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Nike Hercules Updates
Allied Supportability Program

Table of Contents:
    - Introduction to the Summary
    - Summary
    - Pamphlet
    - Comments
    - As reported from Italy in 2015
    - Comments from Italy in 2016

Introduction to the Summary

Dear Friends -
The Nike Hercules air defense system had a service life of about 56 years.
Installations started in 1958, last systems world wide removed from service in about 2014
- 2 human generations of 28 years each -

During that time there were many technological revolutions - especially electronics !!
For instance, as Nike Hercules started coming off the assembly line in quantity, IBM announced "that all future designs will use transistors" -
- yielding the famous paraphrase "Solid State in '58".
- The IBM 1401 computer had just been announced, the size of two refrigerators, with 4,000 characters of memory, and a memory access time of about 11 microseconds per character. - for about $2,000 per month -

In 2014, your iPhone or smart phone had GPS, a full featured digital camera with flash, another digital camera for "selfies", thousands of "apps", more memory and speed than people can comprehend, several can fit in your shirt pocket, for a few hundred dollars.

- and also a military threat revolution, from air breathing bombers to intercontenental ballistic missiles.




New - this 20 page booklet Allied Supportability Program- .pdf version (2.5 MBytes) (individual pages in .jpg below) is an introduction to the major upgrade of Nike Hercules from vacuum tube technology to solid-state technology. But don't you believe the Mean Time Between Failure it gives of the old vacuum tube technology - they lie worse than politicians trying to say how much they will improve things.

Ed Thelen's comments - There are many MTBF (Mean Time Between Failure) numbers in this document. The lower numbers are supposed to reflect how many hours the various vacuum tube circuits were likely to last before experiencing a failure.

I had almost 2 years on-site experience with the almost identical Nike Ajax IFC equipment. The only major difference in the IFC was the added Target Ranging Radar for the Hercules. The numbers quoted in this document would indicate that there would be about one disabling failure every 6 hours. That is just plane silly. Not just wrong, not wildly wrong, all the way to silly. Seems to me that somebody was trying to make a case for converting to more reliable solid-state equipment (a good thing of course) by doctoring the numbers for the existing equipment.

As a point of reference, there are 24 x 7 hours in a week, 168 hours. Page 6 indicates that the analog vacuum tube Moving Target Indicator unit had a MTBF of 150 hours, less than a week of hot alert - The unit we had failed once in about 90 weeks I was on that site. (We found the bad tube and fixed it in less than a half hour.)

Page 11 indicates a MTBF for the Target Tracking Radar Receiver of 275 hours (less than 2 weeks) - sheer balony - I well remember our first TTR failure/weakness when we couldn't get the specified minumum gain in the sum channel - about 4 months after the site became operational. In theory, because variations between tubes might de-tune the IF strip slightly, we should send the whole strip back to Ordnance. Big discussion, screw it, lets change the weak tube and see what happens - the strip looked good to us. Lets ignore Ordnance for this -

AH - a favorite story about the analog computer. (Page 14 quotes an MTBF of 55 hours, about 2 days). There were three of us repair guys. Sizlak wanted the BC van so he could hang with the officers - He believed in "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." The computer always passed its internal tests, and Sizlak ignored it. About 8 months after we activated the site, went Sizlak was on leave. Lopresti and I took over the BC van as well as our normal RC van. One day the computer wouldn't settle during the daily tests we gave it. (A red zero set warning lamp kept blinking). Where to start? Lopresti and I had kind of forgotten how to trouble shoot the computer.

