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Blue Water was a British battlefield nuclear missile of the early 1960s. Despite its good performance and receiving wide praise,[1] it was cancelled for financial reasons.[1] Blue Water was a Rainbow Code name.


The missile was developed by English Electric in the late 1950s, in response to a 1958 Operational Requirement for a "short-range corps support weapon".[2][3]

In 1956 the Corporal missile had been adopted by the Royal Artillery as a battlefield tactical nuclear missile. This missile was liquid-fuelled, thus requiring a large convoy of support vehicles to prepare it slowly for launch. It also required continual command guidance in flight, yet only achieved relatively poor accuracy. Also in use within the Royal Artillery was the Honest John rocket. This was solid-fuelled and could be launched rapidly, but was unguided and had only short range.[4] There was a clear requirement for a missile that would combine guidance and long range with rapid deployment and easy operation.

The 1958 requirement was for a solid-fuelled missile with autonomous guidance and requiring only simple support equipment for launch. It also took advantage of the shrinking dimensions and weight of nuclear warheads and so only required a much smaller payload.[5] It was also a requirement that the system should be air-portable through the RAF's standard Argosy transport aircraft.[6]

As English Electric's Guided Weapons Division in Stevenage had been the "foster-parent" for the UK deployment of the Corporal, they were a natural choice to manage the development of its replacement.[3]


Developed in the late 1950s,[2][3] Blue Water was envisaged as a surface-to-surface missile to be used against ground troops: a battlefield nuclear weapon. Developed by English Electric, it was first flown in 1960 and cancelled in 1962[7] having successfully completed several test flights/trials at both Aberporth[8] and then full-range trials at Woomera.

This missile was 25 feet (7.6 m) in length and weighed-in at 3,000 pounds (1,400 kg). The fuselage was cylindrical with a tapered nose, without the swelling required for previous large diameter nuclear warheads. The control surfaces were small and of typical English Electric form: four rear fins and four daggerboard shaped all-moving control surfaces at mid-length, indexed at 45° to the tail fins.[9] Guidance was inertial and once aligned before launch, entirely autonomous in flight.

Originally called 'Red Rose', the missile was intended to provide a mobile short range nuclear capability for the British Army. It had a range of around 55 miles (89 km). It was to be fitted with a 10 kiloton nuclear warhead under development at Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWRE). Codenamed ‘Tony’, this was a UK version of the US W44 Tsetse primary.

The modified Cuckoo solid rocket motor was designed by the Propellant and Explosives Research and Manufacturing Establishment (PERME) and made by Bristol Siddeley Engines Ltd. It gave a thrust of 1,700 pounds-force (7,600 N).

Air-launched stand-off variant

Blue Water has also been described, barely credibly, to be used in RAF service on the TSR-2 strike aircraft in the stand-off attack role.[10]

Additional info 26062013;- This writer worked in the Blue Water airframes DO at EE Stevenage From March to December 1960; During that time I produced Drawings showing Blue Water carried under the fuselage of TSR2.

This proposed use has little to support it. Most obviously, Blue Water had already been cancelled for two years before TSR-2 flew. The projected missile is also so different to the actual missile that there would have been little in common between the two. In particular the guidance system assumed a largely ballistic trajectory from a known, static launch point, rather than from a supersonic attack aircraft. The propulsion motor, as developed, also incorporated a phase of increased boost thrust at launch that was inappropriate for an air-launched missile, although the development process would no doubt have deleted that boost. The air-launched range would have been greater than the ground-launched range, probably comparable to the Boeing SRAM, but still relatively short.

The RAF was operating a very large, unwieldy, 120 nautical miles range stand-off missile in the high-altitude strategic bombing role, Blue Steel, from the Vulcan and Victor fleets, and some of these were adapted for low-level launch to protect the bombers from increasingly effective SAM defences. A Blue Water air-launched variant used by TSR2 was regarded as an interim measure, like low-level launch of Blue Steel, to bridge the gap before the Blue Steel strategic weapon was replaced by the longer ranged UK Skybolt ALBM force. Like Blue Water, Skybolt also flew a largely ballistic trajectory from a known launch point derived from star sighting/position fixing.


The transporter erector launcher was a modified Bedford RL lorry.[4][6] Additional launch equipment consisted of an early electronic computer, carried in a Land Rover, together with an alignment theodolite. Missiles were normally to be held under cover until a few minutes before launch, whereupon they would be moved to their launch position and the stabilising jacks beneath the lorry placed in position. These launch positions had been surveyed immediately beforehand, so as to be aligned directly at the target.[6]

Prior to launch, the launch computer was connected to the missile by an umbilical cable. The same theodolite was used to align the on-board gyroscopes before launch and the flight plan settings for the missile were downloaded to it. The launch control vehicle could then move on to prepare another launcher within the battery.[6]

Only immediately before launch was the missile raised on its launcher and then fired. Each missile required a remarkably small crew of two, not counting the battery survey team, to operate it.[6]

Commercial failure and cancellation

Initial hopes for Blue Water had been optimistic, seeing it as a NATO-wide replacement for the clearly obsolete Corporal. The anticipated customer was the West German Bundeswehr, but there were serious expectations that this would become standard equipment across NATO.

The US replacement for Corporal was the Sergeant. Solid-fuelled and generally comparable to Blue Water, although it was more complex and slower to operate and, like Corporal, still required a train of semi-trailer vehicles.[11] It was however promised for delivery in 1961. In 1960 West Germany agreed to buy Sergeant rather than to wait for Blue Water.[6] As this represented the other major customer for Blue Water, and also the likelihood that other potential customers such as Turkey and Italy would then follow this American path, the sales prospects for Blue Water became bleak.[7] The programme was cancelled on 10 August 1962, as the UK government, whilst still wishing to purchase the missile, was no longer willing to fund the entire development costs itself.[1] The total costs were estimated at around £32.1 million.[12] This, and other similar cancellations in this period, were a source of considerable criticism for years to come.[12]

See also

Notes and references

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Tactical missiles 1962". 8 November 1962. pp. 751. "Despite the fact that it was generally acknowledged to be the best army-support missile under development in the Western world" 
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Missiles 1959". 6 November 1959. pp. 510–511. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "Tactical missiles 1961". 2 November 1961. pp. 703–704. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Honest John and Blue Water launchers together". 2 November 1961. pp. 704. 
  5. "Farnborough Airshow". 16 September 1960. pp. 459. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 "Blue Water". 18 May 1961. pp. 657.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Flight, Operations" defined multiple times with different content
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Blue Water (cancellation)". 9 August 1962. pp. 210. 
  8. "Blue Water first flight". 25 April 1960. "Blue Water has been successfully launched for the first time ... the firing took place at the Aberporth rocket range on the Welsh coast last week" 
  9. "Farnborough Airshow". 7 September 1961. pp. 374. 
  10. Wood, Derek (1986) [1975]. Project Cancelled: The Disaster of Britain's Abandoned Aircraft Projects (2nd ed.). London: Jane's. p. 168. ISBN 0-7106-0441-6. 
  11. "Sergeant electrodynamics". 23 April 1964. pp. 643–644. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 Michael Mortimer (4 February 1965). "An Industry in the Dark". pp. 171–172. "achieved export successes despite the indifference, if not hostility, of its governments" 

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