This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Echoes That Never Were: American Mobile Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, 1956 - 1983




Pomeroy, Steven

Type of Degree





Using a contextual, inside-outsider perspective, this dissertation addresses a gap in the history of American military space technology. Shortly after the inception of the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program, the missiles’ dominant deployment mode became the stationary, hard, and dispersed underground launch facility; nonetheless, the air force, to a previously unrecognized extent, pursued mobile ICBMs as potential weapon systems. After concluding that its early Atlas and Titan missiles were unsatisfactory weapons for mobile operations, the service planned to deploy the smaller and more advanced Minuteman ICBM on trains. Following the mobile Minuteman’s cancellation, the air force spent nearly a decade conducting detailed studies of mobile ICBM deployments, including air-, land-, and sea-mobile varieties. By the early 1970s, with the size of the American ICBM force limited to 1,054 missiles, the Soviet Union’s ICBM force first achieved rough parity and then numerical superiority, raising questions about American land-based ICBM survivability. In response, the air force researched and developed a new mobile ICBM, the Missile-X, or MX for short, which became a program mired in controversy. This history is the tale of a technological road not taken and is inconsistent with a tale of technology’s progressive forward march. Although the United States never deployed a mobile ICBM, a highly survivable and powerful weapon, the concept has played a significant role in the nation’s military space history. Throughout the past half-century of ICBM innovation, air force plans for mobile ICBMs resulted in extensive research and development that reified acceptance of underground launch facilities as the ultimate mode of land-based ICBM deployment. This dissertation demonstrates that American research into mobile ICBMs has a significant and long history that influenced the nature of the present ICBM force.