We started testing tubes in the computer, AH this one must be it - it hardly wiggles the test meter. Computer still has warning light. We find another VERY weak tube, and another, soon we have more weak tubes than our spares, maybe 12 or 15, I don't remember. Another big huddle - with officers this time - and declare the site down due to weak tubes - and send off a big "Blue Streak" order for the high gain triodes that were sick.
Ah - site down - white alert - wait for parts, kick back and relax :-)) Unfortunately, about 8 hours later an army sedan from Ft. Sheridan shows up with our order - vacation over ;-))
That computer did *not* fail every 2 or 3 days as predicted in the document !!! Maybe like 4 to 6 months !!! - We did start testing tubes in the computer on a regular basis after the above episode -

Then they mention daily adjustments on things like the display scopes - more sillyness - about as silly as the maintenance manual for your car saying you should check the radiator fluid level, break fluid level and tire pressure daily. The auto manufacturer doesn't want to get sued, so gives this silly advice that is totally ignored by everyone I know.

Low Power Acquisition Radar
Target and Missile Tracking
for pictures and details see Radar Receiver Cabinets
Digital Computer
for pictures and details see Computer Upgrade to Digital
Battery Control Console
for pictures and details see Battery Control trailer
Missile and Launcher Area
Support & Summary


The Nike system is still (as of 2000) in service. The Nike sites in the U.S. were de-activated in 1974 because the threat of ICBM missiles seemed much larger than the threat of long range bombers. However, in many parts of the world, the threat of aircraft attack continued to be very real, and Nike was retained in service.

Over the past 45 years many changes were been made. In the early 1950's, when the Nike Ajax was designed, the transistor was an expensive, unreliable, fragile laboratory curiosity. In the mid 1950's when the Hercules update was made, most "transistorized" radios still used tubes in the RF section. "All transistor" radios were very expensive, a status symbol. Computer engineers were studying methods of adapting this promising (but still very expensive) technology to replace vacuum tubes.

During the 1960's, the semi-conductor revolution roared on. Transistors became fast, tougher, and cheap. All new computers and radios were "all solid state". World conditions changed, and Nike production stopped. Nike systems worked very well - even though the transistor revolution would have made many Nike electronic components many times smaller, lighter, less expensive, and more reliable.

From Vasilis Bourantanis (December 1999)
The following hardware has been added with BLOCK III
  1. New solid state Power supplies with O.V.P.s (over voltage protector)
  2. Dot Matrix Display
  3. Keyboard
  4. Printer
  5. Disk Drives (2)
  6. Disk Controller
  7. T.O.Y. Clock (time of year)
  8. P.W.B.s (printed wiring board) to Interface with BCVAN and RCVAN
  9. P.W.B.s to interface with the Plotting Boards
  10. C.P.U. (central proccesing unit) which contains the Core Memories
  11. Expantion Unit which helps the C.P.U. to interface with the whole system
  12. New T.C.I. (tactical control indicator) located on the B.C.C. (battery control console)


  • TACTICAL DISK: Contains the operational software (program) and the Site data (non-recordable disk)

  • MISSION DISK: Contains the mission data (recordable disk)

  • DIAGNOSTIC DISK: Contains the diagnostic program used only by technicians (non-recordable disk)

The computer has three modes of operation

  • ACTION: When the operator switches to ACTION the computer starts the operational program and by having Target track and Missile track gives to the BCO the " READY TO FIRE ". From now on, the BCO can fire a missile at any time, as long as he has a "READY TO FIRE" lamp ON. ( once we have TARGET TRACK the computer proccesses the interseption equalization )

  • STANDBY: When the operator switches to STANDBY, he is able to choose to run a program. He can check computer's or VAN's hardware and incoming/outgoing data.

  • DIAGNOSTIC: When the technician switches to DIAGNOSTIC he can perform specific higher level checks to solve computer's malfunctions.

From Carl Durling
In March 1961 boxes of equipment arrived at our IFC Herc site at Naha Air Force Base. These boxes contained transistorized components and instructions for installation. We transistorized the MTR, TTR and Computer, and it did reduce by one-third to one-half the cabinet space. And, your artical is absolutly right, we could hot start in 10-15 seconds. No warm up required. In fact the speed increase of most operations was noticable. There were improvements made to the Radars also, but this was done by the WO and Top Sgt.
Carl Durling

During the 1970's, Nike oriented vacuum tubes were basicly out of production, and getting hard and expensive to obtain. Analog components, such as the large potentiomenters, were wearing, and the replacement production a dying art.

