Today almost forgotten, the 'Bumblebee' research and development programme was one of the biggest and most far-reaching in history. Started in 1944, it eventually led to large families of surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) which protected US and friendly warships against air attack for 30 years, are still in production and will arm (for example) Australian warships ordered in 1986 and on which construction has not even begun!
During World War II the USA showed almost no interest in developing SAMs. The need was not for defensive missiles but offensive ones. Then, suddenly, the US and Allied ships closing in on Japan found themselves under terrifying attack from kamikaze suicide aircraft. Almost overnight work began on two guided missiles to protect the ships. These became KAN-1 Little Joe and KAY-1 Lark, both subsonic rockets steered by radio command, later Larks also having semi-active radar homing. Too late for the war, they did at least succeed in destroying Grumman Wildcat and Grumman Hellcat targets.
As early as August 1944 the US Navy recognized that what are today called SAMs were going to need a massive research and development effort, much bigger than one it could conveniently carry on 'in house'. The alternatives were giant contracts with industry or with technical leaders in the academic world, and the choice fell on the latter. The Navy Bureau of Ordnance picked the famed
APL/JHU, the Applied Physics Laboratory of the Johns Hopkins University at Baltimore, Maryland. Here Dr Merle Tuve was charged with building up a team able to manage the 'Bumblebee Project'. Starting with a staff of 11, this was soon to employ as many thousand, as well as tens of thousands in industrial firms possessing the right skills in advanced technologies. In every respect the work thrust ahead beyond the frontiers of previous knowledge.
The US Navy was right to try to do the job properly, but it caused terrible trouble with the rival US Army. The US Navy's 'very aggressive program' was fought by the US Army Air Force at every opportunity. Expansion of the Naval Ordnance Test Station at Inyokern was bad enough, but when General H. H. Arnold learned in November 1945 of the planned $50 million missile test range at Point Mugu, California, he described it as 'a definite danger signal'; the USAAF fought the request for the $50 million. On top of the intense inter-service rivalry was the fact the US Navy was monopolizing the talented people who could work on missiles.
The basic brief handed to Dr Tuve was 'How do you best defend large surface warships against air attack?' This question was so vast and far reaching it was not surprising that the early contracts soon multiplied, and from mere
paper studies (and there would have been computer simulations, had such things been invented) the work swiftly progressed to involve actual test hardware. Some of it was even made in the APL, though most was contracted to industry.
The questions needing answers were numerous. The BuOrd (Bureau of Ordnance) wanted SAMs far better in concept than Little Joe and Lark, which were rather crude subsonic aluminium and mild-steel-sheet beasts with poor power of maneuver and an effective range no greater than the existing 12'1-mm (5in) guns. Ship radars, especially with aerials
mounted high above the sea, could see for scores of miles. Missiles could be made supersonic, and they ought to be able to outmaneuver any manned aircraft. Thus the basic task soon resolved itself into propulsion and guidance, though it also embraced structures, flight-control actuation and dynamics, and even the design of the magazines, loading systems and launchers in the ships. The scope of 'Bumblebee' was so large that soon hundreds of industrial and scientific contractors were involved. They were collectively known as Section T, and this led to the missiles that finally resulted all being given names beginning with this letter: Terrier, Talos, Tartar, Triton and Typhon.
The original ball-park figures assumed were that, to meet the US Navy requirement, the missile should have an effective range of 320 km (20 miles) at 2900 km/h (1,800 mph) and this in turn led to a rough launch weight of 90'I kg (2,000 lb) with a 'payload' of 2'12 kg (600 lb), which proved impossible to attain. By spring 1945 contracts had been let with M. W. Kellogg Company and Allegany Ballistics for large solid rocket motors, and with Bendix for the fuel metering system for an advanced supersonic ramjet. By late 1949 detailed engineering design was in progress of the first two SAMs, together with the associated ship handling gear and large radars. The bigger of the two was the SAM-N-6 Talos, with an integral ramjet burning kerosene or kerosene/naphtha and fed by a nose inlet looking like an advanced MiG-21. Radio aerials round the nose picked up radar signals reflected from the target and homed the missile under the control of four moving wings arranged round the body amidships. Complete with its enormous tandem boost rocket even the first Talos weighed nearly 2'122 kg (6,000 lb), but it went four times as far as the 32 km (20 miles) stipulated. It led to a large family of later Talos missiles, as described separately.
The initial all-rocket SAM was the SAM-N-'1 Terrier. This was naturally much more slender, and shorter-ranged. The first Tactical Prototype was assembled in November 1949 and fired at the Naval Ordnance Test Station, China Lake, on 16 February 1950. After a massive development programme this led to the BW-1 production missile of late 1953. It had sharply
tapered, pointed wings amidships, looking like small editions of those of Talos, and these small wings and the rather quick burnout of the sustainer motor meant that manoeuvrability deteriorated at distances beyond about 19.3 km ( 12 miles). Nevertheless it was a workable system, which completed sea trials from the battleship USS Mississippi in 1954 and finally became operational (the first ship-to-air missile in the world) in 1956, aboard the cruisers USS Boston and Can6erra and the destroyer USS Cyatt. From it stemmed the neat Tartar, which has no boost motor and which is still being adopted for new ships despite its 40-year ancestry.
The ultimate SAM to be developed in the 'Bumblebee Project' was not unnaturally the SAM-N-8, given the odd name of Typhon. This is described separately. Almost inevitably, the Typhon (a missile with capability far exceeding anything possessed by any ship of the US Navy today) is now almost forgotten. So, too, is the biggest of all the 'Bumblebee' offspring, the XSSM-N-4 Triton. This was basically a scaled up Talos, with a body of 1.52-m (60-in) diameter and 13.7 m (45 ft) long. When cancelled in 1955 this amazing cruise missile even had inertial guidance with a map-matching system like that used today!