Country of origin
Dimensions and weight
~ 18 t
~ 11 m
~ 3.5 m
Missile launch weight
4 661 kg
Nuclear with a blast yield of 50 to 400 kT
Range of fire
Inertial navigation system
Mobility (M474 chassis)
Detroit Diesel 6V53 diesel
Maximum road speed
~ 0.5 m
~ 1.2 m
~ 1.2 m
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rescinded the Wilson Memorandum.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
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
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
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.
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.
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
tracked cargo carrier (which is in turn an
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
tracked cargo carrier (which is in turn an
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.
Pershing 2 IRBM. Despite sharing the same designation number and
name it was actually an unrelated weapon system.
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.
(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
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.
This Yemeni modification of the "Scud" series of missiles has
resulted in an 800 km range.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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