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Launch of a Nike Zeus missile

Project Nike was a U.S. Army project, proposed in May 1945 by Bell Laboratories, to develop a line-of-sight anti-aircraft missile system. The project delivered the United States' first operational anti-aircraft missile system during 1953, the Nike Ajax. A great number of the technologies and rocket systems used to develop the Nike Ajax were re-used for a number of functions, many of which were given the "Nike" name (after Nike, the goddess of victory from Greek mythology). The missile's first-stage solid rocket booster became the basis for many types of rocket including the Nike Hercules missile and NASA's Nike Smoke rocket, used for upper-atmosphere research.

Contents

History

Nike Ajax located in Marion, Kentucky

Project Nike began during 1944 when the War Department demanded a new air defense system to combat the new jet aircraft, as existing gun-based systems proved largely incapable of dealing with the speeds and altitudes at which jet aircraft operated. Two proposals were accepted. Bell Laboratories offered Project Nike. A much longer-ranged collision-course system was developed by General Electric, named Project Thumper, eventually delivering the BOMARC missile.

Bell's proposal would have to deal with bombers flying at 500 mph (800 km/h) or more at altitudes of up to 60,000 ft (20,000 m). At these speeds, even a supersonic rocket is no longer fast enough to be simply aimed at the target. The missile must "lead" the target to ensure the target is hit before the missile depletes its fuel. This means that the missile and target cannot be tracked by a single radar, increasing the complexity of the system. One part was well developed. By this point, the US had considerable experience with lead-calculating analog computers, starting with the British Kerrison Predictor and a series of increasingly capable U.S. designs.

For Nike, three radars were used. The acquisition radar searched for a target to be handed over to the Target Tracking Radar (TTR) for tracking. The Missile Tracking Radar (MTR) tracked the missile by way of a transponder, as the missile's radar signature alone was not sufficient. The MTR also commanded the missile by way of pulse-position modulation, the pulses were received, decoded and then amplified back for the MTR to track. Once the tracking radars were locked the system was able to work automatically following launch, barring any unexpected occurrences. The computer compared the two radars' directions, along with information on the speeds and distances, to calculate the intercept point and steer the missile. The entirety of this system was provided by the Bell System's electronics firm, Western Electric.

The Douglas-built missile was a two stage missile using a solid fuel booster stage and a liquid fueled (IRFNA/UDMH) second stage. The missile could reach a maximum speed of 1,000 mph (1,600 km/h), an altitude of 70,000 ft (21 km) and had a range of 25 miles (40 km). The missile contained an unusual three part payload, with explosive fragmentation charges at three points down the length of the missile to help ensure a lethal hit. The missile's limited range was seen by critics as a serious flaw, because it often meant that the missile had to be sited very close to the area it was protecting.

After disputes between the Army and the Air Force (see the Key West Agreement), all longer-range systems were assigned to the Air Force during 1948. They merged their own long-range research with Project Thumper, while the Army continued to develop Nike. During 1950 the Army formed the Army Anti-Aircraft Command (ARAACOM) to operate batteries of anti-aircraft guns and missiles. ARAACOM was renamed the US Army Air Defense Command (USARADCOM) during 1957. It adopted a simpler acronym, ARADCOM, in 1961.

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Nike Ajax

A Nike Ajax missile.

The first successful Nike test was during November 1951, intercepting a drone B-17. The first type, Nike Ajax (MIM-3), were deployed starting in 1953. The Army initially ordered 1,000 missiles and 60 sets of equipment. They were placed to protect strategic and tactical sites within the US. As a last-line of defense from air attack, they were positioned to protect cities as well as military installations. The missile was deployed first at Fort Meade, Maryland during December, 1953. A further 240 launch sites were built up to 1962. They replaced 896 radar-guided anti-aircraft guns, operated by the National Guard or Army to protect certain key sites. This left a handful of 75 mm Skysweeper emplacements as the only anti-aircraft artillery remaining in use by the US. By 1957 the Regular Army AAA units had been replaced by missile battalions. During 1958 the Army National Guard began to replace their guns and adopt the Ajax system.

