Jupiter IRBM Development History

The Jupiter was the direct descendant of the Army's Redstone, a tactical-range ballistic missile with a range of 150 miles. Under the direction of Dr. Wernher von Braun, the Redstone program began in 1951 at the Army's newly established Ordnance Guided Missile Center (OGMC) at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama.

As the Redstone took shape, the Ordnance Department also expressed interest in developing a ballistic missile with a range of 1,000 miles. By 1953 experience gained from the Redstone program convinced von Braun that building the longer range missile was feasible, and he petitioned the Chief of Ordnance for permission to develop it.

Initially the Army showed little interest in von Braun's proposal, and the Chief of Ordnance relegated the l,000-mile range missile program to a low priority study project. The project would have probably languished there had it not been for the Killian Report, released in February 1955.

In its influential report to President Eisenhower, the Killian Committee urged that in addition to the intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) the United States should also develop a new class of 1,500-mile intermediate-range-ballistic missile (IRBM) as a counterweight to a similar program thought to be under way in the Soviet Union. The committee recommended that the United States develop both land- and sea-based variants of the new missile. By stationing the missiles at bases in Europe, and on ships hovering off the Soviet coast, the committee envisioned that the IRBMs would counterbalance the Soviet program and reassure the United States' skittish allies.

Spurred on by the committee's recommendations, by the fall of 1955 all three services requested permission to develop IRBMs. Before development could begin, however, the military had to resolve the crucial issue of which major service would operate the new missiles. In early November the Joint Chiefs of Staff were unable to reach a consensus on the issue, forcing Secretary of Defense Charles Wilson to fashion a compromise: the Air Force would develop the ground-launched version and a joint Army/Navy team would develop the ship-launched model. Reflecting the urgency of the situation, in December 1955 President Eisenhower designated the IRBM one of the military's most pressing programs, second in importance to only the ICBM.

Because of the Army's considerable experience in missile development, the Navy agreed that Jupiter development and the initial fabrication would take place at Huntsville. To manage the new program, in February 1956 the Army established the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) at Redstone Arsenal. Secretary of the Army William Brucker granted the ABMA's first commander, General John B. Medaris, sweeping authority to manage every facet of the IRBM development effort.

In many ways the political hurdles facing the Army program were more daunting than the technological challenges. Within a year the Jupiter program suffered two major setbacks. The first came in September 1956 when the Navy withdrew from the project in order to build the solid-fuel Polaris submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). Two months later Jupiter suffered what many thought was a mortal blow when Secretary of Defense Charles Wilson finally gave the Air Force sole responsibility for building and operating all surface-launched missiles with a range in excess of 200 miles. The ruling meant that the Army would never operate the missile it was building, and it appeared that there was little reason to continue the program. Brucker and Medaris thought otherwise, and in response to their impassioned plea, the Department of Defense (DOD) allowed the Army to continue developing Jupiter as an alternative to the Air Force's troubled Thor IRBM program.

Using the proven Redstone missile as a test platform, beginning in September 1955 the Army launched 28 Jupiter A and C missiles from the Atlantic Missile Range (AMR) at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Jupiter A testing, which focused on general design criteria, the guidance system, and propulsion thrust control, began in September 1955 and continued through June 1958. The Jupiter C was an elongated Redstone with clusters of scaled-down Sergeant rockets forming the second and third stages. This configuration was designed to test reentry vehicles and procedures, and in September 1956 a Jupiter C fired from the AMR completed a successful flight of 3,300 miles. In May 1957 a prototype Jupiter soared 1,150 miles out over the Atlantic, an event the Army hailed as the United States' first successful IRBM launch.

Although the Jupiter program was living on borrowed time, Medaris and the ABMA hoped that the missile's early success, which was a marked contrast to the Air Force's Thor program, would convince the Secretary of Defense to choose the Army missile. External events, however, would soon dramatically alter the nation's IRBM program. In October 1957 the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I, the world's first artificial satellite. The event shattered American complacency and bred fresh fears over the danger posed to the United States by the Soviet missile program. Anxious to take action to blunt the Soviet advantage and reassure the American public, on October 10, 1957, President Eisenhower ordered both the Jupiter and Thor into full production.

Although the President's decision appeared to be a victory for the Army missile program, it had little lasting effect. The ABMA was never able to convince the Pentagon that Jupiter was superior to Thor, and neither was it able to reverse Secretary Wilson's November 1956 ruling barring the Army from operating long-range missiles. As a result, although the Army won the right to build Jupiter, it did so as a subcontractor to the Air Force. Much to the Army's chagrin, in early 1958 the Air Force began to assume control of the Jupiter program. In early February 1958 the Air Force opened a Jupiter program management office at the ABMA, and the following month established the Jupiter Liaison Office (JUPLO) to coordinate activities between the Army and the Strategic Air Command, the Air Materiel Command, and the Air Training Command.

While the Army and the Air Force were forging the necessary infrastructure to deploy the missile, in mid-January 1958 the Air Force activated the 864th Strategic Missile Squadron at ABMA. Although the Air Force briefly considered training its Jupiter crews at Vandenberg AFB, California, it later decided to conduct all of its training at Huntsville. In June and September the Air Force activated two more strategic missile squadrons at the ABMA: the 865th and 866th.

At the same time the Air Force was training Jupiter crews, the State Department was searching for a host nation willing to accept the missiles. In late April 1958 DOD told the Air Force that it had tentatively planned to deploy the first three Jupiter squadrons in France. Negotiations between the two nations fell through, however, prompting the United States to explore the possibility of deploying the missiles in Italy and Turkey. In late 1958 the Italian government agreed to accept two squadrons, with the proviso the missiles be manned by Italian crews. In May 1959 the first contingent of Italian airmen arrived at Lackland AFB, Texas, for language and technical training. In late October 1959 the Turkish government also agreed to host a squadron of the American missiles, under similar terms.

The Air Force accepted delivery of its first production Jupiter in August 1958. Prior to that, Air Force missile crews received individual and crew training on Redstone missiles. Once Jupiter missiles and ground support equipment became available, the Air Force crews began Integrated Weapons System Training (IWST) on a launch emplacement set up on a large field at the Redstone Arsenal. On October 20, 1960, an Air Force crew successfully fired a Jupiter missile under simulated tactical conditions from AMR. The first three-missile Jupiter launch position in Italy went on operational alert in July 1960, and by June 20, 1961, both squadrons in Italy were fully operational. The first Jupiter squadron in Turkey did not become operational until 1962.