Skip main navigation

TSR-2 – What If?

In this video we cover the following: The TSR-2 holds a particular place in British aviation - and is a source of much regret. What were the additional developments need to make the TSR-2 operational? Would the Aardvark have been a comparable replacement?

In this video we cover the following:

  1. The TSR-2 holds a particular place in British aviation – and is a source of much regret
  2. What were the additional developments need to make the TSR-2 operational?
  3. Would the Aardvark have been a comparable replacement?

Replacing the Canberra

The TSR-2 was initially considered as a replacement for the Canberra; but it was also conceived that it could do the job of the Vulcan in the longer term. The General Dynamics F-111 was only christened ‘the Aardvark’ on the day it formally left the USAF service, although it had been known informally as such throughout its service, because of its long nose.

The Canberra

The Canberra aircraft refers to the English Electric Canberra, a jet-powered, medium-range bomber that was produced in large numbers during the 1950s, which proved a popular British export. Its primary users, other than the RAF, were the Indian, Peruvian and Australian air forces. The reason for it being such a popular aircraft was due to its superior comparative performance development over other contemporary piston-engine bombers. As well as this, it proved to be a hugely adaptable aircraft, maintaining its role as a tactical nuclear strike aircraft, but also being converted in order to serve photo reconnaissance and tactical bombing roles. It is this aircraft that the TSR-2 was designed to replace, and ironically the Canberra was still in use by the RAF until 23 June 2006.

Factors Against the TSR-2

While the video focuses on the costs related to the TSR-2 as reasons for its cancellation, there was a large degree of political interference as well as severe disruption from the Royal Navy. Lord Mountbatten lobbied for the Blackburn Buccaneer to be used by the RAF, even though its specifications did not meet the needs of the RAF. There is a strong argument that from the outset, despite the TSR-2 being a cutting-edge aircraft, far superior to any other at the time, the Ministry of Aviation sought to disrupt the project in order to cut costs. A summation of this argument can be found here.

TSR-2 Costs Spiralled

However, the costs of the project were astronomical. At the time of cancellation, the project had cost circa £200 million, and as Ross mentions, there was still further development needed. It is also worth noting that the change in government was particularly instrumental in its cancellation due to the rising costs. For a full breakdown of the TSR-2 costs, the following book is particularly helpful: Damien Burke, TSR-2: Britain’s Lost Bomber, (Ramsbury, Marlborough, Wiltshire, UK: The Crowood Press, 2010).

Replacing the TSR-2

The F-111 is the abbreviation of the General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark, which was commissioned to be the replacement of the TSR-2, which in itself had been developed prior to its cancellation to replace the Canberra. Ironically, the British version, the F-111K, never entered service with the RAF but was used by the US and Australian air forces.

The McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II was an American import aircraft that was used by both the RAF and the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy. Great Britain was the first customer of the F-4 Phantom principally because of the political and economic issues that surrounded their own developments. It acted as the primary combat aircraft for the RAF, starting in 1969. Whilst it was an American import, the British modified the models by using the Rolls-Royce engines; a primary example of the British “putting their stamp on things.”

Another Flawed TSR-2 Replacement

The Blackburn Buccaneer came to the RAF following the cancellation of the TSR-2 and the F-111K projects. A Royal Navy aircraft, Lord Mountbatten had been a strong advocate for the RAF to use this aircraft in order to reduce costs, which is argued by some as a reason the TSR-2 project was cancelled (see above). The RAF as a replacement for the Canberra originally rejected it as both proposed designs, the B.103A and the B.108, were subsonic and incapable of meeting the RAF’s requirements concerning the range the aircraft could manage.

The Tornado

In 1974, the Panavia Tornado first flew and in 1979-1980 was introduced into service. Nicknamed the “Tonka”, the Tornado was used by the British in the Gulf War in 1991. Close to 60 RAF Tornado GR1s were deployed to air bases in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia as part of Operation Granby. The Tornado has been used in a number of wars and is still in operation today.

This article is from the free online

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

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education