Air Force Bases

Hanford Washington Nike Sites

Hanford Site background

The Little Boy bomb included uranium-235, produced from gaseous diffusion at the Oak Ridge Reservation in Tennessee. The Fat Man bomb was made with plutonium from the graphite reactors at the Hanford Engineer Works.

During the 3 1/2 years between these two events, monumental social and economic changes occurred in the United States. The nation was put on a war footing, which produced dramatic demographic shifts with the establishment of war industries across the country. The Mid-Columbia Basin in south-central Washington State was one area that experienced dramatic population shifts as it became the setting for the nation's first plutonium production facility, the Hanford Engineer Works, later known as the Hanford Site.

Hanford Defense

Camp Hanford initially consisted of a military compound in North Richland and 16 anti- aircraft artillery positions that encircled the 100 and 200 Areas to protect the reactors and chemical separation plants from airplane attack. The first Army contingents assigned to Hanford, the Sixth Army's 5th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Group and four attached gun battalions (83rd, 501st, 518th, and 519th), each had four batteries to operate the air defense systems.

The internal layout of the anti-aircraft artillery sites reflected a standard military arrangement of facilities separated by function. They were roughly 20 acres in size and contained any number of buildings consisting of wooden structures, prefabricated metal buildings, and, later, permanent, concrete block structures. Each site contained four gun emplacements situated within semi-circular revetments made of sandbags and wood planking. The four revetments were arranged in a square or rectangular plan separate from the residential and administrative facilities.

The more permanent, concrete structures were situated in a rectangular grid that included barracks, latrines, mess halls, recreation halls, motor pools, administrative, and radar facilities. Each anti-aircraft artillery site typically had a small arms range, a water storage cistern, and sanitary/sewage waste facilities.

Nike Missile Installations

The Nike Ajax and Nike Hercules missile defense systems were developed in response to heightened Cold War tensions and the escalating international arms race. Nike missile systems had the capability of intercepting high speed aerial targets at greater ranges than conventional anti-aircraft artillery. From the early 1950s to the mid-1970s, the Army deployed Nike, Ajax, and Hercules missiles throughout the continental United States to protect major metropolitan areas and strategic military installations from enemy aerial attack.

Four Nike missile installations supplanted the 16 anti-aircraft artillery sites at the Hanford Site during the mid- and late 1950s. Nike Ajax and Hercules missiles were deployed at three locations on the Wahluke Slope and one on what is now the Fitzner-Eberhardt Arid Lands Ecology Reserve. All four Nike sites were of similar construction and layout, consisting of a battery control center, launch area, and associated barracks and administration buildings.

The battery control areas were normally placed on the highest possible point. They contained all the radar, guidance, electronic, and communications equipment needed to identify incoming targets, launch missiles, and direct and guide missiles in flight to intercept enemy aircraft.

The launch areas contained underground missile storage magazines and launch equipment, including buildings and structures used for testing and servicing the missiles. These included generator buildings; missile fueling and warheading facilities; missile assembly and maintenance buildings; pump houses and other utilities; and administrative, housing, and recreation buildings.

The main function of the launch areas was to maintain the missiles in a combat-ready posture that required the assembly, storage, handling, and disposal not only of missile components and propellants but also of solvents, fluids, fuels, and other support materials. Each launch area at Hanford had two underground missile storage magazines, 20 Ajax missiles, and eight launchers.

By the late 1950s, the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles had rendered Nike missiles obsolete. In October 1960, the camp and its missile battalion and batteries were deactivated. Camp Hanford officially closed on March 31, 1961.