While I was covering the NBAA convention in Atlanta last week — amongst other travels — my colleague Craig Hoyle in London covered the results of the UK strategic defence and security review, which you can read here.
In case you’ve been living on another planet (or, ahem, at NBAA), the big news is UK government’s decision to exchange the short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing (STOVL) F-35Bs for F-35Cs.
Some may consider this a devastating blow to the US Marine Corps.
I consider it a very belated payback for Skybolt.
In December 1962, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara decided to unilaterally cancel the Douglas GAM-87A Skybolt, the first air-launched ballistic missile. The news was not well-received in Whitehall.
Only two years before, then-Minister of Defence Peter Thorneycroft had committed to Skybolt after canceling the British Blue Streak missile, resting the UK’s nuclear deterrent capability entirely in the hands of an unproven, developmental missile paid for almost completely by the Americans.
By canceling Skybolt — and, not least, for failing to adequately consult Thorneycroft about the decision — McNamara nearly destroyed the burgeoning UK-US alliance. A contemporary account of the diplomatic pickle is available here in the online archives of Flight International.
In both cases — F-35B and Skybolt cancellation decisions — good diplomacy was restored by a face-saving gesture from the offending party. Last week, the UK government exchanged F-35Cs for F-35Bs. In December 1962, the Kennedy Administration may have saved the Macmillan government by giving them the Polaris missile. Compared to Skybolt, that was indeed a bargain.
In the wake of the SDSR decision, I’m not sure the US Marine Corps made off so well.
UK gets Skybolt revenge
By Stephen Trimble on 24 October, 2010 in Uncategorised
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