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Replacing the Canberra in RAAF service

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Replacing the Canberra


The Menzies government first publicly discussed the need for replacing the English Electric Canberra in 1954, only a year after the RAAF began receiving the bomber. The non-supersonic Canberra lacked radar and electronic countermeasures, all disadvantages based on Korean War experience. The RAAF believed that it needed a new strategic bomber to fulfill the nation's obligations to the Commonwealth Strategic Reserve in Malaysia, ANZUS, and SEATO. Air Staff Requirement 36 that year mandated an all-weather attack aircraft by 1959 capable of delivering a variety of bombs and missiles. A study recommended one of the British V bombers, but Prime Minister Robert Menzies' Minister of Defence Frederick Shedden decided in 1956 that at £1 million each they were too expensive.


Air Marshal Valston Hancock, Chief of the Air Staff, stated in April 1960 that Australia needed a replacement for the Canberra. Although in mid-1962 the Menzies government again decided to not replace the Canberra, Indonesia's increasingly aggressive statements regarding Malaysia soon caused Australia to reevaluate the decision. The Sydney Morning Herald reported in October 1962 that the Indonesian Air Force's Soviet Tupolev Tu-16 bombers could reach Sydney or any other Australian city with a light bomb load, while the Canberras could not fly in all weather and had a range of 900 miles (1,400 km), insufficient to reach Jakarta. The opposition Labor Party, led by Arthur Calwell, used the report to criticize Menzies. The government denied that the Tu-16 could reach Sydney, but Minister for Air Frederick Osborne acknowledged that the Canberras were "the weakest link in our armoury at the present moment". He stated, however, that the available foreign bombers were unsuitable for the RAAF. The American Boeing B-52 Stratofortress and Convair B-58 Hustler, for example, were too large for existing Australian runways. More suitable aircraft such as the British BAC TSR-2 and the American TFX (later the F-111) would soon be available, Osborne said.


Hancock study


In May 1963 Menzies announced an A£200 million increase in defence spending over the next five years, and proposed to send a team led by Hancock overseas to evaluate Canberra replacements. Early candidates were the French Dassault Mirage IV, the TSR-2, and the U.S. North American A-5 Vigilante, McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II and the TFX. From June to August, Hancock's team visited France, Britain and the United States to evaluate the competitors, and determined that the TFX would be the aircraft best suited for the role. The Mirage IV was considered too expensive. The F-4 and the A-5 were immediately available, but the less expensive F-4 would need air-to-air refuelling to reach Indonesia from Australia. The TSR-2 was behind schedule and over budget, was the most expensive at A£122 million for 24 aircraft, and British government support for the program was uncertain. While the TFX was also controversial in the United States, its promised performance specifications and per-aircraft cost were superior to that of the TSR-2. As he did not expect TFX to be available before 1970, however, Hancock recommended buying 36 A-5 aircraft for A£88 million to counteract the perceived imminent threat from Indonesia.


The Menzies government was reluctant to choose as interim replacement the A-5 or the F-4, which could not be deployed until 1966 and would cost A$120–180 million. Waiting for the TSR-2 or TFX in 1969 or 1970 seemed to pose great risk, but when considering Hancock's findings in September 1963 it wanted to be able to offer a substantial response to the Labor party's criticism of its defence strategy. The British and American governments competed on behalf of their nations' unbuilt bombers, as both believed that export sales would increase domestic support for the aircraft. The Menzies government viewed the British promise to deploy a squadron of V bombers in Australia for interim defense until the TSR-2 was ready as unacceptable for both technical and political reasons. Beyond its cost, the Royal Air Force had not ordered the TSR-2; the Chief of the Defence Staff Lord Louis Mountbatten, who opposed it, advised the Australians against buying the aircraft and the RAAF feared being the only customer.


The RAAF returned to France.  France had already won the competition for an CAC Avon Sabre replacement with their Mirage III.   Marcel Dassault was keen to sell even more aircraft to the Pacific Dominion.  He hoped that by selling the Mirage IV to the RAAF, a door could be opened to replace the TSR.2 in RAF service and elsewhere around the world.  He revealed that he had plans, with Rolls Royce to use their new Spey Turbofan engine to power a UK version of the Mirage IV.   He suggested that the RAAF might be interested in being the launch customer for the Mirage IVO (“O” for “Orstralian” ) and getting the jump on the RAF.   Intrigued, the RAAF representatives took a test flight in a prototype Mirage IVA (the French version) and were delighted with its performance.   They felt that with a pair of Speys, delivering more than 25% more thrust in afterburner, using some 10-15% less fuel the aircraft was a fine match to their needs.  Dassault said he was prepared to drop the price on the Mirage IVO to match the Vigilante if the Australians ordered immediately.


