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

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Doctoral thesis

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Using a contextual, inside-outsider perspective, this study of mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles ICBMs addresses a gap in the history of American technology. An unheralded part of space history, mobile ICBM research complemented the deployment of operational ICBMs in seventeen American states. A child of systems engineering, a powerful innovation that extended human capabilities to research, develop, operate, maintain, and sustain complex technological systems, ICBMs were and remain a system blending technical matters, scientific laws, economic principles, political forces, and social concerns. Because technology embeds itself within culture, the ICBM possessed momentum, force, and direction that reflected the changing resources and aspirations of groups, organizations, and individuals. Despite its historical anonymity, the mobile ICBM was not an exception. By shaping the ICBM force, it played a major role in the space history of the United States. The dominant mode of ICBM deployment was the hard and dispersed launch facility, and the United States has never deployed a mobile ICBM. This history is the tale of a technological failure, that is, it follows a road not taken and is inconsistent with a whiggish metanarrative of technologys progressive forward march. Nonetheless, throughout the past half-century of ICBM innovation, dreams of mobile ICBMs have profoundly influenced long-range ballistic missile technology because they affected a cornerstone of American nuclear deterrence, the land-based ICBM. The mobile ICBM did so by providing cause to reaffirm the utility of hard and dispersed launch facility basing. That the nation accomplished this reaffirmation unintentionally does not lessen its importance. This dissertation demonstrates that the hitherto unstudied American research into mobile ICBMs has a long history that influenced the nature of the present ICBM force.

Subject Categories:

  • Administration and Management
  • Surface-Launched Guided Missiles

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