The creation of the MIM-14 Nike-Hercules anti-aircraft missile system began in 1953. At this time, the deployment of the Nike-Ajax MIM-3 air defense system was just beginning, but the American military, acting ahead of the curve and anticipating the creation of supersonic long-range bombers in the USSR, wanted to get a missile with a long range and a large ceiling. At the same time, the rocket was supposed to fully use the existing and planned infrastructure of the Nike system.
SAM MIM-3 "Nike-Ajax"
As it turned out later, this decision was quite justified. The previously adopted stationary air defense system MIM-3 "Nike Ajax" had a number of disadvantages. These air defense systems were intended as a means of object air defense to protect large cities and strategic military bases. In terms of their ability to intercept air targets, the Nike Ajax missiles (range of about 48 km, height of up to 21 km, with a target speed of up to 2.3 M) approximately corresponded to the characteristics of the much more massive Soviet air defense system S-75, which initially had the ability to change positions.
A unique feature of the Nike-Ajax anti-aircraft missile was the presence of three high-explosive fragmentation warheads. The first, weighing 5.44 kg, was located in the bow section, the second - 81.2 kg - in the middle, and the third - 55.3 kg - in the tail section. It was assumed that this rather controversial technical solution would increase the likelihood of hitting a target, due to a more extended cloud of debris.
Big problems were caused by the operation and maintenance of "liquid" rockets of the "Nike-Ajax" complex due to the use of explosive and toxic components of the fuel and oxidizer. This led to the acceleration of work on the "solid-fuel" rocket and became one of the reasons for the withdrawal from service of the Nike-Ajax air defense system in the mid-60s.
Created by order of the American Air Force, the CIM-10 "Bomark" air defense system had an exorbitant cost and required the creation of special bases with a developed infrastructure to accommodate.
SAM CIM-10 "Bomark"
Having a huge interception range (up to 800 km at a speed of almost 3.2 M), the Bomark air defense missile systems were, in fact, disposable unmanned interceptors equipped with a nuclear warhead.
The massive adoption of intercontinental ballistic missiles in the USSR, the difficulties and high cost of operation, as well as doubts about the effectiveness, led to the withdrawal of the Bomark system from service in the late 60s.
In 1958, the Nike-Ajax air defense system in the United States was replaced by the Nike-Hercules complex. A big step forward in relation to Nike-Ajax was the successful development in a short time of solid-propellant missiles with high performance.
Unlike its predecessor, the Nike-Hercules air defense system has an increased combat range (130 instead of 48 km) and an altitude (30 instead of 18 km), which was achieved through the use of a new missile defense system and more powerful radar stations. However, the schematic diagram of the construction and combat operation of the complex remained the same as in the Nike-Ajax air defense system. Unlike the stationary Soviet air defense system S-25 of the Moscow air defense system, the new American air defense system was single-channel, which significantly limited its capabilities when repelling a massive raid.
Later, the complex underwent modernization, which made it possible to use it for air defense of military units (by giving mobility to combat assets). And also for missile defense against tactical ballistic missiles with flight speeds up to 1000 m / s (mainly due to the use of more powerful radars).
The detection and targeting system of the Nike-Hercules air defense missile system was originally based on a stationary detection radar from the Nike-Ajax air defense missile system, operating in the mode of continuous radiation of radio waves. The system had a means of identifying the nationality of aviation, as well as target designation means.
Radar systems of the Nike-Hercules air defense system
When stationary, the Nike-Hercules complexes were combined into batteries and battalions. The battery included all the combat assets of the air defense missile system and two launch sites, each of which had four launchers with missiles. Batteries are usually placed around the defended object, usually together with the batteries of the Hawk air defense missile system, at a distance of 50-60 km from its center. Each division includes six batteries.
As it was deployed, the system underwent a number of modifications. The upgrade, designated Improved Hercules, included the installation of a new detection radar, and upgrades to the target tracking radars, giving them increased immunity to interference and the ability to track high-speed targets. Additionally, a radar was installed, which carried out a constant determination of the distance to the target and issued additional corrections for the calculating device.
