The trouble stemmed from the belief - or, at least, feigned belief - of the British Labour Party that the all-British TSR.2 aircraft was a thoroughly
undesirable and costly mistake that should be done away with at the earliest possible date. Had the Labour government, which took office in October
1964, stated that Britain had no need of such an aircraft it might have had a case. Instead, the view was expressed that TSR.2 should be cancelled and
replaced by the American F-111. As the two aircraft were strictly comparable in missions, capability and timing, the arguments had to centre on the
belief that, while the American aircraft was a scintillating marvel, the British one was a 'can of worms' that had no chance of succeeding.
The root cause of the vendetta against TSR.2 was really the vague belief that, in building the aircraft a succession of inept governments had asked
for, the British planemakers had taken the public for a ride and wasted millions on unwanted prototypes. In fact, the industry had been almost driven
round the bend by foolish defence policies and continually changed decisions, and a Conservative Defence Minister had announced in 1957 that there
would be no more manned combat aircraft at all! This incredible policy made TSR.2 almost impossible to start, and in 1965 it stood out like a sore
thumb as the nation's only major new warplane.
Two smaller and less-advanced programmes were cancelled almost as soon as the Labour government took office, the Hawker P.1154 being replaced by the
American Phantom and the HS.681 V/STOL transport being replaced by the American C-130. The TSR.2 was allowed to survive until April 1965, but by this
time - contrary to all the government's hopes - flight development was going so well that it could have made cancellation more difficult. A technical
paper before the Royal Aeronautical Society on the flight-test programme was therefore suppressed, the F-111 extolled to the public as a far better
and much cheaper alternative, and the British aircraft cancelled on 6 April 1965. Numerous impressive figures were then published to show how much
would be saved by buying the American aircraft.
True to British style there was no searching public examination to discover the truth, but merely wild statements by politicians of all parties who
knew little but expressed their views with vehemence. Thus, while Prime Minister Wilson said each F-111 would cost 'less than half the estimated
total' for TSR.2, his Aviation Minister (Jenkins) later said the price of 'the Mk 1 F-111 is 20 per cent less than the price at which we did our
comparative calculations with the TSR.2'; and while most Ministers in April 1965 gave £300 m as the 'saving' from buying the F-111, Defence
Minister Healey later put the total saving of all three axed programmes as only £ 110 m. Actual prices were hard to discover, but in December 1965
the Plowden Report on the Aircraft Industry commissioned by the government gave the unit cost of TSR.2 as £5.5 m and that of the F-111 as 'hardly
one half of this'.
Such naive imprecision helped, because, had the British F-111 buy gone through, the 'ceiling price' of $5.95 m would certainly have been multiplied
by more than two, making nonsense of the much-vaunted cost savings. It would probably have quadrupled, because not only would Britain have had to pay
a share of a much larger total R&D bill but the aircraft selected for the RAF would have had the 'Mk II' avionics which later proved to cost more
than four times the original estimate. On 1 February 1967 Defence Minister Healey announced that the RAF would receive 50 F-111K aircraft, costing in
all £135 m through the first five years of operation. (Three months later the cost for 15 years, which one might have expected to be £155 m on
Healey's basis of £2 ½ m per aircraft plus £2 m a year operating cost, was announced as £336 m, without a word of explanation.) Though based on
the F-111A, the K was to have the long-span wing of the B, most of the advanced Mk II avionics (apparently all supplied from the USA), the
strengthened main gears and increased-capacity brakes and tyres. John Stonehouse, then Minister of State for Technology, visited Fort Worth and said
the greatest thing about the F-111 was its ferry range 'which means it can be deployed throughout the United Kingdom'. Nobody ever did discover what
he meant to say, and in any case the only UK base was to be Cottesmore, which had previously been equipping for TSR.2. There were countless further
nonsenses and contradictions, including 21 weeks of pointless discussions on the single topic of the UK wish to be quoted 'a fixed price' and
McNamara's explanation that he did not have legal authority to do such a thing. By December 1966 this point was reinforced when Healey gave the cost
for a mere nine years as £425 m. A month later Prime Minister Wilson announced cancellation, claiming it would 'save £400 m'. Pity Britain could
not go on forever ordering aircraft and cancelling them, because by saving £300 m by ordering the F-111 and saving another £400 m by cancelling it
the nation seemed to be on to a good thing.
To return to reality, GD had to try to build the 50 K models, even though its customer (which was the US government) had no idea of the price and did
not even have a final build-standard from the British Ministry of Defence. By January 1968 all 50 had been through detail manufacture, 19 were taking
,shape on the assembly line and the two YF-111 K flight-test aircraft were virtually complete. These were oddballs, too far gone to be turned into a
USAF service type, and they were redesignated YF-111A and used for various USAF research programmes (one of them was passed to the National
Aeronautics and Space Administration and modified at NASA's Flight Research Center at Edwards with supercritical swing-wings, with which valuable
aerodynamic research at various sweep angles was performed in 1972-75 in a programme called TACT, Transonic AirCraft Technology).
