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Bell Telephone Laboratories - How Do You Stop an ICBM?
December 1961 Radio-Electronics Article

December 1961 Radio-Electronics

December 1961 Radio-Electronics Cover - RF Cafe[Table of Contents]

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from Radio-Electronics, published 1930-1988. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.

The era of nuclear weapons of course began in August of 1945 when they effectively ended World War II, but it wasn't until around 1955 that another country - the U.S.S.R. - developed a deployable thermonuclear bomb. Even before that happened, the U.S. Department of Defense began planning for systems to detect and ultimately disable enemy intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and aircraft-delivered nuclear bombs. The nuclear arms race had begun, and continues to this day. Now, there are five countries recognized as possessing thermonuclear weapons, three countries declaring (but not verified) possession, and one country implying possession. A somewhat insane concept dubbed "Mutual Assured Destruction" (MAD) asserts that if everyone can strike and counterstrike with equal capability, that will prevent nuclear warfare because the aggressor will suffer as significantly as the victim. This 1961 Bell Telephone Labs promotion in Radio−Electronics magazine introduced one of the early concepts for intercepting inbound ICBMs. The most familiar and successful system, developed under the name of Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, aka "Star Wars") is the current incarnation.

Bell Telephone Laboratories - How Do You Stop an ICBM?

Nike Ajax missile at the South Dakota Air and Space Museum (Wikipedia) - RF Cafe

The brother (a former USAF missile site commander) of an RF Cafe visitor / contributor delivered this very Bell Labs Nike Ajax missile to the South Dakota Air and Space Museum where it is still on display. A funny story lies behind the trip from the Air Force base to the museum, but I'm sworn to secrecy (I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you). Here is the Wikipedia entry for the Nike Ajax missile developed by Bell Labs.

Bell Telephone Laboratories - How Do You Stop an ICBM?, December 1961 Radio-Electronics - RF CafeMore than 450,000 pounds of thrust lifts the U. S. Army's Nike Zeus missile skyward in a cloud of vapor. The Nike Zeus missile being developed for the project by the Douglas Aircraft Company will be designed to intercept ballistic missiles traveling over 15,000 miles per hour, and destroy them at a safe distance from the defended area.

How do you stop an ICBM?

How do you detect, track, intercept - and destroy within minutes-an ICBM that is moving through outer space ten times faster than a bullet?

Bell Telephone Laboratories may have designed the answer: Nike Zeus, a fully automated system designed to intercept and destroy all types of ballistic missiles - not only ICBM's but also IRBM's launched from land, sea or air. The system is now under development for the Army Ordnance Missile Command.

Radically new radar techniques are being developed for Nike Zeus. There will be an acquisition radar designed to detect the invading missile at great distances. And a discrimination radar designed to distinguish actual war-heads from harmless decoys that may be included to confuse our defenses.

The system tracks the ICBM or IRBM, then launches and tracks the Nike Zeus missile and automatically steers it all the way to intercept the target. The entire engagement, from detection to destruction, would take place within minutes and would span hundreds of miles.

Under a prime Army Ordnance contract with the Western Electric Company, Bell Laboratories is charged with the development of the entire Nike Zeus system, with assistance from many subcontractors. It is another example of the cooperation between Bell Laboratories and Western Electric for the defense of America.

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Posted January 20, 2022

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RF Cafe began life in 1996 as "RF Tools" in an AOL screen name web space totaling 2 MB. Its primary purpose was to provide me with ready access to commonly needed formulas and reference material while performing my work as an RF system and circuit design engineer. The World Wide Web (Internet) was largely an unknown entity at the time and bandwidth was a scarce commodity. Dial-up modems blazed along at 14.4 kbps while tying up your telephone line, and a nice lady's voice announced "You've Got Mail" when a new message arrived...

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