Historic California Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields
Travis Defense Area Site T-10 (Elmira)
by Daniel M. Sebby
Military Historian, California Military Department
Travis Defense Area Site T-10. The Administrative (T-10A) and Integrated Fire Control (T-10C) Areas are in the foreground while the Launcher Area (T-10L) can be seen just in front of the trees in the background (GGNRA)

Former Travis Defense Area Site T-10 was established in 1956 when the Department of the U.S Army acquired the acreage for the Launcher Area by condemnation from Laurence F. Olsen and the Administrative and IFC Area by purchase from Bernard James Edward. In addition to the 61.60 acres of fee-owned and leased land, there were 898.47 acres of easements used for line-of-site and right-of-ways.

The U.S. Army's Cold War antiaircraft air defense artillery sites were divided up into three distinct areas, each serving different functions. Specific to former Travis Nike Battery 10 were the Launcher Area, Administrative Area, and IFC Area.

The Launcher Area was located 1.25 miles to the west of the Administrative Area and IFC Area and consisted of 12 launchers and three magazines (underground storage "bunkers") that held a total of 30 MIM-3 Nike-Ajax multi-stage surface-to-air missiles. Additionally, the Launcher Area housed missile and warhead assembly, maintenance equipment, and fueling facilities. This was the most secure area of the Site, and it also included a Ready Room for missile crews when the missiles were in a "hot," or ready, status; security checkpoints; and a kennel for military working dogs.

The Administrative Area contained the Site's administration and support functions. This included troop housing and messing, recreational facilities, battery administration and supply buildings, and vehicle maintenance facilities.

The IFC Area (also known as the Control Area) was the location of the Site's radar and fire control systems. The IFC Area was located adjacent to the Administrative Area and allowed for 360-degree "line of site" radar coverage by the Site's missile and target tracking and search radar systems. The missile tracking radar would "lock on" to the missiles while they sat on the launcher and follow them from launch to impact. The reason for situating the IFC Area away from the Launcher Area was because the high speed of the Nike family of missiles would have destroyed the tracking mechanisms of the missile tracking radar if they were located too close to the launchers.

The Site was initially garrisoned by Battery A, 436th Antiaircraft Artillery Missile Battalion, U.S. Army. The battalion was one of the oldest units of the U.S. Army, tracing its lineage to Captain Nathan Eastbrook's Company of Light Artillery, organized in 1803.

In June 1958, the Site was one of the first to begin the transition from the MIM-3 Nike-Ajax missile to the MIM-14 Nike-Hercules missile, which was armed with nuclear or high-explosive warheads.

In September 1958, the U.S. Army reorganized the field and antiaircraft artillery branches under the Combat Arms Regimental System (CARS) and the 436th Antiaircraft Artillery Missile Battalion, U.S. Army, was reorganized as the 1st Missile Battalion, 61st Artillery Regiment, U.S. Army. Concurrent with this redesignation was the relocation of the battalion's headquarters from Travis AFB to the Site. With this relocation, subordinate batteries were Headquarters Battery and Battery A, Travis Defense Area Site T-10, Elmira; Battery B, Travis Defense Area Site T-53, Potrero Hills (inactivated in January 1959); Battery C, Travis Defense Area Site T-86, Fairfield/Cement Hills (converted to Nike-Hercules; inactivated in June 1971); and Battery D, Travis Defense Area Site T-33, Dixon/Lambie (inactivated in September 1959).

Initially, the Travis Defense Area was completely separate from the San Francisco Defense Area. With the responsibility of command and control of the Travis Defense Area Site T-10 defending Travis AFB, the Site had several additional buildings and electronic systems that were not found on Nike batteries in the San Francisco Defense Area. Concurrent with the conversion of Travis Defense Area Site T-10 and T-86 to the more sophisticated Nike-Hercules systems and the inactivation of Travis Defense Area Sites T-53 and T-33 in 1959, the High Power Radar (HIPAR) Secondary Master Fire Unit (SMFU) for the local Army Air Defense Command Post (AADCP) was installed at the Site.

