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The chief objective of the NIKE Project was to provide a defense against maneuvering aircraft at ranges and altitudes beyond those of conventional artillery. That objective was indeed achieved on 20 March 1954 when the first NIKE AJAX antiaircraft Battalion was tactically deployed at Fort Meade, Maryland in the Washington-Baltimore Defense Area.

Within two years, numerous other AJAX battalions had been activated in fourteen critical defense areas of the United States-areas that include most of the country's big cities and dense manufacturing localities. Though conventional antiaircraft gun units continued to play important roles in augmenting the protection provided by NIKE AJAX battalions, they had already been outnumbered by the NIKE as early as December 1956.

The "ack-ack" of conventional artillery had thus given way to the "Ack-Track-Smack" of the NIKE. The guided missile era had truly arrived. The NIKE AJAX was here to stay--at least for a while.

The Real Estate problem

Reduction in Real Estate Requirements

The amount of real estate required for a NIKE battery site was established in July 1950; along with the design objectives and equipment plans for the tactical weapon. Yet, in October l952--just three months before equipment started rolling off the production line--those responsible far the acquisition of land suddenly realized that it would be difficult to securer Almost overnight, the reduction in real estate requirements for a NIKE site became an urgent task. There was no shortage of ideas on how the area could be reduced. The only trouble was that most of the ideas also reduced the effectiveness of the battery to a point where it would be hard to justify use of the NIKE System.l

As originally designed, the equipment of the NIKE battery was located aboveground in two separate areas: the battery control area and the launching area. Based on Ordnance safety regulations governing the surface storage of explosives, it was determined that a NIKE site would require about 119 acres. Such a large amount of real estate would be both costly and scarce, particularly if the site should be located in some metropolitan section such se Brooklyn, New York.

The only feasible solution to the real estate reduction problem came from the OCO Safety Office, which suggested that an underground launcher installation be used. This would reduce the real estate requirement for individual installations to about 40 acres; since the battery would become a magazine2 But there were yet two questions to be answered: Would it be feasible to modify the present launching equipment; and if so, would the Army Antiaircraft Command (ARAACOM) be willing to accept such a fixed installation in lieu of the mobile system originally specified.

To fulfill requirement. imposed by the Army, the NIKE launching and handling equipment had been designed to provide the same order of mobility as heavy antiaircraft guns. It was therefore obvious that a number of modifications would be required to adapt the equipment to a fixed installation. The extent and cost of such changes could only be determined by the actual design, construction, and test of a prototype underground installation. This, of course, would take time.

And indeed it did--the entire year of 1953. The design for the revised installation-prepared by the Corps of Engineers (CE) in Conjunction with the ARAACOM--featured the emplacement of the launcher-loader in an underground magazine, with the launcher on a lift which would raise it to ground level for firing and then lower it for immediate reloading. A study of this proposal by the contractor indicated that it was "generally practicable" and would not require any "major" changes in present equipment. The CE constructed a prototype underground installation at WSMR for testing purposes and the necessary changes were incorporated in one set of launching equipment (see Figures 43 and 44). A missile firing from this installation on 5 June 1953 confirmed the feasibility of the sub-surface launcher emplacement and drawings based on the initial design were completed the following month.3 Latter in 1953, however, a new set of drawings was prepared to include a number of modifications required by the ARAACOM.

During a meeting held at WSMR 12-14 January 1954-two months before the Ordnance Support Readiness Date and activation of the first firing unit--the decision was made to employ underground launcher installations at all NIXE sites within the Continental United States.4 The revised ---- Fig. 43 - Nike Underground Launcher; Interior, June 1953 ---- Fig. 44 -NIKE I Underground Launcher, Partially Elevated with Missile, June 1953 --- installation agreed to at this meeting consisted of an underground launcher operated in conjunction with two or three satellite launchers at surface level. The underground launcher, which world accommodate either the NIKE AJAX or the proposed larger NIXE HERCULES Missile, had a wider elevator and thus required a larger excavation than the prototype model installed at White Sands. The sub-surface space was increased to provide for missile storage and sufficient space was allowed for shifting missiles from one tier to another for checkout and maintenance.5

According to BTL Progress Report for period ending 1 July 1954, components of the Underground Launcher Adaptation Equipment had been delivered to the "prototype installation site at Lorton, Virginia" at the end of June 1954 and installation was scheduled for completion in August.6 However, the next report for period ending 1 October 1954 indicated that the installation was not complete until September 1954 and that "the entire battery is scheduled to be operative by November i, 1954." Based on this information and in the absence of any ether official or unofficial document to prove otherwise, it must be assumed that the Ft. Meade, Maryland installation was pieced "aboveground".7

