From the launch pad to the mobile complex. The evolution of launch complexes for ballistic missiles of the US strategic nuclear forces

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From the launch pad to the mobile complex. The evolution of launch complexes for ballistic missiles of the US strategic nuclear forces
Launch of the PGM-17 Thor rocket. Clearly visible devices for lifting the rocket and the cable mast, 1958. Photo by the US Department of Defense


At the end of the fifties, a ground component appeared as part of the US strategic nuclear forces - strategic complexes with medium-range or intercontinental-range ballistic missiles began to enter service with the Air Force. To deploy such weapons, various launch complexes and launchers were developed and built. At the same time, a variety of missile placement options were proposed, including unexpected and overly bold ones.



Ground placement


In the early stages of development, American ballistic missiles used the simplest launch complexes. In an open area of ​​sufficient size, a traditional launch table with a cable mast and other devices was mounted, and other components and structures were placed at some distance from it.


PGM-19 Jupiter launch complex. A rocket with a cover of the "petals of a flower" type is visible. Photo by the US Department of Defense

Such complexes had certain advantages and disadvantages, and the ratio of these factors ultimately determined their fate. The advantages included the relative ease of construction and deployment, the convenience of working with a rocket, etc. At the same time, the complex was stationary and could not escape from the expected impact. In addition, he had no protection, not even from the weather.

Launch complexes of this kind were built for medium-range missiles PGM-17A Thor and PGM-19 Jupiter. Fundamentally, they did not differ from each other, but, as rocket technology developed, they improved and adapted to changing requirements. Original ideas were also offered. For example, the Jupiter complex included a light shelter of the “flower petals” type. Several sections of complex shape covered the tail of the rocket and the launch pad, allowing the crew to work in all weather conditions. Before launch, the "petals" opened.

In 1957, flight tests of the first American intercontinental missile SM-65 Atlas began. Early modifications of this product, like their predecessors, took off from the launch pad. Open launchers have been deployed to several US bases and have been used on combat duty.


Launch of an SM-65B Atlas-B rocket from the launch pad, 1958. Photo by the US Department of Defense

In connection with the appearance of its ICBMs in the USSR, the development and construction of protected launch complexes began in the USA. So, in 1961, SM-65E Atlas missiles in "semi-hard" launchers, also known as "coffin" (coffin), took up duty. Such an installation was an underground reinforced concrete structure with all the necessary systems and a command post. A rectangular "coffin" with a movable roof protruded above the ground level, in which there was a rocket. In preparation for the launch, the lid was opened, and the Atlas rose to a vertical position.

Rockets underground


The next step to enhance the protection of missiles was taken during the next upgrade of the Atlas missile system. Its modification SM-65F for the first time in American practice received a silo launcher. According to calculations, such a complex could withstand the shock wave of a nuclear explosion.


The rise of the rocket "Atlas" from the "semi-solid" installation. Photo by the US Department of Defense

While on duty, the product, along with a modified launch pad, was in a reinforced concrete glass with a solid lid. Inside the structure, platforms were provided for access to the rocket and maintenance, cables, etc. Before launch, the lid was opened, and the rocket, along with the table, rose to the surface. The launch was already carried out above the surface of the earth.

Similar launchers were built for the newer SM-68A/HGM-25A or Titan ICBMs. The same principles of operation were used, but the individual units of the complex were finalized taking into account the features of the new rocket and the operating experience of the previous Atlas.

For all its advantages, the lift-table silo was prohibitively complex to build and operate. In this regard, in the next LGM-25C Titan II project, the rocket was abandoned. For this ICBM, a new launch complex was created. The launch pad was now stationary, and the rocket had to take off directly from the shaft. The launch was carried out in a "hot" way - with the launch of the main engine inside the installation.


Preparations for the launch of the HGM-25A Titan I ICBM. Photo by the US Department of Defense

This architecture of the complex has proven itself well and was used in all new projects. From the mine, but without a transport and launch container, the LGM-30 Minuteman ICBMs of all modifications and the newer LGM-118 Peacekeeper were launched.

Protection and disguise


The further development of the Soviet nuclear missile potential forced the United States to look for new ways to protect its ICBMs. Thus, during the development of the promising MX / LGM-118 missile, a number of options for launch complexes were proposed that could protect it from external influences or hide a potential enemy from reconnaissance. Some of these developments even reached the test.

First of all, it was proposed to develop the concept of silos. The possibility of building mines in the rock was studied, which made it possible to increase the stability of the structure. There was an idea of ​​hiding installations behind the terrain. They should have been placed in such a way that mountains or other obstacles were present in the path of the enemy warhead, preventing a direct hit on the silos.


LGM-25C Titan II with a full silo. Photo by the US Department of Defense

The idea of ​​a "dense pack" was proposed - the placement of mines at a distance of about 500-550 m from each other. To defeat such a "package" required several nuclear warheads. At the same time, undermining the first one, destroying one of the silos, was also supposed to hit other flying blocks and save the rest of the mines.

