Ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles are a key component of strategic nuclear forces, and therefore turn out to be a priority target for the enemy. Launchers of such ICBMs need to be protected by all available means, and in the past, active work was carried out to create means of protection. Of great interest are the American projects for the protection of ICBMs such as the LGM-118 Peacekeeper or MX.
Threats and responses to them
The development of the MX rocket started in the early seventies, and its creators immediately paid attention to the protection of ICBMs during service. Everyone understood that the enemy would find out the coordinates of the silo launchers and would try to hit them with the first strike. A successful strike threatened to disable the key component of the US strategic nuclear forces. It was required to provide some kind of protection for ICBMs from the first strike and save funds for a counterattack.
Due to the increased vulnerability of regular silos, at some point the MX program was under threat. In 1975-76, there was a fierce debate in Congress over the future fate of the new ICBM. Legislators were reluctant to spend money on missiles that could be destroyed by the first strike.
The military and industry, wishing to preserve the program, proposed and considered about fifty different options for deploying MX with various features. A significant part of these proposals concerned the creation of improved stationary silos of various kinds. Various options were envisaged for strengthening existing mines or building updated reinforced facilities. The possibility of disguising missile bases as other objects, including civilians, was being worked out.
The alternative was to place missiles on mobile platforms. Various options for land and amphibious launchers have been proposed. Even launchers were envisaged, placed on airplanes and balloons. However, the most convenient and promising were ground-based or amphibious mobile missile systems.
On the ground and underground
In 1979, President J. Carter ordered the implementation of the Racetrack plan, which provided for new principles for the deployment of MX ICBMs. Dozens of sheltered missile launchers were planned in Nevada and Utah. With the help of special transport between them, ICBMs of a new type should have been transported, making it difficult to track the deployment processes. Protected launch sites were to be connected by land roads and underground tunnels. However, this program was soon abandoned. It was overly complicated and expensive, and besides, it did not guarantee the desired result.
Already under President R. Reagan, a new plan appeared. It provided for a deep modernization of silos from the LGM-25C Titan II ICBM for the needs of the new MX. Up to a hundred missiles were to be deployed in the updated silos. Other ICBMs were proposed to be placed on different platforms and carriers. For example, the possibility of building silos on the southern slopes of the mountains was considered - they could be protected from the warheads of Soviet missiles flying through the North Pole. However, all these plans also did not receive approval and did not reach implementation.
In 1982, the MX rocket received the name Peacekeeper (Peacemaker), and at the same time the project of positional areas such as Dense Pack appeared. The project proposed the construction of super-protected bases, including several silos. The distance between the latter was reduced to 500-600 m. The ground parts of such structures had to withstand the pressure of the blast wave at the level of 70 MPa (690 atm) - five times more than the existing silos. Nevertheless, Packing was abandoned. For all the durability of the structures, such a base could be destroyed by a coordinated strike. In addition, one missile that was blown up could disable the entire facility.
On land and on water
None of the proposed silos could be guaranteed to protect ICBMs from the first enemy strike. In this regard, much attention was paid to mobile launchers capable of moving across large territories, literally moving away from enemy reconnaissance and destruction means.
By that time, the United States had an idea of Soviet developments in the field of mobile ground-based missile systems. The available data was analyzed and conclusions were drawn. The Pentagon considered that the multi-axle special chassis with a lifting container for the rocket has a number of disadvantages. A long chassis with a high center of gravity could have limited mobility. In addition, the Soviet models did not have any serious protection. In this regard, in the United States, they began to work out their own versions of special equipment.
It was proposed to create a special ground vehicle with a lifting device for an armored TPK. The possibility of building a PGRK based on an air cushion boat, similar to the designed LCAC, was also considered. The use of a wheeled chassis made it possible to conduct combat patrols in remote areas of land, and an air cushion provided movement both over land and over water bodies.
