Important Announcement

We would like to thank our loyal fellow members of the Nike Historical Society for your continued support over the years. We will be closing the Society, including the store, as of March 31, 2024. We have acquired a large repository of Nike technical information. The web site will continue to be available. It has been our pleasure to keep the legacy of the Nike missile's contribution of the successful conclusion to the Cold War.

the Board of Directors
Nike Historical Society



December 1960.

Functional Purpose

The function of an air defense guided missile system is to deter or minimize the effects of enemy attacks by detecting and destroying enemy aircraft and missiles approaching a defended area. These systems must be capable of effective action against targets operating at any altitude and velocity. The systems must also be capable of trajectory corrections after missile launch to permit interception of targets taking evasive actions. In addition, it is desirable that the systems be capable of self-defense against tactical surface targets. The Improved Nike Hercules System and the Nike-Hercules ATBM System can be used in support of other service groups

Improved Nike Hercules and Nike-Hercules ATBM Systems

The Improved Hike Hercules Air Defense Guided Missile System and the Nike-Hercules ATBM System used integrated radar systems to detect and track targets approaching its defended area. A radar system is also used to guide missiles to intercept and destroy hostile targets. Early warning facilities provide information of the approach of hostile targets, and either of two acquisition radar systems provides constant long-range detection and surveillance of the targets. The acquisition radar systems supply target azimuth and range data to the target tracking radar systems, which acquire and track the targets. A missile tracking radar system acquires a missile while it is still on the launcher, tracks the missile in flight, and transmits steering and warhead burst orders to the missile.

Target and missile position data are continuously supplied to a computer system. The computer system furnishes to the battery control officer the information necessary for determining the proper time to launch the missile, and sends steering and warhead burst orders to the missile tracking radar system for transmission to the missile during flight. Targets may be aircraft of missiles at speeds up to Mach 3 and altitudes up to 100,000 feet. Both high-explosive and nuclear warheads are employed. Nuclear warheads are for use against large formations of aircraft, tactical ballistic missiles, or surface targets.

Development History

The development of offensive missiles and the increases in capabilities of modern aircraft have rendered conventional antiaircraft weapons ineffective. The need for a new defense became apparent as fundamental changes in existing defensive weapons seemed unlikely. After an investigation program, it was decided that the most effective defense would be a guided missile system.

There were three types of missile guidance systems from which to choose: the homing system, beam rider system, and the command guidance system. These are described briefly below:

    The homing system guides the missile by emissions or reflections from the target.  The emission may be light, heat, radio signals, or radar reflections. The accuracy of the homing system increases as the missile approaches the target.

    With the beam rider system, the missile must be launched and then captured by a radar beam pointing at the target. The missile must then follow the beam to the target. A number of missiles can be controlled at the same time with this system.

    The command guidance system guides the missile by steering commands transmitted from the ground guidance equipment to the missile while in trajectory. Complex and precise ground guidance equipment is required for this type of guidance system. However, the expendable missile guidance equipment is less complex than that required for homing or beam rider systems.

After an analysis of the three missile guidance systems, it was decided that the command guidance system would best provide the needed defense. The command guidance system promised to be the most effective against fast highly maneuverable aircraft and to have capabilities fir greater range. A government research and development program was initiated that resulted in the Nike-Ajax  Air Defense Guided Missile System, utilizing a command guidance system. The Nike-Ajax System proved capable of destroying aircraft at ranges up to 50,000 yards.

As speed an maneuverability of modern aircraft increased, it became apparent in 1952 that the Nike-Ajax System would soon  cease to be an effective defense. A new guided missile system was needed which could destroy entire formations of high-altitude, high-speed aircraft at a greater ranges with a single missile. After extensive studies, it was determined that this new system would require the use of a nuclear warhead in a new missile having greater range and speed than the Nike-Ajax missile.

Studies were made concerning the feasibility of incorporating a nuclear warhead in the Nike-Ajax missile to give it the greater destructive capabilities needed. Consideration was also given to changing the Nike-Ajax ground guidance equipment to get the greater range and accuracy required. It became apparent that adaptation of the Nike-Ajax missile would necessitate extensive missile re-design, but only relatively minor changes in the Nike-Ajax ground guidance equipment would be necessary to produce the ground guidance equipment for the new system. In addition, it was determined that the ground guidance equipment could be changed so that it would be capable of  launching and controlling the new missile and the Nike-Ajax missile as well. This would permit retaining the Nike-Ajax missile for use with the new system against single aircraft at shorter ranges.

Surface-to-surface capability for the new system was included as a secondary requirement. Engagement of surface targets at ranges up to 100 nautical miles was desired. Missiles used in the surface-to-surface mission were to be capable of delivering nuclear warheads.

In 1954, after studies were completed, contractors were authorized to proceed with the development of the new system, designated the Nike-Hercules Air Defense Guided Missile System. This system provided the additional capabilities required, including an intercept range in excess of 150,000 yards, more than three times the range of the Nike-Ajax.

In 1956, it became apparent that further improvement to the Nike-Hercules System would be necessary to keep pace with advancements in aircraft, air-to-surface missiles, and electronic countermeasures (ECM) techniques. Extensions of Nike Hercules capabilities were needed to maintain effective defense against smaller, faster targets operating at higher altitudes and equipped with improved ECM systems.

From inception, the design of the Nike system was intended to afford maximum performance flexibility with minimum system modification. Studies showed that the basic Nike-Hercules System could again be improved to meet the anticipated post -1960 threat. Without changing the missile, effective range of the system could be increased by the addition of a new high power acquisition radar (HIPAR) system. The HIPAR system, plus a new target ranging radar system, could provide electronic counter-countermeasures (ECCM) capabilities to contend with anticipated enemy ECM techniques.

In 1958, after studies were completed, contractors were authorized to proceed with development of the new system, designated the Improved Nike-Hercules Air Defense Guided Missile System.

Later studies were begun on the feasibility of adapting existing guided missile systems for use in countering the threat to the Field Army by enemy tactical ballistic missiles.

Studies of the Nike-Hercules System revealed that if changes were made in the HIPAR and the computer systems, the Improved Nike-Hercules Systems could be used for defense against tactical ballistic missiles as well as manned aircraft and air-supported missiles.

After studies were completed, contractors were authorized to proceed with the development of the Nike-Hercules ATBM Air Defense Guided Missile System.

The auxiliary acquisition radar (AAR) is added to selected Improved Nike-Hercules and Improved Nike-Hercules site with dual DVST console which are not equipped with HIPAR. The advantages of the added AAR over a basic radar system are twofold. The range of surveillance of the site is increased and the system is less venerable to ECM with the increase of frequencies available.

The Improved Nike-Hercules Air Defense Guided Missile System is primarily designed to combat air-to-surface missiles and fast, high-altitude formation of modern aircraft with electronic countermeasures (ECM) capabilities. It can be most effectively employed to defend military installation, industrial centers, large cities, and as a first line of defense in areas such as the DEW Line and the eastern and western seaboards of the continental Untied States.

An Improved Nike-Hercules battery can be employed as an individual defense unit or in combination with other air defense units. A number of Improved Nike-Hercules batteries can be employed as units of an integrated air defense system, with each system monitored and controlled by an Army Air Defense Command Post (AADCP).

The Nike-Hercules ATBM System is designed to combat aircraft, air supported missiles, and tactical ballistic missiles and be conditioned to operate against surface targets.