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Regulus missile

The SSM-N-8A Regulus cruise missile was the nuclear deterrent weapon employed by the United States Navy from 1955 to 1964. It was essentially a turbojet version of the German V-1 "Buzz Bomb with a nuclear warhead.

In October 1943, Chance Vought Aircraft Company signed a study contract for a 300-mile range missile to carry a 4,000-pound warhead. The project stalled for four years, however, until May 1947, when the United States Army Air Corp awarded Martin Aircraft Company a contract for a turbojet-powered subsonic missile, the Matador. The Navy saw Matador as a threat to its role in guided missiles and, within days, started a Navy development program for a missile that could be launched from a submarine and used the same J33 engine as the Matador. In August 1947, the specifications for the project, now named "Regulus," were issued: carry a 3000-pound warhead, to a range of 500 nautical miles, at Mach 0.85, with a circular error probable (CEP) of 0.5 percent of the range (at its extreme range the missile had to impact within 2.5 nm of its target 50% of the time).

The design was 30 feet long, 10 feet in wingspan, four feet in diameter, and would weigh between 10,000 and 12,000 pounds. After launch, it would guided toward its target by two control stations. (Later, with the "Trounce" system, one submarine could guide it).

Army-Navy competition complicated both the Matador's and the Regulus's developments. The missiles looked alike and used the same engine. They had nearly identical performances, schedules, and costs. Under pressure to reduce defense spending, the United States Department of Defense ordered the Navy to determine if Matador could be adapted for their use. The Navy concluded that the Navy's Regulus could perform the Navy mission better.

Regulus did have advantages over Matador. It required only two guidance stations while Matador required three, and, because Matador's booster had to be fitted to the missile after it was on the launcher while Regulus was stowed with its boosters attached, Regulus could be launched more quickly -- an important feature to a submarine on the surface. Finally, Chance Vought built a recoverable version of the missile, so that even though a Regulus test vehicle was more expensive than a Matador to build, Regulus was cheaper to use over a series of tests. The Navy program continued, and the first Regulus flew in March 1951.

The first submarine launch occurred in July 1953 from the deck of USS Tunny (SSG-282), a World War II fleet boat modified to carry Regulus. Tunny and her sister boat USS Barbero (SSG-317) were the United States's first nuclear deterrent patrol submarines. They were joined in 1958 by two purpose-built Regulus submarines, USS Grayback (SSG-574), USS Growler (SSG-577), and, later, by the nuclear-powered USS Halibut (SSGN-587). So that no target would be left uncovered, four Regulus missiles had to be at sea at any given time. Thus, Barbero and Tunny, each of which carried two Regulus missiles, patrolled simultaneously. Growler and Grayback, with four missiles, or Halibut, with five, could patrol alone. These five submarines made 40 Regulus strategic deterrent patrols between October 1959 and July 1964, when they were relieved by the George Washington-class submarines carrying the Polaris missile system. Barbero also earned the distinction (and undying fame among philatelists) of launching the first (and only) delivery of Missile Mail.

Regulus was deployed by the US Navy in 1955 in the Pacific onboard the cruiser USS Los Angeles (CA-135). In 1956, three more followed: USS Macon (CA-132), USS Toledo (CA-133), and USS Helena (CA-75). These four Baltimore-class cruisers each carried three Regulus missiles on operational patrols in the Western Pacific. Macon's last Regulus patrol was in 1958, Toledo's in 1959, Helena's in 1960, and Los Angeles's in 1961.

Ten aircraft carriers were configured to carry and launch Regulus missiles (though only six ever actually launched one).

USS Princeton (CV-37) did not deploy with the missile but conducted the first launch of a Regulus from a warship. USS Saratoga (CVA-60) also did not deploy but was involved in two demonstration launches. USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA-42) and USS Lexington (CV-16) each conducted one test launch. USS Randolph (CV-15) deployed to the Mediterranean carrying three Regulus missiles. USS Hancock (CV-19) deployed once to the Western Pacific with four missiles in 1955.

Lexington, Hancock, USS Shangri-La (CV-38), and USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) were involved in the development of the Regulus Assault Mission (RAM) concept. RAM converted the Regulus cruise missiles into a remotely piloted vehicle (RPV): Regulus missiles would be launched from cruisers or submarines, and once in flight, guided to their targets by carrier-based pilots with remote-control equipment.

A second-generation supersonic Regulus II cruise missile with a range of 1,200 nautical miles and a speed of Mach 2 was developed and successfully tested, but the program was canceled in favor of the Polaris ballistic nuclear missile. Production of Regulus was phased out in January 1959 with delivery of the 514th missile, and it was removed from service in August 1964.

Regulus not only provided the first nuclear strategic deterrence force for the United States Navy during the first years of the Cold War and especially during the Cuban Missile Crisis, preceding the Polaris missiles, Poseidon missiles, and Trident missiles that followed, but it also was the forerunner of the Tomahawk cruise missile.

A Regulus I cruise missile can be seen ready for launch onboard USS Growler (SSG-577) at the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum in New York City.

General Characteristics