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Nike Missile Defense System, Site D-06

The Utica Nike Missile Defense site D-06 was part of the most important defense network in America. That network of Nike Missile ranges was tasked with the protection of the Detroit area from Soviet planes carrying nuclear weapons. This article will seek to explain why Detroit was such an important area to defend and how it was defended (or at least gave the illusion of being defended) as well as give some history on life at Nike missile ranges and history specifically of site D-06.

Detroit’s Importance

First, it is important to understand why Detroit was such a strategically important city other than being a large population center. All of the defense systems were put in place in part to defend large populations in those areas. It was estimated that if a one-megaton nuclear bomb was detonated over just Detroit, the medical resources needed for the survivors would exceed the capabilities and supplies of the entire nation [8]. So, clearly there was a reason to protect Detroit to protect its population, but the reasons why it was it was the most important to protect go much further.

When people think about Detroit in wartime, they might think of the Sherman tank that was made in massive numbers at Chrysler’s Detroit Arsenal. They might think of the fighters and bombers that were made in new and converted plants run by other automotive manufacturers. GM’s Cadillac plant converted from producing cars to producing the M-24 tank in 55 days [7]. Ford’s Willow run plant churned out B-24 bombers at an alarming rate of approximately one bomber every hour[9]. Total production numbers for the Willow Run plant reached just over 8,500, nearly half of all B-24s built [10]. Ford’s Willow Run plant was particularly impressive from the standpoint of tooling. Adjustable dies and other tooling with an estimated value in the 1940’s of $75-100 million (equivalent of $1.25-1.65 billion in 2017) were used to create these complex airplanes [6]. As a result of the conversions of the automobile manufacturing lines, Chevrolet didn’t have passenger cars for the 1943, 1944, and 1945 model years. With manufacturers on board with the war effort, Detroit went all in. World War II Detroit had transformed from the major automobile production hub of America to the backbone of wartime production and the heart of the Arsenal of Democracy in an incredibly short period of time.

These industries in addition to the large population in the area made paramount the importance of protecting Detroit during the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Detroit was the most important of the cities guarded by Nike missiles. The other cities that had defense networks of Nike missiles protecting them were major population centers like New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco to name a few [1]. Sure they had some amount of production, but in general, they didn’t have the same production prowess as Detroit. Thus, Detroit was the most important to protect in terms of the military production of America. If we were to get into a hot war with Russia, we would need production to ramp up similar to, or exceeding the levels that were reached in the peak of World War II. The Soviets knew of the production power of Detroit from World War II. So, strategically speaking, Detroit would be the best target for the Soviet Union to attack. Destroying population centers would strike fear into Americans and potentially reinforce their cause as has been the case in many wars including World War II with the bombing of Dresden. Reducing industry to rubble has long been a strategy of militaries. It was a strategy used in the American Civil War (with more emphasis on capturing industry), World War I, and World War II.

History of the Development of Nike Missiles

Following the end of World War II, the United States challenged the communist power of the Soviet Union. Tensions devolved and by 1947, the Cold war had begun. When the Soviet Union detonated their first nuclear bomb in 1949 the rush to develop a defense system increased. By 1951, the United States had the first successful Nike Ajax missile [11]. The arms race was underway and America needed to have a defense. President Ronald Reagan said in his 1983 ‘Star Wars’ speech, “What if free people could live secure in the knowledge that their security did not rest upon the threat of instant U.S. retaliation to deter a Soviet attack; that we could intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil or that of our allies?” [13]. Nike missiles would theoretically do that for the threat of bombers carrying nuclear payloads which was the current level of delivery technology at the time of its inception.

Nike Missile System Diagram. (From FM 44-1)

The development of a defense system was necessitated by new jet powered planes that required new methods to shoot them down. Bell Telephone Laboratories drafted the “Anti Aircraft Guided Missile (AAGM) Report” in 1945 [11]. In it, they described the Nike defense system concept. The idea was that the missile was controlled from the ground to account for any efforts by the enemy pilot to avoid the missile. Their concept was accepted and development started. Comparatively, traditional defense would have consisted of anti-aircraft artillery firing large projectiles that could not be redirected after firing e.g. a Bofors 40mm anti-aircraft gun. Their range was severely limited and would likely have intercepted any Soviet bomber too late to stop the dropping of a nuclear bomb.

The first version of Nike missiles was the Ajax. It carried a high explosive payload and had a range of about 25 miles. This was a step in the right direction and required many Nike Missile batteries to protect the sprawling cities. As any good military project does, the Nike project advanced through more research and development. In 1958, the Nike Hercules was ready for deployment [11].

The addition of Nike Hercules missiles vastly increased the ability to intercept Soviet bombers before they reached effective range. The Hercules was capable of 2100 mph and a range of 90 miles as compared to the 1500 mph and 25 mile range of the Nike Ajax missiles [11]. The other main difference between the two missiles was the payload. The Nike Hercules was capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. This meant that it could defend against extremely large formations of aircraft, something the Ajax couldn’t do. It is likely that there were nuclear tipped Hercules missiles at Site D-06 given that most of the Hercules missiles were equipped with one of three different nuclear payloads (3 Kiloton, 20 Kiloton, or 30 Kiloton) [11].

The Hercules was capable of using a type of radar that was incredibly accurate as shown in a report on the Accuracy Validation of the Modified Nike Hercules Radar [4]. The types of radar available for the improved Hercules missiles included Target Ranging Radar (TRR), High Power Acquisition Radar (HIPAR), or Alternate Batter Acquisition Radar (ABAR). HIPAR could detect small, fast targets at a greater distance and in situations with high electromagnetic interference. ABAR improved target detection range with a beam pattern. TRR was the supplemental radar and improved only upon countering electromagnetic interference [5].

