MGM-31 Pershing 1

The MGM-31 Pershing 1 was short-range, road mobile, solid-fueled ballistic missile developed by the United States.

Peacekeeper at a Glance

Originated from: United States
Possessed by: United States
Class: Short-range Ballistic Missile (SRBM)
Basing: Road-mobile, vehicle-based
Length: 10.55 m
Diameter: 1.02 m
Launch Weight: 4,600 kg
Payload: Single warhead
Warhead: W-50, 60, 200, or 400 kT Nuclear
Propulsion: Two-stage, solid propellant
Range: 740 km
Status: Obsolete
In Service: 1960-1991

Pershing 1

Pershing 1 Development

The MGM-31 Pershing 1 was designed and built in 1958 and 1959 by the Martin Company.  Testing was conducted throughout 1960 and 1961 at Cape Canaveral.  The Pershing 1 went into production in 1962.1

In 1966, development of the Pershing 1A started.  The 1A system, instead of improving the missile, focused on switching out the tracked support vehicles for wheeled ones.  Additionally, the transporter-erector launcher (TEL) that launched the missiles introduced an improved hydraulic lift for fitting warheads to the missiles and added a trailer to carry the missile’s warhead.  This allowed faster missile deployment and meant a separate truck was no longer needed to carry the warhead.2

Service History

The Pershing was originally built under the name “Redstone-S” to replace the aging Redstone missile, but the missile’s name was changed in honor General John J. Pershing.  As the successor to the Redstone, the Pershing inherited the Redstone’s mission of acting as a forward-based SRBM that could strike critical targets in Warsaw Pact nations from U.S. bases in NATO-aligned nations.  Unlike the Redstone, the Pershing 1 used solid fuel which could be stored indefinitely inside the missile, eliminating an otherwise lengthy fueling process prior to launch.  Additionally, the missile’s size and weight made it easier to transport.3 Due to these factors, the missiles were valued for their survivability and short launch time.  The only significant factor that slowed launch time for the Pershing 1 was that, due to the missile’s length, the warhead was carried on a separate vehicle and attached once a launch order had been received.4

The Pershing 1A program was developed to lessen the warhead issue by including a new hydraulic crane system which would allow for quicker arming of the missile.  It also included an improved mechanical lifting system for the missile’s transporter-erector (TEL) vehicle which allowed the missile to be raised into firing position in under 10 seconds.5  Lastly, it swapped the tracked TEL and support vehicles for wheeled ones.  This allowed the missiles to be moved into place more rapidly.  Aside from support vehicle changes, the only modification 1A program made to the missile was the installation an automatic reference guidance system in the missiles which eliminated the need for pre-surveyed launch sites.6

Originally plans called for eight Pershing 1 battalions to be deployed in West Germany with an additional battalion stationed in South Korea.  In actuality, only three battalions were deployed to West Germany, beginning in 1964 as a part of the 56th Field Artillery Command.7  In addition to the 56th Field Artillery Command, the West German Air Force operated two Pershing missile wings, each controlling two missile batteries.  However, due to German law, control of the nuclear warheads for the missiles remained with the U.S. 59th Ordinance Brigade except in times of war.8

In 1985, Pershing 1As began to be withdrawn in favor of the newer Pershing 2. All U.S. Pershing missiles were destroyed prior to 1991 as conditions of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

Specifications

The Pershing 1 was capable of launching a 60, 200, or 400 kiloton W-50 nuclear warhead at ranges up to 740 km (460 miles). It used an inertial guidance system which allowed a 150 m CEP, an extremely high degree of accuracy for its time period. The missile had a length of 10.55 m, a width of 1.02 m and a launch weight of 4,600 kg. It had a two-stage solid propellant motor.9

    1. Duncan Lennox, “MGM-31 Pershing I” in Jane’s Strategic Weapon Systems (London: IHS Global, 2011).
    2. Ibid.
    3. Alan Moore, “A New Look of Pershing,” in Army Fires, (Ft. Sill: U.S. Army, April 1969.)
    4. Ibid.
    5. “Equipment Data Sheets for TACOM Combat & Tactical Equipment,” U.S. Army, June 1985.
    6. Ibid.
    7. George Lemmer, Strengthening USAF General Purpose Forces: 1961-1964, (Washington D.C.: United States Air Force, 1966).
    8. Joseph Fields, Tactical Nuclear Weapons Responsibility: Ordnance versus Field Artillery (Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War College, 1990), 5.
    9. Lennox.