From Bouncing Bombs to The Formidable SPEAR Missile: The Dambuster Legend

On this day 75 years ago, the Dambusters raid, ‘Operation Chastise’, saw 19 Lancaster bombers strike three Ruhr valley dams. Each Lancaster was armed with 1 Upkeep bouncing bomb and had to fly through heavy air defence at exactly 60 feet (18 m) and release the bomb at around 450 yards (approx. 400 m) from the target. Through the ingenuity of designer Barnes Wallis, and the bravery and skill of 617 Squadron’s crew the mission was a success with two of the three dams successfully breached. Sadly almost half the of the aircrew sent on the mission did not return.

Before Wallis invented the bouncing bomb, there were no suitable weapons to launch an attack on the three dams, thought to be imperative to German War production. With torpedo nets stopping any attacks from under water and the dam heavily armed with munitions to counter any air attacks, an innovative approach was required to complete the mission.


Image credit: BAE Systems

Modern day 617 Squadron could conduct an equivalent strike with a single F-35 armed with MBDA’s SPEAR strike weapon. One F-35 can stealthily carry 8 of the British designed SPEAR mini-cruise missiles as well as an air-to-air loadout including two MBDA ASRAAM and two MBDA Meteor air dominance missiles. Rather than a Lancaster flying at 60 feet and firing at a range of 400 meters, an F-35 can fire SPEAR at practically any altitude and at ranges of over 100 km in any weather condition and strike defended and armoured targets with pin-point precision.

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The 617 Squadron name was made famous by ‘The Dambusters’, who played such a vital role in the Second World War. So it is fitting that by flying the world’s most advanced fighter jets, our new squadron will be ensuring that the legend of world-leading air power lives on.” – Gavin Williamson, Defence Secretary