Thursday, August 20, 2015

Part 6 of The Empire Strikes Out - Canada's Defence & The Commonwealth Space Program

BOMARC; the Blue Streak; the Blue Steel or the Douglas Skybolt and Woomera

Bomarc missile cancellation. April 1960.
By Robert Godwin
The general confusion during the late 1950s about the merits of missile defence led to several questionable strategic decisions made by the Governments of Canada and the United Kingdom. 
The possibility of a third contestant in the Space Race, in the form of a Commonwealth space program hinged on the sharing of technology and financing amongst the various invested nations, but more significantly on the political choices made regarding the future defensive postures of Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.
On February 16th 1960 Arnold Frutkin, Director of International Programs at NASA announced that his agency would like to purchase Skylark rockets from Britain, to be launched in Australia and tracked by mini-tracking stations in the UK and Canada. This positive gesture from NASA to cooperate on a new project with the main Commonwealth countries came in just a few days before the United States' Congress made a fateful decision.

Less than a year after selling BOMARC-B to Pearkes the United States' government officially started to scale back its commitment to the missile.

The standard BOMARC had been equipped with a liquid-fuel engine which on the BOMARC-B had been replaced with an untested solid fuel system. No less than seven BOMARC-B missiles had exploded on the launch pad in Florida.[1] Even without these problems the troubled system was essentially useless to Canada as it did not have the accuracy or range to strike an enemy aircraft. Instead it was intended to carry a nuclear warhead that would detonate somewhere in close proximity to any invading Soviet intruder.

The critical downside to this strategy was that in the locations where it was deployed it would be dropping radioactive fallout near to populated parts of Canada. Prime Minister Diefenbaker and his cabinet could not decide whether to arm the missiles, in part because of this and in part because they didn't want Canada to seem to be contributing to the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Diefenbaker insisted that NORAD should operate under the confines and regulations of NATO. He thought this would be the easiest way to maintain a level of control for the Canadian government which would otherwise be reduced to "satellite" status, in permanent thrall to Washington.

In April 1958 Diefenbaker claims that the Defence Research Board had told him that the BOMARC had a longer range and a "kill potential in terms of cost that was likely to be ten times greater than that of the CF-105." He then later stated in his memoir that the BOMARC was ineffective against ICBMs but that he was given "no information that the United States would abandon, or had abandoned, its plans to manufacture a conventional warhead for this missile...It behooved us not to panic on the first evidence that we had acted on poor technological advice."

Seven weeks before the cancellation of the Arrow even Blair Fraser of MacLeans magazine had warned of the implications of the US cancelling BOMARC...

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"The Empire Strikes Out - Canada's Defence & The Commonwealth Space Program"

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Robert Godwin.
Robert Godwin is the owner and founder of Apogee Space Books. He is also the Space Curator at the Canadian Air & Space Museum

He has written or edited over 100 books including the award winning series "The NASA Mission Reports" and appeared on dozens of radio and television programs in Canada, the USA and England as an expert not only on space exploration but also on music. 

His books have been discussed on CNN, the CBC, the BBC and CBS 60 Minutes. He produced the first ever virtual reality panoramas of the Apollo lunar surface photography and the first multi-camera angle movie of the Apollo 11 moonwalk. His latest book was written with the late Frederick I Ordway III and is called "2001 The Heritage and Legacy of the Space Odyssey" about the history of spaceflight at the movies.


1. Daily Express Apr 5 1960

Last Week: "Replacing the Squadrons: the Arrow: its Cancellation and the Reasons Behind the Decision," in part five of "The Empire Strikes Out - Canada's Defence & The Commonwealth Space Program."

Next Week: "Canada Rejects the Commonwealth Space Program," as part seven of "The Empire Strikes Out - Canada's Defence & The Commonwealth Space Program" continues!

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