UGM-27 Polaris - History and Development

History and Development

The Polaris missile replaced an earlier plan to create a submarine-based missile force based on a huge surfaced submarine carrying four "Jupiter" missiles, which would be carried and launched horizontally. This Navy "Jupiter" missile is not to be confused with the U.S. Army Jupiter Intermediate-range ballistic missile. At Edward Teller's prompting, the Navy's "Jupiter" missile plans were abandoned in favor of the much smaller, solid-fuel-propelled Polaris.

Originally, the Navy favored cruise missile systems in a strategic role as deployed on the earlier USS Grayback, but a major drawback of these early cruise missile launch systems (and the Jupiter proposals) was the need to surface, and remain surfaced for some time, to launch. Submarines were very vulnerable to attack during launch, and a fully or partially fueled missile on deck was a serious hazard. Rough weather was another major drawback for these designs, but rough sea conditions did not unduly affect Polaris launches.

It quickly became apparent solid-fueled ballistic missiles had advantages over cruise missiles in range and accuracy, and unlike both Jupiter and cruise, were able to be launched from a submerged submarine, improving submarine survivability.

The prime contractor for all three versions of Polaris was Lockheed, now Lockheed Martin.

The Polaris program started development in 1956. The USS George Washington, the first US missile submarine, successfully launched the first Polaris missile from a submerged submarine on July 20, 1960. The A-2 version of the Polaris missile was essentially an upgraded A-1, and it entered service in late 1961. It was fitted on a total of 13 submarines and served until June 1974.(1). Ongoing problems with the W-47 warhead, especially with its mechanical arming and safing equipment, led to large numbers of the missiles being recalled for modifications, and the U.S. Navy sought a replacement with either a larger yield or equivalent destructive power. The result was the W-58 warhead used in a "cluster" of three warheads for the Polaris A-3, the final model of the Polaris missile.

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