The LGM-25C Titan II was the last liquid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) built by the United States. It was in service between 1963-1987 and could range 15,000 km.
Titan II at a Glance
- Originated From
- United States
- Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM)
- Possessed By
- United States
- 31.3 m
- 3.05 m
- Launch Weight
- 149,700 kg
- Single warhead
- 9.0 mT Nuclear
- Two-stage, liquid propellant
- 15,000 km
- In Service
Titan II Development
In 1960, this upgrade program was officially spun off into the Titan II program and placed under the direction of the Titan I developer, the Martin Company.2
In order to increase the Titan’s range and payload capacity, a redesigned engine system was mounted on a larger fuselage. Additionally, the highly volatile liquid oxygen (LOX) fuel was swapped for Aerozine, which didn’t require refrigerated storage, reducing the missile’s weight and increasing fuel capacity. Also, because Aerozine doesn’t require cooling, the missile could remain fueled, cutting down on launch preparation time.3
Test flights for the missile were conducted from March 1962 until April 1964. Many of these flights took place at Cape Canaveral due to the Titan II’s selection for usage in NASA’s Gemini program.4
The Titan II entered active service with the U.S. Air Force in 1963.5
The Titan II was the largest and heaviest missile ever built by the United States. The missile was 31.3 m long and 3.05 m wide. It weighed 149,700 kg when fully fueled and had a range of 15,000 km. Its inertial guidance system enabled an accuracy of 900 meters CEP and was capable of making in-flight corrections without ground control input. The missile was upgraded with an improved guidance system in 1979.6
The missile used a single Mk 6 Reentry Vehicle (RV) which carried a W-53 9.0 MT nuclear warhead. The missile had a diameter of 3.05 m, a length of 31.30 m and a launch weight of 149,700 kg. The missiles had a two-stage liquid propellant design and reached a speed of 25 times the speed of sound by the time the engines cut off.7
Much like its predecessor, the Titan II was primarily valued for its quick counter-strike capability. However, unlike its predecessor, the Titan II didn’t need to be raised to ground level on an elevator prior to launch, and was the first ICBM capable of launching from inside a silo.8
Additionally, the silo complexes were located 13 to 19 km apart.9 These factors increased the missile’s survivability in the event of a first-strike scenario and allowed it to launch within 60 seconds of receiving a launch order. The missile was armed with a 9 megaton nuclear warhead, the most powerful warhead ever fielded by the United States. Due to the high yield of the warhead and the accuracy of the missile’s guidance system, it was possible for the Titan II to destroy hardened targets. However, the United States’ nuclear doctrine planned on using the Titan IIs and other ICBMs as a counter-value deterrent which targeted large Soviet military bases and civilian population centers.10
While in service, there were a number of fatal accidents involving the missile. The deadliest of these occurred on August 9, 1965 in Searcy, Arkansas when welding fuel ignited during a silo upgrade program. The resulting fire consumed oxygen in the air and released toxic fumes which led to the deaths of 53 people working in the silo.11
Another major accident occurring on September 19, 1980 in Damascus, Arkansas, and involved the missile exploding after the first-stage Aerozine fuel tank was punctured by a tool which fell from a maintenance platform near the top of the missile. The blast completely destroyed the silo and sent the 750-ton silo door flying 200 meters and 20-ton fragments from the flame deflectors over 500 meters from the silo. The missile’s Mk VI reentry vehicle safety measures prevented the warhead from being damaged significantly. One person died in the accident. 12
These accidents sparked a 1980 congressional investigation into potential hazards which led to the U.S. moving away from liquid-fueled ballistic missiles and the eventual retirement of the Titan II.13
Space Launch Applications
During development, the missile met the objectives set by the Air Force for use as an ICBM fairly early but ran into trouble meeting the criteria set by NASA for a manned space launch platform. This was due to a longitudinal oscillation issue dubbed the “pogo effect” which caused increased gravitational effects on the missile. After many failed tests and repeated design changes, the G forces stemming from the pogo effect eventually fell within the strict limits set by NASA and production of a modified Titan II was ordered.14 These modified versions of the Titan II were used by NASA as the launch vehicle for the Gemini space program. Twelve Gemini missions were flown, ten of which were manned, in preparation for the Apollo space program.
Following the decommissioning of the Titan II as an ICBM, the remaining missiles were converted into space-launch vehicles for satellites and remained in that role until the final Titan II was launched in 2003.15
- David Stumpf, Titan II (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2000), 26.
- Ibid, 40.
- Ibid, 34.
- Stumpf, 71.
- Jacob Neufeld, The Development of Ballistic Missiles in the United States Air Force: 1945-1960 (Washington D.C.: Office of Air Force History, 1990), 186.
- David Stumpf. Titan II. (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press. 2000.)
- Duncan Lennox. “Titan II” in Jane’s Strategic Weapon Systems (Offensive Weapons). (London: IHS Global 2011.)
- Duncan Lennox. “Titan II” in Jane’s Strategic Weapon Systems (Offensive Weapons), (London: IHS Global, 2011.)
- United States Air Force, “T.O. 21M-LGM25C-1,” (Washington D.C.: Secretary of the Air Force, 1965), 2-1.
- David Baker. “Titan I/II” in The Rocket: The History and Development of Rocket & Missile Technology. (New York: Crown Publishers. 1978.)
- Stumpf, 215-220.
- Ibid, 234-248.
- Ibid, 249-251.
- Curtis Larsen. “NASA Experience with Pogo in Human Spaceflight Vehicles.” (Houston: Johnson Space Center, May 2008) https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/20080018689.pdf
- Encyclopedia Astronautica, “Titan II,” http://www.astronautix.com/t/titanii.html.