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MGM-31 Pershing

Short-range ballistic missile

Pershing ballistic missile

The MGM-31 Pershing was the US Army's first operational solid fuel short-range ballistic missile

 
 
Country of origin United States
Entered service 1964
Basing Road-mobile
Dimensions and weight
Weight ~ 18 t
Length ~ 11 m
Hull length ~ 5.3 m
Width ~ 2.7 m
Height ~ 3.5 m
Missile
Missile length 10.5 m
Missile diameter 1 m
Fin span ?
Missile launch weight 4 661 kg
Warhead weight 190 kg
Warhead type Nuclear with a blast yield of 50 to 400 kT
Range of fire 740 km
CEP 400 m
Guidance Inertial navigation system
Mobility (M474 chassis)
Engine Detroit Diesel 6V53 diesel
Engine power 212 hp
Maximum road speed 64 km/h
Range 485 km
Maneuverability
Gradient 60%
Side slope 20%
Vertical step ~ 0.5 m
Trench ~ 1.2 m
Fording ~ 1.2 m

 

   The MGM-31 Pershing was a Short-Range Ballistic Missile (SRBM) operated by the US Army throughout much of the Cold War. It was the first operational US-made SRBM with a solid fuel rocket motor. It was declared operational in 1964 and served for three decades.

   The Pershing missile originated from a series of Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) studies in 1956, into the feasibility of creating a ballistic missile with a range of 930 km to 1 390 km, as a replacement for the PGM-11 Redstone SRBM. This in and of itself was almost the end of the story however, as later in the same year, Secretary of Defense Charles Erwin Wilson issued an order that forbade the Army from operating such a weapon. Known as the "Wilson Memorandum", this document instantaneously put all land-based missiles with ranges exceeding 320 km under the jurisdiction of the US Air Force, so work on the new Army missile couldn't proceed past the "paper" phase. However, the concept got a new lease on life in 1958, when the Department of Defense finally rescinded the Wilson Memorandum.

   Work restarted later at ABMA in 1958, and it was determined that a number of new features were required to build a practical missile of this type. The most important decision was to use a solid propellant instead of a liquid one, in order to maximize the responsiveness and safety margins of the formations using the missile. For this reason it was initially named the "Redstone-S", with the S postfix denoting a solid propellant, though it was ultimately decided instead to name the new missile after the famous General John. J "Black Jack" Pershing.

   ABMA approached seven manufacturers to offer competing design proposals for the Pershing missile; Chrysler, Lockheed, Douglas, Convair, Firestone, Sperry-Rand, and Martin. Wilber M. Brucker, the Secretary of the Army at the time, pressured ABMA to unilaterally select the design offered by Chrysler (Bruckner was formerly the Governor of Michigan where Chrysler resided, and the preceding PGM-11 Redstone was also a Chrysler product). However, General John B. Medaris, the head of the ABMA selection process, insisted that the decision should be left entirely to ABMA. On March 28th 1958, the Army formally announced that the Martin design was selected as the winner.

   However, the selection of the Martin submission was no coincidence. Gen. Medaris had a cozy relationship with that company, as evidenced by a 1956 telephone conversation with Martin president George Bunker, in which Medaris asked Bunker to have his company to build a missile factory close to the Air Force Missile Test Center (now the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station) in Florida; by the end of the next year, Martin's Sand Lake missile factory opened in Orlando, Florida. A year after that, Martin won the contract to manufacture the new Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) for the US Army at the Sand Lake factory. Edward Uhl, who was instrumental in designing the M1 Bazooka for the US Army in World War 2 --- and an associate of Gen. Medaris through famous German rocket engineer Werner Von Braun --- was the vice president of Martin at the time, and made the general manager of the new factory. Moreover, Gen. Medaris' "right hand man" in the selection process was Dr. Arthur Rudolph, another close associate of Von Braun, and both had been smuggled-out of Germany just after World War 2 as part of Operation Paperclip. The US Army officer who had been charged with supervising Von Braun's team of scientists at Redstone Arsenal (including Dr. Rudolph) had been none other than Gen. Medaris.

  The Army was also eager to promote the Pershing missile to the civilian government in Washington DC whenever possible. For example, they exhibited the missile to President Dwight D. Eisenhower on two occasions as part of Project MAN (Modern Army Needs), and later on three occasions to President John F. Kennedy (including during his inauguration parade). Though interestingly, on only one of these occasions was the Pershing an operational weapon system.

   Work on the Pershing took nearly two years before the first XM14 Pershing launch took place, on February 28th 1960, though the first launch from a trailer occurred on July 26th of the same year. An inert training version of the XM14 was also developed, designated the XM19, though both designations were dropped in 1963; the missiles were re-designated as the XMGM-31A and XMTM-31B. The training missile was ultimately never produced, so the XMTM-31B was effectively "dropped" altogether.

   The developmental phase of the Pershing moved slowly, and 56 developmental missiles were launched with only 5 failures, owing at least in part to the application of the "Zero Defects" management concept devised by Martin's quality control manager, Phil Crosby. However, these were stretched-out across three years and three Presidential administrations, and although the missile was type-classified as the MGM-31A Pershing and production began in 1962, developmental work on the missile was far from over. The first operational launch took place on August 20th 1963, followed by at 36 additional operational testing launches into 1967. In 1964, the Pershing was finally declared operational, and its first overseas deployment began.

   As the Army continued to refine the MGM-31 Pershing in 1964, the Secretary of Defense directed the Army to develop a ballistic missile that could be readied and launched even faster. The Army responded in early 1965 with a plan for a Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) version of the Pershing, which was also promoted as a means to replace the MGM-13 Mace cruise missiles then still in service (a rather curious proposal on the Army's part, as the Mace was developed and operated exclusively by the US Air Force). Martin Marietta (following the merger of these companies) was awarded a contract to manufacturer the QRA Pershing in January of 1966, with the resulting missile being designated the MGM-31B Pershing 1A. The responsiveness of the Pershing 1A were sped-up by swapping-out the existing ground vehicles and erector/launcher systems with faster replacements, and incorporating solid state electronics that also made the preparations of the missile itself much faster. The Department of Defense also initiated Project SWAP in September of 1969, with the aim of replacing all Pershing 1s with the new Pershing 1As by mid-1970.

   Production of the Pershing 1A began in 1967, though since the program was heavily concurrent (i.e., the schedule overlapped its development, testing, production, and deployment in advance), more testing took place. The first operational launch (there were no developmental launches) of the Pershing 1A took place on March 5th 1968 at Gilson Butte in Utah. This launch was successful, and 16 additional Pershing 1A operational launches took place between that date and August 4th 1970, only one of which was a failure. The Pershing 1A was declared operational in 1969, and Project SWAP was completed by March 18th 1970, ahead of schedule.

   Further reliability engineering took place in the mid-1970s, that significantly increased the readiness and simplicity of the Pershing 1A missile. A 1974 upgrade reduced mean time to repair from 8.7 hours to 3.8 hours, and mean time between failures increased from 32 hours to 65 hours. Another upgrade in 1976 made many electronic and mechanical changes, which significantly reduced the amount of time required to launch the missile, and increased its accuracy.

   The Pershing 1 missile is cylindrical in shape, with a long, tapered, cylindrical nosecone that tapers again at an even shallower angle near the tip. The main body behind the nosecone is comprised of two booster sections of equal length, with three square fins in a 90-degree crucifix pattern on the tail of the second stage, and three tiny triangular fins on the tail of the first stage at the base of the complete missile. The first and second stages each have a single thrust nozzle, which is recessed into the main body. The Pershing 1A is virtually identical in appearance.

   The MGM-31A Pershing 1 and MGM-31B Pershing 1A are launched from different vehicles. The Pershing 1 is carried and launched from an M474 fully-tracked transport vehicle, a derivative of the M548 tracked cargo carrier (which is in turn an M113 armored personnel carrier variant). A single platoon consisted of four vehicles, and carried one missile (by contrast, a Redstone platoon required twenty vehicles). The M474 carried a single Pershing 1, and enabled it to be easily transported cross-country over a wide range of terrain types, though it was harshly criticized for its slow speed. An additional M474 variant carried the warhead, the missile fins and the azimuth laying set, while a third vehicle carried the programmer test station and a power station system, while a fourth carried an AN/TRC-80 radio terminal set.

   The MGM-31B Pershing 1A instead employed trailers pulled by tractor trucks. The trucks transported the missiles and their associated equipment over roads much more quickly, but required twice as many platforms (each truck pulled a trailer), and their cross-country mobility was markedly less than that of the M474. The missile itself was carried atop an M790 trailer, pulled by an M757 tractor truck (German Luftwaffe units used the Magirus-Deutz Jupiter 6x6 tractor instead). US Army Pershing 1A platoons carried their programmer test station and power station units on M656 trucks (the Luftwaffe instead employed Magirus-Deutz or MAN trucks), and another truck carried a battery control center. The programmer test station vehicle was used to control three Transporter Erector Launcher (TEL) trailers, but could only actually operate one at a time, and the control cables had to be disconnected from an empty trailer and plugged into a loaded trailer. These changes weren't cheap, however; while the Pershing 1 had a unit cost of $1.74 million, the Pershing 1A ended up costing $5.42 million.

   The guidance system for the Pershing is a simple Inertial Navigation System (INS). The accuracy was medicore, with a CEP of some 400 m; though this is good enough for one missile to reliably defeat most surface targets over a wide area, as it carried a nuclear warhead. However hardened underground targets would likely require multiple missiles to destroy. However, while pure INS guidance tends to be inaccurate, it does have the advantage of being invulnerable to electronic countermeasures.

   Although the Pershing is a ballistic missile, its fins are steerable to allow it to make minute course corrections in mid-air, allowing it to hit targets on a wide array of ranges, trajectories, and bearings.

   The propulsion system for the Pershing is a two-stage system. The first stage is a Thiokol TX-174 rocket with a burn time of 38.3 seconds, while the second stage is a Thiokol TX-175 rocket, with a burn time of 39 seconds. Both are solid fuel motors, which eliminates the many hazards associated with liquid rocket fuel, as well as the slow response time; while many liquid fuel missiles take several minutes to top-off their fuel cells before launch, the Pershing can be launched immediately if its already in position.

   The TX-174 rocket lifts the missile into the upper atmosphere, whereupon its fuel is exhausted and the first stage engine is jettisoned. As the first stage begins to fall-away, the TX-175 rocket in the second ignites, and carries the missile into low orbit. As the second stage's fuel is exhausted, this stage is also jettisoned, leaving only the nose cone of the missile as it reached its 150 km apogee. Before re-entering the atmosphere, the warhead orients itself onto the correct bearing, and as it begins its descent into the terminal phase, a spin is imparted to provide stability during descent. As with most ballistic missiles, the terminal phase is quite brief, and the Pershing 1 reaches its target within minutes.

   The resulting performance of the missile was substantial. It rapidly achieved a flight speed of Mach 8 (9 878 km/h) after launch, allowing it to reach a target at maximum range of 740 km in approximately 5 minutes. These capabilities were also illustrative of the rapid advances in US rocket and missile technologies. For example, the 21 m long Redstone had a range of 320 km, while the Pershing was a little more than half the size, but had more than twice the range.

   The payload of the Pershing is the W-50 thermonuclear warhead. This 176 kg munition has a variable yield, with settings for 50 kT, 200 kT, or 400 kT. The Pershing has never been armed with a conventional warhead, perhaps owing to its mediocre accuracy.

   A total of 754 MGM-31A Pershing 1s were produced from 1960 to 1969, and 754 MGM-31B Pershing 1As between 1967 and 1969. The only operators of the Pershing were the US and West Germany. West Germany's procurement of the Pershing was an awkward and contentious issue, as their constitution expressly forbade the Bundeswehr from possessing nuclear ordnance. In order for West Germany to deploy its own SRBMs, a compromise was struck whereby the Bundeswehr would acquire the missiles, but the warheads would be kept in US military bases in Central Europe, and delivered to the Bundeswehr only when war was believed imminent. No such conflict ever arose, and thus no Pershings were ever launched in anger.

   The West German deployment of Pershing missiles was also rather ironic in a historic context, given that John Pershing played a critical role in Germany's defeat during the First World War, and even ordered that any captured German soldiers who had been issued sawback bayonets or flamethrowers were to be executed on the spot (which was and remains a war crime; the use of sawback bayonets and flamethrowers is not).

   The end of the Pershing 1 program came in 1987, with the US and Soviet governments signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (or INF treaty), which among other weapons, banned the use of SRBMs and IRBMs. In compliance with this treaty, the US Army retired all of its remaining Pershings by the end of the 1980s, and the fuselages and engines were destroyed. The last remaining Pershing 1 was destroyed by 1991, excluding missiles that were de-miled for display purposes. The warheads for the Pershings were retained however, and were re-used in variants of the B-61 nuclear bomb.

 

Variants

 

   XMGM-31A: Prototype for the MGM-31A. Initially designated XM14.

   XMTM-31B: Prototype for a training version of the Pershing missile. Initially designated XM19. Did not enter production.

   MGM-31A Pershing 1: Initial production model, as described above. The Pershing 1 is carried and launched from an M474 fully-tracked transport vehicle, a derivative of the M548 tracked cargo carrier (which is in turn an M113 armored personnel carrier variant). A total of 754 MGM-31A Pershing 1s were produced from 1960 to 1969.

   MGM-31B Pershing 1A: Improved Pershing 1 systems with a new faster-emplacing TEL and new faster-moving support vehicles. It employed trailers pulled by M757 tractor trucks. This improved missile could be readied and launched faster. The missile itself has also been improved, with new electrical and electronic systems, including solid state circuitry. That also made the preparations of the missile itself much faster. The MGM-31B Pershing 1A was declared operational in 1969. Note that this weapon was a development of the production MGM-31A, not the developmental XMTM-31B. A total of 754 MGM-31B Pershing 1As were produced between 1967 and 1969.

   Pegasus: Proposed satellite launcher to be built using converted Pershing 1 missiles. It appears that none were built.

   MGM-31C Pershing 2 IRBM. Despite sharing the same designation number and name it was actually an unrelated weapon system.

 

Similar missiles

 

   V-2: This German weapon was the world's first ballistic missile, as well as the first SRBM. A decade ahead of its time, the V-2 was virtually unstoppable during World War 2, but its accuracy and reliability were abysmal, and because its cost in time, materials, manpower, and money, the V-2 did far more damage to the Axis than to the Allies. Its range was much shorter than the Pershing 1, but the V-2 could also be launched from a TEL vehicle.

   R-11 Zemlya (Western reporting name SS-1B or Scud-A): This was a contemporary Soviet SRBM. It was adopted in 1957. It used technology of the German V-2, but it was a much improved design. This missile was carried and launched by a tracked vehicle, based on a modified IS-2 heavy tank chassis. This missile had a range of 150 km. Only 100 units of the original R-11 Zemlya launchers were built. In the early 1960s the missile was redeveloped. Its tracked chassis was replaced by a new 8x8 high-mobility truck chassis. The new version, the R-17 Elbrus, was was much more numerous. It is known in the West as the SS-1C or Scud-B. It was officially adopted by the Soviet Army in 1967. Many variants of this missile were eventually produced. The Soviet longest-range version was able to fly as far as 700 km. Like the Pershing 1, it was also launched from a TEL vehicle.

   Barkan-1: This Yemeni modification of the "Scud" series of missiles has resulted in an 800 km range.

   Hwasong-6: Introduced in 1991, the Hwasong-6 was a North Korean variant of the Soviet "Scud" series missiles, with a range of 500 km. It is also launched using a TEL, and has been exported to several other nations, some of which produce it under license.

   Shahab-2: Based on the Hwasong-6, Iran's Shahab-2 has a longer 750 km range, similar to the Pershing 1. It was introduced in the mid-2000s.

   Qiam 1: Little is known of this new Iranian missile, which resembled the Shahab-2, but has no fins. It is believed to have a range of around 750 km, and a liquid fuel engine.

   Jericho I: This Israeli SRBM was a solid fuel missile just like the Pershing 1, but it could also carry conventional or chemical warheads, and could be launched from silos and rail cars, as well as TEL vehicles. It was retired in the 1990s.

   Hyunmoo-2: This relatively recent South Korean SRBM is similar not only in performance to the Pershing 1, but also in appearance, though it is launched from a container rather than a gantry. There are some different versions of this missile.

   Agni-1: This recently introduced Indian SRBM is comparable in range to the Pershing 1, but only uses a single-stage engine.

   J-600T Jildirim: Based on China's B-611 series SRBMs, the Turkish J-600T Jildirim has a single-stage solid fuel engine, a conventional warhead, and a range of 900 km. Like the Pershing 1, it is launched from a mobile TEL vehicle.

 

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Pershing ballistic missile

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Pershing ballistic missile

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Pershing ballistic missile

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Pershing ballistic missile

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Pershing ballistic missile

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Pershing ballistic missile

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Pershing ballistic missile

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Pershing ballistic missile

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Pershing ballistic missile

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Pershing ballistic missile

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Pershing ballistic missile

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Pershing ballistic missile

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Pershing ballistic missile

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Pershing ballistic missile

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Pershing ballistic missile

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Pershing ballistic missile

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Pershing ballistic missile

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Pershing ballistic missile

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Pershing ballistic missile

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Pershing ballistic missile

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Pershing ballistic missile

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German Pershing 1A short-range ballistic missile, carried by Magirus-Deutz Jupiter 6x6 tractor truck

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