Much like the NIKE air defense systems that preceded it, the ABM system evolved through many stages. The same Bell Labs that produced NIKE AJAX and NIKE HERCULES spearheaded the ABM effort, although many more subcontractors were involved.
America's ABM system was the result of a research and development effort started in 1956. It began with the Army's NIKE
ZEUS system, a concept very similar to the other NIKE systems. ZEUS had radars to acquire and track the target and also a
radar to track the intercepting missile, as well as a computer. Another radar not found in other NIKE systems was a
discrimination radar used to determine which objects being tracked were threatening, because of decoys being mixed with
incoming warheads. However, this system suffered from the same problem as other NIKE systems and the HAWK system: it
could track and intercept only one target at a time.
The system demonstrated its ability to intercept single objects successfully with its first live intercept at Kwajalein in July 1962.
ZEUS was severely limited by several factors that made its operational deployment impractical. Decoys, chaff, balloons and
other means of confusing such an elementary system were conceived or developed. It was limited by its low traffic handling
capability. Exoatmospheric discrimination of the incoming objects was impossible and atmospheric discrimination resulted in
commitment altitudes that were too low for practical use.
These dis-advantages were so serious that in January 1961 the Nike Zeus program was canceled and a new development, NIKE X, begun.
- Adapted from Vigilant and Invincible by Colonel Stephen P. Moellerf ADA (Air Defense Artillery) Magazine May-June 1995.
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