Bomarc Missile Program

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Bomarc missile launch

The Bomarc Missile Program was a joint United States of America-Canada effort between 1957 and 1971 to protect against the USSR bomber threat. It involved the deployment of tactical stations armed with Bomarc missiles along east and west coasts of North America and central areas of the continent. BOMARC and SAGE were phased out in the late sixties as they were ineffective and costly.

The Bomarcs were capable of carrying conventional or nuclear warheads. Their intended role in defence was in an intrusion prevention perimeter. Bomarcs aligned on the eastern and western coasts of North America would theoretically launch and disintegrate enemy bombers before the bombers could drop their payload on industrial regions.

The name Bomarc was conceived as a merge of the two organisations who played the most prominent roles in its creation: Boeing and the Michigan Aeronautical Research Center (MARC).

The "Bomarc IM-99A" was the first production Bomarc missile. It had an operational radius of 200 miles, and was designed to fly at Mach 2.5 at a cruising altitude of 60,000 feet. It was 14.2 m (46.6 ft) long and weighed 7,020 kg (15,500 lb).

The "Super Bomarc IM-99B" was the 99A's successor, with improvements to its operational parameters. It was capable of striking targets within a radius of 400 miles, and able to fly at Mach 4 as high as 100,000 feet. It was 13.7 m (45 ft) long and weighed 7,250 kg (16,000 lb).

IBM designed an additional component to this, called SAGE, which allowed for remote launching of the Bomarc missiles.

At the height of the program, there were 14 Bomarc sites located in the United States, and two in Canada.

The Bomarc Missile Program was highly controversial in Canada. The Progressive Conservative government of Prime Minister John George Diefenbaker initially agreed to deploy the missiles, and controversially scrapped the Avro Arrow fighter program arguing that the missile program made the Arrow unnecessary.

Initially, it was unclear whether the missiles would be equipped with nuclear warheads. Once their use as nuclear weapons became known in 1960, a debate ensued about whether Canada should accept nuclear weapons. Ultimately, the Diefenbaker government decided that the Bomarcs should be equipped with conventional warheads. The dispute split the Diefenbaker Cabinet, and led to the collapse of the government in 1963. The Opposition Liberal Party argued in favour of accepting nuclear warheads, and, after winning the 1963 election, the new Liberal government of Lester Pearson proceeded to accept nuclear warheads, with the first being deployed on December 31, 1963.

Pierre Trudeau, who was at the time a member of the New Democratic Party, witheringly attacked Pearson for the decision. While he was forced to reverse himself when he decided to run as a candidate for the Liberals in the 1965 election, he remained unenthusiastic. Shortly after becoming prime minister in 1967, he announced that the missiles would be phased out by 1971.

Although a number of IM-99/CIM-10 Bomarcs have been placed on public display, concerns about the possible environmental hazards of the thoriated magnesium structure of the airframe have resulted in several being removed from public view. Radiation contamination from a fire at McGuire AFB, N.J., that destroyed an active Bomarc-A airframe on the launch pad on June 7, 1960, resulted in that area remaining off-limits to the present day. The nuclear warhead was not activated in this Broken Arrow accident, however.

Sources: Russ Sneddon, director of the USAF Armament Museum, Eglin AFB, Florida. (Provided information about missing CIM-10 exhibit airframe serial 59-2016, one of the museum's original artifacts from its founding in 1975 and donated by the 4751st Air Defense Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Eglin Aux. Fld. 9.)de:Bomarc


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