SMDC History: Monuments to ABM Expertise

By Sharon Watkins Lang (SMDC/ASTRAT Command Historian)June 22, 2017

(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

In November 1978, Maj. Gen. Stewart C. Meyer, Ballistic Missile Defense program manager and commander, U.S. Army Ballistic Missile Defense Command, received a request from the Hon. Jack Giles, chairman of the Alabama Space Science Exhibit Commission.

The commission, which operates the museum now known as the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, sought to obtain two missiles -- the Spartan and Sprint -- "to symbolize the Free World's First and [to that time] only, deployed ABM [anti-ballistic missile] system." Given its location in Huntsville, Alabama, the museum also sought to "symbolize the Huntsville, Alabama, role as the free world's center of ABM expertise."

Following a review of the available inventory, the command identified two full-scale missiles that would be suitable for museum display. Both interceptors had been modified for Explosives Ordnance Disposal training. The Conditional Deed of Gift was signed on Feb. 20, 1979.

Four months later, on June 21, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center hosted a ceremony to formally transfer the Spartan and Sprint missiles. Meyer began by placing the two interceptor missiles into historical context as integral parts of the extensive Safeguard Ballistic Missile Defense System. Restricted by the Antiballistic Missile Treaty, Safeguard deployed only 100 interceptors -- 30 Spartan and 70 Sprint.

Continuing the theme introduced by the commission's original request, Meyer noted that the missiles were not only symbols of the Safeguard ABM system but also "symbols of a U.S. technical excellence that produced breakthroughs in radars; in missile propellants, and missile guidance and control; in data processing hardware and software; in construction techniques; [and] in reliability."

At the same time, they represent "a commitment to non-aggressive ways of achieving national security; the first permanent agreement to limit strategic nuclear weapons; and a defense program that "was completed on schedule and within budget.'

Recognizing the BMD community, Meyer concluded that these missiles are also "symbols of the good things the military-civilian-contractor team … can accomplish. … Mostly, however, they are symbols of the talent, competency, spirit, and dedication of the people of the BMD program…."

The missiles themselves create an impressive display. Designed for extremely fast speeds, the short-range Sprint interceptor is conical in shape and measures 27 feet in length with a base diameter of 4.4 feet. At launch it would weigh about 7,600 pounds. The long-distance Spartan interceptor, with the traditional fins, meanwhile was a three-stage guided missile measuring over 55 feet in length and weighing 28,700 pounds at launch.

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