The other 48 F-111 K airframes were used in the FB-111A programme, several being already assembled and merely completed to the FB standard.
Structurally the K and FB would have been identical, but the SAC bomber has different systems and equipment. When he announced the FB programme at a
press conference on 10 December 1965 McNamara said the new aircraft would have 'twice the speed [of the early B-52 models], with approximately the
same range'. In fact, the speed comparison depends greatly on whether one is considering low altitude or high; at low level the clean FB-111 is less
than twice as fast as a good B-52 but at high altitude it is about three times as fast. On the other hand, when carrying maximum weapon load it is
markedly slowed down, though still faster than the old monster. McNamara said the cost of the 263 aircraft needed to maintain the authorised SAC force
of 210 aircraft, including spares, would be 'on the order of a billion and three-quarters' ($1,750m).
Though powered by a more advanced TF30 engine, rated at over 20,000lb thrust, the FB has to carry more fuel and sometimes a heavier weapon load than
the A-model and usually has a thrust/weight ratio even lower than the original tactical machine. This is no great handicap, and unlike the TAC
aircraft the SAC bomber invariably can count on being able to operate from a l0;000-foot concrete runway. The long-span swing-wings are restressed,
and though they carry only six pylons the permitted external loads can substantially exceed those of the TAC versions, at the penalty of remaining
subsonic, not doing TFR skiing and keeping within restrictive g limits. With the wings not swept beyond 26° and (exceptionally) fitted with eight
pylons it is possible to carry 50 Mk 117 bombs of nominal 750lb (two internally and six on each pylon), and as the actual weight of these is about
825lb the maximum bomb load is a remarkable 41,250lb. With this load on board the gross weight exceeds 122,000lb, and at Military (maximum
non-afterburning) power the ceiling is described as 'lower than Pike's Peak' (a mountain of 14,110ft). This is of little significance. What is much
more important is that the FB-111A was about 30 per cent down on range, though actual figures have not been published.
While each FB crew, comprising pilot and navigator (he is styled thus, though he is at least as much a bombardier and defensive-systems operator), do
on occasion fly a maximum-weight mission, most training sorties are flown at lower weights. With internal fuel only, the FB weighs about 81,5371b, and
with six SRAM missiles about 95,100lb. With four 500 Imp gal external tanks the weight is 100,4581b, and with six rather over 110,000lb. A typical
load in a nuclear conflict might be six Mk 43, Mk 57 or TX-61 free-fall bombs, two of them in the internal bay. Against strong defences SRAM would be
by far the most important weapon. Weighing about 2,230lb, it is an almost perfectly streamlined missile with three tail fins set at 120° but without
wings. A pulsed rocket motor propels it at highly supersonic speed on any desired trajectory, at high or low altitudes, with options of skiing over
the ground at tree-top height, taking evasive action or hitting its target from behind. Though its initials signify Short-Range Attack Missile its
maximum range at high altitudes is over 100 miles. Despite its small diameter, and tiny radar cross-section, it carries a formidable thermonuclear
warhead. The FB-111A carries a computer and other special avionics to make it compatible with the slim white missiles, with which it could destroy six
major targets - cities even - in a single sortie.
The first FB, a converted F-111A, flew on 30 July 1967, followed on 13 July 1968 by the first production aircraft (fitted temporarily with P-3
engines). The first delivery was made to SAC's 340th Bomb Group at Carswell AFB on 25 September 1969, where the Commanding General, Bruce K. Holloway
(who as USAF Director of Operational Requirements had played a central role in the early years of the TFX programme) ceremonially accepted it on 8
October. He said the FB would 'play a substantial role in contributing to the SAC mission of deterrence through the 1975 time period'. At that time
there seemed every chance the B-1 would soon become the prime manned delivery system of SAC, but this was not to be. The FB, and the creaking old
BUFFs (Big Ugly Fat Fellas, as the B-52 is affectionately known), will have to soldier on not just to 1975 but possibly to 1995, or whenever the wings
finally part company with the fuselage.
What makes SAC's task harder is that range is, as noted earlier, 30 per cent short. When he became SecDef Melvin Laird cast a critical eye over the
FB-111A programme, and on 19 March 1969 he said it did not meet the requirements for an intercontinental bomber. Laird was SecDef for a new
administration, and might have been expected to knock the F-111. He cut procurement from 203 to a mere 70, 'to salvage work in progress'. McClellan
gleefully reported that these 76 would cost $1.2 billion, or 70 per cent of the planned cost of the original 263.
