Monday, November 27, 2006

Did Australia Have the Bomb?

This is an article I've always wanted to write but have never seemed to get around to.

The following is a speculative timeline of Australia's dealings with the bomb and its potential operational control of a device. I have no real evidence that what follows ever happened as stated, but several factors, notably the lack of obvious payoffs for the atomic tests, the bomber selection shortlist and the bizarre race to build a reactor have made me ponder if Australia had operational control of loaned bombs for some time period. Some of the points below are common knowledge, some are covered in the ABC TV documentary "Fortress Australia" and some are based on what may be commonly called "pub stories". Again, I stress this is purely speculative.

1952-1957

Australia is used as the scene of the UK's nuclear development program. Multiple bombs are detonated on the Montebello islands off Western Australia, at Maralinga in South Australia and at Emu Field, also in South
Australia. One of the almost never explored aspects of these tests is what did Australia get for participation in the effort? Cynics might say a vast area of irradiated land and ongoing health problems for thousands of
veterans. Others might say our scientific establishment got to piggyback off UK nuclear research to some small degree.

But what if there was another clause to the agreement for the tests. An unwritten or secret clause that was never made public, and may never be for another 50 years? What is payment for the tests was the bomb itself?
Whilst this may at first seem mad let us consider what form it may have taken.

British bombs with RAF serial numbers and RAF markings may have been based in Australia. At the edge of an airstrip, such as at Woomera, they remain in hardened bunkers, guarded around the clock by RAAF personal, not knowing what was inside. The bombs are, British, but the understanding is that they are under Australian operational control if and when required for the defense of Australia. If an Australian Prime Minister was ever asked if Australia had the bomb he could correctly answer in the negative. If a British Prime Minster was asked if the bomb was ever proliferated to Australia, they could also answer in the negative.

And Australia definitely had a delivery system in the form of the Canberra bomber. Whilst not a perfect, it was more than adequate to deliver a small free fall device.

1955-1961

At some time in this period the British bombs are positioned in Australia. By 1961 the UK nuclear tests reach an end.

1961-1963

Australia decides to upgrade its main strike bomber fleet. The Canberras, whilst excellent aircraft are now outclassed by modern transonic and supersonic fighters so a replacement is sort. The short list of aircraft
selected includes the F-111, the Mirage-IV and the B-58 Hustler. The most amazing thing about this list is the types of aircraft on it.

The Mirage-IV and B-58 are solely supersonic nuclear strike bombers. The Mirage-IV was developed to carry Frances independant nuclear deterrant, before France had balistic missiles. The B-58 was developed as a replacement for the B-52 and was similar to the Mirage-IV in its mission, to deliver nuclear and thermo-nuclear weapons at supersonic speed through the Soviet air defense system. The last runner was the F-111. This aircraft combined the ability to deliver a nuclear payload with that of a non-nuclear heavy tactical and strategic bomber.

The fact that these three aircraft were on the short list points at what the selection criteria must have been: supersonic, multicrew, long range and nuclear capable. But why have a nuclear capable aircraft if you
didnt have the nuclear weapon to deliver?

1963

Australia announces the selection of the F-111 as the Canberra's replacement.

1963

Menzies goverment explores buying or building our own indigenous bombs. Buying is turned down outright by the US and UK whilst neither country will share bomb construction secrets with Australia either due to cold war spy leaks in Australia amongst other reasons.

1964

China explodes first bomb

1965

In October 1965 a new labour government is elected in the UK. The first since 1951.

1965

Indonesia after lurching wildly around the political spectrum enters the year of living dangerous. President Sukarno has previously mentioned building an indonesian bomb whilst recieving the latest Soviet jet aircraft.

1966

In January 1966 Robert Menzies steps down as Australian Prime Minister after 17 years.

1965-1969

In this time frame the UK withdraws from its loaned bomb agreement with Australia. Different governments with different outlooks on both sides of the agreeement could have contributed to this. Possibly a forward point in time, around 1970, was set for their withdrawal....

1967

Australian government rapidly looks for local production options for an indigenous bomb.

1969

Jervis Bay in selected as the site for australias first nuclear power station. Suggestions are made it is more aimed at producing bomb grade plutonium. Its addition to Australias power grid would have been minimal in terms of electricity.

1971

A change of government in Australia, but not party, leads to the cancelation of the reactor development with only the baseplate cleared. Hightened defense ties with the US based on our involvement in the Vietnam war,
along with a lessening of regional strains have removed the imperitive to an Australian nuclear capability.

1972

F-111s finally arrive in Australia.


So, did Australia have the bomb? I dont really know......

2 Comments:

Blogger Jay said...

It's a fascinating read, either way

10:07 PM  
Blogger Ross W Nelson said...

I also like to add to my post "Operation Blowdown". You can look it up on Wikipedia but basically it was a test of the affects of an atomic bomb like blast on dense jungle and how that may alter combat/movement. They only use 50 tons of TNT rather than a real A-Bomb and it was in northern Queensland (Australia) that it happened. Rather odd test for its time. Not sure how or where it fitted into the picture/timeline. There were some US and other overseas observers. It was pre-vietnam. Strange that Australia would do this test when it didnt "have" the bomb at that time. Why wouldnt the US do it in the phillipines or Guam or somewhere?

8:17 AM  

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