Safeguard Development History

The antecedent of the Safeguard program can be traced back to March 1955 when the Army contracted with Bell Laboratories to conduct an l8 month "Nike II" study aimed at projecting defensive missiles and supporting infrastructure requirements for the 1960s. With intelligence reporting an imminent Soviet ICBM capability, the Bell study focused on this problem and initially concluded that developing "long-range, high- data-rate acquisition radar" would be crucial. At this time, Bell also demonstrated, using analog computer simulation, that intercepting a target flying through space at 24,000 feet per second was feasible.

The results of the study were presented in October 1956 and 4 months later, the Army awarded Western Electric/Bell Laboratories the development contract for "Nike Zeus." Western Electric/Bell subcontracted the missile work to McDonnell-Douglas. Testing of the prototype missile began at White Sands in 1959; however; limited range considerations forced the program to use facilities at the Naval Test Range at Point Mug-u, California.

As the missile work proceeded, Western Electric/Bell forged ahead on radar and supporting systems development. The process reached a point that a site needed to be selected for prototype system installation where actual ICBMs could be tracked and engaged. Already a prototype Zeus Target Track Radar (TTR) had been placed on Ascension Island downrange of Cape Canaveral. However, sensitive political considerations ruled out expanding Zeus facilities at Ascension or other islands off the west coast of Africa that were not owned by the United States. This forced planners to focus on Kwajalein in the Pacific, which already hosted a U.S. naval base. More importantly, this atoll in the Marshall Islands lay 4,800 miles downrange of Vandenberg AFB, then undergoing construction as an ICBM launch site.

As with many development programs, Nike Zeus encountered its share of catastrophic failures. Testing at White Sands proved invaluable as pieces of missiles could be recovered to determine causes for failure. Changes to the control fins corrected one of the initial problems. Meanwhile on March 29, 1961, the TTR at Ascension failed in its first attempt at tracking a Titan ICBM. Two months later, the radar recorded its first tracking success.

In addition to missile testing at White Sands, a prototype Zeus Acquisition Radar (ZAR) and another TTR were constructed and placed into operation. On December 14, 1961, these radars tracked and successfully engaged a Nike Hercules target missile with a Nike Zeus interceptor.

As the results of this demonstration were analyzed, facilities were readied at Kwajalein for the first attempt to intercept an ICBM in flight. This first attempt, on June 26, 1961, failed due to the TTR's inability to pickup the re-entry vehicle after the ICBM's propulsion section broke up. The intercepting Zeus missile also suffered a malfunction.

A partially successful intercept occurred on July 19, 1962, as a Zeus missile came within 2 kilometers of an incoming Atlas D ICBM. On December 12, 1962, a Zeus missile passed well within the kill radius of an incoming ICBM. On May 24, 1963, a Nike Zeus came within lethal range of an orbiting satellite. Tests continued through November 1963, showing consistent success.

Despite these successes, Defense Secretary McNamara chose not to deploy the system, but budgeted for continued research and development. McNamara's concern was that the system still lacked the sophistication to discern between real and decoy warheads and could be overwhelmed in a "saturation attack" since the radars could only manage one interception problem at a time.

The continued research and development program for a more advanced ABM program was dubbed "Nike X." Under the Nike X program, the Zeus missile evolved into the Spartan. In addition, planners identified the need for a short-range interceptor missile as well as the requirement for a radar that could track and direct the engagement of several targets simultaneously. The short-range interceptor became reality in the form of the Sprint. On March 18, 1963, Martin Marietta received the contract to develop this new missile. In 1965, the first Sprint prototype was launched at White Sands. The needed radar was already under development through a DOD Advanced Research Project Agency program called "Project Defender." Under this program, a low-power, phased-array antenna was completed in the fall of 1960 and tests showed that this nonmoving antenna, using computers, could electronically steer a radar beam in two directions. In June 1961, the Army Guided Missile Agency granted Western Electric/Bell Laboratories a contract to develop a prototype phased-array radar to be built at White Sands. Ground-breaking occurred at White Sands in March 1963.

With advances in solid-state electronics and high-speed computers, the "Zeus Multifunctional Array Radar" demonstrated the use of phased-array radars as part of an ABM defense as a breakthrough possibility, Already, Bell was studying the development of an even more powerful phased-array radar for long range tracking. This second Multifunctional Array Radar would evolve into the Perimeter Array Radar that eventually was deployed in North Dakota.

Meanwhile a smaller phased-array radar, designed to track incoming targets at close range and guide intercepting missiles, was proposed. In December 1963, the Raytheon Company received the contract to work with Bell Laboratories' people to design and build the "Missile Site Radar" (MSR).

In September 1967, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara announced plans to deploy many elements of the Nike X program-the Perimeter Acquisition Radar (PAR), the Missile Site Radar (MSR), and the Sprint and Spartan missiles-in the new Sentinel antiballistic missile program. The initial deployment plan called for installing the Sentinel at 13 sites in the continental United States and Alaska and Hawaii.

The plan aroused a firestorm of protest in the major cities slated to receive Sentinel installations. Not only was the Sentinel unpopular at home, but President Nixon and his National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger were also concerned that the deployment of the Sentinel system could escalate the arms race with the Soviet Union.

In March 1969, Nixon announced his intention to deploy a "modified Sentinel system" that he called Safeguard. Whereas the Sentinel system was intended to provide a limited nationwide ballistic missile defense, the President ordered that the Safeguard system be positioned to protect a portion of the United States ICBM force.

The Safeguard program initially called for 12 sites. Despite moving the installations away from the nation's major cities, the program still faced rigorous Congressional scrutiny. In August 1969, the Senate authorized the construction of only two sites; one near Malmstrom, Montana, and the other near Grand Forks, North Dakota. Only the site near Grand Forks was ever completed.

As the debate to deploy Sentinel and Safeguard continued, construction of the prototype missile facilities continued at Kwajalein. Completion of launch tubes allowed the first Spartan to be fired from Kwajalein on March 2, 1968. The MSR built on Meek Island completed its first successful track of an ICBM on December 11, 1969. On August 28, 19701, an MSR-controlled Spartan missile successfully intercepted an incoming ICBM. Four months later, this feat was repeated with an MSR-controlled Sprint missile.