Each launch site had three parts, separated by at least 1,000 yards (914 m). One part (designated C) of about six acres (24,000 m²) contained the IFC (Integrated Fire Control) radar systems to detect incoming targets (acquisition and target tracking) and direct the missiles (missile tracking), along with the computer systems to plot and direct the intercept. The second part (designated L), around forty acres (160,000 m²), held 1-3 underground missile magazines each serving a group of four launch assemblies and included a safety zone. The site had a crew of 109 officers and men who ran the site continuously. One launcher would be on 15 minutes alert, two on 30 minutes and one on two hour alert. The third part was the administrative area (designated A), which was usually co-located with the IFC and contained the battery headquarters, barracks, mess, recreation hall, and motor pool. The actual configuration of the Nike sites differed depending on geography. Whenever possible the sites were placed on existing military bases or National Guard armories, otherwise land had to be purchased.

The Nike batteries were organized in Defense Areas and placed around population centers and strategic locations such as long-range bomber bases, nuclear plants, and (later) ICBM sites. The Nike sites in a Defense Area formed a circle around these cities and bases. There was no fixed number of Nike batteries in a Defense Area and the actual number of batteries varied from a low of two in the Barksdale AFB Defense Area to a high of 22 in the Chicago Defense Area. In the Continental United States the sites were numbered from 01 to 99 starting at the north and increasing clockwise. The numbers had no relation to actual compass headings, but generally Nike sites numbered 01 to 25 were to the northeast and east, those numbered 26 to 50 were to the southeast and south, those numbered 51 to 75 were to the southwest and west, and those numbered 76 to 99 were to the northwest and north. The Defense Areas in the Continental United States were identified by a one- or two-letter code which were related to the city name. Thus those Nike sites starting with C were in the Chicago Defense Area, those starting with HM were in the Homestead AFB/Miami Defense Area, those starting with NY were in the New York Defense Area, and so forth. As an example Nike Site SF-88L refers to the launcher area (L) of the battery located in the northwestern part (88) of the San Francisco Defense Area (SF).

During the early-to-mid 1960s the Nike Ajax batteries were upgraded to the Hercules system. The new missiles had greater range and destructive power, so about half as many batteries provided the same defensive capability. Regular Army batteries were either upgraded to the Hercules system or decommissioned. Army National Guard units continued to use the Ajax system until 1964, when they too upgraded to Hercules. Eventually, the Regular Army units were replaced by the National Guard as a cost saving measure, since the Guard units could return to their homes when off duty.

Nike Hercules

A Nike Hercules missile.

Even as Nike Ajax was being tested, work started on Nike-B, later renamed Nike Hercules (MIM-14). It improved speed, range and accuracy, and could intercept ballistic missiles. The Hercules had a range of about 100 miles (160 km), a top speed in excess of 3,000 mph (4,800 km/h) and a maximum altitude of around 100,000 ft (30 km). It had solid fuel boost and sustainer rocket motors. The boost phase was four of the Nike Ajax boosters strapped together. In the electronics, some vacuum tubes were replaced with more reliable solid-state components.

The missile also had an optional nuclear warhead to improve the probability of a kill. The W-31 warhead had four variants offering 2, 10, 20 and 30 kiloton yields. The 20 KT version was used in the Hercules system. At sites in the USA the missile almost exclusively carried a nuclear warhead. Sites in foreign nations typically had a mix of high explosive and nuclear warheads. The fire control of the Nike system was also improved with the Hercules and included a surface-to-surface mode which was successfully tested in Alaska. The mode change was accomplished by changing a single plug on the warhead from the "Safe Plug" to "Surface to Air" or "Surface to Surface".

The Nike Hercules was deployed starting in June 1958. First deployed to Chicago, 393 Hercules ground systems were manufactured. By 1960 ARADCOM had 88 Hercules batteries and 174 Ajax batteries, defending 23 zones across 30 states. Peak deployment was in 1963 with 134 Hercules batteries not including the US Army Hercules batteries deployed in Germany, Greece, Greenland, Italy, Korea, Okinawa, Taiwan, and Turkey.

