This film "Air Mobile Feasibility Demonstration" chronicles the development of an Air Launched Ballistic Missile system. The ALBM concept was viewed as a potential game changer for strategic deterrence, allowing missiles to be deployed to remote locations at a moments' notice. As shown in the film, starting in the early 1970s, the USAF tested air-launching a Minuteman 1b ICBM from a C-5A Galaxy transport aircraft. Starting around 11:30, the film shows the final test on 24 October 1974. On that day, seven weeks after the first test, the Space and Missile Systems Organization successfully conducted an Air Mobile Feasibility test where a C-5A Galaxy aircraft air-dropped the 86,000-pound missile from 20,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean. The missile fell to 8,000 feet before its rocket engine fired. The 10-second engine burn carried the missile to 20,000 feet again before it dropped into the ocean. The test proved the feasibility of launching an intercontinental ballistic missile from the air. In the end however, operational deployment of ALBM was discarded due to engineering and security difficulties, though the capability was used as a negotiating point in the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks.
An air-launched ballistic missile or ALBM is a ballistic missile launched from a bomber. An ALBM allows the launch aircraft to stand off at long distances from its target, keeping it well outside the range of defensive weapons like anti-aircraft missiles and interceptor aircraft. Once launched, the missile is essentially immune to interception. This combination of features allowed a strategic bomber to present a credible deterrent second-strike option in an era when improving anti-aircraft defences appeared to be rendering conventional bombers obsolete.
The ALBM concept was only seriously studied in the US, largely as a way to ensure the usefulness and survivability of their large bomber fleet. After testing several experimental designs as part of the WS-199 efforts, the USAF began development of the GAM-87 Skybolt missile with range on the order of 1,150 miles (1,850 km). The only other major force relying on strategic bombers was the Royal Air Force, who also selected the Skybolt to arm their V bomber fleet. The Soviet Union does not appear to have seriously studied the concept, moving their strategic force directly to ICBMs.
Skybolt ultimately failed several key tests, while the US Navy's UGM-27 Polaris offered the same advantages and more. Skybolt was cancelled, leading to the Skybolt crisis and an agreement to sell Polaris to the Royal Navy as part of the Nassau Agreement. The concept saw little active development until the 1970s when ICBM warheads began to become accurate enough to attack other ICBMs while they were still on the ground. The US carried out several experiments using existing missile designs dropped from cargo aircraft, but ultimately abandoned this line of research entirely. No further strategic ALBM development has been carried out, and this class of missile never saw active use.
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This film is part of the Periscope Film LLC archive, one of the largest historic military, transportation, and aviation stock footage collections in the USA. Entirely film backed, this material is available for licensing in 24p HD and 2k. For more information visit http://www.PeriscopeFilm.com