Air Force Bases

Nike Missile Development Overview

The first-generation Nike missile, the Aiax. was designed to intercept and destroy Soviet manned bombers. In the event that the Cold War turned hot, Nike missiles could provide the lash line of defense for the Nation's population and industrial centers. Although the U.S. Army did not build the first Nike missile batteries until 1953, research and development of the defensive antiaircraft weapon systems began during World War II.

As the United States entered World War II, its antiaircraft arsenal included .50 caliber machine guns, 37mm guns, 40mm "Bofors" guns, fured and mobile 3" guns. and 90mm guns. The 9Omm gun was the major heavy antiaircraft weapon used by the United States during the war years. In 1938. the United States initiated development of an integrated antiaircraft defense system. That investment resulted in the development of the 90mm gun, standardized in February 1940. Using the M-9 director radar system. the 90mm gun could hit aircraft flying at 30,000 feet, and the combination of the 90mm gun and M-9 radar proved successful in World War II against the German V-1 rockets. The War Department also developed a 120mm antiaircraft gun, but its large size limited mobility.

By the close of the war, advances in air warfare made it plain that even the latest anti aircraft weapons were not capable of countering future air threats. Guided missiles capable of striking high-flying aircraft were necessary. The B-29 atomic bombing mission of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 vividly demonstrated the destructive power of high-altitude heavy aircraft. As World War II drew to a close, America's military planners began planning for air defense systems that could counter these new offensive weapons. In response to potential threats from the air, the Army began developing two separate, but related, pieces of equipment: the M-33 integrated fire control system and what would become the Nike missile.

In 1944, the U.S. Army contracted with Bell Telephone Laboratories to develop a fully integrated radar/computer antiaircraft fire control system. The result was the M-33 system. Earlier systems, such as the M-9, while successful, were a collection of individual equipment elements from various sources that were organized into working units by the military. The M-33 system. however, offered a complete radar computer system. This system, which would later operate with the Nike Ajax missile, provided the basis for a significantly improved fire control system.

On August 17,1944, Army Lieutenant Jacob W. Schaefer submitted a memorandum proposing a new antiaircraft weapon system. The heart of this proposed system was a rocket guided from the ground that would work in conjunction with two radars linked to a computer. One radar would track incoming enemy aircraft, transmitting current location points to the computer. The computer would then calculate future target positions and be able to relay to the missile, through the other radar, any course corrections needed to intercept the enemy aircraft. The Army sent copies of Lieutenant Schaefer's technical proposal to Radio Corporation of America (RCA) and Bell Telephone Laboratories (BTL) for their consideration.

In May 1945. Bell Laboratories presented a verbal report to the Army on "Project Nike" (named after the winged goddess of victory in Greek mythology). A written report, "A Study of an Antiaircraft Guided Missile System,' was released the following July. The report, which was the work of a group of Bell Laboratories scientists and engineers that included W.A. McNair, H.W. Bode, G.N. Thayer, J.W. Tukey, and B.D. Holbrook, stressed swift deployment of a weapon system that could combat high-speed, high-altitude bombers. The engineers recommended a weapon that was derived, to every extent possible, from existing technology. In order to save time and money, the engineers also recommended that the missile be as simple as possible. Bell Laboratories' engineers also urged that the more expensive and complex equipment, such as the radar system, remain on the ground where it could be re-used and have the benefit of routine maintenance.

The Bell Laboratories' report recommended that Project Nike be comprised of a supersonic rocket missile vertically launched under the thrust of a solid-fuel booster, which would drop on completion of its function. The launched missile would be propelled by a liquid-fuel motor. and guided to a predicted "intercept point." The commands for missile detonation would he controlled from the ground - and transmitted by radio signals from a ground-based computer and radar system that would track both the target and the missile in flight.

A few months later. the Antiaircraft Artillery Board published a report that listed more specific, desired characteristics of the proposed Nike missile. The board wanted a missile that had: 1) the ability to operate effectively in high altitudes up to 60,000 feet and at ranges of 50,000 yards; 2) the ability to destroy large bombardment-type aircraft when detonated within 60 feet of the airplane; 3) a self-destruction feature; 4) the highest degree of security against interference or enemy electronic countermeasures; 5) the ability to be transported by motor vehicle; and 6) an assembly period of no more than three hours.

In June 1945, the Rocket Branch of the Army Ordnance Corps (co-sponsored by a division of the Army and the Air Force) assumed full responsibility for Project Nike, and named Western Electric and Bell Laboratories as the prime contractors for development of the radar system. As designed by Bell Laboratories and Western Electric, the missile command and control radar system incorporated characteristics of the M-33 antiaircraft fire control system, saving both time and money on research ad development, production. logistics, and personnel training. The Army selected Douglas Aircraft Company (later the McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Corporation) as the major contractor, for the design of the missile, booster, and launcher. In turn, Douglas Aircraft contracted with the Aerojet Engineering Corporation to design the liquid-fuel rocket motor and solid-fuel booster rockets. Following the start of the Korean War in 1950, the Department of Defense asked the contractors to produce a working version of the Nike system as soon as possible. This first missile was the Nike Ajax.