SMDC History: Lance missile concludes second career

By Sharon Watkins Lang, USASMDC/ARSTRAT Historical OfficeAugust 6, 2015

SMDC History: Lance missile concludes second career
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SMDC History: Lance missile concludes second career
2 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
SMDC History: Lance missile concludes second career
3 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

First developed in the 1960s as a replacement for the Honest John and Sergeant systems, the Lance was designed to be a mobile field artillery tactical missile. It began as Missile "B" under the U.S. Army Ordnance Missile Command on Redstone Arsenal in December 1961 and transitioned to the newly created U.S. Army Missile Command in August 1962 as the Lance Project Office.

Able to support both non-nuclear and nuclear warheads, the Lance was approved for production in September 1970 with the first battalion activated in June 1972 and the first unit deployed to Europe in September of the next year. The fully fielded Lance system included eight battalions -- six in Europe and two in the United States -- and a battery in South Korea with additional non-nuclear equipment sold to NATO allies and Israel.

The Lance was originally scheduled for retirement in the 1980s, in 1985 however, the Department of the Army extended the shelf-life of the nuclear Lance to 1995. Change came again in September 1991 as President George H. W. Bush announced a unilateral withdrawal of all tactical nuclear weapons. Within the year, all units were removed from Europe and the final Lance battalion stood down at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, June 30, 1992.

Since 1985, the demilitarized excess Lance missiles have provided a second service to the military as targets. It is in this capacity that the Lance has had the greatest impact upon the Army's, and more recently the Navy's, missile defense history.

The Lance's role in missile defense dates back as early as 1987, as the Army sought to test the feasibility of short range kinetic intercept technology. On May 21, 1987, a Lance tactical missile was launched from White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. Thirty-two miles away, the Flexible Lightweight Agile Guided Experiment, or FLAGE, in its seventh and final test, was launched 100 seconds later. The event was described as a stunning success.

According to period reports, "The improved millimeter wave radar locked onto the target and the on-board computer fired some of the 216 shotgun shell sized rocket motors in a collar behind the radar to move the speeding vehicle's nose in the correct direction. FLAGE intercepted the Lance at an altitude of 16,000 feet."

This test proved that the guidance and control systems developed for the FLAGE could achieve an intercept within the atmosphere.

The Lance also proved to be a valuable component in the development of the Patriot Anti-Tactical Ballistic Missile Capability also known as PAC-1 and later the Patriot Advanced Capability or PAC-2. In 1984, the U.S. Army Missile Command was directed to add a theater missile defense capability to the Patriot system.

Two years later in September 1986, the Lance missile, simulating a Soviet SS-21, served as the target in the first test of the PAC-1. With system software modifications, the Patriot was able to "deflect the LANCE from its intended target." Based on this test the Army awarded a contract for continued software and warhead improvements under the PAC-2 program.

Ironically, this command also used the Lance as the first target for the Extended Range Interceptor, or ERINT, in June 1993. Although this test was less successful, the ERINT subsequently achieved three intercepts against three separate targets. And, on May 19, 1994, the Defense Acquisition Board approved the Army's decision to select the ERINT to be the interceptor for the new PAC-3 system.

The command's Theater Targets Product Office formally expanded its inventory in the mid-1990s to include the Lance missile, described as a "reliable, low cost, guided missile system that can operate under any climactic conditions that may be encountered during missile target operations."

At this time, the principal customers were the Navy and the Marine Corps in support of the Navy's Lower Tier Theater Missile Defense, or TMD, capability and the Hawk missile system. These tests, which took place at White Sands Missile Range, included single and dual engagement missions.

In fiscal year 1996 alone, 17 Lance missiles were successfully launched in support of these programs. At the same time, the command's airborne surveillance testbed, or AST, collected infrared sensor, signature data on the Lance for the Navy's TMD program. According to officials, "the missile's low flight altitude and unusual boost profile presented a unique target for AST viewing."

In March 1998, the Theater Targets Product Office and the Strategic Targets Product Office were chartered as the Ballistic Missile Targets Joint Project Office. Responsibility for the targets programs transferred from the command to the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, a predecessor to the Missile Defense Agency, in October 2001 to "improve the effectiveness of countermeasures available to the military."

In later years however, the MDA program focused more upon the requirements of the Ballistic Missile Defense System and the short-range Lance was declared excess.

In the interim, with the limited availability of legacy targets, the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command Technical Center explored various means to provide "threat credible" targets while lowering the costs for missile defense testing.

In addition to developing new low-cost alternatives such as the Economical Target-1 and Zombie, the team recovered several Lance missiles in 2012. The telemetry reconfigured Lance missiles would provide a viable tactical ballistic missile target for less than $500,000 each.

The next phase began in 2013, as 10 reconfigured Lance missiles were launched between July and November in support of the Medium Extended Air Defense System, or MEADS, testing. On-board instrumentation was removed from the Lance to eliminate potential electrical interface issues.

These flights then allowed the MEADS to effectively calibrate their system and address engagement algorithms. During the final launch Nov. 6, the MEADS, which consisted of PAC-3 MSE missiles, two surveillance radars, a multifunction fire control and the battle manager, almost simultaneously destroyed two targets approaching from opposite directions. The first was a QF-4 Phantom drone flying from the south, while the second was a Lance tactical ballistic missile launched from the north.

Interest in the Lance was renewed. Few Lance missiles however remained in the inventory. In support of this last effort, new instrumentation was added to the missiles. The Hit Detection System would provide data on how well the missile had intercepted its target. Following a series of component and system level tests, a March 10 risk reduction flight proved successful. The newly configured Lance was ready for its final missions.

Two Lance missiles and two airborne targets were central to the multi-mission warfare tests for the Navy and the Missile Defense Agency's Aegis Combat System conducted aboard the USS John Paul Jones between July 28 and August 1. Conducted at the Pacific Missile Range in Hawaii, these four tests were designed to certify the latest Aegis configuration. These were also the first tests to evaluate the Aegis in an endo-atmospheric or lower atmosphere intercept situation. With a four for four intercept rate in these tests, the Aegis successfully demonstrated a terminal phase capability.

The July tests mark the end of the Lance program. No additional missiles remain in the inventory. From the front lines of the Cold War to a lead role in the target program today, the Lance successfully served the Army and the nation.

Additional information on the initial development and deployment of the Lance can be found on the webpage of the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command at

Related Links:

U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command page