Political and Administrative Matters

Most of the projects covered in this book started life in a military guise, and so the procurement process, as it would be called today, needs to be examined.

Often a project might have its origins in the Defence Research Policy Committee, or DRPC. Thus in 1953, German rocket scientists who had gone to work in Soviet Russia returned to their homeland, and were then debriefed. The DRPC considered the debriefings, and concluded that the UK should begin research on both ballistic missiles and also investigate possible defences against them. This can be seen as the beginnings of what became Blue Streak.

When a need for a particular weapon had been clarified, the Ministry of Defence or the Air Ministry issued an Operational Requirement, or OR. Thus Blue Streak was OR 1139, the warhead Orange Herald was OR 1142, and so on. The OR could be very specific about some of the requirements: thus for aircraft it might specify range, altitude, speed, maximum weight, and so on. Then the OR would be circulated to various firms, who would produce appropriate designs. The Ministry would then evaluate rival designs and award the contract to a particular manufacturer. Development was the responsibility of the Ministry of Supply, who dealt directly with the firms concerned. When the winning design had been selected, it would look after the timetable, finances and so on for the project.

The major problem was that the Ministry of Supply was not the end user, nor did it benefit or suffer directly from the success or failure of the project. A considerable amount of rancour developed between the Ministry of Supply and the Air Staff as a consequence.

As a result, Blue Streak files in the Public Record Office can be found in various different forms: Supply files, Defence files and Air Ministry files. Often material here is duplicated, as the same set of minutes of meetings were circulated to all relevant Ministries. A further complication is that the names given to a project by the Ministry and by the firm can sometimes be different: thus the Saunders Roe SR53 is known in Ministry files as the F138D.

There is a strong perception that this cumbersome bureaucracy did nothing to speed up projects, and that it would have made considerably more sense to give the function of overseeing development and production to the Ministry who would be the end user. This situation was never helped by continual Defence Reviews, changes of policy, and Treasury oversight. Whilst the latter three are obviously necessary, they can also cast doubts on projects which cannot have helped when it came to producing enthusiastic efforts to get the relevant project in service as swiftly and effectively as possible. Relations between firms and Ministries could also be difficult. Given directions as they were from Whitehall, the firms acted almost as government agencies at times, free from normal commercial pressures. They were often at the mercy of the vagaries of changes in defence policy. Thus, as Saunders Roe was gearing up to produce 27 prototypes of the P177, together with work on Black Knight and the SR53, the work force approached 4,000, only to be cut back drastically as a result of the cancellation of the P177. This is always a problem when a company relies too much on government work.


Blue Streak was effectively in the hands of three Ministries: Defence, Supply and the Air Ministry, whilst the whip hand was held by a fourth, the Treasury. The set up seems Byzantine to modern eyes.