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So I want to set my post-nuclear story in a small town in Minnesota on the US/Canadian border that's secretly home to an active missile site hidden beneath the local Air Force National Guard base. The town survived the nuclear holocaust relatively intact due to the soldiers stationed there refusing to launch their missiles even in the face of armageddon, thus keeping their strategic value a secret and their location off the radar, which saved the lives of the townsfolk and everyone on base.

The problem is readers can easily check for themselves on Wikipedia that Minnesota only ever had four Nike missile sites, none of which were located near the Canadian border, and they're all defunct now. It's not like I couldn't handwave this away with artistic license or by claiming an alternate history, but I'd like to avoid doing that if possible.

So is it plausible that the US still has secret missile sites?

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    $\begingroup$ One of the points of writing fiction is that you can change stuff. $\endgroup$ – DJClayworth Sep 24 '16 at 16:35
  • $\begingroup$ Is the related to the Nuclear Submarine Docks in southern Minnesota? $\endgroup$ – chux Sep 24 '16 at 22:04
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    $\begingroup$ If its a secret, why does everyone know about it? (darned incompetent help). Since Nike was an interceptor missile, what possible value is there in not using it to defend the area? $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Sep 25 '16 at 3:14
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    $\begingroup$ I had to double-check to make sure you didn't mean "nuke". After all, sneaker-launching missiles wouldn't be the weirdest thing to come out of this site. $\endgroup$ – JesseTG Sep 25 '16 at 5:19
  • $\begingroup$ "they're all defunct now." - well, that's only what THEY want you to believe. $\endgroup$ – Bergi Sep 25 '16 at 11:35
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My hometown's near a Nike missile site that was manned during the Cold War. The reason for this positioning is that we were near both a major urban center and a government research facility which had been high-profile for decades. Both of these needed protection in the event of an attack by Soviet bombers.

Now, from what I've read (in our case), it appears that the missiles were to be used only against bombers attacking either the research facility or the urban area. The local towns were less important; there was no sense in wasting missiles on bombers hitting them if it would leave the prime targets undefended or without sufficient weapons. To justify sending equipment and funds to create a Nike base, there must be some location that would be targeted by the Soviet Union.

Check out a map of the Minnesota Nike launch sites:

enter image description here
Image courtesy of Wikipedia user Bwmoll3 under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The sites are clustered around Minneapolis/St. Paul, to protect the Twin Cities population center and general industrial area. According to Wikipedia, the Nike missiles (in the Zeus B (XLIM-49A) form) had a range of 250 miles. By some rough eyeballing, the Canadian/American border is, at its closest, a bit over 250 miles away from Minneapolis/St. Paul, making it impossible for this missile site to effectively protect the cities - unless a Soviet bomber made an approach from the north, which would be the likely attack route. However, the site would still be redundant, given the four sites around the Twin Cities.

Are there any other potential targets in Minnesota? Here's a present day population distribution (I'm assuming that during the Cold War, the population, though less, had roughly the same distribution):

enter image description here Image courtesy of Wikipedia user Ravedave, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

I can't find any other major population center I would deem important enough to be protected by Nike missiles.

What about other targets? Well, out of the military facilities in Minnesota, only one, Baudette Air Force Station (closed in 1979) is close to the United States-Canada border. It was a radar station - so certainly important for detecting attacking aircraft - and part of the SAGE radar network, sending data for the Duluth Sector. But after looking over a bunch of maps, it seems that there's nothing else in northern Minnesota: No nuclear reactors, key military bases (besides Baudette), industrial centers, etc. I can't find a complete list of ICBM launch sites without ending up on a government watchlist, so I can only speculate that there aren't a lot.

In fact, this site (I'm not sure of its reputability) show virtually no potential possible targets in northern Minnesota, though some in the central and southern part which could be defended by the Twin Cities launch sites.

In short, I can't find any reason to justify building a secret launch site by the Canadian border in northern Minnesota. I apologize to the Minnesotans out there, but it's just not worth the extra funds. I could have missed something, but I doubt the US government would ever build a site in this area.

Now, could there still be secret Nike missile sites elsewhere in the country? Perhaps. In some places, it could be helpful to have a couple more. But that's just for really important targets. You deploy weapons where they're needed most.

Additionally, as DJClayworth pointed out, it's fiction. You get to make things up. If I were you, I'd be tempted to create a fictitious military or research installation of moderate importance - something which the Soviet Union would maybe like to destroy but which wouldn't be so important that soldiers refusing to launch the weapons would have a drastic impact.

Some things you could have this facility do:

  • Manufacture special parts for important aircraft or equipment
  • Have something to do with the ICBM network in this part of the nation
  • Develop new technologies for the military
  • be a nuclear reactor

Those are just some starters.

