The MGM-31B Pershing 2 was medium-range, road-mobile, solid fueled ballistic missile developed by the United States.
Pershing 2 at a Glance
- Originated From
- United States
- Medium-range Ballistic Missile (MRBM)
- Possessed By
- United States
- Road-mobile, vehicle-based
- 10.61 m
- 1.02 m
- Launch Weight
- 7,400 kg
- Single warhead
- W-85, nuclear variable yield, 5-80 kT
- Two-stage, solid propellant
- 1,700 km
- In Service
Pershing 2 Development
The Pershing 2 began development with Martin Marietta in 1974 as a replacement for the U.S. Army’s Pershing 1A missile. It featured an extended range that reclassified the missile from short-range to medium-range, which required revisiting Secretary of Defense Charles Wilson’s 1956 decision to assign all ground-based missiles of medium or longer range to the Air Force.1
This range increase allowed the missile to strike targets in Russian territory, unlike its predecessor which could only hit targets in Warsaw Pact nations.2 Other features that the Pershing 2 included were a terminal radio guidance system that compared radar returns to a map of the target area and a maneuverable reentry vehicle which allowed for a higher degree of accuracy. 3
Flight testing on the Pershing 2 began in 1977 and NATO authorized deployment of 108 Pershing 2 systems to Europe in 1979.4 The missile entered production and the first units were delivered to the 56th Field Artillery Brigade in December 1983.5
The Pershing 2 was designed to deliver a W-85 variable yield nuclear warhead (5 kt to 80 kt) at ranges up to 1,700 km (1056 miles). The missile used an active radar guidance system and a secondary inertial guidance system that had a 30 m CEP.6 The missile had a length of 10.61 m, a diameter of 1.02 m, and a launch weight of 7,400 kg. It used a two-stage solid propellant engine.7
The Pershing 2’s initial deployment was to West Germany in 1983, and the U.S. Army certified the Pershing 2 missile program as fully operational in December of 1985.8 The missile used a lower, variable-yield W-85 warhead in place of the higher yield W-50, because the missile’s increased accuracy permitted the use of a smaller warhead on tactical targets. Additionally, the new terminal radar guidance systems allowed for the Pershing 2 to hit within 30 meters of its target, lessening the need for a higher yield payload. For these reasons, the Pershing 2 was set to target hardened facilities and military bases. In event of war, Pershing platoons were to load their missiles during times when there was a low chance of detection and move the vehicles into secluded launch sites near roads which would allow the vehicles to rapidly move to another location after firing.9
The Pershing 2’s European deployment was subject to a significant amount of Soviet criticism. Soviet Defense Minister Dmitri Ustinov claimed, “The United States is making a determined effort to upgrade NATO arms by means of new medium-range nuclear missiles. Realization of this plan would mean a considerable upsetting in favor of the West of the approximate equilibrium of forces that has been established here and would create on the continent and on a global scale a qualitatively new military strategic situation.”10
This claim, along with others of a similar nature, led to protests throughout NATO nations. In the U.S. and West Germany, protesters affiliated with the Plowshares Movement infiltrated production facilities, testing grounds, and weapons stockpiles in order to vandalize missile components, support equipment, and technical files.11 In Europe, the deployment was met by thousands of protesters who argued that the missile’s mobility and increased range made it a threat to peace and stability.12 The protests died down following deployment of the weapons system.13
In May 1988, the INF treaty entered into effect and the U.S. began withdrawing and dismantling all Pershing missiles. The last Pershing 2 was dismantled and destroyed in 1991.14
- Robert Shearer, “Development of Pershing II” in Fires Bulletin, May/June 1980, 31.
- “Pershing 2,” Federation of American Scientists, 2 June 1997. https://fas.org/nuke/guide/usa/theater/pershing2.htm.
- Shearer, 32.
- NATO, October 26, 2001, http://www.nato.int/docu/update/70-79/1979e.htm.
- Duncan Lennox, “MGM-31B Pershing II” in Jane’s Strategic Weapon Systems, (London: IHS Global, 2011.)
- U.S. Army, “Pershing II Weapon System: Technical & Operator’s Manual” in TM 9-1425-386-10-1, (Washington D.C.: Department of the Army, June 1986.)
- Federation of American Scientists.
- William Drozdiak, “U.S. Missile Unit Likes Pershing II,” The Washington Post, November 11, 1984.
- Kerry Kartchner, Negotiating START: Strategic Arms Reduction Talks and the Quest for Strategic Stability, (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1992), 187.
- The New York Times, “Protesters Smash Missile Vehicle at U.S. Base in West Germany,” (New York: The New York Times, 5 December 1983.)
- Los Angeles Times. “Hundreds of Thousands Protest Missiles in Europe: Urge U.S. to Match Soviet Halt.” (Los Angeles: Times Wire Service, 8 April 1985.)