Meanwhile, representatives of the Corps of Engineers responsible for NIKE tactical sites started finalizing their site plans, based upon the reduced real estate requirements. In April 1953, CE representatives visited BTL "to discuss some of the ground rules to be followed in the selection and preparation of NIKE I tactical sites." It was indicated "by the Corps of Engineers" that the acquisition and two tracking radars at "some of the sites" would have to be "mounted on towers 20 or 40 feet high." After some discussion concerning the type of tower construction, BTL suggested a steel reinforced concrete column with an aluminum wrapping for even heat distribution.8 In June, representatives of the Eastern Antiaircraft Command, the New York District Corps of Engineers, and the 52d and 56th Antiaircraft Artillery Brigades conferred with BTL's staff to obtain technical advice relating to the "planning and layout of NIKE 1 installations."9

In the months that followed, contractor personnel also assisted in the finalization of selected site plans and rendered technical advice based on their knowledge of system capabilities and first-hand experience gained in actual firings at WSMR. (Note the layout of a typical NIKE Battery in Figure 45.) They were especially helpful in recommending the placement of equipment at the various installations, since no two sites presented the same problems--and there were problems. For example, the battery central area containing the guidance and control equipment had to be located between a minimum of one-half mile and a maximum of three miles from the associated launching area; the minimum distance being determined by the maximum tracking capability in elevation of the missile tracking radar, and maximum distance by practical considerations of providing communications. The launchers had to be oriented to make use of a common disposal area, within which the expended booster cases would fall. Careful selection of the booster disposal area was necessary in order to minimize danger to Army personnel and property, as well as the surrounding property and civilian population. An "adequate" disposal area was established as a circle of one mile radius with the center located about one and one-half miles from the nearest launcher section (or populated area). Referring to the booster disposal area, the contractor stated in an early report:

"...to permit some flexibility in the location of this area, the launcher-loaders will be designed so that their inclination may be varied between 1 and 5 degrees from the vertical. This area should be selected so as to minimize the number of people involved. The normal passive defense measures should be especially well organized with very complete coverage by air raid warning devices, with shelters designated for every individual and with everyone educated to know of the added danger and the need for following civil defense procedures

---- Figure 45. ----

carefully and quickly. In this way, the populace may continue normal lives and working in this area...." 10 (Underscore added).

Public Opposition11

While the reduction in real estate requirements no doubt reduced costs and helped the program along, the construction of NIKE installations at selected sites still fell behind schedule because of public reluctance to see these push-button warfare devices installed in the backyards of the nation. Land acquisition was still the big problem.

Objections came in every form, from official complaint by civic officials to absurd criticism by cranks. Real estate groups, farmers, and homeowners all contributed to this show-down in the national air defense effort.

In large measure, the problems encountered by Army surveyors and engineers stemmed from a lack of public understanding as to the operation of NIKE installations, and, in particular, how such an installation would fit into the local community situation. But the unfavorable public reaction cannot be blamed altogether on the NIKE or public misunderstanding, for there was evidence of "some irritation in a few cities across the nation at the so-called 'high-handed attitude' of those charged with land acquisition and engineering details of the construction program.12

Some of the early public relations problems possibly stemmed from a security regulation from Washington, which prohibited surveyors and engineers from disclosing why they wished to examine a landowner's property. "As a result, these military men were actually denied access to some property. Later, Army officials permitted a 'minimum of intelligence' to be given the land owner concernsd."13

Public objections were raised in virtually all of the areas selected for a NME installation, but the Los Angeles area was in a class all its own. The Army's decision to locate a NIKE Battery at Los Angeles International Airport touched off an angry battle with city officials who argued that the missile battery would be a hazard to airport operations. Mayor Norris Poulson carried the fight to Washington after calling local Army representatives "'bull-headed'" for making what he termed a "hasty, shortsighted decision." Protesting to California Senators William F. Knowland and Thomas F. Kuchel, and to the Secretaries of the Army, Navy, Air Forte, and Commerce, Mayor Poulson asked that the Army re-evaluate its "need for the site.14

The Army wanted to condemn some 25 acres in the greater airport "master" area for the NIKE site. 'Two-thirds of this was for a launching site at the northwest end of the airport area; the other, sought for radar facilities and barrack., was on the center line of the instrument approach zone, a mile to the southwest. insisting that the battery would not be a hazard to airport operations, the Army pointed out that the highest radar mast would be 20 feet below the minimum glide path for commercial aircraft even with the runway extended another 1,500 feet.

