Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Missiles, Pershing II

American intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) system. The Pershing II missile was the culmination of the Pershing missile program begun in 1956. The Pershing II system was a nuclear-capable tactical army support weapon deployed in the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, West Germany) for use by both the U.S. Army and the German Air Force. Manufactured by the Martin Marietta Corporation, the Pershing II relied upon cutting-edge radar guidance technology, which rendered it the most accurate tactical missile of its time. Each missile was 34 feet long, weighed 16,500 pounds, had a range of 1,100 miles, and was armed with a single W-85 maneuvering reentry vehicle (MARV) thermonuclear warhead of 5–50 kilotons variable yield.

The Pershing II served as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) frontline deterrent in the event of a Warsaw Pact conventional or nuclear attack against Western Europe. The missile was also designed to counterbalance new Soviet Russian SS missile systems that became operational in the late 1970s. The Pershing II was successfully tested in 1977, and NATO approved its deployment in February 1979.

NATO's deployment announcement drew immediate criticism from Germany's Green Party and other European antinuclear organizations. Large demonstrations were held throughout Western Europe to protest the placement of the Pershing II missiles. There were also smaller protests in the United States. Nonetheless, the first Pershing II missiles arrived in West Germany in December 1983 and were fully operational two years later. In 1985 a Pershing II exploded, killing three people and injuring fourteen more, and this spurred more angry European protests.

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with the Soviet Union. All IRBMs with a range of between 300 and 3,400 miles were thereby abolished, ending the Pershing II missile program.

J. A. Menzoff


Further Reading
Gibson, James N. Nuclear Weapons of the United States: An Illustrated History. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 1996.; Hogg, Ian. Twentieth Century Artillery. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 2000.
 

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