So, since then,"drop-in" replacements for Nike sub-systems were designed and installed. The analog computer cabinets were almost empty after a digital computer replacement. In the Radar Van, cabinets that had been full of nice warm glowing tubes were suddenly cold and almost empty after being "transistorized". "Warm-up" and electronic checks were reduced from 10 minutes to tens of seconds. Stability and reliability of electronic components - never a big problem - increased greatly.

The following is a growing account of the story of the modernization of the Nike system.

from Rolf Dieter Görigk
By the way, in Europe the ageing NIKE System was constandly modified. Tubes and stuff like that were running out of stock (supply). Remember the old quicksilver tubes in the pwr supplies.

Oh yes - the most unreliable part of the system. When the weather turned cold we would have to replace 3 or 4 of the things. Flicker- flicker - voltage jumping around, AH - FINALLY settled down - change that one as soon as possible.

You still remember that! It must have been important to you. For me it was important because every time a tube failed the maintenance man came, pulled the tube and shook it like hell to get the mercury back to the anode-region. Once in a while he lost control and smashed the tube. I, as a young operator, had to clean up the mess. I still remember how hard it was (and funny) to pick up all the mercury pearls!!! Then it was disposed in a normal trash can.....!?

So, besides of the REAMOD (Range Angle Encode Modifications), the range pot in the radar set group was totally re-designed to solid state. The modification was done by Sierra Research Corporation (USA).

After almost 20 years of wear and tear and 24 hours of operation each day, all the so called "pots", azimuth, elevation and range, were at there "physical" end. Because of the modification, the data was digitized in the antenna and transmitted via coax-cable to the RCT. The range data was developed within the modified range unit. No tubes on top anymore. Actually the "pot" was filled up with electronic cards, had a self-test circuitry and was very reliable. I`m trying to get more reliable information about the MWO`s.

And of course no spilling of Bayol-D oil anymore. I gues that stuff was toxic too.

It was quiet normal that all the dial-indicator were exchanged and digitized.

We completed NSP 1 to 3. NSP = National Support Plan. All the computer cabinets were almost empty. The Dicke Fix receiver in the LOPAR aux cabinet was modified to solid state. All the dials indications were digital.

The LOPAR maggi was changed to a coaxial magnetron.

Solid state front end in the LOPAR rcvr and MTI. The CDG was allready replaced by the BTE (Battery Terminal Equipment) in the 70`s and and........

As reported from Italy - in 2015

Ramiro Carli Ballola wrote Sept 19, 2015
I list a sequence of modification (and what the MWO introduced into the system) implemented on the European Nike Systems after the U.S. phase out in 1974.

This is the story,

  • first of all in 1959 the first system was deployed in Europe, 8 Countries were participating under the MAP ,
  • in 1961 the Logistic support was placed under the control of NAMSA (a NATO maintenance Agency) and the first NIKE Support Conference (SC) among 8 Countries plus the Firing Range in Crete (Greece) was held and followed by other 17 SC.
  • In 1973 MICOM (Missile Command) changed the assistance conditions and a new agreement was taken with NAMSA to ensure the technical and supply assistance until 1985 with NAMSA.
  • In 1977 the Support Conference was changed in WSPC (Weapon System Partner Ship) to take control of all aspect (supply, maintenance, overhaul ecc...) of the system support in Europe, still under MICOM external assistance.
  • MICOM assistance for the nuclear parts was directly followed until 1988 (when the nuclear warheads have been dismissed from the European Systems).
  • Starting from 1985 all Maintenance aspects was taken directly from NAMSA, transfer of know how took place except for the Engineering parts from 1985 to 1988, after that also the engineering parts were released and the European facilities started the direct assistance in 1989, acting to maintain the system capability until 2005 for ITALY-GRECE and TURKEY (all other 5 countries were phasing out their systems).
Since 1977 started the studies by AT&T for the main and relevant modification to bring the system to be converted in Solid State NIKE Missile System.

