Air Force Bases

Nike Site Planning and Selection

Site selection for Nike facilities involved several phases of planning, design, and evaluation. A fundamental military principle was that a circular defense provided the best protection. As such, Nike installations ringed their protected cities and industrial centers -- called, in military planning parlance, "vital areas." Each vital area was surrounded by a buffer zone. The size of each buffer zone was determined by the amount of damage the enemy could theoretically inflict, as related to the ability of the area to absorb damage and continue operating. Army experts soon found that no two sites were exactly the same. Although each Nike installation included essentially the same facilities, the configuration varied from base to base. Preliminary siting plans were sent to ARAACOM Headquarters at Colorado Springs, Colorado. These plans were then forwarded to the Pentagon for final approval.

As part of the planning process for Nike deployment, Army technicians also plotted "bomb release lines" around each vital area. The horizontal distance that a bomb would fall forward from the release point to detonation depended principally on the speed and altitude of the releasing aircraft. By judging the possible altitudes and speeds of enemy aircraft, a critical line was determined around the vital area, beyond which the defense had to be able to destroy all enemy aircraft. The Army then deter mined the number of Nike installations required to effectively deny enemy penetration. Attack assumptions, defense characteristics, and command specifications were all taken into consideration. In addition, Army tacticians determined the number of missiles required at each site, evaluating such factors as prevailing climate conditions, technical support, crew proficiency, terrain difficulties, and maintenance schedules.

The Army placed Nike installations where they could best deter mass attacks from a single direction and, at the same time, maintain the most effective capability against multiple attacks from different directions. Utilizing a "defense in depth" concept, some Nike units were located well out from the vital area; others were close in. The location of the units was a compromise between moving inward to maximize firepower against a massed attack, and moving outward to increase effectiveness against multiple attacks. Ideally, the Nike installations offered mutual support -- one Nike unit covering the "dead area" of its adjacent unit.

The battery control area of each Nike installation, containing the guidance and control equipment, was between a minimum of one half mile and a maximum of three miles from the associated launching area. The minimum distance was determined by the maximum tracking capability in elevation of the missile tracking radar, and the maximum distance by practical considerations of providing communications by cables. A Nike installation's launchers made use of a common disposal area, within which the expended booster cases would fall. The Army was careful to select a booster disposal area that minimized danger to Army personnel and property, as well as the surrounding civilian population. An adequate disposal area encompassed a circle of a one-mile readius with the center located about one and one-half miles from the nearest launcher section or populated area.

Despite the reduced real estate requirements that resulted from the conversion to underground launchers, Nike installations fell behind schedule because of public opposition. No one particularly wanted "push-button warfare devices" installed in their neighborhoods.65 Civic officials, real estate groups, farmers, and homeowners objected to the installations for several reasons: fear of falling debris from cases, reduction in real estate values, damage to crops, and the possibility of a missile misfire or explosion.

Initially the Army's public relations problems stemmed, in part, from government security regulations that prohibited surveyors and engineers from disclosing why they wished to examine a landowner's property. In some instances, land owners denied access to the surveyors. Eventually, Army officials realized they had to permit a "minimum of intelligence" to be released to area residents.67 Press reports also raised concerns about the safety of the missiles. On April 6, 1953, Time magazine commented:

While doing ther defending duty, the Nikes will not be desirable neighbors. The boosters that bounce them into the air are big enough to do damage when they fall to the ground and so are the Nikes themselves...

Eventually, the needs of national security prevailed and there seemed to be an understanding between the armed forces and the communities surrounding the Nike installations. In November 1955, the Chicago Sun-Times reported:

The reaction has varied from vigorous protest to indiffereence and ignorance of what is under way. Tut the Army is making a valiant public relations attempt to tell the public what it's up to and temper the shock of the American civilian population's first direct contact with radar and guns.

The Army acquired most of the land through purchase, declaration of taking, and straight condemnation. Whenever possible, the Army utilized government-owned land, which also reduced cost and land acquisition concerns. On December 17, 1953, a Department of Defense press release stated that the use of government land could "reduce to a minimum, inconvenience to the civilian population and the removal of revenue-producing land from tax rolls." In several cases, existing military bases converted to Nike installations.