Many Nike-Hercules batteries were manned by Army National Guard troops, with a single active Army officer assigned to each battalion to account for the unit's nuclear warheads. The National Guard air defense units shared responsibility for defense of their assigned area with active Army units in the area, and reported to the active Army chain of command. This is the only known instance of Army National Guard units being equipped with operational nuclear weapons.

Nike Zeus

Development continued, producing Improved Nike Hercules and then Nike Zeus A and B. Zeus, with a new 400,000 lbf (1.78 MN) thrust solid-fuel booster, was first test launched during August 1959 and demonstrated a top speed of 8,000 mph (12,875 km/h) but had certain deficiencies and was renamed Spartan launched 1967. Production of the Zeus was deferred in 1961 and phased out during 1963 in favor of a specific ABM system initially designated Nike X but later renamed Sentinel.

Decommissioning

The development of ICBMs decreased the value of the Nike air defense system. Beginning around 1965, the number of Nike batteries was reduced. Thule air defense was reduced during 1965 and SAC air base defense during 1966, reducing the number of batteries to 112. Budgetary cuts reduced that number to 87 in 1968, and 82 in 1969.

Some small-scale work to use Nike Zeus as an anti-satellite weapon (ASAT) was carried out from 1962 until the project was canceled in favor of the Thor based Program 437 system during 1966. In the end, neither development would enter service. However, the Nike Zeus system did demonstrate a hit-to-kill capability against ballistic missiles during the early 1960s. See National Missile Defense and anti-ballistic missile systems.

Nike Hercules was included in SALT I discussions as an ABM. Following the treaty signed during 1972, and further budget reduction, almost all Nike sites in the continental United States were deactivated by April, 1974. Some units remained active until the later part of that decade in a coast air defense role.

Specifications

Missile Nike Ajax Nike Hercules Nike Zeus A Nike Zeus B (XLIM-49A) Spartan (LIM-49A)
Length 10.36 m overall
6.41 m second stage
12.53 m overall
8.18 m second stage
13.5 m 14.7 m 16.8 m
Diameter 0.30 m 0.80 m booster
0.53 m second stage
0.91 m 0.91 m 1.09 m
Fin span 1.22 m 3.50 m booster
1.88 m second stage
2.98 m 2.44 m 2.98 m
Mass 1,116 kg at launch
523 kg second stage
4850 kg at launch
2505 kg second stage
4980 kg 10300 kg 13100 kg
Maximum speed Mach 2.25 (ca. 3,000 km/h) Mach 3.65 (ca. 4 4700 km/h) Mach 4 > (ca. 4 900 km/h)
Range 40 km 140 km 320 km 400 km 740 km
Ceiling 21,300 m 45,700 m  ? 280 km 560 km
First stage Solid-fuel
(263 kN static thrust for 2.5 seconds)
Hercules M42 solid-fueled rocket cluster
(4x M5E1 Nike boosters)
978 kN (220,000 lbf) total
Thiokol TX-135
1,800 kN (400,000 lbf)
Thiokol TX-135
2000 kN (450,000 lbf)
Thiokol TX-500
2200 kN (500,000 lbf)
Second stage Liquid-fuel
(11.6 kN static thrust for 21 seconds)
Thiokol M30 solid-fueled rocket
44.4 kN (10,000 lbf)
 ? Thiokol TX-238 Thiokol TX-454
Third stage None None None Thiokol TX-239 Thiokol TX-239
Warhead conventional 3 warheads each surrounded with
2 layers of 1/4 in (6 mm) hardened steel cubes
Nose: M2: 4.5 lb (2.0 kg) Composition B 12 lb (5.4 kg) total
Mid-body: M3: 92 lb (42 kg) Comp. B, 176.8 lb (80.2 kg) total
Aft: M4: 59 lb (27 kg) Comp B, 121.3 lb (55.0 kg) total
T-45 HE warhead weighed
1106 lb (500 kg) and contained 600 lb (272 kg) of HBX-6
M17 blast-fragmentation
Nuclear warhead only Nuclear warhead only Nuclear warhead only
Warhead nuclear Conventional warhead only W-31 nuclear 20 kt (M-22) W-31 nuclear W-50 (400 kt)
thermonuclear
W-71 (5 Mt)
thermonuclear

Support Vehicles

These trucks and trailers were used with the Nike system.

