It was not until World War II that the technology of using rockets and missiles in warfare became firmly established. During the final months of World War II, several major defense contractors studied the likelihood that evolving technologies could produce guided missiles to intercept bombers and surface-to-surface missiles.
The Cold War, a term used to describe the hostile relations between communist and non-communist countries, greatly accelerated missile and rocket technology. (Mason; HAER)
During the Cold War era that followed World War II, the threat of foreign attack on US soil shifted from naval assault to air attack, particularly by aircraft carrying nuclear weapons. Thus, the Army Air Defense Artillery took responsibility from the Coast Artillery branch for defending the US. (NPS)
The perception that the Soviet Union might be capable of constructing a sizable fleet of long-range, nuclear-armed bomber aircraft capable of reaching the continental US provided motivation to rapidly develop and deploy a missile system to defend major US population centers and other vital targets. (TheMilitaryStandard)
The potential threat posed by such aircraft became much more serious when, in 1949, the Russians exploded their first atomic bomb.
The goal of the Army in the 1950s was to establish a nationwide defense system of surface-to-air guided missiles (SAMs) placed in critical positions around major urban centers or strategic military installations within the continental US, Hawaii and Europe.
Prior to the guided missile era, the Hawaiʻi Air National Guard, armed with four batteries of 90-mm Anti-Aircraft Artillery guns, provided antiaircraft defense of Oahu. The battalion’s four firing batteries were deployed to Sand Island (two,) Fort Barrette (one) and Waianae (one,) with battalion headquarters at Fort Ruger. (Bennett)
The development of a missile-based air defense system necessitated the reorganization of the Army command structure. In 1950, all artillery units were joined to a new continental air defense system under the US Army Antiaircraft Command (later renamed the US Army Air Defense Command;) control was placed under the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD.) (Mason; HAER)
Nike, named for the mythical Greek goddess of victory, was the name given to a program which ultimately produced the world’s first successful, widely-deployed, guided surface-to-air missile system. (TheMilitaryStandard)
The missile was first test-fired in 1951, and the first Nike Ajax battalion was emplaced at Fort Meade, Maryland in 1953. As the Nike Ajax system underwent testing during the early-1950s, the Army became concerned that the missile was incapable of stopping a massed Soviet air attack.
To enhance the missile’s capabilities, the Army explored the feasibility of equipping Ajax with a nuclear warhead, but when that proved impractical, in July 1953 the service authorized development of a second generation surface-to-air missile, the Nike Hercules.
Conversion from conventional artillery to missiles in the continental US was complete by July 1958. The Nike Hercules placements in the field expanded over the next 6-years. (Federation of American Scientists)
Coastal defenses during this period largely depended on the Nike antiaircraft missile system. The Nike system was not only the most expensive missile system ever deployed, it was also the most widespread (300 sites in 30 states) and longest-lived (25 years nationwide.) (NPS)
The missile sites were designed and constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers, and standardized plans were generally used. (However, the Hawaiʻi facilities were typically above ground launching sites with berms protecting the launchers.)
Originally, the Army planned to build eight batteries at six missile sites around the island. This plan was eventually reduced in scope, and six batteries were built at four areas (two single and two double batteries.)
The four sites were at Dillingham Air Force Base in Mokuleʻia (Kawaihāpai;) Kahuku Army Training Area near Mt Kawela; Bellows Air Force Station at Waimanalo and Barbers Pt (Palehua,) on the southwestern portion of the Waianae Mountain Range.
Barber’s Point and Bellows Field each hosted two batteries and had 24 missiles, while the single batteries each had 12 missiles.
The sites were coordinated in their defense efforts through direction from the Army Air Defense Command Post located at Fort Ruger in a tunnel in Diamond Head and were manned by Army Guardsmen.
A typical Nike air defense site consisted of two separate parcels of land. One area was known as the Integrated Fire Control Area. This site contained the Nike system’s ground-based radar and computer systems designed to detect and track hostile aircraft, and to guide the missiles to their targets.
The second parcel of land was known as the Launcher Area. At the launcher area, Nike missiles were stored horizontally. While elsewhere, the missiles were stored in underground missile magazines, the Hawaiʻi facilities were typically above-ground magazines and launching sites with berms protecting the launchers.
The Nike missile sites were manned 24-hours a day by the Hawaiʻi National Guard and were armed with the nuclear-capable Nike Hercules surface-to-air-missiles. (Army)
Hawaiʻi and Alaska were the only locations where live Nike missiles were test fired. Targets included computer generated points in space and miniature airplanes. No missile was ever fired in anger.
While the rest of the Nike force conducted its annual live fire practices at the White Sands Missile Range in NM, the Hawaiʻi Guard was unique in that it conducted its annual live-fire certifications from mobile launchers firing off the north shore of the island of Oʻahu. (National Guard)
Hawaiʻi was also the only state to man all of its firing batteries with Guardsmen; in the continental US the Guard manned about a third of all Nike sites. (National Guard)
The Hawaiʻi units were the only National Guard units to operate a command post. Guardsmen had demonstrated their ability to conduct real-world missions while in a part-time, state-controlled, status, in the process proudly adopting for themselves the title “Missile-Age Minutemen.”
The facilities were continuously operated until the closure of all four Nike sites on O`ahu in March 1970, when the entire Nike Program was closed down as part of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) with the Soviet Union (with the exception of batteries in Alaska and Florida that stayed active until the late 1970s; by 1975 all Nike Hercules sites had been deactivated.)