As you know the universal Nike System was really universal until the SAMCAP mod. in 1972 (implemented in Europe from 1973 to 1977) this was a big change because introduced the first solid state circuits into the system. (the first change with the transistors addition was made by the LOPAR AJD modification in the period 1963-1964).

Starting from the SAMCAP baseline the RAEMOD (Range and angle encoder modification) prepared by SIERRA RESEARCH CORP. was implemented into the systems and consisted in the following changes:

  1. For all tracking antennas, Azimuth and Elevation sin-cos old pots modified and converted to digital output by the mean of opto-electrical converters, (no more Bayol D change and spilling and heavy pots to be moved)
  2. Range pot completely taken out and changed with the new box (heavy like the old one) containing 4 mini computers for the TTR:
    1. AES Angle Encoder Section (converting azimuth and elevation info to az/el error signal for the mechanical tracking and to a digital words for the computer)
    2. RTS Range tracker section (converting the range info to a signal for tracking the target and to a digital words for the computer)
    3. PCS Periferal controller section to transfer all the signals to the appropriate circuits still inside the pot.
    4. CCS Coordinate Converter Section (to convert az-el-rng from geographical to rectangular coordinates) this circuits were working for the MTR too. Other three mini computer for the MTR, the difference was that AES-RTS-PCS had the same function of the TTR, but instead of the CCS was only a buffer circuit to transfer the data to the TTR CCS which output was composed of 12 digital words (representing the radar coordinates) to be sent to the computer.
  3. Because at that time the computer was still analogic (except the Zero Set switches converted to solid state) a new item was implemented located into the computer power supply section, the CCDA (Coordinate Converter Digital to Analogic) called also (RCU (Radar Conversion Unit) to bring the 12 digital words back to analog info to be used by the analog computer.

    This was a very delicate and unstable circuit due to the thermal control of the converting networks inside, but was only to cover the gap until the introduction of the digital computer in the 80's. After the implementation of the RAEMOD from 1978 through 1983 took place another big modification called NAMSA NIKE Support Plan to bring the hybrid system to be completely digital.

The modification was composed of:
  1. Tracking Antennas
    TTR/MTR antenna to be digitalized changing:
    1. TTR/MTR the old TR Electron Tube with a new TRL (Transmit-Receive and limiter)
    2. TTR only, adding a new Imageless rejection mixer and new converter with solid state amplifiers.
    3. TTR/MTR changing the old klystron local oscillator with a new VTO (still oscillator voltage controlled)
    4. TTR/MTR new solid state Skin AFC (automatic Frequency control)
    5. TTR/MTR new Coaxial Magnetron to have more stability
    6. TRR new Power Monitor, new duplexer with a new type ferrite switches, TRL's and solid state amplifiers
    7. TRR new solid state Tracking data's
  2. RC Van
    1. TTR new solid state Synchronizer, Video Time Share Amplifier, Lin-Log circuits, IF Amplifiers, LP and SP filters, Video and AGC amplifier, Beacon AFC, Az/El error converter, Az/El angle amplifier, IF test signal generator, Remote RFTS control, Signal strength meter, B scope amplifiers .
    2. MTR new digital Hercules Coder, same modification as for the TTR except Synchronizer and LP filters
    3. Completely new digital Track Data Processor, able to analize the 12 words coming from the TTR CCS and performing local simultaneous test (at that point in time all the radar tests were terminated) other than radar parallax conversion for all three radars.
    4. TRR new solid state IF test signal generator, IF amplifiers and ancillary circuits
  3. BC Van
    1. New digital computer DEC PDP 11/34, located in the former old pot's bay) and supply bay, the first two bay have been left empty (used after many years to include the new IFF system) composed of: Former pot's bay
      1. two boxes containing CPU and Expansion circuits
      2. Intercept computer controller for the Plotting boards (with another mini computer) and all circuits relevant to the incoming info by the radars and from the computer to the Launching area.
      3. 2 Floppy disks (8 inches) one to record the Missions and the other one with the Tactical disk containing the computer program, one controller and one real time clock, there was another disk containing the computer diagnostic software. Supply Bay
      4. Digital Display
      5. Digital keyboard
      6. Thermal printer
    2. New digital Tactical Control indicator
    3. New plotting boards arms movements by means of stepping motors and new pen type
    4. New complete Digital AJD circuits
    5. New digital STC amplifier, az/rng amplifier circuits, PI and PPI all circuit at solid state
    6. Inside the Director Station Group all circuits converted to digital circuits plus a completely new DMTI (Digital Moving Target Indicator)
  4. LOPAR
    1. New digital amplifiers
    2. New digital converters
    3. No more power meter and a new coaxial magnetron for the same reason of the tracks magy (stability)
    4. New delay circuit inside the antenna relevant to the application of the HV to the Magnetron
    5. New solid state Local oscillators, and new front panel in the RCVR/XMTR
  5. Launching Area
    The modification on the missile were relevant to enhance the time reaction to the orders, with a new exchange valve for the elevons and with the manuver increased to 10 G's
I have many other information for the subsequent modification, but I believe to have depicted the real situation of the European Nike Systems until the end of 1985.

