Why did Great Britain develop three different planes - Victor, Valiant and Vulcan - after WW2 for the same task?

I suppose that at that time the US and the Soviet Union were producing high numbers of bombers too, but did those countries stick to one design? Why did France not produce different bombers? My main question is about the effort of Great Britain and I am listing other countries only as examples.

Here is the Handley Page Victor:enter image description here (source)

Here is the Vickers Valiant:enter image description here (source)

and the Avro Vulcan:enter image description here (source)

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    $\begingroup$ It was the Victor, not Vickers. Vickers was an aircraft & tank manufacturer. $\endgroup$ Feb 10, 2016 at 13:08
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    $\begingroup$ We designed the first two, decided we needed 100% more awesome so along came the Vulcan. $\endgroup$
    – Jamiec
    Feb 10, 2016 at 15:00
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    $\begingroup$ All modern aircraft have four dimensions: span, length, height and politics. $\endgroup$
    – Him
    Feb 10, 2016 at 19:17
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    $\begingroup$ It was actually 4! The Short SA4 Sperrin was conceived as the safe fallback position whilst the other three underwent design and development. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Short_Sperrin $\endgroup$
    – SimonN
    Feb 11, 2016 at 0:20
  • $\begingroup$ @squigbobble - ...and Vickers made the Valiant but not the Victor nor the Vulcan. :-) $\endgroup$ Feb 11, 2016 at 3:04

2 Answers 2


I've heard numerous reasons cited - perhaps due to the secrecy around all things nuclear - but from what I know, there are a few reasons:

Speed of deployment

Of the three designs, the Valiant was simplest, and could therefore be built and deployed the soonest. The initial Valiant prototype didn't actually meet the requirements that had been set forth for a nuclear-capable bomber aircraft, but it was better than nothing and with the mounting threat that the Cold War might turn hot, this speed was an asset, so the requirements were changed to allow the Valiant to enter service. This would fill the gap in the UK's forces, and more advanced aircraft could follow later.


Each of the V-bombers had slightly different performance, meaning that they could perform slightly different roles.

  • The Victor had the greatest payload capacity (up to 35 thousand-pound bombs)
  • The Vulcan was smaller and more agile and could therefore use smaller runways, and could just about break Mach 1 in a slight dive. It could also be refuelled in flight.
  • The Valiant was the simplest design, and therefore the most reliable (although it later emerged that a newly-developed and poorly-understood alloy introduced some serious design flaws)

Spreading the risk

Overall, the differences between the various aircraft were pretty minor, and the main reason that three contracts were allowed to progress to delivery was simple: the UK didn't want to put all their eggs in one aeroplane. The need for a nuclear deterrent - and a means to deliver it - was so great that it could not be jeopardised by a poorly-designed bomber, a mismanaged project, unforeseen failure of the company building the aircraft, etc. By having three aircraft from three different manufacturers, the UK greatly improved their chances of having at least one aircraft that actually worked, was delivered on time, and was able to remain in service for a reasonable period of time.

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    $\begingroup$ To quote John Hurt's character from Contact: "First rule in government spending: why build one when you can have two at twice the price?" $\endgroup$ Feb 10, 2016 at 15:37
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    $\begingroup$ Note that multi-manufacturer overlapping procurement for risk mitigation worked quite well during WW2: wwiiequipment.com/… $\endgroup$
    – pjc50
    Feb 10, 2016 at 16:54

After the end of WWII there was an awareness at the British air ministry that a new type of bomber would be needed for nuclear warfare against the USSR. The specification that the government put forward required radical designs and the government was concerned they might fail, so they decided to go forward with 3 of them to ensure they had a nuclear deterrent in place.

There was also likely politics involved. At the time Britain was one of the leaders of aviation design and production, it was one of the few things going right in Britain at the time. The government felt it was important to support that industry, even though it meant higher costs.


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