An interesting version of the PGRK for MX / LGM-118 was proposed by Boeing. Their launcher was a multi-axle armored vehicle of a characteristic shape. It had an elongated shape and a trapezoidal cross-section. Behind the cockpit and the engine compartment in the hull there was a recess for stowing the TPK with a rocket. Such a sample was protected from small arms and could withstand the damaging factors of a nuclear explosion at certain distances, while maintaining its efficiency. Thus, under normal conditions, the Boeing PGRK could simply go into position and launch, and with the successful work of enemy reconnaissance and missilemen, it could survive the attack and send its missile to the target.
A more daring PGRK project was worked out by the Bell company. She proposed to place the rocket on a self-propelled vehicle with an air cushion providing high mobility on different surfaces. Such a machine was made in the form of a truncated pyramid with a length of more than 34 m; in its highest part, under an armored hatch, a TPK with an ICBM was placed. Mobility was provided by a set of turboshaft lifting and turbojet propulsion engines. Also provided for liquid rocket engines for "jumping" over obstacles.
The survivability of the Bell PGRK was provided by a combined protection comparable to 900-1000 mm of homogeneous armor. It was also planned to equip the complex with its own missile and artillery air defense systems. PGRKs of this type were supposed to be in protected structures in the deserts or tundra and, on command, go out on the route. The project provided for the abandonment of the crew in favor of advanced automation capable of performing all tasks.
The end of the two PGRK projects is obvious. Bell's proposal was considered too difficult to implement, and Boeing's project could count on development. Nevertheless, it turned out to be not very successful either. After part of the work, it was also closed due to unnecessary complexity.
At the end of 1986, the development of a new version of the mobile ground complex began, which was to be less complex and expensive. The launcher and related equipment were proposed to be placed on a special train. The project of the combat railway missile system received the designation Peacekeeper Rail Garrison.
The new BZHRK was supposed to include two locomotives, two launcher cars with one LGM-118 missile in each, a car with a control station and several cars for personnel, fuel and various auxiliary equipment. The crew of the complex was supposed to include 42 people. They could be on continuous duty for a month. Some of the components of the Peacekeeper Rail Garrison BZHRK had to be developed from scratch, while others were taken ready-made.
In October 1990, the Peacekeeper Rail Garrison experimental complex was handed over for testing. Inspections and tests on landfills and railways of the general network continued for several months and ended with good results. Despite the presence of certain problems, the prototype showed itself well and confirmed the fundamental possibility of operating the BZHRK.
However, in 1991, the confrontation between the superpowers finally ended, and a number of promising weapons turned out to be unnecessary. In particular, the threat to the ground component of the US strategic nuclear forces was sharply reduced, which made it possible to reduce or close some of the new projects. The BZHRK Peacekeeper Rail Garrison project fell victim to these cuts. It was stopped in 1991 and has not been resumed since then.
Back to the mine
ICBM LGM-118 Peacekeeper performed its first test flight in June 1983. At the end of 1986, the first serial missiles were deployed on standard launchers. Over the next few years, several formations of the Air Force Strategic Command were transferred to these ICBMs.
By the time the missiles were put on duty, the industry and the military did not have time to complete the development of new basing facilities, which led to known results. The new MX / Peacekeeper missiles were housed in upgraded silo launchers from the LGM-25C Titan II and LGM-30 Minuteman ICBMs. New silos were also built, but they repeated the design of the existing ones. Fundamentally new objects like those proposed earlier have not been built. Any mobile missile systems also did not enter the series and did not end up in the army.
By the beginning of the 2000s, the number of deployed LGM-118 ICBMs had decreased and did not exceed several dozen. At the beginning of 2005, only 10 such missiles remained on duty. On September 19, 2005, a ceremony was held to remove them from service.
Intercontinental ballistic missile LGM-118 Peacekeeper was in service for almost two decades and was operated only with silo launchers of "traditional" appearance. All attempts to develop fundamentally new means of basing - both stationary and mobile - have not been crowned with success. However, the Pentagon did not abandon such ideas and initiated the development of new mobile missile systems.