ABM facilities

As soon as the missile (as a weapon) was conceived, people started to think about how they could defend against it. This is especially difficult for Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles due to their extremely high velocity. Your first view of an incoming Re-entry Vehicle (RV) may be as it comes over the horizon. At first contact with the atmosphere it may be going 14,000 miles per hour. By the time it gets to its target it will have slowed down to 7,500 miles per hour. This leaves very little time to react and requires extremely quick missiles to intercept, with very good guidance.

The US developed the Sprint and Spartan missiles as ABM weapons. The Spartans were supposed to intercept incoming RVs before they hit the atmosphere, destroying them with a nuclear burst. Any that got through were then targeted by the Sprints which were extremely fast. Unfortunately the effects of such high-altitude nuclear detonations would likely interfere with retaliatory strikes by Minuteman missiles and/or bombers, possibly blind the ABM radar to a second wave of attacks, and cause other havoc such as damaging electrical equipment due to Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) throughout Canada and the US.

Some alternatives include detecting and destroying the missile during its slow boost phase, and using powerful lasers as an ABM weapon. These were briefly explored during the Star Wars program. Powerful lasers are being developed, in aircraft as defensive weapons against smaller missiles such as the SCUD (assuming the laser system is in the air at missile launch time and atmospheric conditions are favorable).

There are also political issues. It has been argued that a nation with an effective defense might be more likely to launch an attack because it feels invulnerable, and this view was codified in the ABM treaty between the USA and the former USSR. The USA chose to abandon the treaty in 2002 and proceed with ABM development and deployment.

But even under the old ABM treaty, the USA and USSR were allowed to construct two ABM sites (later modifications to the treaty reduced this to a single site). The USA built one called the Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex in North Dakota and operated it for four months. Several others were planned but abandoned, including one near Conrad Montana that was canceled and salvaged before construction was complete. Near Andover, Massachusetts, another site was planned but construction only got as far as excavation for the foundation of the Perimeter Acquisition Radar.

The Missile Defense Agency has an official web site at http://www.mda.mil.

In mid-2003 construction of an ABM field is proceeding at Fort Greely, Alaska, costing over one-half billion dollars. And the missiles are still under development. See http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A41901-2003May26 except the article has been moved into their archive at http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/washingtonpost/doc/409516864.html?FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:FT&date=May+27%2C+2003&author=Graham%2C+Bradley&desc=New+Breed+of+Missile+Silos+Put+in+Alaska%3B+%24500+Million+Construction+Project+Readies+First+Installation+for+Ballistic+Interceptors and they charge for access; the article was published May 27 2003 and the title was "New Breed of Missile Silos Put in Alaska; $500 Million Construction Project Readies First Installation for Ballistic Interceptors" by Bradley Graham. In spite of this I found another copy at https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/2003/05/27/new-breed-of-missile-silos-put-in-alaska/c7061339-8347-42d4-a899-39713f1036c1/. Fort Greely is at 63-57-35, 145-45-30. Overall plans are for 6 interceptors at Fort Greely, 4 at Vandenberg AFB in California, then ten more at Fort Greely in 2005. Google Earth shows it, and a likely location is 63-57-16, 145-43-37; somebody had a place marker on it entitled "Missile Hatches". See also http://eyeball-series.org/bmd/bmd-eyeball.htm.

http://www.nukephoto.com has some impressive photos including the former ABM site in North Dakota, and of the current facilities (excluding Fort Greely and Vandenberg) though the site has since been cleaned out; try http://web.archive.org/web/20071230063941/http://www.nukephoto.com though archive.org may not have kept the photos themselves.

Wikipedia has an article on ABMs in general, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-ballistic_missile.

Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

(U.S. Army photo)

About 1 mile NE of Nekoma North Dakota is the Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex which was the only deployed cold-war-era Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) site in the US.

DETAIL: The name is Mickelsen, though in many places it is spelled incorrectly as Mickelson. What's grand, is the Army fact sheet referenced below spells the name incorrectly in the URL!

The site became fully operational in October of 1975 then Congress shut it down less than four months later (I read somewhere the vote to do so came less than 24 hours after becoming operational). There was a lovely picture of the site in the April/May 2002 issue of Air & Space magazine, pages 72/73, by Art Maples. For a time it was on Art's web site but now it's gone, but see http://duotone.com/#/coldwar. Another ABM site was being constructed in Montana but was never completed, and another in Missouri near Sedalia. One had been started near Boston but was abandoned around March 14, 1969.

The main site (the Missile Site Radar, MSR) covers 430 acres and consists of a guidance radar that assisted in aiming the defensive missiles, a field of 16 Sprint missiles (very fast, short range), and a field of 30 Spartan missiles (long range), both of which carried nuclear weapons to destroy incoming warheads. Spartans carried 5-megaton weapons, Sprints carried "low-kiloton-yield" warheads. The facility is currently (2002) in a caretaker status.

The Perimeter Acquisition Radar (PAR) covers 270 acres and was responsible for early detection of incoming warheads and was located about 23 miles northeast of the MSR, near Concrete, North Dakota (also near Cavalier, which might be easier to find on a map). This facility was turned over to the Air Force and is still used as part of their Spacetrack Missile Warning system, now called the Perimeter Acquisition Radar Characterization System (PARCS).

