Air Force Bases

Nike: Origin of the Nike Project

Early in 1944-over a year before the war in Europe ended-intelligence reports reaching this country indicated that the Germans were in process of developing extremely large rocket projectiles with a range of more than 100 miles, which would soon be in combat use. These reports also revealed that large, guided, rocket-type missiles had already been used by the Germans with some success. Recognizing the high potential military value of such a projectile, American officials decided that a development program for a long-range rocket missile should be initiated here.

Accordingly, in February 1944, the Army Ground Forces sent the Army Service Forces an inquiry concerning the development of a direction-controlled, major caliber, antiaircraft rocket torpedo. At that time, the development of a specific missile was considered undesirable because of the basic research problems yet unsolved. Therefore, the Ordnance Department decided that, for the time being, the antiaircraft study should be incorporated into the general guided missile studies already underway.

Based on the results of studies conducted during the next three months, the Ordnance Technical Committee concluded that a long-term program was required for the development of guided missiles, starting with a series of experimental projects from which essential theoretical data and practical experience could be obtained. So, in May 1942, the Committee recommended that the Ordnance Department enter into development contracts and procure pilot models of a long-range rocket missile, together with suitable launching equipment. The action recommended was approved the following month and a basic research project was initiated.

Meanwhile, toward the end of World War II, it was becoming obvious that new types of high-speed, high-altitude bomber aircraft, capable of precision bombing while maneuvering, could not be effectively engaged by conventional antiaircraft artillery. Because of the short projectile range and maneuvering of the target during flight of the projectile, conventional artillery guns were somewhat ineffective even against slow-speed aircraft. Since there was little hope that these and other obstacles could be overcome by further development, the need for a new weapon or a new approach was indicated. The most profitable approach to the problem appeared to be the development of a new weapon-a jet propelled surface-to-air guided missile.

Although some thought had been given to the antiaircraft problem as a part of the general guided missile program, most of the research effort had been devoted to long-range surface-to-surface weapons, such as the CORPORAL. Late in 1944, however, the advent of German jet propelled pursuit planes in combat created an immediate need for a tactical anti-aircraft weapon that could be used effectively against them. This was followed by a chain of positive actions that led to the development of a specific antiaircraft weapon system.

Approval for the development of antiaircraft guided missiles was given by the Amy Service Forces in an official communication to the Chief of Ordnance dated 26 January 1945. Later in the same month, the Office, Chief of Ordnance sent a letter to the Bell Telephone Laboratories (BTL) authorizing contract negotiations for a formal study to determine the technical characteristics of an antiaircraft guided missile. At the same time, the Army Air Corps was trying to engage these same facilities to study a similar problem for winged missiles. Since BTL was not prepared to undertake both studies, it was decided that the contract would be awarded on a comprehensive study basis without limitation as to whether the missile would be winged or wingless. Accordingly, the original contract was jointly sponsored by the Army Air Corps and Ordnance Department, and the study results were shared equally.

Thus, Project NIKE came into being on 8 February 1945, when a contract was issued to the Western Electric Company (WECO) for BTL to perform a complete paper study of antiaircraft guided missile problems. Specifically, BTL was asked to explore the feasibility of constructing an antiaircraft defense system that would be capable of engaging high-speed, maneuverable bombers far beyond the range of ordinary antiaircraft defenses. The target was designated as a 600-mph bomber of the B-29 type, flying at altitudes from twenty to sixty thousand feet and capable of a 3g maneuver at forty thousand feet. The range of attack was to extend to sixty thousand feet ground range.