In service this force supports 60 aircraft in the combat inventory, as listed in the Appendix. For eight years they have operated on average more
intensively than other USAF combat aircraft, in arduous circumstances, with alert forces at ready status around the clock not only at the two home
bases but also dispersed to an average of six airfields at anyone time. In May 1970 SAC participated in the RAF bombing competition, and two of the
brand-new FBs were allowed to go along not to compete but just as a navigational exercise. One finished just pipped into second place by a B-52 after
having led the field for most of the contest. In November 1970 the swing-wing bomber officially participated in SAC's own competition. Two crews
entered, and one came first in bombing and the other second in bombing and first in combined bombing and navigation.
In most respects the FB is a valuable delivery system. When the author met the SRAM Program Director, Col Lawrence A. Skantze, at an early stage in
the missile's introduction to the Air Force, he was left in no doubt that it is regarded highly. According to Skantze, 'Compatibility between the
airplane and missile so far has been excellent… In fact, it is better than in the B-52, and the superior inbuilt navigation system of the FB-111
indicates that we will consistently achieve better CEPs with that aircraft'. CEP, rendered as Circular Error Probable or Circle of Equal
Probabilities, is the circle within which half the hits may be expected to fall when aiming at a point target, or the circle within which the
probability of any one missile hitting is 50 per cent. With SRAM the CEP is always within the effective radius of the warhead, but when launched from
an FB-111A the area of CEP is roughly halved.
To close this chapter we have to take a brief look at how SAC shapes up in the wake of the cancellation of the B-1 in July 1977. Though the Soviet
Union was insistent that the FB-111 A should be discussed in all SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty) negotiations it has never been regarded as a
true strategic bomber; it is not in the same class as the much larger and heavier Tupolev Backfire. Yet opponents of the costly B-1 programme,
recognising the vital need to maintain a force of manned delivery systems (without which the United States could be faced with the terrifying decision
either to start a nuclear war on the mere radar detection of an enemy attack or else wait until it was destroyed), called for a development of the
FB-111 to be bought instead of the completely new B-1. Unfortunately the two delivery systems are as alike as chalk and cheese, and the probability
that the FB will eventually carry the ALCM (Air-Launched Cruise Missile), either AGM-86A or Tomahawk, does not alter the fact.
The proposal was summed up in a letter to Senator Barry Goldwater, dated 23 February 1976, by the Commander of SAC, Gen Russell E. Dougherty 'This
alternative has the initial appeal of offering a more modern and higher-performance penetrator, since the FB-111 is basically a hard and fast aircraft
with low radar reflectivity. However, our continuing analysis of the various proposals for FB-111 upgrade has led to the conclusion that the extensive
modification required to make the FB-111 comparable to the B-1 would be, in effect, an entirely new aircraft. The basic design… does not have the
growth potential to compete efficiently… It does not have the desired low-level range and payload characteristics, and, in order to do the job
required, would have to be procured, manned and supported in such large numbers that it is neither an economical nor efficient alternative to the
proposed B-1 force. As respected as the FB-111 is within SAC's manned bomber force, we have a pragmatic recognition of its limitations in size and
range, neither of which can adequately be overcome by modification.'
This was a fair assessment, but after President Carter cancelled the B-1 the US Air Force was placed in a critical position. How could it maintain a
credible manned delivery system throughout the 1980s? Certainly not with the B-52 nor with the FB-111A, but there was a possibility that Congress
would agree to fund a stretched FB-111.
Systems Command dusted off the earlier studies and by August 1977 had crystallised its ideas which became an increasingly open secret (though as this
book is written, a month after that time, still nothing has been said officially in public). There are several options, but the most important and
likely action is procurement of about 80 completely new aircraft to a substantially different design and probably to be designated B-2A.
The chief modifications would be to the fuselage, which would be considerably enlarged and at least 10ft longer. It would have internal tankage for a
total of approximately 9,000gal of fuel, weighing nearly 72,000lb and increasing maximum takeoff weight to about 160,000lb. Engines would be 2 General
Electric F101 advanced augmented turbofans almost identical to the engine cleared for production of the B-1, each rated at 17,000lb dry and over
30,000 with full afterburner. The weapon bay would be enlarged to accommodate a rack launcher for four SRAMs, while each of the six wing pylons would
carry a side-by-side pair of cruise missiles. Unofficial reports claim the new aircraft would have 'almost the same range as the B-1', but this is
not possible with maximum weapon load when a practical radius of action of 2,500 miles would appear the limit.
Prior to this new-build programme there there would certainly be at least one rebuild of an FB-111A, which might fly in 1980. R&D cost has been
estimated at $380m, plus $195 million for further development. There is also a chance about 65 of the existing FB-111A force might be similarly
rebuilt in 1980-83 at a cost of about 2.3 billion 1977 dollars. The new programme of 80 additional aircraft would probably cost $4.2 billion. How far
the new or rebuilt aircraft could equal the instant-reaction, nuclear-resistant capability of the B-1, or the latter's immense defensive-electronics
systems, remains a matter for conjecture.