in addition to the manned bomber programme. Production of unmanned vehicles would use the same resources as the production of manned vehicles and would therefore be at the expense of the latter. Any additional effort available from the aircraft industry is more likely to be employed in the expansion of the heavy bomber force. We believe this to be a fair assumption since, during the period, the Ballistic Rocket will be able to augment at medium ranges but not at long ranges.

  2. 15. Both the long and medium range bombers could launch air-to-ground missiles up to 100 miles from the target and capable of travelling to it at speeds of up to M = 2.5. These missiles would be comparatively large and would present roughly the same (p.422) interaction problems as the conventional bombers. We do not therefore consider them to be a threat requiring separate treatment…

Summary of the Threat

  1. 20. The fear of instant nuclear retaliation may engender an equipoise in which global war would no longer be possible. The power to retaliate is the most important factor in achieving this situation but can be supplemented by a manifest ability to defend oneself against the enemies’ threat. The level of the defence ability need not be as high as that required to meet the full threat but the implications and cost of this upper level of defence must be analysed to provide a measure on which the level of risk set by the national economy can be assessed.

  2. 21. In view of the great possibilities in the ballistic rocket field it is quite likely that Russia may not develop her medium bombers beyond the present generation, i.e. the types 37 and 39. Such a decision would, however, be a very critical one not likely to be taken yet. Thus, we can expect that development will proceed on conventional winged aircraft until the ballistic rocket reaches a higher stage of development.

  3. 22. The Russian threat to the UK can, therefore, be summarised as follows:—

    1. (a) Ballistic rockets in small numbers from 1965 onwards.

    2. (b) Attacks by manned bombers which might fly as far as M = 2.5 at high altitude or might fly at low altitude at high subsonic speeds. The speed and altitude of this threat can be expected to increase from about M = 1 at 40–50,000 feet in 1960 to about M = 2.5 at 60–70,000 feet by 1965. In numbers this threat is unlikely to exceed 250 aircraft in any one raid and they would not be in close formation.

    3. (c) The use of air-to-ground guided bombs capable of speeds of about M = 2.5. These could be expected in about the same numbers as the aircraft described in (b) above, and as an alternative not an addition.

    4. (d) A possibility of attacks by unmanned supersonic bombers at high altitudes from 1963/4 onwards. This is not regarded as a very likely threat and would in any case present a similar defence problem as a manned aircraft. In numbers it is believed that these could only be built at the direct expense of conventional aircraft production.