The miniaturization of atomic charges made it possible to equip the missile with a nuclear warhead. As such, the W-61 warhead was usually used, with a yield of 2 to 40 kilotons. The detonation of a warhead in the air could destroy an aircraft within a radius of several hundred meters from the epicenter, which made it possible to effectively engage even relatively complex, small-sized targets like supersonic cruise missiles.
Potentially, Nike-Hercules could also intercept single warheads of ballistic missiles, making it the first complex to have anti-missile capabilities.
In 1960, the Improved Hercules system carried out the first successful interception of a ballistic missile - the MGM-5 Corporal - using a nuclear warhead.
There was also the possibility of firing at ground targets, according to previously known coordinates.
Map of positions of the Nike air defense missile system in the United States
Since 1958, MIM-14 Nike-Hercules missiles have been deployed at Nike systems to replace the MIM-3 Nike-Ajax. In total, 145 batteries of Nike-Hercules air defense systems were deployed in the US air defense by 1964 (35 were rebuilt and 110 converted from batteries of Nike-Ajax air defense systems), which made it possible to give all the main industrial areas a fairly effective cover from Soviet strategic bombers. All missiles deployed in the United States carried nuclear warheads.
In the United States, air defense systems were produced until 1965, they were in service in 11 countries in Europe and Asia. Licensed production was organized in Japan.
Missiles of the West German air defense system "Nike-Hercules"
As the main threat to US facilities began to be posed by Soviet ICBMs, the number of Nike-Hercules missiles deployed in US territory began to decline. By 1974, all Nike-Hercules air defense systems, with the exception of batteries in Florida and Alaska, were removed from combat duty in the United States, thereby completing the history of centralized American air defense.
In Europe, complexes of this type were used to cover American bases until the end of the 80s, later they were replaced by the MIM-104 Patriot air defense system.
A number of incidents are associated with the Nike-Hercules air defense missile systems.
The first of these occurred on April 14, 1955, at a position in Fort George, Meade, when, for some reason, an inadvertent rocket launch took place. It was there that at that moment the headquarters of the US National Security Agency was located. Nobody was hurt during the incident.
A second similar incident occurred in Okinawa, at a position near the Naho airbase, in July 1959. There is information that a nuclear warhead was installed on the rocket at that moment.
The rocket was launched from the launcher in a horizontal position, killing two and seriously wounding one soldier. Breaking through the fence, the rocket flew across the beach outside the base, and fell into the sea near the coast.
On December 5, 1998, in South Korea, from positions in the Incheon area, another missile accidentally launched and then exploded at a low altitude, over a residential area in the western part of Incheon city, injuring several people and causing significant destruction.
Satellite image of Google Earth: the position of the air defense system "Nike-Hercules" in the region of Icheon, Republic of Korea
The longest air defense systems MIM-14 "Nike-Hercules" were used in Italy, Turkey and the Republic of Korea. The last launch of the Nike Hercules rocket took place in Italy on November 24, 2006, in the Capo San Lorenzo region of Sardinia. At present, all complexes of this type have been removed from combat duty.
Satellite image of Google Earth: the position of the Nike-Hercules air defense system in Turkey
In the Republic of Korea, Nike-Hercules missiles were used to create the Hyunmoo ballistic missiles (the name roughly translates as guardian angel of the northern skies.) For many years, Hyunmoo missiles were the only ballistic missiles developed and deployed in South Korea.
An improved version of this ballistic missile is capable of hitting targets with a 500-kg warhead at a distance of over 180 km.
In general, when evaluating the Nike-Hercules MIM-14 air defense system, it must be admitted that it was the most advanced and effective long-range object air defense system that existed before the appearance of the Soviet S-200 air defense system. In the latest versions of the Nike-Hercules missiles, the firing range was increased to 180 km, which is a very good indicator for a solid-propellant rocket in the 60s. At the same time, firing at long distances could only be effective when using a nuclear warhead, since the radio command guidance scheme gave a large error (a semi-active seeker was used on Soviet S-200 air defense missiles). Also, the capabilities of the complex to defeat low-flying targets were insufficient. At the same time, the complex retained the same main drawback as its predecessor MIM-3 "Nike-Ajax" - extremely low mobility due to the need for a well-prepared position.