MGM-52 Lance

The MGM-52 Lance was a road-mobile, short-range ballistic missile designed by the United States. First deployed in 1972, it served in Europe and South Korea, functioning primarily as a delivery vehicle for battlefield nuclear weapons.

Lance at a Glance

Originated From: United States
Possessed By: Belgium, Germany, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, United Kingdom, United States
Class: Short-range Ballistic Missile (SRBM)
Basing: Road mobile, vehicle-based
Length: 6.1 m
Diameter: 0.56 m
Launch Weight: 1,527 kg
Payload: Single warhead
Warhead: W-70, 100 kT nuclear, W-70-3 neutron, HE (unitary / submunitions)
Propulsion: Single-stage, liquid propellant
Range: 130 km
Status: Obsolete
In Service: 1972-1992


MGM-52 Lance Development

The Lance was created as a replacement to the Sergeant and Honest John tactical ballistic missiles.  The Lance went into development at the Ling-Temco-Vought Aerospace Corporation in 1962 and began testing in 1965.1 Initial flight tests took place in 1965, but the missile’s range could only achieve distances between 4 km and 40km.  The Army began building an extended range variant in 1966. The United States ordered 55 test models in 1970 and began full production in 1972.2

Service History

The Lance entered service with the U.S. Army in 1972 and was produced until 1980. In 1990, 88 Lance launchers, 300 HE warheads, and 700 nuclear warheads were stationed throughout Europe in NATO nations and in South Korea.3 In 1991, the Presidential Nuclear Initiative took effect and all Lance nuclear warheads were withdrawn to the United States and dismantled by 1993.4 Conventional configurations of the missile are known to have been exported to Belgium, Germany, Iran, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.

The Lance’s short range limited it to tactical battlefield missions. The missile would likely have been used to attack concentrated troops, command facilities, and military bases; but due its large nuclear yield, it would likely have caused major collateral damage.5 The neutron bomb warhead variant was developed for use against military units, particularly armored tank battalions, as the increased radiation yield could harm crews through armor plating. High explosive (HE) warheads were also developed to allow for non-nuclear deployment, though only the submunition warheads were feasible against military maneuver units due the missile’s accuracy. The mobility of the M752 Lance transporter-erector launcher (TEL) vehicle enabled it to keep up with units in the front and also avoid attacks.  The TEL was typically accompanied by reload vehicles carrying two extra missiles.6

Lance in BMD

Between 1986 and 2015, decommissioned Lance missiles were often used as target vehicles to test missile defense systems. Notably, the missile assisted in the testing of the first PAC-1 and PAC-2 Patriot Anti-Tactical Ballistic Missile systems and the development process of early kinetic hit-to-kill missile defense systems through the Flexible Lightweight Agile Guided Experiment (FLAGE) tests in 1987.  The Lance has also been used for ERINT, Hawk, TMD, MEADS, PAC-3 Patriot, and Aegis Combat System testing.7


The Lance missile had a range of 130 km (81 miles) and its inertial guidance system gave it an accuracy of around 150m CEP. The missile could be equipped with a single W70 100 kT yield warhead, as well as an enhanced radiation (neutron bomb) W70-3 version. Conventional HE warheads were also developed, with both unitary and submunition types. The missile was 6.41 m long, 0.56 m in diameter, and had a launch weight of 1,527 kg. It had a single-stage liquid propellant design.8

    1. David Baker, The Rocket: The History and Development of Rocket & Missile Technology (New York: Crown Publishers, 1978), 238.
    2. Ibid, 238.
    3. “NATO to Scrap Plans for New Short-Range Missile,” Los Angeles Times, April 3, 1990.
    4. Susan Koch, The Presidential Nuclear Initiatives of 1991-1992 (Washington D.C.: National Defense University Press, 2012), 11.
    5. Baker, 238.
    6. Lennox.
    7. Sharon Lang, “SMDC History: Lance missile concludes second career,”, accessed January 6, 2017.
    8. Duncan Lennox,“MGM-52 Lance” in Jane’s Strategic Weapon Systems (Offensive Weapons) (London: IHS Global, 2011.)