Installations of increased depth were also proposed - up to 500-750 m. The space above the rocket was to be filled with a sand mixture. In preparation for the launch, the sand should have been soaked with water, and the reactive gases should have blown it out, clearing the way for the rocket.


"Hot" launch of the LGM-118 Peacekeeper rocket. Photo by the US Department of Defense

Of greatest interest is the project of a self-digging autonomous launcher. Such products were planned to be buried at a shallow depth in the positional area for long-term duty. The rocket was placed horizontally in the container. Having received the command to launch, the installation was supposed to lift the TPK with a rocket from under the ground and transfer it to a vertical position. It was proposed to protect such installations with the help of missile defense systems in a similar design.

Almost all projects for new launchers for the Pikeper were criticized and did not progress beyond design work. The self-digging installation was brought to testing at the test site, but the customer refused it too. As a result, serial LGM-118 missiles were placed only in silos of traditional design.

Mobile complexes


It has long been clear that the protection and operational capabilities of the IRBM / ICBM can be improved with a mobile launcher. Various versions of such complexes have been worked out since the sixties, and real experiments soon began.


Experimental self-digging installation for "Peskyper". Photo Secretprojects.co.uk

So, in the early seventies, a method was developed to launch the Minuteman missile from the side of a C-5 military transport aircraft. The rocket with a set of additional equipment was supposed to roll off the ramp of the carrier aircraft, take up a vertical position and start the engine. The possibility of such a use of the promising MX missile was studied, and a preliminary design of a specialized missile-carrying aircraft was also carried out.

In 1972, an experimental complex based on the C-5 with the LGM-30 missile was tested, but the work was not continued. Such a missile system was distinguished by a certain simplicity and had other advantages. However, the United States feared that the USSR would create its own analogue, and therefore a ban on the air launch of ICBMs was introduced into the new SALT-II and START-I treaties.

In the eighties, several projects of combat railway missile systems were developed. It was proposed to place Minuteman, Peacekeeper missiles or the promising MGM-134 Midgetman at the railway base. The main element of such a complex was to be a wagon with a lifting launcher. Also, the composition included wagons with a control center, with living quarters, etc.


Car-launcher from the BZHRK Peacekeeper Rail Garrison. Photo by Wikimedia Commons

In preparation for the deployment of the LGM-118 missiles, two prototypes of the Peacekeeper Rail Garrison BZHRK were manufactured. They passed part of the tests and generally confirmed the operability of the chosen concept. However, the project did not reach missile launches. In the early nineties, it was closed due to a change in the strategic environment and a reduction in funding.

In the mid-eighties, a mobile ground complex Hard Mobile Launcher was developed for the MGM-134 rocket. Two companies on a competitive basis offered their own versions of such a system, and in the mid-eighties, a more successful one, created by Boeing, came out for testing. It was made on the basis of a multi-axle special chassis and a semi-trailer with a lifting mechanism for the TPK rocket. The special design of the chassis and trailer made it possible to obtain high cross-country ability, and the low profile of the launcher was supposed to increase its resistance to external influences.


Mobile complex HML for MGM-134. Photo by the US Department of Defense

HML tests continued until the early nineties, after which the project was closed. As with BZHRK and other projects, the reason for this was an improvement in the international installation and budget cuts.

Of particular interest is the project of off-road PGRK from Bell. It was proposed to build a hovercraft with an armored hull with a length of approx. 35 m. A raised TPK with a rocket was placed under the armor. Such a complex could be on duty in a shelter or patrol in a given area while waiting for a launch command. The possibility of creating a crewless complex was not excluded. However, due to the great complexity, the project was not developed.

Development and its results


Since the middle of the last century, the United States has developed a number of strategic missile systems with ballistic missiles of various classes. For them, different versions of launch complexes and launchers were created, incl. unusual appearance and with special abilities. However, not all such developments have reached actual operation.


Self-propelled hovercraft launcher from Bell. Graphics Forums.spacebattles.com

After the end of the Cold War, the development of the US strategic nuclear forces slowed down sharply, which affected the state of their ground component. As a result, only LGM-30G Minuteman III ICBMs in silo launchers for a “hot” start are currently on combat duty. Other missiles and launchers were abandoned due to their moral and physical obsolescence.

