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A WE177A training round and a WE177B training round at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford. The development of WE177 stemmed from joint RAF/RN Operational Requirement 1177 circa 1960 for a tactical weapon to replace Red Beard in the tactical strike role and as a nuclear depth bomb. With the cancellation of Skybolt, there was a need to produce a strategic lay-down weapon for the Vulcan. Consequently, the tactical version of WE177 was developed as WE177A and the high-yield strategic version as WE177B. Though the weights and dimensions of WE177 have been published in Hansard, other details remain secret. The AWE Web site describes the WE177A as a single stage weapon and the WE177B as a two-stage thermonuclear. The (primary) warhead is believed to be based on a device called 'Cleo' that was tested in 1962 using a novel British-designed implosion system called 'Super-Octopus'. The WE177A warhead was designated PT176 and the WE177B warhead was designated ZA279, its second thermonucler stage almost certainly being based on an American design. The first weapon to be delivered was a WE177B to the Cottesmore (Vulcan) Wing in 1966. WE177A weighed 600lb, was 16.5in in diameter and was 9ft 4in in length. WE177B weighed 950lb, was 16.5in in diameter and was 11ft 1in in length. The extra length of the B variants and their external wiring ducts permitted the fitting of the larger ZA279 two-stage thermonuclear warhead. A later variant was WE177C which was similar to the 'B' except for yield. The red canisters contain wiring harnesses. The small photograph shows a WE177B on a Vulcan carrier. Note the yellow band (= HE) and red/orange band (= radioactive).

© David Farrant. Small photo Crown Copyright >>

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