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Bold Orion Weapons System 199 (WS-199B)

During the Cold War, as satellites grew in importance, each side sought the means of depriving the other the use of satellites if doing so became prudent. As the first president to adopt a sanctuary policy for space, Eisenhower nevertheless authorized the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) and all three of the military services to conduct space weapon research. NSC 5802/1 called for a “vigorous research and development program” to consider weapons against “satellites and space vehicles.” The United States conducted research into a number of major ASAT programs. The B-47-launched ASAT missile tested in the Bold Orion program and the satellite interceptor (SAINT) program were two notable R&D efforts during Eisenhower’s presidency Consistent with his broader policy, however, Eisenhower disapproved the services’ requests for more advanced stages of system development.

Developed in both one- and two-stage designs, the missile was moderately successful in testing, and helped pave the way for development of the GAM-87 Skybolt ALBM. In addition, the Bold Orion was used in early anti-satellite weapons testing, performing the first interception of a satellite by a missile. The purpose of WS-199 was development of technology that could be used in new strategic weapons for the USAF's Strategic Air Command. The primary emphasis was on proving the feasibility of an air-launched ballistic missile.not to deliver an operational weapon.

The designation WS-199B was assigned to the project under a contract awarded in 1958 to Martin Aircraft. The WS-199A designation applied to Strategic Air Command system studies in general, while three other subprojects flight tested actual hardware. The Bold Orion design was simple, using components developed for other missile systems to reduce cost and development time. The initial Bold Orion configuration was a single-stage vehicle, utilising a Thiokol TX-20 Sergeant solid-fuel rocket.

Following initial testing, the Bold Orion configuration was altered to become a two-stage vehicle, an Allegany Ballistics Laboratory Altair upper stage being added to the missile. With top priority by the Air Force, the first flight test of the Bold Orion missile was conducted on 26 May 1958. The Boeing B-47 Stratojet carrier aircraft launched the Bold Orion vehicle at the apex of a high-speed, high-angle climb. The zoom climb tactic, combined with the thrust from the rocket motor of the missile itself, allowed the missile to achieve its maximum range, or at apogee to reach space.

A twelve-flight test series of the Bold Orion vehicle was conducted. Despite suffering only one outright failure, the initial flight tests of the single-stage rocket proved less successful than hoped. Authorisation was received to modify the Bold Orion to become a two-stage vehicle. In addition to the modifications improving the missile's reliability, they increased the range of Bold Orion to over 1,000 miles (1,600 km). Four of the final six test firings were of the two-stage vehicle; these were considered completely successful, and established that the ALBM was a viable weapon.

Air-launched ASAT efforts were a part of programs to develop air-launched ballistic missiles in the 1950's and early 1960's, evidencing the conjoint nature of the technologies. These included the Air Force Bold Orion program, launching rockets from a B-47 bomber, and the Navy Hi-Ho tests using F-4 fighters. Neither resulted in an operational system for technical reasons, subsequently sidestepping the political considerations.

Attempts to employ aircraft-borne ASAT missiles began in the late 1950s, highlighted by the launch of a Bold Orion missile from a B-47 bomber. The Bold Orion air-launched ballistic missile was the first exclusively designed ASAT system. This program was initiated in March 1958 and added a second-stage capability to the existing Martin Corporation single-stage missile to enable the system to be used as a satellite intercept demonstration. Launching from combat aircraft would offer a more flexible ASAT capability.

Demonstration NO. 5 consisted of a single stage Air Launched Ballistic Missile #5, launched 11/17/58 to a range of 226 nautical miles. Demonstration No 7 was a two stage Air Launched Ballistic Missile #7 launched 12/16/58 to a range of 930 nautical miles. On 03 April 1959 a BOLD ORION air-to-ground missile [ALBM] capable of a 1000- mile range was tested at Cape cenaveral. An experimental model was launched from beneath the wing of a B-47 jet bomber.

On 13 October 1959 the USAF conducted world's first sucessful ASAT intercept with Bold Orion Missile #12 air-launched from flying B-47. The Air Force announced that BOLD ORION, a strategic air-to-surface missile, was launched from a B-47 in order that it would pass near EXPLORER VI, which was orbiting at an altitude of 148 miles and a speed or 18,000 mph. The missile then landed in the Atlantic after a 1,000 mile flight. Indications were that the performance had demonstrated extreme accuracy. The test successfully completed its test objectives as the missile passed within four miles of its intended target.

Nevertheless, Pres. Eisenhower was unconvinced that a US ASAT system was required, and would not allow DOD to proceed far enough to field one. Project Bold Orion’s accomplishment encouraged additional studies to be pursued although the Air Force’s efforts now favored ground based launches and mandated inspection, rather than the disablement or destruction of the targeted satellite.




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