The U.S. Army Lost Track of 27 Ballistic Missiles
Military didn't know old Lance rockets were in storage igloos in Alabama
For 30 years starting in 1962, the U.S. Army deployed Lance ballistic missiles in Europe to deter Soviet attack. Twenty feet long and weighing a ton and a half, an atomic-tipped Lance could zoom 75 miles at Mach 3 and explode with a force of up to 100 kilotons of TNT.
The Army retired its last Lances in 1992 … and ultimately lost track of 27 of them at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama, according to WAAY T.V.:
[Aviation and Missile Life Cycle Management Command] officials say they did not even know the missiles were on post, stored inside igloos on the south side of the arsenal, until AMCOM did a thorough counting of all weapons in 2014. That’s when the missiles were discovered.
The Lance missiles have been stored in the igloos for an unknown amount of time but it could have been decades.
The Lance was most notorious for its association with the so-called “neutron bomb” warhead. According to Redstone,
The Washington Post reported on the Army’s development of a warhead for the Lance that would kill people but cause minimal destruction of property. The enhanced radiation warhead was designed to release within a restricted radius great quantities of neutrons which attacked the human central nervous system. The warhead would also reduce the heat and blast effects of conventional nuclear warheads, thereby reducing the destruction of buildings and collateral damage to civilian populated areas.
Officials believed that the Lance enhanced radiation warhead would deter a Soviet attack by threatening the USSR with a weapon that could be used without destroying the Federal Republic of Germany in order to save it. Congress approved production funds for the new warhead on July 13, 1977, but Pres. Jimmy Carter deferred production of the neutron warhead in April 1978.
After 1992, the U.S. military used Lances as targets for missile-interceptors, finally expending the last viable Lances in July 2015, according to the Army:
The test was one of four completed successfully last week by [Space and Missile Defense Command], the Missile Defense Agency, U.S. Pacific Command and the crew of the USS John Paul Jones, a Navy destroyer. The test showed the ability of Standard Missile-6 and SM-2 Block IV interceptor missiles against Lance short-range ballistic missile threats as well as SM-6 missiles against cruise missile threats.
Launched as a simulated land-based attack from the Pacific Missile Range Facility, or PMRF, Kauai, Hawaii, the Lance missiles were tracked, identified, ranged and destroyed by the Navy interceptors.
The lost Lances, however, wound up on the chopping block. It was dangerous work, owing to the Lance’s unique “hypergolic” liquid propulsion, which mixes nitric acid with hydrazine, the two chemicals spontaneously igniting when they come into contact.
“Of all the activities that [Redstone] does in the course of testing aviation systems and missiles systems, that includes aviation flight testing and the risk inherent with those activities and missile and explosive handling, this operation is dprobably one of the most hazardous that we do,” said [Redstone] director Mike Kraus, “but it was handled with professionalism and it was handled with great expertise.”
The Army recycled the metal from the leftover missiles.