The Nike Battery
Protecting City and Industry
The NIKE-Ajax system was developed by ARADCOM (Army Air Defense Command) in the early 1950’s as a surface-to-air defense system (SAM) that would take out incoming missiles or aircraft. It was the first supersonic surface-to-air missile system to become operational in the free world. NIKE missile bases were built in a circular pattern around key government, industrial, transportation and military locations, with larger areas having more missile bases around them. Continuous testing throughout the 1950’s would lead to the NIKE-Hercules missile and conversion of Ajax sites to Hercules sites. These missiles would have a minimum range of over 75 miles, an effective ceiling of 100,000 feet, and a top speed of Mach III. However, ARADCOM was a large, and rather ineffective operation that faced a rapidly evolving weapons environment. A gradual decrease in NIKE deployment began in 1967, and by 1975 with the SALT II Treaty, ARADCOM itself was deactivated. The original cost to build them was about $8 million, which would equate to approximately $70 million today!
General Layout & Features
Nike bases consist of a Launch Area and a Launch Control Center. They were usually separated by around 1,000 feet, within line-of-sight. Today, most people are interested in the Launch Area, as the LCC portion was located above-ground; most of the LCCs are now gone.
The launch areas were usually single sites, though there were a few double sites constructed. Single sites consisted of three large subsurface missile magazines. Basically, each magazine is a large underground box that is approximately 60'x70' plus some additional rooms at one end, giving about 5,200 square feet. In the center of the magazine, there is a 50'long x 10'wide hydraulic elevator that can lift up to 30 tons to the surface. In a typical Nike, there are three of these magazines side-by-side, for a total of over 15,000 square feet. Access to the magazines can be gained from the elevator; a personnel staircase and two escape hatches. The magazines are approximately 22 feet below grade, and the clearance from floor of the magazine to the bottom of the massive support beams (ceiling) is between 11-12'. The three rooms at one end are: 1.) the personnel safety room which is sound deadened and protected by 2 sets of blast doors and has ventilation and escape hatch; 2.) a mechanical room housing the huge ventilation equipment and 3.) a storage room. Under the elevator, there is a pit for the elevator to sit in when it is completely down. This pit about 7 feet below the floor and also houses the sump pump. Finally, there are two massive hydraulic doors that open/close the elevator opening at surface (ground) level. Depending on the site, the doors, elevators and other equipment are in widely varying condition.
Nike bases had several above-ground buildings. These were generally of cinder block construction with flat roofs.
The Warhead Assembly Building is where the missiles were assembled and fueled. They were equipped with central "I" beams and hoists for moving the heavy missiles. These buildings were always surrounded by a high berm to protect the site in the case of an explosion while assembling and fueling the missiles.
The Generator Building housed 3-4 massive generators in order to ensure sufficient power to the facility in case of a grid outage. Power is three-phase (480w) and is generally still functional. All original generators were removed at the time of decommissioning.
The Maintenance Building is a large mechanical shop area with 12' overhead doors on either end.
The Barracks varied in size according to the site layout. This building included a mess hall, sleeping quarters and a fitness area.
Most sites also had a Pump House and a water storage tank for increasing water pressure in order to fight fire at the site.
The Nike battery usually sits on a tract of between 15-18 acres. These sites are usually positioned on a hill or slightly higher elevation and often have great views of the surrounding landscape. Usually, the property has been engineered and earth-formed to allow for proper water control on site. Property that remains in originally-built condition will have culverts, perimeter drainage tile where necessary and perhaps a pond or watershed nearby. Depending on location, some properties had water wells while others are connected to rural or city water supplies.