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The Nike Missile Air Defense System

The Nike-Ajax was the first ground-based supersonic anti-aircraft missile system to become operational in the United States. The Nike missiles were deployed at sites in a circular pattern around key American industrial and military locations. The first Los Angeles area Nike-Ajax battery was emplaced in the mountains above Malibu in 1954. By 1958, there were 16 Nike-Ajax launch sites guarding the greater Los Angeles area, protecting an area of some 4,000 square miles. The Los Angeles Defense area was manned by several battalions of US Army Regulars and National Guardsman, under the command of the 47th Air Defense Brigade from 1954 to 1969.

Nike missiles were launched from a self-contained launch area. Each site was equipped with two or three launching platforms each with an underground storage magazines, an elevator and four missile erectors. The missiles were stored

Nike Hercules (left) and Nike Ajax at Site LA 88,
Chatsworth 1960s. US Army Photograph

underground on rails and were brought to the surface by an elevator. Once on the surface, they were pushed on rails to an erector and with the proper electrical and hydraulic connections completed, raised to an angle of about 85 degrees for firing.

The Nike missiles employed the "command guidance" system in which the major control equipment was ground-based and not part of the expendable missile. The missiles were guided from a control area located at least 1000 yards from the launch area. It contained the radar equipment for acquiring and tracking the target and missile. Separate radars simultaneously located and tracked both the target and the Nike missile. Data from these radars was fed to the electronic computer which sent "commands" to the missile in flight to guide it to the target.

The newer, more powerful Nike-Hercules missiles replaced the Nike-Ajax during the period 1958-1963. Nike-Hercules had the capability of being armed with a nuclear warhead. The Hercules was completely powered by solid fuels, eliminating the troublesome and dangerous liquid fueling procedure of the Nike-Ajax. Nike-Hercules also brought with it improved acquisition radar systems and an improved command coordinating system. The Nike Hercules were installed into modified Nike-Ajax sites in the Los Angeles area. Only 9 of the original 16 sites were converted to fire the Nike-Hercules missiles.

The Nike Hercules was designed for defense against attack by large formations of bombers. As the perceived threat changed from bomber attack to missile attack, the usefulness of the Nike Hercules diminished. On 4 February 1974, the Army ordered all existing US Nike batteries were inactivated.


Nike Ajax

Nike Hercules

 Designation  MIM-3A  MIM-14B
 Weight gross  2,259 pounds  10,711 pounds
 Length  392 inches  478 inches
 Cost (1958)  $19,300  $55,200
 Warheads  3 High Explosive  1 High Explosive or 1 Nuclear
 Range  30.7 miles  96.3 miles
 Altitude  60,000 feet  100,000 feet
 Speed  Mach 2.3  Mach 3.65
 Flight time  1 minute  2 minutes

The Guns of Fort MacArthur

    Battery Osgood - Farley
    Battery Leary Merriam
    Battery Barlow - Saxton
    Battery Lodor
    Battery Erwin

    Battery Eubanks

    Battery 127 (Paul D Bunker)

    Battery 128

    Battery 240 (Harry C. Barnes)

    Battery 241

    Battery 242 (Harry J Harrison)

    90mm AMTB

    155 GPF Mobile Guns

    Anti-Aircraft (Fixed and Mobile)

Missile Systems of Fort MacArthur

    The Nike Program

        Army Air Defense units stationed in LA

        Nike sites of the LA Defense Area

        Air Defense Artillery Website

        Rings of Supersonic Steel

        Virtual tour of Nike Battery SF-88

        Visit Ed Thelen's Web Site


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Content 1994 - 2013 The Fort MacArthur Museum Association. This web site has been prepared and is maintained by the Fort MacArthur Museum Association. We welcome email asking for additional museum and historical information. Comments or suggestions concerning this web site should be addressed to the webmaster. The opinions expressed in Fort MacArthur Association publications are those of the Fort MacArthur Museum Association, contributors, and members. They do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks or any individuals employed by any department of the City of Los Angeles.
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