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I would add that the Soviets (and the USA) do not target sites because they have launched missiles. First, any site which has already launched its missiles is of no military importance anymore, so why blow it up? Second, an enemy force has very little real time intelligence during a nuclear war. Even if your silo had launched, the soviets would have no way of knowing. Surveillance satellites could eventually detect launches (although I don't think they could during the brief window in which the Nike missiles were deployed), however it is likely that the very first thing any attacking nation would do when launching a nuclear strike would be to detonate a few multi megaton warheads in low earth orbit in order to create an EMP effect. This quickly results in the destruction of LEO satellites. Third, ICBMs are amazingly inflexible in their targeting. The entire ICBM strategy revolved around attacking stationary targets which have been known about for years. It does not involve retargeting missiles at newly discovered targets.

One alternative that I have wondered about is whether the minuteman ICBMs have the secret (and thus untested) ability to serve as anti-ballistic missiles. The scenario would work as follows:

An all-out soviet attack would be detected by US satellites and over the horizon radar. (Details depending on the exact year of your attack.) Some portion of minuteman ICBMs are loaded with updated targeting parameters which cause them to detonate maybe 100 (?) miles overhead. The launch is timed to intercept the incoming wave of soviet warheads and destroy them with an X-ray pulse. The timing information comes from SAC.

You could have this tactic be as successful or unsuccessful as you need for your story goals. Perhaps it only winds up preserving a single missile squadron?

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    $\begingroup$ What you suggested is the operational principle of Soviet A-35 and A-135 anti-ballistic systems work. $\endgroup$ – AndrejaKo Sep 25 '16 at 0:18
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It isn't plausible that the US still has secret Nike missile sites for very long after the public stand-down of the system, because they would still need technical support from the manufacturers, notably replacement parts, and this would get harder to keep secret, and more and more expensive, as time passed.

Going into too much detail about real-world technologies in fiction can be a mistake. If it's just "an anti-aircraft missile site", then provided the exact details of the system aren't a plot point, that will do fine.

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The way you present your story idea makes it seem like you want the soldiers to refuse to fire nuclear ICBM's at Soviet targets from their secret Nike missile base, and therefore the Soviets are unable to target the facility with their own nuclear ICBM's.

There's a few problems with this, namely the fact that Nike missiles were short-range surface to air missiles, designed to protect large cities against an attack from bomber aircraft, and later on in the program, protect large cities against an attack from ICBM's. There would be no strategic value of a secret Nike missile site in a sparsely-populated area near the Minnesota-Ontario/Manitoba border, with no cities within the (very) short range of the missiles.

And most of the Nike missiles weren't even nuclear missiles at all. The Nike Hercules used small-yield nuclear warheads to better protect against incoming ICBM's, but the regular Nike missiles used conventional explosives.

To give an idea of what Nike missiles did, the currently-used Patriot missile system is the Nike's successor.

I believe what you are looking for to use in your story is a secret Minuteman missile site.

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No, because of money

Funding for the US military is decided by congress. There will not be any rocket bases unless Washington appropriates funds for it. Or in the words of the Mercury Astronauts in The Right Stuff:

No bucks, no Buck Rogers

This means that in order to build a base such as that, it must be known to the public. Sure, the fine details of it are often kept secret. But the existence of such a base cannot happen without congress knowing about it.

So the answer to your reality-check is: no, that cannot happen. If it is not known, it does not exist.

Also a question: why a Nike missile site? Those were not exactly dug down and hardened. The missiles were kept on the surface, or in rather shallow pits. And the control buildings were not exactly impressive.

So why limit yourself to a Nike site? Surely there are many other hardened, more secure kinds of sites to be found?

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    $\begingroup$ For a sufficiently highly classified project, "known to Congress" might in fact only mean "known to the Senate and House Armed Forces and Appropriations Committees." Such projects would not be known to Congress as a whole and certainly not to the general public. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Sep 24 '16 at 21:54
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby And why would one particular Nike missile site be regarded as such when none of the others were, hm? $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Sep 25 '16 at 6:54
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    $\begingroup$ It's not my job to justify the black project: that's for the asker to do in their story and it has nothing to do with the point I'm making. You claimed that such a thing could not exist without being public; I demonstrated that your claim is incorrect. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Sep 25 '16 at 11:43
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby You found that it is possible to have exceptions to the rule. However there is very little justification why that exception should apply to a Nike missile site. Those exceptions need to be - indeed - exceptional. It is not something they can just rubberstamp out left and right. OP specifically asked to avoid hand-waving. Well I argue that saying "Well it was a special Nike site that happened to be so secret only the Appropriations Committee knew about it" is blatant hand-waving. $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Sep 25 '16 at 12:16
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They don't have to be silos. Perhaps a mobile launcher or three in storage at the base would be more plausible, or maybe the missiles/launchers were disguised as shipping containers.

You'd need some reason for the Nike missiles to be around. Say to protect a secret comms base or an unknown wartime nuclear weapons storage facility, maybe a spy uncovered a Russian bomber route that went through the area.

As for why they were there, maybe the base wasn't supposed to have the mobile/disguised launchers in the first place? Say some sort of paperwork error meant they received a few. There is precedent for nukes to end up where they're not supposed to be - eg. In a B52 mistakenly flew across the US with six nuclear tipped cruise missiles on board.

You do have creative license and by talking about a nuclear war involving Nike missiles you're already getting into alternate history territory, so it's probably okay to take a few minor liberties here.

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