Returning back to Australia, the study mission immediately recommended the adoption of the Mirage IVO into RAAF service as a deterrent to possible Indonesian aggression against Australia and it’s allies in the South-West Pacific region.  Dassault had assured them that they would receive their first Mirage IVO in 1968.  This was well ahead of the US F-111. The Australian Government decided therefore in early 1965 to adopt 48 Mirage IV, with suitable modifications to suit it to RAAF service.


The problem was, what were the new aircraft to carry?   They were optimised for nuclear weapons, not conventional ones.   The RAAF specified to Dassault that he should redesign the aircraft to carry nuclear but also conventional weapons in an internal bomb bay.  It should also be able to carry externally, on wing pylons both drop tanks and conventional bombs on multiple ejector racks.   When Dassault asked “what ‘special weapons’ would the RAAF like to carry?”   The RAAF was a little nonplussed.   As far as they were aware, the Australian Government had no plans for nuclear weapons.


What the RAAF did not know was that the Australian Government had been closely studying the British nuclear tests which had occurred in Australia in the 1950s.   They knew what the British were building.   They secretly commissioned in 1957 the Australian Weapons Research Establishment (WRE) to recreate the most advanced British weapon – the RED BEARD bomb.   Whilst they did not doubt that the RAF would “lend” some Atomic bombs to the RAAF in case of a general nuclear exchange, they felt it would be better to have some of their own, “just in case”.   WRE built their own BLUE BEARD weapon.  Almost exactly the same size and shape as the British RED BEARD, the BLUE BEARD was slightly more powerful at 20 Kilotonnes.  It was also a safer design, being created with a  core which was shielded until the weapon was armed in flight automatically which occurred just as the aircraft approached it’s target.  It could also be disarmed through the same method, allowing the aircraft to land with the weapon again safely.


The British had conducted tests of their RED BEARD design weapon in the Buffalo Tests - Rounds 1 (27 September 1956) and 4 (22 October 1956) with yields of 15 and 10 kt respectively.  WRE secretly tested it’s first BLUE BEARD weapon on 18 December 1959 at Maralinga.  It was an immediate success.   Two more tests occurred approximately six months later with the last bringing the weapon to it’s full potential with a yield of 20 Kt.


When the RAAF was informed of BLUE BEARD’s existence in late 1965, they were delighted.  Suddenly they had joined the “Big Boys’ Club”.  Australia was a nuclear power.   This meant they could destroy Jakarta and any other Indonesian city easily.    They wired Dassault that the new Mirage IVO should be designed to carry a ‘special weapon’ which was approximately 3 feet in diameter, 12 feet long, and weighed 2000 lb.   Dassault complied, along with two extra wing pylons on each side, two stressed to carry multiple ejector racks of approximately 2,000 lbs each.  The outmost rack was only stressed to carry a lighter 250 lb weight.  The RAAF intended to carry either ECM pods or Sidewinder air-to-air missiles for self-protection.   They also decided that it would be better to eliminate the downward facing mapping radar and replace it with a search and target acquisition radar in the nose.


The first Mirage IVO was delivered in May 1968.  The first squadron to operate the aircraft, 1 Squadron RAAF.  Initially delivered in fully white coloured paint, to better reflect the “flash” of an atomic explosion, with “pink” markings, the Mirage IVOs were never used in anger.   The closest they came was at the end of their careers in 1999 when they were readied for possible use during the Australian intervention in East Timor when Indonesian rule there ended.



The Model


The model is the venerable Heller 1/72 Mirage IVA.  Actually, it’s two of them.  The Mirage IVK was intended to be about 3 feet longer than the standard Mirage IVA, so I combined the nose from an existing model I had bought many years ago cheaply from EvilBay with a new kit.  I also used some resin Spey exhausts intended for a British F-4 kit.  I used a spare plastic nose cone from a Trumpeter Su-15 model from the spares box.  I added two extra wing pylons on each side.  The extra fuel tanks came from a 1/72 Mirage IIIO and the Sidewinders from the spares box. I painted it with a rattle can of white undercoat.   The nose was finished with Vallejo black acrylic and the red on the intakes came from the same source.   The “pink” markings were printed by Kit Speckman Enterprises.   





Edited by rickshaw

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Looks cool, awesome back story too, just about had me sucked in with the first part. I'm liking. :)


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Because of critcism from users, the RAAF has changed the configuration of the aircraft, placing the secondary drop tanks on the outmost pylons and the self-defence Sidewinders on the innermost.   There is now no more interference with either the dive brakes or the landing gear's retraction.



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An interesting what-if (as always). What did the RAAF replace it with?

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19 hours ago, Beard said:

An interesting what-if (as always). What did the RAAF replace it with?

In real life or what-if?


In real life, they replaced the Canberra with the F-111C and that with the F-18E/F/G.


In what-if?  Mmmm, how about the Panavia Tornado or the F-36?  ;)

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What-if, we don't want real life intruding.:D

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Very nice indeed. Good back story.


I did something similar but using the 1/48 version, for my TSR-2 timeline, that I'm working on.  I scratchbuilt the stretch just behind the rear cockpit on mine.

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