There were four additional Remote Sprint Launch (RSL) sites that were between 40 and 49 acres each. When the ABM site was decommisioned in 1976 these fields were emptied but the photographs show them to be in fairly good condition (not overgrown, fences seem intact, etc.).

The complex handled 100 total defensive missiles. It may have been designed for a few more but a 1974 agreement with the Soviet Union placed a limit of one ABM site with 100 missiles. You can see in the photo of RSL-4 for example that it could have held 16 but may have been cut to 14 to bring the total down to the legal limit.

In 2006 several articles were published stating that the Nekoma site was in competition to become a test site for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

Other resources include:

Photo Coordinates ID

Google Maps
48-35-23  98-21-24
1 mile NNE Nekoma, North Dakota
The Missile Site Radar (MSR) site, which included 30 Spartan missiles and 16 Sprint missiles. The 1972 USGS topographic map shows nothing except a power line that stops where the MSC is. Almost no vehicles in the parking lots in the 1997 photo. Google Earth imagery dated September 15 2013 shows the site in very good condition though there were no vehicles. EPA ID ND4210090086. According to an article at https://cas.uab.edu/peacefulsocieties/2013/07/11/anti-ballistic-missiles-and-the-hutterites the MSR was auctioned off; the winning bid was from a group of Hutterites, a group that strongly opposes war. The Cavalier County Jobs Development Authority (CCJDA) had tried to obtain the site to develop it into a facility devoted to Unmanned Aircraft Systems (drones).

Google Maps
48-43-28  97-53-59
2.8 miles SE Concrete, North Dakota
The Perimeter Acquisition Radar (PAR) site. In spite of being a huge complex by itself (270 acres) it does not show up on the USGS 1978 topographic map. Lots of vehicles in the parking lots, and the (sewage? cooling?) ponds are clearly in use.

Google Maps
48-32-00  98-34-59
3 miles east of Hampden, North Dakota
Remote Sprint Launch site #1. Nothing on the 1989 USGS topographic map. EPA ID ND0007812426. Until 4/28/2012 the longitude was incorrectly listed here as 98-45-59.

Google Maps
48-50-59  98-25-55
6.5 miles NNW of Langdon, North Dakota
Remote Sprint Launch site #2. Nothing on the 1989 USGS topographic map. EPA ID ND0007812436.

Google Maps
48-45-52  97-59-10
18 miles east of Langdon, North Dakota
(2.8 miles NW of Concrete, North Dakota)
Remote Sprint Launch site #3. Nothing on the 1978 USGS topographic map. EPA ID ND0007812456.

Google Maps
48-28-31  98-15-22
1.4 miles SW of Fairdale, North Dakota
Remote Sprint Launch site #4. 14 launchers though the site might have been designed for 16. Nothing on the 1990 USGS topographic map, which is just a little surprising; there is a benchmark very near the entrance which would not be surprising. EPA ID ND0007812466.

Montana's ABM site

Malmstrom AFB, in Montana, almost hosted a second ABM site but it was scrapped before completion. The PAR was apparently near Shelby, and the MSR 7 miles SE of Conrad. Only the first level of the PAR was left after construction stopped and the sites salvaged.


I have located the PAR site. Marshall Reece suggested the location of the MSR, below. I haven't found the location for any of the other "pieces".

Photo Coordinates ID

Google Maps
48-17-16  111-20-33 PAR
The Perimeter Acquisition Radar (PAR) site. No indications whatever on the topo map.

Google Maps
48-08-30  111-45-40 MSR
Marshall Reece suggests this may be the location of the MSR. I agree, based on the conical structure at 48-08-17, 111-45-41 which looks identical to the water storage facility at the Nekoma site. In addition, the International Truck Body company is listed in OSHA records as being located "E of Conrad MSR site" and the photo looks like it could be a truck body facility. The ABM complex was supposedly buried by the William Clairmont Construction Company under a contract let in 1973. It was also pointed out that about 500 yards to the south is an H-shaped building near an empty rectangular reservoir, which is very similar to Nekoma. This would have been the construction project office for the Army Corps of Engineers. 9/19/2004, Marshall directed my attention to a suggestion that the Conrad site should be developed into a Cold War museum, see http://www.medamembers.org/conradmatrix.pdf at the top of page 15 (but, that document is no longer available, try http://web.archive.org/web/20070627224051/http://www.medamembers.org/conradmatrix.pdf instead). I disagree, I think the Shelby site would be better, but any preservation is better than none.

Massachusett's ABM site

A Safeguard site was planned near Andover (near Boston) but it only got as far as the excavation for the foundation of the Perimeter Acquisition Radar. The missiles and Missile Site Radar were planned to be based at Camp Curtis in Reading but no work was ever begun.
Photo Coordinates ID

Google Maps
42-38-48  71-02-15 PAR
The Perimeter Acquisition Radar (PAR) site. It's now a pond in Boxford State Forest where stolen cars are sometimes dumped.