Home on the (Rocket) Range

Nike Missile ranges required an Integrated Fire Control team and a Launcher team. There was a Commander, Executive Officer, and Platoon Leaders (one for each team). Both platoon leaders had similar responsibilities which included keeping their men/equipment ready and determining manpower/equipment needs. They would evaluate the proficiency of trainees at different operator jobs and direct more training if necessary. Some other duties included conducting drills according to U.S. Army Air Defense Command (USARADCOM) specifications [1]. Many other duties listed in greater detail can be found in “The Development of Job Descriptions for Nike Ajax Battery Officers” [1].

Rocky Stovall was one of many men who would man the Nike Missile batteries throughout their use. He recalled that learning his job was easy, but everything else that was part of maintaining the site was hard. He passed the driving test without ever having a license and became qualified to operate 5-ton trucks, a fire trailer, a 16 wheel drop-deck trailer, and 4 wheel dollies (which were for the launchers).  Rocky was on duty for the Cuban Missile Crisis in October of 1962. They spent the entirety of the crisis on guard with the launchers at the ready. The warm panel room was a place of temporary refuge from the cold. When they weren’t in the panel room, they manned 50 caliber machine guns and M14 Rifles [2].

Al Kellogg recounted his time at the C Battery North of San Rafael, California. He operated the Radar as part of the Integrated Fire Control team. Life at C Battery consisted of 24-hour shifts alternating between two teams. They had “6 hour checks” which required the checking of all the Radar equipment with oscilloscopes. Other duties included two guard duties lasting 4 hours each. When they weren’t calibrating equipment and running practice tracks on the freshly calibrated equipment or on guard duty, they were performing maintenance [3].

The Importance of Site D-06

So then, the question of the importance of site D-06 still remains. The Utica, Michigan Nike Missile Battery D-06 was one of the six Nike Missile sites in the Detroit area that received the upgraded Nike Hercules rockets to replace the less capable Nike Ajax rockets. There were a number of sites that closed in the 1960’s, but D-06 stayed open and ended up as one of three that stayed operational until 1974 [12].

Nike Rockets. (From

Nike Hercules missiles were likely the reason for the reduction in number of ranges defending Detroit (and other cities across the U.S.). The addition of a nuclear payload meant that the capability to take out a target or multiple targets increased greatly. They also had a longer range on their side, so one battery of Nike Hercules missiles had greater reach, thus making some of the batteries redundant [11].

Site D-06 was part of a larger network of sixteen Nike Missile ranges that protected the Detroit area. Most of the sites were placed on vacant or unused land [12]. The purpose of this network of ranges was to be a last line of defense for densely populated areas from Russian bombers carrying nuclear bombs. With the onset of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, the United States needed a way to defend against nuclear strikes.

Site D-06 was activated in 1955. The land on which it sits was obtained by way of a lease for 66.52 acres and an easement for another 18.63 acres in 1954 from the state of Michigan for a total of $2722.35. Approximately 20 structures were built on site from 1955 to 1974. Site D-06 was home to 20 Ajax rockets until April of 1961 when it was converted to the nuclear warhead capable Nike Hercules missiles. There were 8 universal launchers which were capable of firing either type of missile [12].

Picture of D-06. (From Jim Rhodes)

Site D-06 was decommissioned in April of 1974. The missile defense sites had been made obsolete with the advent of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs). Burrows argues in his excerpt, “Ballistic Missile Defense: The Illusion of Security” that to believe that it would have even worked against its intended targets (in this case Soviet bombers) requires an extreme amount of faith in high tech defense systems and an extreme pessimism in the means to avert these newfangled defense systems [13].


The Nike program protected the major populations and industrial centers of America for close to two decades of the Cold War. The existence of the Nike missiles contributed to the deterrence of an attack from the Soviet Union. Site D-06 in Utica, Michigan was a part of a larger network of Nike Missile batteries that protected the most important of the population and industrial centers in America; Detroit. Although the individual sites may not look like impressive military installations, the perceived effectiveness of the systems they belonged to was undeniable, even to the Soviets [3].



Primary Sources:

[1] Darby, C.L., et al. The Development of Job Descriptions for Nike Ajax Battery Officers. 1959

[2] Stovall, Rocky. Description of Life as a Nike Missileman. 2017

[3] Kellogg, Al. C BTRY 2nd 51st ARTY: Life on the Hill. 2016

[4] D’Arcy, E.M. Accuracy Validation of the Modified Nike Hercules Radar. Army Electronics Research and Development Command WSMR NM Atmospheric Sciences Lab. 1979

[5] U.S. Army Air Defense Employment. Field Manual FM 44-1. 1962


Secondary Sources:

[6] Ferguson, R.G. One thousand planes a day: Ford, Grumman, General Motors and the Arsenal of Democracy. 2005

[7] Burgess, Scott. Detroit’s Production Battle to Win World War II. Motor Trend. 2005

[8] Solomon, F., et al. The Medical Implications of Nuclear War. 1986

[9] Johnsen, F.A. Consolidated B-24 Liberator. Warbird Tech Series, Vol. 1. 1996

[10] Nolan, J. Willow Run and the Arsenal of Democracy. The Detroit News, January 28, 1997.

[11] Morgan, M.L., et al. Rings of Supersonic Steel: Air Defenses of the United States Army 1950-1974. 2002

[12] Price, R. Site D-06 – Utica. 1999

[13] Burrows, W. E. Ballistic missile defense: The illusion of security. Foreign Affairs (Pre-1986), 62(004), 843. 1984


For Further Reading:

Nike Missile Battery D-57/58 Detroit Michigan

The Nike Historical Society

Project Nike on Wikipedia

The Nike Missile System

The Cold War on Wikipedia