Press "Enter" to skip to content

America’s Nike Nuclear SAMs: A $7 Trillion Waste

A Nike Nuclear Missile at SF-88L (Marin Headland, CA)
Costing seven trillion dollars and producing nearly 300 missile launch sites, the American Nike Missile Project was the world’s first guided nuclear surface-to-air missile (SAM) program. Named after the Greek goddess of victory, Nike, the project served as a huge technological improvement for the United States by replacing the conventional anti-aircraft guns of World War Two. The surprising part, however, is that not a single Nike SAM was ever deployed. Designed to protect the US mainland along with international fortifications from long-range Soviet hydrogen bombers, the nuclear warhead missiles began development in the latter portion of World War Two and continued through the late 70s. The Nike missile sites served as the last line of defense for the United States in the event of a nuclear war. Although the Nike Missile Project was intended to protect the United States through the tensions of the Cold War, the project simply boils down to a costly and unnecessary precaution made by the United States.

After recently visiting Nike Missile Site SF-88L in the Marin Headlands, I was able to explore the bunker filled with four nuclear SAMs. The hatch sealing the bunker and surrounding systems were all painted a bright yellow, making the missile site clearly visible. Seems a bit counterintuitive to have defensive nuclear SAM bases easy to spot from Soviet spy planes, right? Wrong. The whole point of the Nike Missile Project and seven trillion dollars of funding, as described by our tour guide, was to be a deterrent to Soviet attacks by showcasing America’s nuclear power. While, yes, you could debate that the missiles were never intended to be used and that their sole purpose was as a symbol of American nuclear power and defense, was it worth it? 

I would argue that despite the visual deterrent that the Nike Missile sites provided against any Soviet Nuclear attacks, they were essentially an overkill measure that unnecessarily spent American tax dollars. Over 22% of the current American debt ceiling could be accounted for in the Nike missile project alone, all for a simple precaution and visual deterrent as not a single missile was ever actually deployed. Even worse, as the Cold War developed, the Soviet Union shifted its arsenal away from long-range bombers and towards ICBMs (Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles), rendering large portions of the Nike Missile Program outdated. 

Complex Terms:

  • Debt Ceiling – The maximum amount that the U.S. government can borrow by issuing bonds, currently at $31.2 trillion.

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *