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MIM-14 Nike-Hercules
MIM-14 Nike-Hercules 02.jpg
Nike-Hercules Missile
Type Surface-to-air missile
Production history
Manufacturer Western Electric, Bell Laboratories, Douglas Aircraft Company
Weight 10,710 pounds (4,860 kg)
Length 41 feet (12 m) overall
26 feet 10 inches (8.18 m) second stage
Diameter booster 31.5 inches (800 mm)
second stage 21 inches (530 mm)

Warhead initially W7 (2.5 or 28 kt)[1][verification needed] later W31 nuclear 2 kt (M-97) or 20 kt (M-22)[2] or T-45 HE warhead weighing 1,106 pounds (502 kg) and containing 600 pounds (270 kg) of HBX-6 M17 blast-fragmentation

Engine Booster: Hercules M42 solid-fueled rocket cluster (4x M5E1 Nike boosters) 978 kN (220000 lb)
Sustainer: Thiokol M30 solid-fueled rocket 44.4 kN (10000 lb)
Wingspan 11 feet 6 inches (3.51 m) booster
6 feet 2 inches (1.88 m) second stage
90 miles (140 km)
Flight ceiling 150,000 feet (46,000 m)
Speed >Mach 3.65 (ca. 2750 mph or 4,470 km/h)

The Nike Hercules (initially designated SAM-A-25, and later MIM-14), was a solid fuel propelled two-stage surface-to-air missile, used by U.S. and NATO armed forces for medium- and high-altitude long-range air defense. It could also be employed in a surface-to-surface role, and demonstrated its ability to hit other short-range missiles.

Hercules was developed as the successor to the earlier MIM-3 Nike Ajax, with the ability to attack high-flying supersonic targets and carrying a small nuclear warhead to attack formations of aircraft. It was initially deployed starting in 1959 in new bases, but eventually took over many existing Ajax bases as well. Hercules remained in service far longer than Ajax, with the last units in Europe only being deactivated in 1988.

Study into an expanded version of the Hercules for the anti-ballistic missile role was carried out, but this later evolved into the considerably different LIM-49 Nike Zeus design.

Development and deployment

Project Nike

During World War II the US Army Air Force (USAAF) concluded that existing anti-aircraft guns, only marginally effective against existing generations of propeller-driven aircraft, would not be effective at all against the emerging jet-powered designs. Like the Germans and British before them, they concluded the only successful defence would be to use guided weapons.[3]

As early as 1944 the US Army started exploring anti-aircraft missiles, examining a variety of concepts. They split development between the Ordnance department and the Army Air Force based on whether or not the design "depend[ed] for sustenance primarily on the lift of aerodynamic forces" or "primary on the momentum of the missile".[4] That is, whether the missile operated more like an aircraft or a rocket. Official requirements were published in 1945; Bell Laboratories won the Ordnance contract for a short-range line-of-sight weapon under Project Nike,[3] while a team of players won the contract for a long-range design known as "Ground-to-Air Pilotless Aircraft", or GAPA. GAPA moved to the US Air Force when that branch was formed in 1948. In 1946 the USAAF also started two early research projects into anti-missile systems in Project Thumper and Project Wizard.[5]

In 1953, Project Nike delivered the world's first operational anti-aircraft missile system, the Nike I.[3] Nike tracked both the target and the missile using separate radars, commanding the later into a collision with the former. Nike was initially deployed at military bases starting in 1953, especially Strategic Air Command bomber airfields, and general deployment then followed at US cities, important industrial sites, and then overseas bases. Similar systems quickly emerged from other nations, including the S-75 Dvina (SA-2) from the USSR,[6] and the English Electric Thunderbird in the UK.[7]

Ajax and Hercules

Even as the Nike was undergoing testing, planners grew concerned about the missile's ability to attack formations of aircraft. Given the low resolution of the tracking radars available at the time, a formation of aircraft would appear on the radars as a single larger return. Although the increased return would make tracking easier and allow launches even at longer distances, the missile would not be able to pick out individual aircraft and would fly towards the center of the composite return. Given the Nike warhead's relatively small lethal radius, if the missile flew into the middle of the formation and exploded, it would be highly unlikely to destroy any of the aircraft.

Improving performance against such targets would require either much higher resolution radars, or much larger warheads. Of the two, the warhead seemed like the simplest problem to address. Like almost any thorny military problem of the 1950s, the solution was the application of atomic bombs. In May 1952, Bell was asked to explore such an adaptation to the Nike. They returned two design concepts.

"Nike Ajax" used a slightly modified Nike missile, largely a re-arrangement of the internal components, making room for the 15 kT WX-9 "gun-type" warhead also being developed as an artillery round. The XW-9, like all gun-type designs, was long and thin, originally design to be fired from an 11" artillery piece, and easily fit within the Nike fuselage. However, gun-type weapons are also low performance types that require large amount of expensive nuclear fuel. The competing implosion-type design is considerably more efficient and uses much less fuel to reach any given explosive power. Implosions designs are necessarily spherical, and thus less suitable for inclusion in a skinny design like Nike.

Bell also proposed a much more modified design known as "Nike Hercules" with an enlarged upper fuselage in order to carry the XW-7 warhead of up to 40 kT. In spite of the greatly increased explosive power, the WX-7 was only slightly heavier than the WX-9, about 950 pounds for common versions, as opposed to 850 pounds for the XW-9.[8]

At the same time, there were increasing concerns that higher speed aircraft would be able to launch their warheads from such long ranges that they would not have to approach the Nike bases before launching and turning around. This could be further frustrated by using long-range stand-off missiles, like those currently under development by all of the nuclear-armed forces for just this reason.[N 1] A missile with greatly improved range would not only help address this problem, but also allow a single base to defend a much larger area, lowering the overall costs of deploying a widespread defensive system.

As a new missile was desired anyway to provide longer range, it was unsurprising that the Army chose the Hercules option. Bell began working on the new design in concert with the Nike partners, Western Electric and Douglas Aircraft Company.

Solid fuel

This image shows the evolution of the Hercules and its associated launch systems as it replaced Ajax. Note the growth of the fuselage as it moved to solid fuel.

Soon after design work started, the Army requested that the existing liquid fuel engine be replaced with a solid fuel design, for a variety of reasons. Primary among these was that the Ajax fuels were "hypergolic", igniting on contact. Due to the nature of these fuels, extreme caution had to be used whenever the missiles were moved or unloaded for maintenance. This was carried out in a protected area behind a large berm, in order to protect the rest of the site from an accidental explosion during fuelling. This complexity added enormously to the cost and time required to maintain the missiles.

Solid fuel rockets can remain stored for years, and is generally very difficult to ignite without an extended period of applied flame. This means they can be manhandled safely, and maintained with the rocket motor installed. However, the lower specific impulse of these engines demanded a much larger weapon to store the required fuel needed to provide the requested longer range. Thus Hercules, still known officially as Nike B at this point, grew to become a much larger design. This, in turn, required a much larger booster to loft it, but this was solved by strapping together four of the existing Nike boosters to form a cluster.

As part of the upgrade project, the original missile became known as Nike I. On 15 November 1956 the missile was officially renamed as the Nike Hercules, as part of DA Circular 700-22, while the original officially became Nike Ajax.[9] This was also a time of rapidly improving nuclear weapon design, and in the same year the decision was made to replace the XW-7 warhead, by this time widely used as the W7 in the Mark 7 bomb, with a newer 20 kT boosted fission design known as W31. Although of similar size and weight as the earlier W7, the W31 was much more efficient, and thus less expensive to produce.

The new design ultimately provided effective ranges on the order of 75 miles (120 km) and altitudes over 100,000 feet (30 km).


After conversion from Ajax, a typical Hercules site was dominated by the HIPAR radar, centered. The three original tracking radars, under round domes, are mounted on small platforms on the right. The LOPAR tracking radar, dark colored, is also visible on the right.

Hercules was designed from the start to operate from Ajax bases. However, as it protected a much greater area, not as many sites were needed to provide coverage of potential targets. Early deployments starting in 1958 were on new sites, but Ajax units started converting as well. Conversions were largely complete by 1960, leaving only a few Ajax sites in use. The last active Nike Ajax batteries were relieved of their mission in December 1961, followed by the last Army National Guard unit in May 1964.

In spite of using the same launchers and most of the same equipment, the Hercules offered so much more range than the Ajax that a new radar system was generally added in order to give the operators more warning between detection and the first opportunity to launch against the target. This was handled by the new HIPAR radar, the smaller Ajax search radar retroactively becoming known as LOPAR. HIPAR was a large system and generally deployed under a dome on top of a concrete platform that raised it above any local obstructions. To provide the same range of view, the tracking radars were also often placed on concrete platforms of their own, although these were much smaller.

Nuclear-armed Nike Hercules missiles were deployed in the United States, Greece, Italy, Korea and Turkey, and with Belgian, Dutch, and U.S. forces in West Germany.[10] Conventionally armed Nike Hercules missiles also served in the United States, Germany, Denmark, Japan, Norway, and Taiwan.[11] The first deployments in Europe began in 1959[12] and the last nuclear-armed Nike Hercules missiles in Europe were deactivated in 1988.[13]

The Hercules missile systems sold to Japan (Nike J) were subsequently fitted with upgraded internal guidance systems, the original vacuum tube systems being replaced with transistorized ones.


Soviet development of ICBMs and the de-emphasis of their bomber force decreased the value of the Hercules system.[14] Beginning around 1965, the number of Nike batteries was reduced. Thule's air defense was reduced during 1965, and SAC air base defense during 1966, reducing the number of batteries to 112. Budgetary cuts reduced that number to 87 in 1968, and 82 in 1969. Nike Hercules was included in SALT I discussions as an ABM.

All CONUS Hercules batteries, with the exception of the ones in Florida and Alaska, were deactivated by April 1974. The remaining units were deactivated during the spring of 1979. Dismantling of the sites in Florida — Alpha Battery in Everglades National Park, Bravo Battery in Key Largo, Charlie Battery in Carol City and Delta Battery, located on Krome Avenue on the outskirts of Miami — started in June 1979 and was completed by early autumn of that year. The buildings that once housed Delta Battery became the original structures used for the Krome Avenue Detention Facility, a federal facility used primarily to hold illegal aliens awaiting immigration hearings. In Anchorage, Alaska, Site Point (A Battery) was converted into a ski chalet for Kincaid Park. Site Summit (B Battery) still sits above Eagle River, its IFC buildings and clamshell towers easily visible when driving towards Anchorage. Site Bay (C Battery), across Cook Inlet from the others, has been mostly demolished, with only burned out shells of the batteries remaining, as well as a few storage bunkers. The large airstrip remains, and is often used by locals for flight instruction and practice.

The U.S. Army continued to use Hercules as a front-line air defense weapon in Europe until 1983, when Patriot missile batteries were deployed. NATO units from West Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Norway, Greece and Turkey continued to use the Hercules for high-altitude air defense until the late 1980s. With the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, the units were deactivated. Last missile was launched in the Sardinian range of Capo San Lorenzo in Italy on November 24, 2006.[15]


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The Patriot missile replaced the Nike-Hercules Missile in the high- and medium-altitude air defense roles. Its advantage over the Nike-Hercules system was its mobility and reliability. While a Nike-Hercules site could take days to be established, Patriot sites can be established in hours. Patriot also uses a more advanced phased-array radar system and has better missile target tracking. Over the years, the non-solid state guidance system as well as the complex fire control systems' radars suffered from diminishing manufacturing source (DMS) issues. In part because of less parts supportability, Western European (Fourth Allied Tactical Air Force (4 ATAF) and Second Allied Tactical Air Force (2 ATAF) sites essentially became fixed sites and were no longer considered capable of a mobile role. During the last years of their deployment in Europe the issue at hand was more about maintaining security of the nuclear capable missiles, rather than mobility. The DoD invested considerably in upgrading the security of the storage areas of the launcher sections, ultimately installing significant towers that were capable of watching over all three sections within the "exclusion area."


The Nike Hercules could carry either a nuclear warhead or a conventional high explosive warhead (T-45 fragmentation type). Initially the nuclear-armed version carried the W-7 Mod 2E nuclear warhead, with yields of 2.5 or 28 kt. Beginning in FY 1961 the older warheads were replaced by W-31 Mod 0 warheads, with yields of 2 kt (Y1) or 30 kt (Y2).[16][verification needed] The last versions carried the W31 Mod 2 warhead, with yields of 2 or 20 kt.[2] The missile was 41 feet 6 inches (12.65 m) long with a wingspan of 6 feet 2 inches (1.88 m). 145 missile batteries were deployed during the cold war. The missile had a range of about 77 miles (124 km).


Nike Hercules guidance system

IFC radars. Left: acquisition radar (LOPAR), three spherical antennae: tracking radars. Just behind the right two tracking radars the two vans for housing computer and tracking equipment and the operating consoles for the operators (crew of 9).

Battery Control Officer operating position with on his left the acquisition radar operator and on the right the computer operator.

Nike Hercules after take-off at NAMFI in Greece

MIM-14 Nike-H missile at Okinawa, June 1967

Considerable work on a mobile launcher was carried out using a modified GOER vehicle. This was never put in operation.

The Nike Hercules was a guided missile controlled from a groundstation.[14][17] The guidance and control area (Integrated Fire Control, IFC) was located about 1 mile (1.6 km) from the area from where the missile was launched (Launching Area, LA). The IFC had a low power acquisition radar (LOPAR) to detect (enemy) aircraft. After detecting and identifying a hostile aircraft with the aid of an Identification friend or foe system, this aircraft was followed or tracked in elevation, azimuth and range by a Target Tracking Radar (TTR). An analog (later digital) computer computed continually a point in the sky where the missile and target should meet (intercept point) after a potential launch of the missile. After the missile was actually launched by the Battery Control Officer (BCO), a Missile Tracking Radar (MTR) tracked the missile and the computer constantly updated the intercept point even if the hostile aircraft performed evasive actions. Steering corrections were sent to the missile by the MTR. When the missile neared the intercept point a command signal was sent to the missile to explode. To measure the range to the target under jamming conditions the IFC was also equipped with a Target Ranging Radar (TRR). Some IFC’s were equipped with a high power acquisition radar (HIPAR) to augment the initial detecting range of hostile aircraft. For command and control the sites were linked with a digital communication system (initial the AN/MSQ-18 system).[18]

The Integrated Fire Control area of the Nike Hercules system contained the radars and computers driving the missile site.

On the IFC the system was operated by a crew of about nine operators under command of the BCO. Locking on to the target had to be done manually by varying the range, elevation and azimuth of the TTR. For this the LOPAR provided the rough initial azimuth and range. After a "lock-on", the system could track the missile and target automatically, but a manual tracking mode was available in case an automatic track could not be established. The firing of the missile was done manually by the BCO based on the rules of engagement. The crew on the LA, also under command of the BCO, was responsible for preparing and erecting the missile.

Accidental launches

  • An accidental launch of a Nike-H missile occurred on April 14, 1955, at the W-25 site at Fort George G. Meade which contains the National Security Agency headquarters [19]
  • Naha, Okinawa June or July 1959, a similar incident occurred concerning a MIM-14 Nike-Hercules anti-aircraft missile on Okinawa which according to some witnesses, was complete with a nuclear warhead, and was accidentally fired from the Nike site 8 battery at Naha Air Base.[20] While the missile was undergoing continuity testing of the firing circuit, known as a squib test, stray voltage caused a short circuit in a faulty cable that was lying in a puddle and allowed the missile's rocket engines to ignite with the launcher still in a horizontal position.[20] The Nike missile left the launcher and smashed through a fence and down into a beach area skipping the warhead out across the water "like a stone."[20] The rocket's exhaust blast killed two Army technicians and injured one.[20]
  • Inchon, Korea.[21] Reported in The Washington Post of December 5, 1998,[20] the missile inadvertently launched from a Nike missile site near the summit of Mt. Bongnaesan where it exploded above some reclaimed land off Songdo (now Songdo International Business District), showering residential areas with debris, destroying parked cars and breaking windows.[21]


Flag of Denmark.svg Denmark
 Republic of Korea
United States


See also


  1. Examples include the US's AGM-28 Hound Dog, the UK's Blue Steel, and the USSR's Kh-20
  1. Department of the Army, Army Missiles Handbook January 1960 (formerly SECRET) p.52 Missiles files, United States Army Center of Military History.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Thomas B. Cochran, William M. Arkin, and Milton Hoenig, Nuclear Weapons Databook Volume I: U.S. Nuclear Forces and Capabilities (Cambridge: Ballinger, 1987) p.45.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Zeus 1962, p. 165.
  4. Walker, Bernstein & Lang 2003, p. 39.
  5. Walker, Bernstein & Lang 2003, p. 20.
  6. Leonard 2011, pp. 3-4, 18.
  7. "Thunderbird". 25 September 1959. pp. 295–299, 302–303. ISSN 0015-3710. Retrieved 18 May 2013. 
  8. "Complete List of All U.S. Nuclear Weapons", Nuclear Weapon Archive, 14 October 2006
  9. "Nike Ajax (SAM-A-7) (MIM-3, 3A)", Federation of American Scientists, 29 June 1999
  10. Thomas B. Cochran, William M. Arkin, and Milton M. Hoenig, Nuclear Weapons Databook Volume I: U.S. Nuclear Forces and Capabilities (Cambridge: Ballinger, 1984) p.287; The New York Times December 23, 1959, p.50; Irving Heymont, "The NATO Nuclear Bilateral Forces" Orbis 94:4 Winter 1966, pp.1025-1041; George S. Harris, The Troubled Alliance: Turkish-American Problems in Historical Perspective 1945-1971 (Washington: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 1972), p.153.
  11. Mary Cagle, History of the Nike Hercules Weapon System (formerly CONFIDENTIAL) Historical Monograph #AMC 75M (Redstone Arsenal: U.S. Army Missile Command, 1973) p.155; Jane's Weapon Systems 1986-87 p.186.
  12. The New York Times April 9, 1959, p.7 and December 23, 1959, p.50.
  13. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists October 1988, p.55
  14. 14.0 14.1 To Defend and Deter: The legacy of the United States cold war missile program by John C. Lonnquest and David F. Winkler
  15. The Aviationist: The Nike Hercules of the Italian Air Force Museum. Retrieved: 2012-11-26.
  16. Department of the Army, Army Missiles Handbook January 1960 (formerly SECRET) p.52 Missiles files, United States Army Center of Military History.
  19. "Nike History, The One That Got Away". Retrieved 6 December 2012. 
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 20.4 "Nike History, Eyewitness accounts of Timothy Ryan, Carl Durling, and Charles Rudicil". Retrieved 11 November 2012. 
  21. 21.0 21.1 "Incheon Bridge at Night". Retrieved 5 December 2012. 

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