  • G789 Trailers
    • M242 trailer, M33 fire control, radar dish van mount, 2-ton,
    • M243 trailer, M33 fire control, antenna hauler, 2-ton,
    • M244 trailer, M33 fire control, computer van, 2-ton,
    • M258 van, radar tracking central
    • M259 van, guided missile directors trailer
    • M260 low bed antenna mount
    • M261 flat bed, guided missile
    • M262 van, launch control station
    • M304 van, electronic shop, Nike Ajax
    • M359 van, electronic repair shop
    • M382 van, electronic repair shop
    • M383 van, electronic repair shop
    • M406 low bed antenna mount
    • M424 van, guided missile directors trailer
    • M428 van, guided missile tracking station
    • M429 dolly, for Nike trailers
    • M430 dolly, trailer, rear, for Nike trailers
    • M431 dolly, trailer, front, for Nike trailers
    • M432 dolly, trailer, rear, for Nike trailers
    • M529 trailer, low bed, 7-ton, missile, Nike
    • M564 trailer van, electronic shop, 9-ton,
    • M565 dolly, trailer, front,
    • M573 dolly, front, launch control station,
    • M582 van, shop
    • M583 van, shop
    • M584 dolly, trailer, front,
    • M589 dolly, trailer, front, electronic,
    • M595 dolly, trailer , front, antenna,
    • M657 trailer, van radar simulator test station,
    • M699 dolly trailer, rear,
    • M802 trailer, electric shop, radar course direct central, Nike Hercules

Project Legacy

Nike Site D-57, a former Nike missile site in Newport, Michigan
Dilapidated NIKE Missile radar dome with an unkindness of ravens roosting for the evening. -Interior of Alaska near Eielson AFB.

Leftover traces of the approximately 300 Nike missile bases can still be seen around cities across the country. As the sites were decommissioned they were first offered to Federal agencies. Many were already located on Army National Guard bases who continued to use the property. Others were offered to state and local governments while others were sold to school districts. The left-overs were offered to private individuals. Thus, many Nike sites are now municipal yards, communications and FAA facilities (the IFC areas), probation camps, and even renovated for use as Airsoft gaming and MilSim training complexes. Several were completely obliterated and turned into parks. Some are now private residences. Only a few retain any integrity and preserve the history of the Nike project. There are also a few sites abroad, notably in Turkey and Greece.

