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The V-Force in Action

This discussion reviews the operational record of the V-Force.

The V-Force in Action

As ever, we came into this discussion with some questions and comments in mind to structure the discussions:

  1. The Valiant in particular was designed with the high-altitude strategic bombing role in mind – dropping both the first operational atomic weapon over Australia and the first H-bomb 1956-57. What were the limitations of this bombing strategy?
  2. The Victor also proved unsuitable for low-level missions, but was given a new lease of life as a tanker.
  3. The Vulcan was the most enduring of the V-Force – and covered a diverse series of missions, including maritime radar surveillance.

We would welcome your thoughts on this topic in the comments below.

The V-Force

High-level bombing, also known as high-altitude bombing is the tactic by which bomber aircrafts drop bombs from high altitude, typically greater than 15,000 feet. It was primarily a tactic used for strategic bombing, which focused more on inflicting damage to the economy and population of a country, than aiming at a specific military target. The problems that emerged with high-level bombing became apparent during the Cold War, and particularly in the late-1950s, with the development of sophisticated radar, surface-to-air missiles, and interceptor aircrafts. In combination with command and control resources on the ground and in the air, some of the newly developed interceptors were capable of detecting bombers at great ranges and to intercept and destroy them at great heights, making it increasingly risky for bomber pilots to fly these high-level missions in to the 1960s. We will come back to this point in Week 4.

This advancing technology was shown through the shooting down of Francis Gary Powers, a pilot of CIA U-2 planes, who was shot down while flying a mission over Soviet Airspace in May 1960. The U-2 planes were designed to fly over at high altitude and could take high-resolution photographs of the hostile countries the U.S. wanted to spy on. The Soviet Union became increasingly aware of these missions, and countered them with the development of surface-to air missiles.


The following two points are for reference – they reconfirm some information we have given in earlier steps.

The Valiant was a high altitude bomber, but with the development of Soviet surface-to-air missiles, they became increasingly vulnerable and were forced to change to low-level flying. However it became clear quickly that the Valiant’s wings suffered from metal fatigued and the aircraft was subsequently removed from service in 1965.

The RAF developed Blue Steel standoff weapons, operational by 1963, as an air-launched rocket-propelled missile to arm the V- Force and act as a deterrent. It also meant that the V- Force could still deliver the nuclear deterrent, but Blue Steel offered more safety to the aircraft and pilot than dropping a free-fall nuclear weapon.

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From World War to White Heat: the RAF in the Cold War

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