Project Nike (in a nutshell)

In the mid-40s, the US Army was in charge of devising an air-defense system to protect our country from new threats -- rockets and jet aircraft. Developed by Western Electric Bell Laboratories in 1945, it wasn't until 1953 when the world's first operational surface-to-air defense system was fully put into effect. Nike Ajax was a radar guided missile capable of supersonic speeds with deadly accuracy. It was the fourth and last line of defense against enemy aircraft (and later, intercontinental ballistic missiles) if all other means failed. As the cold war progressed and threat of a nuclear attack became a frightening reality, better missiles and technologies were developed. By 1964, all Ajax-only bases were deactivated while others were modified for improved Nike Hercules missile. During the 70s, all Nike bases in the country were finally deactivated as technology and budgets shifted to meet other needs. While not a single Nike missile was fired at a hostile target during their years of service, the security they provided is worthy of our recognition, honor, and pride.

If you're interested in a more detailed history about Project Nike, numerous civilian and military resources are available both online and off. Our links section is a good start.

Nike Base

Over 200 Nike bases (batteries) were strategically placed around specific defense areas -- major metropolitan areas or key facilities -- throughout the country and were fully staffed, 24/7, 365 days a years. ARADCOM (Army Air Defense Command,) was in charge of the Nike defense program and manned all bases with regular Army and National Guard troops.

The bases consisted of three parts*, two of which were usually combined, which were separated by a half mile or more. While the layouts of some bases may have deviated from the norm due to land layout or other factors, they were generally set up as follows:
  1. Integrated Fire Control (IFC) contained radar for acquisition and tracking, battery control, radar control, and power / electrical systems.
  2. Administrative (A) contained the barracks, mess hall, recreation areas, and administrative areas.
  3. Launch site (L) contained the Nike missile underground magazines, launchers, all necessary missile maintenance and missile fueling supplies, and launch control.

Photo depicting the two areas of the base.

There was an amazingly simple yet necessary reason as to why Nike sites were split into the Control Area and the Launch area -- when fired, the missile rockets skyward at such an incredible speed that if the MTR was too close, it would need to immediately whip backwards at an incredible speed to follow the missile. With the radar located a little ways away, the fired missile will appear a little slower, thus more manageable for the radar to follow.

The missiles are stored in undeground magazines located at the launch area. An elevator brings the missiles from underground to the launcher on the surface.

Diagram of Nike Ajax Underground Magazine & Launcher
Department of the Army Field Manual, FM-44-80, 1956

*Often times, you may also see bases described in two parts: Control Area (C) and Launch Area (L.)

Nike Ajax (SAM-A-7, M1, MIM3, MIM3A)

The PH-15 Bristol battery was armed with Nike Ajax missiles exclusively, as such, that is the type of missile described on this website. There are numerous resources that can provide you with information on Nike Hercules, Nike Zeus, Nike X, and beyond. Our links section is a good start.

Name: SAM-A-7, M1, MIM3, MIM3A or Nike Ajax
Length: 21 feet (34 feet 10 inches with booster)
Diameter: 12 inches
Wingspan: 4 feet, 6 inches
Weight: 1,000 pounds (over 2,455 pounds with booster)
Missile fuel/oxidizer: M3, a combination of JP4 jet fuel and starter fluid consisting initially of aniline/furfuryl alcohol, later dimethyl-hydrazine, and finally, red fuming nitric acid (IRFNA)
Booster fuel: Solid propellant
Range: 25 to 30 miles
Speed: Mach 2.3 (1,679 mph)
Altitude: Up to 70,000 feet
Guidance: Command by electronic computer and radar
Warhead: Three high-explosive fragmentation warheads mounted in the nose, center, and aft sections
  • Airframe: Douglas Aircraft Company Santa Monica, California
  • Propulsion Booster: Hercules Powder Company Radford Arsenal, Virginia
  • Sustainer: Bell Aircraft Company Buffalo, New York
  • Guidance: Western Electric Company New York, New York

Nike Ajax System Operations

At the sound of the alarm, battery personnel would rush into action. Crewman would ready the missiles and launchers at the launch area, while at the control area, the approaching aircraft would be picked up on the Acquisition Radar (LOPAR: Low-Power Acquisition Radar.) It would be determined whether the aircraft was friend or foe. Once the target has been confirmed hostile, the Target-Tracking Radar (TTR) locks on to it while the Missile-Tracking Radar (MTR) locks onto the Nike Ajax missile poised on the launcher, ready to launch. When the enemy is within range, the missile is fired. The TTR, still locked onto the target, watches the enemy's every move while the MTR stays on the missile. Based on data from TTR and MTR, the computer guides the missile to its target, and at the point of intercept, sends the signal to the missile to detonate -- destroying the threat.

Diagram of Nike Ajax System Operations
Department of the Army Field Manual, FM-44-80, 1956

Website created by Chris Milewski to preserve the history of PH-15.