City officials, supported by airline operators and manufacturers in the airport area, based their protest on four points: (1) Location of facility on approach center line would be a hazard to aircraft taking off and landing at the airport; (2) NIKE radar equipment might interfere with the airport's electronic navigational facilities; (3) Heavy booster rockets that fall away from the missiles after launching would be a hazard to the area; and (4) The installation might affect the development of the airport master plan.

Opponents of the Army plan pointed out that other land was available in the area a few thousand feet to the north and south. Brigadier General Francis M. Day, Commander of the 47th Antiaircraft Artillery Brigade at Fort MacAuthur, pointed out that location of the facility on leased or purchased airport property, as then planned, would cost about $740,000, and that "this could climb as high as $2 million if condemnation of other property is required to shift the site." General Day also pointed out that no NIKE would be fired from the installation except in the event of an actual attack, and that the booster rockets for the missile should fall at sea. "'But if we are attacked,' the general says, 'there will be more deadly things than booster cases falling through the sky unless the attackers are stopped.'"15

Top military officials were sent to arbitrate. They decided the city was right; the installation was relocated.16

The objections posed by the general public in other areas followed the same basic pattern--fear of falling debris from booster cases, reduction in reel estate values, damage to crops, and the possibility of a missile misfire or explosion.17

Much of the public opposition encountered in 1953-54 had been building up since late 1952, when the Army announced that "...the Nike...had proved so effective that it would be used next year to replace the conventional 90-millimeter AA guns 'at selected points throughout the country'"18 This was followed by numerous other press releases about the NIKE System, and finally a picture of the missile itself. The general public got its first close look at the missile on Armed Forces Day, May 1953, when a number of them were placed on display throughout the country. But the first seeds of fear had already been planted by such remarks as this: "While doing their 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..."19

By the end of 1956, however, these early misunderstandings had been replaced by the most cordial of relationships, based upon mutual confidence, respect, and recognition of the needs of national security. "What were initially problems in public relations were transformed into opportunities for public relations. Positive, constructive actions designed to let the next door neighbors know his local AAA unit better, to realize just what these weapons could and would not do, led to warm acceptance and full support.20

The NIKE AJAX Explosion
"Suddenly the missile blew with a roar and a sky-searing pillow of orange flame from burning kerosene and nitric acid Fuels... Explosion and flame touched off seven more Nikes squatting on adjacent pads, blew or burned ten men to death, showered a three-mile radius with fragments..."21
On a sunny afternoon, 22 May 1958, the first fatal NIKE accident occurred at the site of Battery B, 526th AAA Missile Battalion, near the small towns of Middletown and Leonardo, New Jersey. Six soldiers and four civilians were killed; three men were seriously injured; windows were blown out of houses for miles around; the sound of the blast was heard for fifteen miles. The Army rushed experts to the scene from New York and Washington, D.C. The mayor of Middletown called a special town meeting, to which top-ranking officers of the New York Defense Area were invited to explain what happened. Newspaper and magazine editors were on hand to say "I told you so."22

Army lawyers began to settle claims for shattered windows and broken bric-a-brac.

At the time of the disaster, 14 missiles were located aboveground: 7 in A Section, 4 in B Section, and 3 in C Section. The explosion apparently originated with a missile undergoing modification in A Section. Here, an Ordnaace team, in conjunction with the using unit, was replacing two M27 (T93) Safety & Arming Mechanisms with two improved models, M30 or M30A1, in accordance with Modification Work Order (MWO) Y2-W20. Aside from installation instructions, the MWO kit consisted of two brackets, two place assemblies, the necessary attaching hardware for the M30 devices, and two nameplates for the missile. To replace the arming mechanism, two of the three warheads in the missile (nose and center warheads weighing 12 and 179 lbs., respectively) had to be removed. A crater in front of the missile position suggested that these warheads were lying on the ground at the time of the explosion (see Figure 46, next page). Somewhere in the process of removing the old devices and brackets and replacing them with the new ones, the missile was accidentally detonated. All seven missiles of A Section exploded. The nearest adjoining missile In B Section apparently did not explode but its booster was ignites by a flying red-hot pellet and it blasted into the side of a nearby hill. Failure of this missile to explode may have saved the remaining six missiles.

