All Things Considered
Photo courtesy Bill Evans
Dec. 28, 2001 President Bush aims to develop a missile defense shield to defend against 21st century threats. But some experts say the same limitations that killed a Cold War surface to air missile system could pose problems to new programs.
Long before Nike was a sneaker company, the Greek Goddess of victory lent her name to a missile. defense planners at a loss. Conventional anti aircraft guns were inadequate against the fast moving warplanes. In response, the military turned to another emerging German technology defensive missiles.
Photo Nike Air Max 2016 Womens courtesy Bill Evans
The first successful Nike test was in 1951. By 1955, missile sites could be found near a dozen major American cities and defense installations. The first generation missiles, known as Nike Ajax, were liquid fueled, with a range of just 20 miles. By the late 1950s, the Army developed a new set of the missiles, known as Nike Hercules, with greater range and the potential to carry nuclear warheads.
The Nike program was phased out by the mid 1970s, rendered obsolete by intercontinental ballistic missiles. But though gone it is not forgotten, as nostalgic Cold War veterans have sought to keep the system alive in their hearts, their minds and on their computers.
Bill Evans tended the analog computer for the system and he maintains a Web site devoted to the Nike Missile program as it existed in suburban Maryland, where he was posted. There are several other Web sites devoted to former Nike batteries across the country. And just outside San Francisco, a former Nike installation has been turned into a museum, where visitors can see disarmed missiles being elevated into launch position.
Defense missile expert John Rheinlander helped draft the 1974 Anti Ballistic Missile treaty with the Soviet Union, which barred defensive missile systems. He opposes the Bush administration's decision to withdraw from that treaty in order to test a missile shield. Rheinlander points to the defunct Nike program as an example of how such systems are too costly and easily thwarted.