Saturday, December 12, 2015


JFK+50:  Volume 6, No. 1794


Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) Fifty-three years ago today, December 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy responded to a question about the cancelled Skybolt Missile project at his afternoon press conference at the State Department auditorium.

JFK said that his administration's decision to cancel the program would stand and that Skybolt..."has been really, in a sense, the kind of engineering that is beyond us."

The President continued...

"It is the most sophisticated weapon imaginable.  To fire a missile from a plane moving at high speed to hit a target 1000 miles away requires the most advanced engineering.

We put a half billion dollars into it (and) the five tests (conducted as part of the program) have not been successful."

According to the British National Archives, JFK's Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara "decided to scrap Skybolt (leaving Prime Minister Harold) Macmillan without an arms strategy."

Previous to Skybolt, the British had established their "Blue Streak" missile program, but because it was too expensive and rendered missiles housed in silos vulnerable and too close to population centers, it was in trouble by the late 1950s.

The significance of the Skybolt affair, in an account found in "Britain and the Americas:  Culture, Politics and History," "was that it led not only to the sale of the Polaris submarine-launched ballistic missiles to the United Kingdom but also the creation of the Nassau Pact and the subsequent delivery of...the Trident missile."

General Curtis LeMay, a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Kennedy years,  was critical of JFK's decision to cancel Skybolt in his autobiography. 

 The cancellation of the program by the US was also a major factor in the fall from power of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in Great Britain.


"Skybolt Affair," Britain and the Americas:  Culture, Politics and History, edited by Will Kaufman and Heidi Slettedahl Macpherson, ABC CLIO, 2005.

"The Cabinet Papers 1915-1986:  Skybolt and Polaris missiles," The National Archives,

Douglas GAM-87 Skybolt
 RAF Museum
Cosford, Shropshire, England
Photo by Green Lane (2010)