Alpha Section seen from direction of the Assembly building. Explosion apparently originated between launching position four at far left and launching position three at center. Arrow points to crater about three feet deep where nose and center warheads removed from missile that was being modified are believed to have been placed. Metal framework has all been extensively perforated by pellets from exploding warheads.
(Aviation Week Photo, June 2, 1958) Figure 46

A Board of Officers was immediately convened by the 1st Region, U. S. Army Air Defense Command, Fort Totten, New York, to investigate the accident.23 The findings of the board indicated that the "point of initiation of the explosion was probably a PGPN relay cap" but just which relay cap could not be determined. The "most likely causes of the detonation of the PETN relay cap which initiated the disaster" were listed as follows: As a direct result of this accident and the investigation that followed, it was determined that an unauthorized field fix25 relating to MWO Y2-W20 had been applied to an undetermined number of AJAX missiles on site, thus creating a hazardous condition which was general throughout the CONUS. The new arming device was considered a vast improvement for AJAX missiles, both in reliability and safety of operation; however, the unauthorized fix eliminated the safety tolerance desired between the warhead initiator and the PETN relay cap on the detonating cord harness assembly. The elimination of this tolerance by application of the "field fix" created a serious safety hazard in the form of possible order detonation. Accordingly, the Commanding General of the Army Air Defense Command (ARADCOM) notified all commands and installations concerned that on-site missiles with an unauthorized fix applied "are potential safety hazards and further unnecessary movement, assembly, or disassembly of loaded msls must not occur until inspection and necessary removal by qualified Ord personnel..." It was also directed that immediate and positive action be taken to stop application of the unauthorized fix and to thoroughly indoctrinate personnel in the necessity of refraining from the application of changes or modifications to material without proper technical service approral.26

"Operation Fix-It"
In June 1958, the necessary procedures, special equipment, and drawings were completed for removal of the unauthorized fix applied to NIKE AJAX Missiles at certain tactical sites. Five Ordnance depots (Letterkenny, Seneca, Savanna, Pueblo, and Umatilla) were selected to perform the task, with personnel being fully oriented in procedures and use of equipment. The scope of the operation--commonly referred to as "Operation Fix-It"-initially encompassed only those missiles known or suspected of containing this unauthorized modification; however, both CONARC and ARADCOM agreed on 28 June 1958, that the scope should be broadened to include all missiles on site, in order to eliminate defective explosive harness assemblies.27

The operation was completed on 30 August 1958. In the process, a 100% inspection was made of all warhead missiles within the Continental United States and some warhead missiles in the European Command.28 In addition to checking for and removing the unauthorized fix, other discrepancies noted were investigated and corrected. Of the 5,971 warhead missiles inspected at tactical sites in the CONUS,605 contained the unauthorised fix and 309 had ruptured and/or damaged relay caps. In the European Command, the unauthorised fix was removed iron 9 of the 10 warhead missiles processed.29 Thus, 923 chances of another disaster had been caught in time and eliminated.

Claims for Community Property Damage (U)
A provisional Army claims office was set up in Township hall at Middletown, New Jersey, within 24 hours after the explosion, and claims were being paid within 48 hours after the incident. The claims operation was administered by Lt Colonel Daniel T. Ghent, Staff Judge Advocate, Fort Dix, New Jersey, with a staff of fifteen military and seven civilian personnel.

It was originally estimated that the total claims for community property damage would not exceed $7,500. However, on 28 June 1958, a total of 85 claims, amounting to $11,982.26, had been filed. Eighty (80) of these claims, amounting to $9,522.92, had been paid, and five (5) others totaling $2,504.35 were still under consideration. At least two of the paid claims (for $10 and $261, respectively) were for damaged fire hose belonging to two of the seven volunteer fire departments which helped on the scene of the explosion. The smallest claim paid a civilian was $3 for a broken window.

Except for military personnel and civilian employees of the Government who were working at the site, no serious personal injury resulted from the explosion.

The Shift from AJAX to HERCULES

The 30th day or June 1358 saw the first NIKE AJAX Missiles disappear from their launchers at Fort Tilden, New York, to make way for the younger but more powerful HERCULES generation. The site was No. 49: B Battery, 3d Battalion, 51st Artillery.31

This new addition to the Army's family of operational air defense weapons is superior to the AJAX in a number or ways. It has a much greater range and velocity; it can deliver either conventional or atomic payloads; and it is more highly maneuverable. Unlike the AJAX, its propulsion system consists of a 14 foot booster unit with four solid propellant rockets and a solid propellant sustainer mater. The missile itself is 27 feet long and has a body diameter of about 31.5 inches. The HERCULES requires no elaborately prepared sites but can be emplaced anywhere and destroy its intended targets. Moreover, it can be integrated into AJAX launching sites with only slight modification of ground equipment. The HERCULES has been repeatedly demonstrated to be the most modern and reliable surface-to-air missile system yet to become operational. The AJAX and HERCULES Missiles an shown in Figure 47.