I'm collecting other pictures and as soon as I have completed my collection I will sent to you, about the TM's I have no chance to have them because are still under Government control (despite that they have been declassified) but I'm trying to be able to have some of them.

Best regards
Ramiro Carli Ballola (by the way for me is enough if you call me Ramiro)

Comments from Italy - in 2016

Ramiro Carli Ballola wrote January 25, 2016
Hello everybody, I hope you are in safe condition and you had no troubles with the weather.

We [California] are getting average rain/snow this winter - somewhat better than the severe drought we were having.

You were talking about the NAMSA pamphlet, I believe that you had no or little problem with the Ajax system because it was new or almost new.

Yes, our system was fresh from the factory :-))

I should say that the in general the system was reliable, but you have to consider that after many years of continous work we had to face many different kind of recurrent problems and some time heavy system down capability.

May be this was also due to less quality of the available spares, or with spares without milspecs. Anyhow the worst kind of troubles was related to the analog computer because of the E.T. 5755,
OH - Those !! - high gain twin triodes, similar to 12AX7, in the operational amplifiers of the computer.
The same tubes as caused troubles in the Introduction to the Summary (above).
if you were facing a block of electron tubes non allowing the balance of the DC amplifiers you were in big troubles and facing many "System not operational" for many hours. Another weak point was the TTR RCVR with many problems to maintaining inside the tolerances stated inside the TM's checks.

All the checks foreseen on the Technical Manual were performed as they were written then you had to perform and respond to daily/weekly/monthly (or non periodic and special checks recalled by the the other checks)

Of course as you said is very easy for the writer or salesmen may be not informed of the way the system work, assessing that the system was not reliable to propose a new set of modification.

I have already wrote to you that the Pamphlet date is not right is not from 1973 but is related to the modification after the Sierra Modification the RAEMOD [now fixed, thanks], and I should say that the system was really going down with the reliability due mainly to lack of spares, poor spares quality and also not availability of some main components in the market.

Again of course was not cost effective to propose the production of old parts no more technically update after more than 25 years from the beginning of the system production.

Ramiro Carli Ballola

Ramiro Carli Ballola wrote May 23, 2016
Hello guys, how are you? I hope you are in good condition and safe from thunderstorm, hurricanes and something like that.

As you should see in the pictures hereby included, yesterday at Base Tuono has been assembled the last NIKE HERCULES (donated by the Italian Air Force for museum purposes) me and the crew in the pictures have made the job in about six hours. Of course the Missile is not armed but the warhead section contains in weight the equivalent of the normal charge (about 600 pounds). Now the missile will remain on the dolly exposed like a diorama.
I will contact you for other exibits already installed still at Base Tuono site.
Ramiro Carli Ballola

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Created Nov 18, 2000
Updated Jan, 2016