  • Nike Site CD-63 Dillsboro, Indiana, Missile Launching site (L-3) converted to a private residence (including old missile silos) on Ind. 262 just outside of the town limits. It was set up in 1958 to protect Cincinnati and Dayton. It was shut down in 1969. Just a little over a mile to the East-Northeast off of Texas Gas road is the accompanying abandoned radar facility (C-4). The old radar towers are still standing.
  • Nike Site BR-94 Bridgeport, Connecticut, Launch/assembly site: Shelton, CT, Control/Radar Site, Monroe, CT. Launch site and assembly buildings converted into public recreation facility. Baseball fields, recreation Halls, Tennis courts, playground etc. Control Site and buildings converted to storage/support for local military installations by US Gov.
  • Nike Site D-54 in Riverview, Michigan, has been converted into a public park with a Nike-Hercules missile and a plaque commemorating the site. The pits are still there, under the park, behind the fire station. There is one original building left near the launch site, which has been refurbished and turned into a hall to host Cub Scout events and such. The City of Riverview has concerns about possible radiation from the site, but has not done much about it.
  • Nike Site DF-01, located off North Locust Street just north of Denton, Texas was converted for use as an astronomical observatory of the University of North Texas after decommissioning. Aside from its use as a laboratory for the school's astronomy program, the site has been used for storage, research and experimentation. A broadcasting tower is also located on site. The site's housing and administrative complex has been sold to a private owner and is currently being used as a residence.
  • Nike Site F-07C near Spokane, Washington was acquired by the United States Air Force during 1963 to be used as one of the command readout stations for the DMSP mission. It was operated by Detachment 1, 4000 Aerospace Applications Group, which was later designated as Detachment 1, 1000th Satellite Operations Group, and later the 5th Satellite Control Squadron part of the 50th Space Wing. It was later converted to the Fairchild Satellite Operations Center to support MILSTAR/GPS and other programs under Air Force Space Command.[1]
  • The IFC area of Nike Site KC-60 in Gardner, Kansas is now the Nike Intermediate School in the Gardner-Edgerton Unified School District 231.
  • Nike Site M-74 in Waukesha, Wisconsin resided on hill nicknamed by local children as "Nike Hill". The command center is a common spot for Urban exploration. Some have suggested that it be made into a cold war museum. [1] In March 2006, the City of Waukesha took ownership of the property, retaking it from the federal government. [2].
  • Nike Site MS-40 is located on County Road 80S in Farmington, Minnesota. Well preserved for its years of age and disuse, it is currently under private ownership, and is currently being used as a Law Enforcement training and Airsoft gaming facility, most notably by the Minnesota Airsoft Association. It is also a safe haven for deer chased by hunters in the area, as it is completely fenced in.
  • Nike Site NF-74/75 dual site, located in Grand Island, New York, is now known as the Grand Island Nike Base. It was redesignated NF-41 after conversion to Hercules. Operational from the mid 1950s through the mid 1960s. It comprised a Launcher and Integrated Fire Control Area for Nike-Ajax Missiles. The IFC was located off of Whitehaven Road near West River and is now known as Nike Base Town Park; as such, it hosts Grand Island's Senior Citizen Center, a town-sponsored safe hangout for teens known as Reality Cafe, and space for group meetings. The Launcher is off Staley Road just east of West River Road; it is now used as the Grand Island Central School District's Eco Island Ecology Reserve.
  • Nike Site BU-52 dual site located in Hamburg, New York, was a double-site Launcher and Integrated Fire Control Area for Nike-Ajax Missiles. The IFC was located off New Lake View Road, at 2 E. Heltz Road, and is now offices for the Town of Hamburg. The Launcher area was also off New Lake View Road, at 1 E. Heltz Road, and is currently covered by a bike track, a Hamburg Town Park, and Bulk Storage. [2]
  • Nike Site C-93 was located in the Skokie Lagoons near the border of Glencoe and Winnetka, IL. The radar and control facility was located on the west side of Forest Way Dr two blocks north of Tower Rd; the missile launchers were in a bermed compound on the other side of the lagoons adjoining the Edens Expressway, about a quarter of a mile south of Dundee Rd. The radar site today is on the North Branch Trail on a levelled off hill; the launch area has been fenced off and used as a dumping ground for dredging operations and is not open to the public, although the complex perimeter can be viewed from the bicycle trail. The portion of the bike trail from Tower Rd to the launch complex was the actual road used to access the base. It is unlikely any part of the base was on the island in the middle of the lagoons. A small foot bridge connected the launch complex to the main island for unknown reasons, this bridge has long since been removed.
  • In Los Angeles, California, the stripped IFC area of Nike Site LA-96, on top of a mountain in the middle of the city, San Vicente Peak, has been turned into a Cold War memorial park. The LA-96 launcher area in Van Nuys has been stripped of its hydraulics, electrical equipment, etc. which were to be transported to Nike Site LA-43 at Whites Point, Fort MacArthur, on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Unfortunately, the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks made it impossible to complete this project. The Nike parts are still (as of March 1, 2006) at LA-96 and awaiting possible use elsewhere. Francis Gary Powers, Jr. has expressed interest in using some of the LA-96 parts at Nike Site W-64, in Lorton, Virginia. Foundations and other signs of Nike installations can still be found elsewhere across the area, including the Palos Verdes Peninsula, the Santa Monica Mountains, and the San Gabriel Mountains.