In addition, the United States also abandoned the new designs and architectures of launch complexes. A new generation of LGM-35 Sentinel ICBMs is currently being developed, and they are going to be used with existing silos for the Minutemen. It is possible that new starting positions will be built, but the development of other complexes is not planned. Now we can expect that the ideas of the past decades will no longer be developed.
13 comments
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  1. +4
    2 March 2023 05: 13
    Interesting. Didn't know about it. The text of my comment is too short, but I think people will forgive me for that.
  2. -1
    2 March 2023 06: 30
    The Americans failed to create mobile and railway complexes. Therefore, they persuaded the labeled Judas to liquidate the Soviet BZHRK. The status of the Perimeter (Dead Hand) system and missile attack early warning systems (EWS) is not entirely clear.
    When you are sure that there will be nothing left of THEM, if something happens, you become calmer.
    Why do we need such a world if Russia will not be there?
    (Vladimir Putin)
    1. -3
      2 March 2023 06: 34
      Disagree with GDP...
      We need a world in which there will be no USA ... the main hotbed of world cataclysms on our planet ... this tick, having sucked blood around the world, swelled to a very large size ... it would be necessary for him to do a little bloodletting somewhere near its borders.
      1. +4
        2 March 2023 19: 39
        why not just live in peace in a world where everything is there? seems like a pretty simple idea to me.
    2. +2
      2 March 2023 12: 52
      The Americans failed to create mobile and railway complexes. Therefore, they persuaded the labeled Judas to liquidate the Soviet BZHRK.

      Gorbachev did not destroy anything.
      Soviet BZHRK were destroyed in the period 2003 - 2007, moreover, even despite the withdrawal from the START-2 treaty. Who was the President there in 2003-2007?
      1. +1
        2 March 2023 14: 16
        The minus ones clearly have retrograde amnesia. Moreover, in the stage of spring exacerbation.
    3. +5
      2 March 2023 19: 07
      Quote: Amateur
      The Americans failed to create mobile and railway complexes. Therefore, they persuaded the labeled Judas to liquidate the Soviet BZHRK. The status of the Perimeter (Dead Hand) system and missile attack early warning systems (EWS) is not entirely clear.
      The fact is that they actually do not need such complexes, and they understand this. For the most part, all projects from the Cold War were needed by companies from the military-industrial complex, of course, they really wanted to get tasty contracts for them. One of the goals of creating mobile systems is to make it difficult for the enemy to destroy them before they complete their task - that is, the launch of ICBMs. We have a bunch of ambiguous or openly hostile neighbors and a huge land border, which is extremely problematic to cover completely. And they have: Canada, "51 states" and a NATO ally, and generally friendly Mexico, which does not need this, and whose armed forces are simply not capable of delivering such a strike. Their early warning systems are in good condition, being updated and modernized. Until something reaches the mines, they will already "shoot back", in addition, there are 2 more components of the triad. And after... And what's the difference what happens after? wassat It makes no sense for them to create mobile installations, but for us it is vital.
      1. 0
        6 March 2023 20: 19
        Quote: Infinity
        they actually don’t need such complexes, and they understand this

        Met a completely different opinion. That the Americans calculated what bills the Pentagon would receive for the roads broken by the rocket carrier, considered that in winter it is not masked, and there are some snowfalls exactly where the trajectories through the pole are shorter:

        US snow pollution map for today.
        And then we thought about it and decided that nafig it is not necessary.
    4. 0
      2 March 2023 20: 47
      and what is there to persuade! RT23 was produced in the south. As soon as the solid propellant rocket storage period expired, there was no one to make new missiles.
      The P39 has a similar fate and, unfortunately, the submarines with them.
      It is easier with liquid rockets - the fuel is drained and like new.
      True, when it got hot, they sort of set up a Sarmatian in Krasnoyarsk to do.
    5. +1
      6 March 2023 00: 07
      The BZHRK was removed from the roads under Yeltsin, put in a storage base, and they were asked around 2005.
  3. +3
    2 March 2023 09: 55
    Launch complexes of this kind were built for medium-range missiles PGM-17A Thor and PGM-19 Jupiter.

    For PGM-17A Thor missiles, "complexes of this kind" were not built. Moreover, these missiles were not placed on the territory of the United States, they were placed on the territory of Great Britain.



    The missile was stored on a transport-launcher horizontally in a special shelter. Before launch, the shelter was moved along the rails, the rocket was raised to a vertical position by a hydraulic system, refueled and launched. All preparatory operations took about 15 minutes.



    From open launch sites in the United States, Thor rockets were launched only during tests.
  4. The comment was deleted.
  5. The comment was deleted.
  6. +1
    2 March 2023 21: 08
    Experimental self-digging installation for "Peskyper". Photo Secretprojects.co.uk


    It is strange that all projects ignored water transport. Although for large-sized missiles, it is water transport and a water carrier that are optimal, due to their natural properties and capabilities. An ordinary large pontoon and a special barge, you can even sea, not river.
  7. 0
    6 March 2023 00: 12
    Quote: Amateur
    The Americans failed to create mobile and railway complexes. Therefore, they persuaded the labeled Judas to liquidate the Soviet BZHRK. The status of the Perimeter (Dead Hand) system and missile attack early warning systems (EWS) is not entirely clear.
    When you are sure that there will be nothing left of THEM, if something happens, you become calmer.
    Why do we need such a world if Russia will not be there?
    (Vladimir Putin)

    The BZHRK was removed from the roads under Yeltsin, put in a storage base, and sawed off around 2005.