"There is a need to destroy with pinpoint accuracy..." -- 1950s Pentagon
were nothing new to the United States military, even in 1965. The concept
dated back to the Germans and World War II. German scientists developed the
FRITX-X and the HS-293 both based on radio controlled guidance. These were used
by the German Luftwaffe to destroy the Italian battleship Roma on September 3,
1943 because the Italians were going to turn the ship over to the Allies. At
the end of World War II, the U.S. Army Air Force had used radio guided bombs to
destroy bridges in Burma, and then again five years later in Korea. The weapons
were difficult to use, hard to maintain and because of radio control problems
often were unreliable, but they proved guided weapons were a reality.
However, the strategic thinking of the 1950s revolved around bombs
large enough to destroy cities, not bridges. The Pentagon promptly abandoned
guided weapon development,. promising as it was, for a larger concept, that of
nuclear weapons. For the most part, during the 1950s, guided air-to-ground
weapons were a neglected step child. The favored approach was to use a blunt
sledgehammer type nuclear weapon and not a surgical scalpel to take out targets.
The U.S. Navy and Air Force had been using radio guided weapons for a few
years by the time the air war began over Southeast Asia. However, the bombs
had unreliable guidance packages, and when they did hit a target the small
warheads were not enough to destroy an object as large and well made as a
bridge. In the case of the 1965 Than Hoa raid, pilots reported the bombs simply
bounced off the bridge with no noticeable damage to the French made
Word started thinking along lines that would get American bombs
closer to their intended targets. An engineer with Texas Instruments, Word had
been working on a submarine detection net off the New England coast and was
looking for more challenging work when he crossed paths with laser engineer
Dave Salonimer, in late 1964. Salonimer was trying to convince the U.S. Army to
use a laser targeting system for artillery strikes. "Dave had conceived this idea of
the Army artillery using a laser. Well, Salonimer thought wouldn't it be great
if you could take a flashlight, ala a laser, mark a target, and then send a
missile or a shell or whatever over the hill and hit it," Word said. "Those
where the serious early thoughts about laser guidance."
military, however, there were no takers for Salonimer's "Buck Rogers" idea of
using lasers to guide projectiles, and in late 1964 the Huntsville, Alabama
based scientist wanted Texas Instruments to devise a way to launch a Shrike air
launched anti-radar missile from the ground then use a laser guidance system to
guided the missile to a marked target. It all sounds easy, today, for the buddy
lasing tactic is standard work for the U.S. Army and Air Force, but in 1964 it
was still the stuff of science fiction.
Adapting an air launched missile
for ground use wasn't easy either, remembers TI engineer Tom Weaver. "We started
looking at the use of the Shrike airframe, which is not very good I might add,
but it was low cost and simple to make," Weaver said. "It looked promising,
enough for a demo contract anyway, but nothing came of it."
Continue to "The Proposal"