Berlin – Militärhistorisches Museum Flugplatz Berlin-Gatow – Nike Hercules
Image by Daniel Mennerich
The Nike Hercules (initially designated SAM-A-25, and later MIM-14), was a solid fuel propelled two-stage surface-to-air missile, used by U.S. and NATO armed forces for medium- and high-altitude long-range air defense. It was normally armed with the W31 nuclear warhead, but could also be fitted with a conventional warhead for export use. Its warhead also allowed it to be used in a surface-to-surface role, and the system also demonstrated its ability to hit other short-range missiles in flight. Hercules was replaced in the long-range anti-aircraft role by the higher performance and considerably more mobile MIM-104 Patriot.
Hercules was developed as the successor to the earlier MIM-3 Nike Ajax, adding the ability to attack high-flying supersonic targets and carrying a small nuclear warhead in order to attack entire formations of aircraft with a single missile.
The Nike Hercules was a surface-to-air or surface-to-surface missile system deployed around US cities and various locations in Europe and Japan. Most, but not all, of these missiles were deployed with nuclear warheads. In South Florida, half of the Nike Hercules missiles of the Homestead-Miami Defense were armed with the T-45 high-explosive warheads.
Three yield variants, of 2, 20, and 40 kiloton yields, were deployed on these missiles starting in 1958 and finally retired in 1989. 2,550 of these models were produced. The 20 kt version of the W-31 was solely used in the Nike Hercules system.
A similar variant, the XW-37, was a high yield version of the XW-31. Development started in January 1956. Three months later, the XW-31 was redesignated XW-31Y1 (for yield 1) and the XW-37 designation was changed to XW-31Y2 (for yield 2).
Development went smoothly, and deployment began in 1958 at new bases, but eventually took over many existing Ajax bases as well, reaching a peak of over 130 bases in the US alone. Throughout, Hercules was the subject of a lengthy and acrimonious debate due to complaints from supporters of the US Air Force’s competing CIM-10 Bomarc system, which ultimately proved unsuccessful and saw limited deployment. US Hercules sites began wide-scale deactivation during the 1970s as the threat of Soviet bombers subsided with the growth of ICBM forces, but remained a front-line weapon in Europe, with the last units deactivated in 1988.
Several modifications of the Hercules system were considered but not put into production. Extensive studies into a mobile version were carried out, but never deployed in favour of other designs. The vacuum tube-based electronics, inherited from the early-1950s Ajax, were examined for potential solid state upgrades, but not deployed. Study into an upgraded version of the Hercules for the anti-ballistic missile role was carried out, but this later evolved into the considerably different LIM-49 Nike Zeus design. Hercules would prove to be the last development of Bell’s Nike team; Zeus was never deployed and its follow-ons were developed by different teams.