Air Force Bases

Homestead-Miami Nike Missile Defense Area

In 1958, an objectives plan of the North American Air Defense Command called for the deployment of 41 Hawk batteries along the Gulf Coast by fiscal year 1961 with Florida receiving 12 of these batteries. Despite the undetected arrival of a defecting Cuban B-26 at Daytona Beach in January 1959, the vulnerability of America's southern frontier was not apparent until the Cuban missile crisis. As part of America's posturing against the Soviet Union over the issue of missiles in Cuba, a rapid buildup of forces occurred in Florida. Part of this buildup included antiaircraft missile batteries.

Command of the arriving missile units was assumed by the Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 13th Artillery Group, formerly of Fort Meade, Maryland, which arrived at Homestead AFB on October 30, 1962. By November 8, this command unit moved 4 miles north to a location at Princeton.

Two missile battalions arrived and quickly deployed their batteries. The 8th Battalion, 15th Artillery arrived from Fort Lewis, Washington, and set up Hawk missiles at Patrick, MacDill, and Homestead AFBs. Longer-range Hercules missiles of the 2nd Battalion, 52nd Artillery based at Fort Bliss, Texas, arrived on November 1, and within 2 weeks the battalionÕs three batteries had achieved operational status defending skies around Homestead. These missiles came equipped with high-explosive warheads.

Temporary locations included Hercules batteries at (HM-01) Opa Locka and (HM-66) 8 miles southwest of Florida City, and Nike batteries at (HM-65) Florida City, (HM-05) Goulds, (HM-60) 4 miles southwest of Florida City, and (HM-80) at Miami.

With the crisis diffused, the temporary batteries remained and on April 1, 1963, these units were permanently assigned to the U.S. Army Air Defense Command (ARADCOM).

Once it became evident that the missile deployment would be long-term, the batteries were repositioned and permanent structures were built. The above-ground Nike Hercules batteries were: (HM-03) 2 miles northwest of Carol City, (HM-40) in North Key Largo, (HM-66) 8 miles southwest of Florida City, (HM-69) 12 miles west southwest of Florida City, and (HM-95) southwest Miami. A typical Nike battery had three launchers.

Five other batteries used Hawk missiles. The designations and locations of these were: (HM-12) Miami/Old Cutler Road, (HM-39) Miami/North Canal Drive, (HM-59) 6 miles south of Florida City, (HM-60) 4 miles southwest of Florida City (relocated to site HM-59), and (HM-84) 7 miles north-northwest of Homestead AFB. A Hawk site normally had six launchers with three missiles per launcher.

Headquarters facilities were located at Homestead AFB and at Naranja. Missile defense coordination was handled from Richmond Air Force Station, which hosted a "Missile Master" site. Eventually, the Army replaced Missile Master with the less costly "Birdie" system. The initial cost of the southern Florida construction program eventually topped $17 million.

The southern Florida environment posed unique challenges to these ARADCOM units as soldiers had to deal with heat and humidity, coral and glades, plus snakes and mosquitoes. The Southern Florida location also subjected these units to an inordinate number of VIP visits, especially during the winter months.

No doubt several VIP visits occurred in the wake of Hurricane Betsy. Prior to the September 1965 arrival of Betsy, the ARADCOM units had gained experience from such storms as Flora in 1963. Thus radars, vans, and other equipment were tied down and emergency plans were put into action. Despite the precautions, the storm became the greatest natural disaster to affect ARADCOM facilities as sites in the Homestead-Miami region suffered extensive damage. Sites near the coast only 5.7 feet above sea level, Battery B of the 8th Battalion, 15th Artillery at (HM-39), had concrete block walls knocked down, and radar and equipment vans ripped from their pads. Men from this Hawk unit hid for cover in the administration building and nearly drowned when flood waters came to within 2 feet of the ceiling. Costs associated with this storm included $500,000 to repair damage to the Homestead-Miami communications system as the storm had knocked out all but 1 of 77 telephone circuits. Despite the damage, the missile units quickly were restored to operational status.

From Hurricane Betsy and the 1966 hurricanes Alma and Inez, the units learned the importance of having the sites released from an alert status when Hurricane Warning Condition IV was declared so that vulnerable equipment could be removed and stored.

Missile batteries in southern Florida continued on active duty until 1979, well beyond the 1975 demise of ARADCOM.