A history of the Nike Defense program


Disclaimer: most of the information form this page was gleaned from Weird NJ, a recent article in the Bergen Record and the site listed above. I will give an overview of the Nike Missile Defense System here. For much more details, please see the site above. As for specific site sin NJ, I’ll detail them individually.

The Nike missile system was the first successful, widely-deployed, guided surface-to-air missile system. During WWII the U.S. Army realized that conventional anti-aircraft artillery would not provide enough defense against the newer, faster jet aircraft which were being developed by our enemies. Bell Labs proposed a guided missile which could follow a target, even if it performed evasive maneuvers.

When the Soviets developed long range bombers, followed by the nuclear bomb, there was an immediate concern that these bombers could be used to deliver nuclear payloads. The Nike system was hastily pushed into production, to be used a final defense against such war birds. The missile sites were placed in rings around the area meat to be defended. Often, the federal government had to go to court in order to obtain the property needed for such sites.

One of the largest rings was in the NY/NJ area, possessing almost 20 individual missile sites, many in heavily populated areas because of the short range of the Ajax missile which was the original Nike missile. Across the United States nearly 250 sites were constructed in the United States as well as in many NATO nations in Europe & Asia.

A “Typical” Nike Site

A “typical” Nike air defense site consisted of two things: the Integrated Fire Control (IFC) Area & the launcher area. The IFC contained the radar and computer systems designed to detect aircraft, and to guide the missiles. The Launcher area contained heavily constructed underground missile “magazines”. A large, missile elevator brought the Nikes to the surface of the site where they would be pushed (manually) by crewmen, across twin steel rails to one of four satellite launchers. The missile was then attached to its launcher and erected to a near-vertical position for firing. The near-vertical firing position ensured that the missile’s booster rocket (lower stage) would not crash directly back onto the missile site, but, instead, would land within a predetermined “booster impact area”.

Guidance & Control

Nike was guided entirely from the ground. The electronic “eyes” (radar) and “brain” (computer) of the Nike system were located on the ground, within the IFC. Hostile aircraft were first identified by means of an acquisition radar (ACQR). This radar was manned 24 hours per day, scanning the skies for indications of any hostile aircraft. Having acquired and positively identified a hostile aircraft, a second radar, the Target Tracking Radar (TTR) would be aimed at and electronically locked onto it. This radar would then follow the selected aircraft’s every move in spite of any evasive action taken by its pilot. A third radar, the Missile Tracking Radar (MTR) was then aimed at and electronically locked onto an individual Nike missile located at the nearby Launcher Area.

Both the TTR and MTR were linked to a guidance computer located at the IFC Area. This analog computer continuously compared the relative positions of both the targeted aircraft and the missile during its flight and determined the course the missile would have to fly in order to reach its target. Steering commands were computed and sent from the ground to the missile during its flight, via the Missile Tracking Radar. At the moment of closest approach the missile’s warhead would be detonated by a computer generated “burst command” sent from the ground via the MTR.

For surface-to-surface shots, the coordinates of the target were dialed into the computer and the height of burst was set by crew members at the Launcher Area. The standard technique was for the missile’s guidance signal to be terminated as it dove vertically onto its target. Detonation of the warhead was via the pre-set barometric fusing. Alternately (and presumably as a back-up system) the warhead could be exploded via contact fusing when it impacted the selected target or target area.

End Of The Nike Era

Nike was created in response to Russian efforts to design and deploy long-range bomber aircraft during the early years of the Cold War. Their strategy soon focused more on ICBMs, a threat for which there was no defense. This made Nike less necessary as a defense system, and beginning in the mid 1960s, the total number of operational Nike bases was steadily reduced on an almost annual basis.

The signing of the SALT I treaty in Moscow during the spring of 1972 limited the number of missiles with ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) capabilities. Nike Hercules, due to its limited capabilities against certain types of ballistic missiles, was included in this treaty. During 1974, all remaining sites within the nationwide Nike air defense system were inactivated. One of the nation’s most significant Cold War air defense programs had come to an end.

In spite of the termination of the nationwide Nike program, Nike missiles remained operational at sites in Florida and Alaska for several more years. Others remained operational with U.S. forces in Europe and the Pacific, and with the armed forces of many U.S. Allies overseas. Although no longer in the U.S. inventory, more than four decades after the first Nike missile became operational in the U.S., Nike Hercules missiles are today deployed by the armed forces of U.S. allies in Europe and Asia, and are likely to remain in service well beyond the year 2000.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Andy on March 19, 2009 at 11:20 AM

    Nice Site. My Dad used to be at a Resr Home that was Converted from a Nike Base going toward Sylvester GA.


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