In June of 1971, the Travis and San Francisco Defense Areas were merged into a single command and control structure, resulting in the Battalion Headquarters and Headquarters Battery moving to Fort Baker and assuming command of U.S. Army air defense batteries at Travis AFB (Battery A, Travis Defense Area Site T-10) and Fort Barry (Battery B, San Francisco Defense Area Site SF-88) activities in Northern California. Battery C at Travis Defense Area Site T-86 was inactivated at the same time, leaving Travis Nike Battery 10 as the sole remaining active battery in the Travis Defense Area. Also in 1971 was the separation of the U.S. Army's Artillery branch into two separate branches: Field Artillery and Air Defense Artillery. With this split, the Site's garrison was redesignated as Battery A, 1st Battalion (Nike-Hercules), 61st Air Defense Artillery Regiment, U.S. Army.

In March 1974, all Nike-Hercules batteries in California were inactivated as part of the U.S. Army's reduction of the missile based air defenses of the Continental United States.


The Nike Missiles at Travis Defense Area

The Western Electric SAM-A-7/M1/MIM-3 Nike Ajax

The Nike Ajax was the world's first operational surface-to-air guided missile system. Its origins lay in the immediate post-war time, when the U.S. Army realized that guided missiles were the only way to provide air-defense against future fast high-flying bombers. Western Electric became the prime contractor for the XSAM-G-7 Nike missile system and Douglas as the primary subcontractor was responsible for the missile airframe.

The first unguided Nike missiles were fired in 1946, but problems with the original multi-rocket booster (eight solid-fuel rockets wrapped around the missile tail) soon led to delays in the program. In 1948, it was decided to replace this booster pack with a single rocket booster, attached to the back of the missile. The main propulsion of the missile was a Bell liquid-fueled rocket motor, and the flight path was controlled by the four small fins around the nose. In November 1951, the first successful interception of a QB-17 target drone succeeded. The first production Nike (which had been redesignated SAM-A-7 in 1951) flew in 1952, and the first operational Nike site was activated in 1954. By this time, the missile had been designated by the Army as Guided Missile, Anti-Aircraft M1. The name had changed to Nike I, to distinguish it from the Nike-B (later MIM-14 Nike Hercules) and Nike II (later LIM-49 Nike Zeus). On 15 November 1956, the name was finally changed to Nike Ajax.

The Nike Ajax missile used a command guidance system. An acquisition radar called LOPAR (Low-Power Acquisition Radar) picked up potential targets at long range, and the information on hostile targets was then transferred to the Target Tracking Radar (TTR). An adjacent Missile Tracking Radar (MTR) tracked the flight path of the Nike Ajax missile. Using tracking data of the TTR and MTR, a computer calculated the interception trajectory, and sent appropriate course correction commands to the missile. The three high-explosive fragmentation warheads of the missile (in nose, center, and aft section) were detonated by ground command, when the paths of target and missile met.

One of the major disadvantages of the Nike Ajax system was that the guidance system could handle only one target at a time. Additionally, there was originally no data link between different Nike Ajax sites, which could lead to several sites engaging the same target. The latter problem was eventually solved by the introduction of the Martin AN/FSG-1 Missile Master command-and-control system, with automatic data communication and processing. Other problematic features of the Nike Ajax system were the liquid-fuel rocket motor with its highly toxic propellants, and the large size of a complete site with all components, which made Nike Ajax to all intents and purposes a fixed-site air defense system.

By 1958, nearly 200 Nike Ajax sites had been activated in the United States. However, the far more advanced MIM-14 Nike Hercules soon replaced the Nike Ajax, and by late 1963, the last Nike Ajax on U.S. soil had been retired. In 1963, the Nike Ajax had received the new designation MIM-3A. Despite the use of an MIM (Mobile Intercept Missile) designator, the mobility of the Nike Ajax system was more theoretical than actually feasible in a combat situation.

