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By 1958, the Army deployed nearly 200 Nike Ajax batteries at 40 "Defense Areas" within the United States (including Alaska and Hawaii) in which Project Nike missiles were deployed. Within each Defense Area, a "Ring of Steel" was developed with a series of Nike Integrated Firing and Launch Sites constructed by the Corps of Engineers.
The deployment was designed to initially supplement and then replace gun batteries deployed around the nation's major urban areas and vital military installations. The defense areas consisted of major cities and selected United States Air Force Strategic Air Command bases which were deemed vital to national defense. The original basing strategy projected a central missile assembly point from which missiles would be taken out to prepared above-ground launch racks ringing the defended area. However, the Army discarded this semimobile concept because the system needed to be ready for instantaneous action to fend off a "surprise attack." Instead, a fixed-site scheme was devised.
Due to geographical factors, the placement of Nike batteries differed at each location. Initially, the planners chose fixed sites well away from the defended area and the Corps of Engineers Real Estate Offices began seeking tracts of land in rural areas However, Army planners determined that close-in perimeter sites would provide enhanced firepower. Staggering sites between outskirt and close-in locations to urban areas gave defenders a greater defense-in-depth capability.
Each Nike missile battery was divided into two basic parcels: the Battery Control Area and the Launch Area.
The Battery Control Area contained the radar and computer equipment. Housing and administration buildings, including the mess hall, barracks, and recreation facilities, were sometimes located in a third parcel of land. More likely, however, the housing and administration buildings were located at either the Battery Control Area or the Launch Area, depending upon site configuration, obstructions, and the availability of land.
The Launch Area provided for the maintenance, storage, testing, and firing of the Nike missiles. The selection of this area was primarily influenced by the relatively large amount of land required, its suitability to extensive underground construction, and the need to maintain a clear line-of-sight between the missiles in the Launch Area and the missile-tracking-radar in the Battery Control Area.
The first Nike sites featured above-ground launchers. This quickly changed as land restrictions forced the Army to construct space-saving underground magazines. Capable of hosting 12 Nike Ajax missiles, each magazine had an elevator that lifted the missile to the surface in a horizontal position. Once above ground, the missile could be pushed manually along a railing to a launcher placed parallel to the elevator. Typically, four launchers sat atop the magazine. Near the launchers, a trailer housed the launch control officer and the controls he operated to launch missiles. In addition to the launch control trailer, the launch area contained a generator building with three diesel generators, frequency converters, and missile assembly and maintenance structures.
Because of the larger size of the Nike Hercules, an underground magazine's capacity was reduced to eight missiles. Thus, storage racks, launcher rails, and elevators underwent modification to accept the larger missiles. Two additional features that readily distinguished newly converted sites were the double fence and the kennels housing dogs that patrolled the perimeter between the two fences.
The Nike Hercules was designed to use existing Nike Ajax facilities. With the greater range of the Nike Hercules allowing for wider area coverage, numerous Nike Ajax batteries were permanently deactivated. In addition, sites located further away from target areas were desirable due to the nuclear warheads carried by the missile. Unlike the older Ajax sites, these batteries were placed in locations that optimized the missiles' range and minimized the warhead damage. Nike Hercules batteries at SAC bases and in Hawaii were installed in an outdoor configuration. In Alaska, a unique above-ground shelter configuration was provided for batteries guarding Anchorage and Fairbanks. Local Corps of Engineer Districts supervised the conversion of Nike Ajax batteries and the construction of new Nike Hercules batteries.
Nike missiles remained deployed around strategically important areas within the continental United States until 1974. The Alaskan sites were deactivated in 1978 and Florida sites stood down during the following year. Although the missile left the U.S. inventory, other nations maintained the missiles in their inventories into the early 1990s and sent their soldiers to the United States to conduct live-fire exercises at Fort Bliss, Texas.
Leftover traces of the approximately 265 Nike missile bases can still be seen around cities across the country. As the sites were decommissioned they were first offered to federal agencies. Many were already on Army National Guard bases who continued to use the property. Others were offered to state and local governments while others were sold to school districts. The left-overs were offered to private individuals. Thus, many Nike sites are now municipal yards, communications and FAA facilities (the IFC areas), probation camps, and even renovated for use as Airsoft gaming and MilSim training complexes. Several were completely obliterated and turned into parks. Some are now private residences. Only a few remain intact and preserve the history of the Nike project. There are also a few sites abroad, notably in Germany, Turkey and Greece.
Defense areas within the United States were:
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