Before the NIKE HERCULES became operational on 30 June 1958, 246 of the 350 available NIKE AJAX Systems had been deployed--222 of them

{ a poorly reproduced image of an erect HERCULES and an erect AJAX, not reproduced here )

in CONUS defense areas and 24 in the European Theater. Most of the remaining 104 systems were either in Depot Rebuild or in Depot Storage for possible emergency use; others were located at WSMR; Red Canyon Range Camp, New Mexico; the Ordnance Guided Missile School and the Army Rocket & Guided Missile Agency, Redstone Arsenal, Alabama; Eglin AFD, Florida; and Rome AFB, New York.

Beginning on 30 June 1958, NIKE AJAX Systems were replaced with the HERCULES as rapidly as equiment became available. As of 1 June 1959, the HERCULES had replaced a total of 60 AJAX Systems, including 52 at tactical sites in the CONUS and 8 in Europe. Though most of the AJAX Systems will be replaced eventually, 186 were still in use on l June 1959--170 of them at various tactical sites in the CONUS and 16 at sites in the European Command. (In addition to the 60 HERCULES Systems deployed in place of the AJAX, 24 were deployed in new tactical sites outside the CONUS, including 12 in the Far East, 8 in Alaska, and 4 in Greenland. This brought the deployment of NIKE HERCULES Systems to a total of 84.) Following replacement, NIKE AJAX Systems were shipped to Depot Storage or Depot Rebuild,32


In the five years that the NIKE AJAX has been in operational status, significant advancements have been made both in missile and aircraft development. While improvements in the AJAX System have kept pace with major scientific advances, the extent of development effort and the nature of design modifications authorized in the past few years have been restricted by Department of the Army policy. In the meantime, a superior version of the NIKE System has been developed and fielded which can outspeed, outdistance, and outmaneuver the AJAX under any conceivable combat condition.

In light of these developments, it would appear that the NIKE AJAX is destined for a short career as an active air defense weapon. Indeed, as early as May 1958, when the Army announced that it would soon begin replacing the AJAX with a superior version of the NIKE System, newspaper and magazine reporters immediately jumped to the conclusion that the AJAX was headed straight for the scrap heap--already obsolete. The very next day after the first HERCULES Missile took its position on an AJAX launcher, one newswriter stated: "The Army is providing new evidence for that Pentagon adage: 'If it works, its obsolete.'"33

Is the NIKE AJAX really healed for the scrap heap? Has it been pushed into obsolescence by rapid scientific advancements of the past few years? Or can it still do its job as an effective air defense weapon in the face of these advancements.

In the words or Lt Colonel John E. Aber, chief of the NIKE AJAX Division, Guided Missiles Department, U. S. Army Air Defense School at Fort Bliss, Texas--

"In one respect, perhaps, you might say that the Nike Ajax system is obsolescent -that is, to the extent that a great improvement in the same Nike system, the Nike Hercules, is in mass production and is now taking its place alongside the Ajax at air defense sites throughout the country. However, the Nike Ajax system is anything but obsolete insofar as its ability to meet any current or near-future threat is concerned...

"The Nike Ajax missile system is here today. It is not just on somebody's drawing board or on the cover of some magazine. It is not in a planning or test phase; it is fully operational and doing the job 24 hours a day, 365 days a year right now, as it has for about the past five years. Until recently, when the first Hercules sets went out on site, Ajax was the only fully-operational, full-time surface-to-air missile system defending the continental United States. In other words, if an enemy attack tonight consisted of the latest high-flying, high-speed bombers--perhaps supersonic--there would not be one single airplane, or even guided missile other than the Nike Ajax and a few Nike Hercules, that would have the definite capability of destroying such an attack...

"It is my firm belief that the Nike system-Ajax and Hercules--represents not just the best, but the only truly effective air defense weapon which stands between this nation and an enemy attack from the air."

But why continue with the AJAX since HERCULES is such a great improvement in the NIKE System? Colonel Aber's answer:
"...If you owned a rifle and later bought a 12-gauge shotgun, you wouldn't throw away the rifle, would you? When the Army developed the 280 millimeter atomic cannon, it didn't do away with its 8-inch howitzers. Each has specific capabilities and specific missions to perform. The same is true with the Ajax and Hercules. Let me reiterate--the Nike Ajax is more than equal to any current or near-future threat that may be presented, and as long as this holds true, it need only be augmented by Hercules (sic), not replaced by it.34
The NIKE AJAX obsolescent? Not yet. And not in the foreseeable future .

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