  • Nike Site NY-80R in Randolph, New Jersey was left vacant for many years and the building kept intact. Sometime in the mid to late 1990's the phone booths outside were removed and some activity was resumed at the base for a few months. The base is currently experiencing some remodeling. The sidewalk is being redone as well as the stairs leading up to the building. Houses that line the building and site's perimeter received a letter from the state during August 2006. The letter stipulated that there would be extensive remodeling of the area as to make it less hazardous to the public. In the past few months, there have been "parades" of white vans exiting and entering the building at will. The reason that their movement at will is unusual is that there is an electronically locked barbwire fence surrounding the area, to which these vans have the opening device.
  • Nike Site S-13/14 in Redmond, Washington is owned by the Lake Washington School District and was previously used for the district's NEVAC work study programs. All the structures remain intact, though some are in disrepair. The radar site to the west of the launchers has been renovated and is now owned by the United States Air Force. The radars have been removed and portions of the site have been converted into Redmond's Nike Park.
  • Nike Site S-61 on Vashon Island in Puget Sound, has been turned into a public horse park named Paradise Ridge. The buildings are now used as a thrift store, Granny's Attic, and a medical clinic.
  • Nike Site SF-88L, in Fort Barry (part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area) across the Golden Gate from San Francisco, has been preserved as a Nike museum, complete with missiles (inert). This site was given intact to the National Park Service in 1974 after it was decommissioned for use as a legacy of the Nike program. It is open to the public on designated days; usually Wednesday to Friday, 12:30 to 3:30 pm. The SF-88L site has been restored by volunteers and National Park Service employees to the condition it was during the 1960s, complete with signage and various pieces of equipment such as the radars and control vans that would have been stationed on hills overlooking the site. One of the two missile magazines has been restored and has a working elevator and launch rail for the inert missiles. Site SF-88 is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Fort Barry Historic District.[3]
  • Nike Site SF-91 The IFC on the top of Mt. Livermore Angel Island in San Francisco Bay has been permanently removed. The former radar site has been restored to its natural condition, and is now enjoyed as one of the best views of the region by hikers and picnicers. This is an early Ajax-only site that was never converted to Hercules. The mountain between the launcher and the IFC was "notched" in three places to allow the Missile Tracking Radar to acquire the missile while sitting on the launcher. The three underground magazines are existent and in reasonable good condition. The area is off limits to visitors at Angel Island State Park. Park Rangers may arrest or issue citations to anyone that trespasses within the closed area.
  • Nike Site W-36 This housing area in Brandywine, Maryland, supported Washington Nike Site W-36 from approximately 1957 - 1961. It was transferred from the Army to the Air Force (Headquarters Command) on 10 Jun 1963. At that time it was redesignated; and Jurisdiction, Control, and Accountability assigned to Andrews AFB. At some later time it transferred to Military Airlift Command, and on 1 Jun 1992 transferred to Air Mobility Command. Current status is unknown. [4]
  • Nike Site W-64 dual site in Lorton, Virginia. This site was co-located with the now closed Lorton Reformatory. The launcher facility, located at the intersection of Hooes Road and VA 611, is still largely intact and in the process of being developed into the Cold War Museum with the assistance of Francis Gary Powers, Jr., the son of Francis Gary Powers, the U-2 pilot shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960. The former control facility is located on the west side of Silverbrook Road just south of Hooes Road and became part of the prison maintenance facility.
  • Nike Site W-94 Gaithersburg, Maryland, near what is now Flower Hill and Montgomery Village, opened during 1955 and closed in 1963. The county converted the radar control area into a park several years ago, while the missile bays are at the National Guard Armory on Snouffer School Road, near the Montgomery County Airpark and is surrounded by a housing development.[3] It was transferred to the Maryland National Park and Planning Commission April 29, 1996 and is now a park.[6]
  • NIKE Radar Site Summit: a secured communications site
    Nike Site Summit, located at Fort Richardson outside Anchorage, Alaska, has been in use as a secured communications site for various federal agencies, including BLM, FAA, FCC, FBI, IRS, and others. It is also used occasionally for communications exercises supporting various US Army operations. There are two adjacent ski recreation areas. While preserved, the site itself is currently off limits to the public. Site Summit is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Nike as sounding rocket

The Nike was also used as sounding rocket in the following versions:

See also

References

  • Morgan, Mark L., & Berhow, Mark A., Rings of Supersonic Steel, Second Edition, Hole in the Head Press, 2002, ISBN 0-615-12012-1.
  • John C. Lonnquest, David F. Winkler (November 1996). To Defend and Deter: The Legacy of the United States Cold War Missile Program (USA-Cerl Special Report, N-97/01,). Afhra. ISBN 9789996175718.  

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