The MIM-3A continued to serve with U.S. overseas and friendly forces for many more years. In total, more than 16,000 missiles were built.

Nike-Ajax (background) and Nike-Hercules (foreground) missiles

Western Electric SAM-A-25/M6/MIM-14 Nike Hercules

The Nike Hercules was the only nuclear-armed surface-to-air weapon, which was operational with the U.S. Army. Development of an improved Nike missile began in 1952, with the primary goal to develop a missile with a significantly higher performance than MIM-3 Nike Ajax (then known simply as Nike), which could still be used with the existing Nike ground equipment. After it had been shown that the Nike Ajax could not be equipped with then existing nuclear warheads, nuclear armament became another goal for the new missile. The SAM-A-25 Nike B program was formally established in June 1953. As with Nike Ajax, Western Electric was prime contractor, and Douglas was responsible for the missile airframe.

The Nike B (renamed Nike Hercules on 15 December 1956) used many components of the Nike I (Nike Ajax). The booster consisted of four Nike Ajax boosters, and the original design used 4 of Ajax' liqued-fuel rockets as sustainer propulsion. However, the first flight tests with the liquid-fuel sustainer in 1955 proved very troublesome, and a solid-fueled sustainer rocket was eventually used. The first successful interception of a drone target occurred in 1956, and in 1957 the new solid-fuel sustainer flew for the first time. Nike Hercules used the same command guidance as the MIM-3 Nike Ajax, with essentially the same ground components.

The first production Nike Hercules missiles were delivered in 1958, and quickly replaced the Ajax on many Nike sites. By then, the Nike Hercules had been designated as Guided Missile, Air Defense M6. The M6 could be equipped with either an M17 (a.k.a. T45) blast-fragmentation warhead, or a W-31 nuclear fission warhead with yield selectable as 2 kT or 40 kT. The missile performance was such that even very high-flying bombers could not escpe the Nike Hercules. Capability against low-level targets remained rather limited, however.

As the Nike Hercules began replacing the older Nike Ajax, work was underway to improve the acquisition and tracking radar capabilities to fully exploit the missile's greater performance. The major improvement in what was called the Improved Hercules system was the new L-band acquisition radar, called HIPAR (High-Power Acquisition Radar). The TTR (Target Tracking Radar) and TRR (Target Ranging Radar) were also improved, having better ECM resistance. The missiles of the improved Improved Hercules system were designated as M6A1. In June 1960, an Improved Hercules achieved the world's first successful interception of a ballistic guided missile, when a MGM-5 Corporal SRBM was shot down. The new radars were also far more compact than the original ones, which made moving a Nike site a least somewhat practical for the first time. Lastly, Improved Hercules introduced a viable surface-to-surface capability to the Nike system. The first Improved Hercules systems were installed at Nike sites in June 1961.

In 1963, the M6 and M6A1 missiles were redesignated as MIM-14A and MIM-14B, respectively. The MIM-14C (introduced in 1972) was a modified MIM-14B with an improved missile guidance section for higher manoeuverability and better ECM resistance.

All in all, the U.S. Army established 145 Nike Hercules sites over the years. Production of the nuclear-armed missiles ended in 1964, and gradual phase-out of the MIM-14 began in the late 1960's. The Army originally planned to replace the Nike with the new MIM-104 Patriot missile, but this plan was not implemented in the USA. Therefore, after the last active Nike Hercules sites in the continental U.S. had been deactivated in 1974, there are no long-range air-defense missiles fielded in the U.S.. In Europe, the U.S. Army retired its last MIM-14 units in 1984, when the MIM-104 Patriot was introduced.

In total, more than 25000 Nike Hercules missiles of all wersions were produced, most being of the MIM-14B variant.

Source: Directory of U.S. Missiles and Rockets, http://www.designation-systems.net/



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Updated 31 July 2016