Air Force Bases

Nike Ajax Overview

The Nike Ajax was the first in the Army's family of guided missiles, and the world's first operational, guided, surface-to-air missile system. (The name "Ajax" derived from Greek mythology, where there were two Ajax characters - both swift, skillful, and strong.) The first Nike Ajax site was activated in December 1953, at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland. The 36th Antiaircraft Artillery Missile Battalion tactically deployed at this site on March 20, 1954, as part of the Washington-Baltimore Defense Area. The Nike Ajax was a two-stage, supersonic missile. The missile was extremely slender, only 12 inches in diameter. Twenty-one feet long and 34 feet high with the booster attached, the missile weighed slightly over 2,455 pounds. A Nike Ajax carried three high-explosive warheads, weighing 12, 179, and 122 pounds, each wrapped in 1/4-inch, optimum cubic fragments. The warheads were mounted in the nose, center, and aft sections. Two arming mechanisms and five detonating cords activated the warheads. following burst orders issued from the ground.

The Nike Ajax missile had a two-stage propulsion. The first-stage, solid-propellant booster produced a 59,000-pound thrust for 2 1/2 seconds, then separated and fell away as the second stage fired. A liquid-fueled sustainer motor powered the second stage. It burned jet fuel, JP-4, with red fuming nitric acid as the oxidizer. As JP-4 and red fuming nitric acid are not self-igniting, a small quantity of aniline/furfuryl alcohol (and later dimethyl hydrazine) provided the catalyst for combustion. In flight, the sustainer motor burned for 70 seconds and consumed 135 kilograms of Jp-4. Nike Ajax had a burnout speed of Mach 2.3, a range of 25-30 miles, and a ceiling of 65,000 feet. (Mach 1 is the speed of sound; Mach 2.3 is 2.3 times as fast as the speed of sound, or 1,679 mph.)

The Nike Ajax had three sets of cross-shaped fins, in addition to those on the booster. The forward set of fins was for steerage. the middle set was mounted with sensing equipment, while the rear set provided stability. Douglas Aircraft manufactured the Nike airframes and assembled the missiles at its plant in Santa Monica and, later, at the Army Ordnance Missile Plant in Charlotte. North Carolina. In total, Western Electric and Douglas Aircraft produced 358 ground batteries and nearly 14,000 Nike Ajax missiles for the Army during the duration of the missile's deployment. In addition to Western Electric, Bell Laboratories, and Douglas Aircraft, the U.S. Army subcontracted with hundreds of other companies to supply parts for the Nike Ajax weapon system. These contracts valued approximately $1.16 billion. Research, development, and design engineering came to approximately $179.2 million; industrial services and supplies cost about $947.6 million; and the remaining $39.1 million was invested in production facilities.

The last operational Ajax site in the United States ceased operations in May 1964, and a Nike-Ajax missile was offered to the Smithsonian the following November. However, beginning in 1967, Nike Ajax installations were deployed in countries that shared common defense interests with the United States, such as Belgium, Denmark, France, West Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Taiwan, and Turkey. The Army also continued to fire Ajax missiles as part of training exercises at MacGregor Range near Fort Bliss, Texas.