In August 1945, the AAF established a requirement for a 175- to 500-mile range 600 mph surface-to-surface missile. Martin received a one year contract in March 1946 to study both a subsonic and supersonic version, but the military deleted the latter in December. Despite its subsonic speed, the Martin missile survived the 1947 cut. In March 1949, however, the Guided Missile Committee of the Research and Development Board recommended its elimination. The Matador continued, although USAF cut it back in August 1949. The Air Force rescinded that decision in December 1949 and then in September 1950 gave the missile top priority, no doubt because of the Korean War.
The Matador possessed about the same size and looks as a contemporary jet fighter. A booster generating 57,000 pounds of thrust for 2.4 seconds got the 12,000-pound missile airborne and up to a flying speed of 200 mph from a zero- length launcher. Powered by a 4,600-pound-thrust J33-A-37 engine, the missile (designated TM-61A) carried a 3,000-pound warhead over 650 mph to a maximum range of 620 miles.
Testing of the Matador began at Holloman Air Force Base with the first flight on 19 January 1949. Like so many of the missiles, the initial flight ended in a crash. Testing continued with 46 prototype missiles until March 1954, then with 84 production models between December 1952 and spring 1954. Between August 1953 and February 1954, USAF tested a second series of missiles with strengthened tail and wings to alleviate structural problems.
The Matador's guidance system presented another problem because the guidance radar's range proved less than the missile's flying range. This guidance system required a ground-based operator to track and guide the missile, which, with line- of-sight communications, limited guided range to 250 miles. In late 1954, USAF added a guidance system called Shanicle and re-designated the missile TM-61C. In this system, the missile automatically flew a hyperbolic grid. Based upon results of 74 TM-61Cs launched on the Atlantic missile range between April 1957 and September 1960, USAF calculated the missile's overall reliability at 71 percent and CEP at 2,700 feet. However, these accuracy figures included student launches; instructors achieved CEPs of 1,600 feet. But Shanicle still limited the range of TM-61C to that of line-of-sight transmissions; moreover, this guidance system could be jammed. To break this dependence, the Air Force installed a third guidance system. ATRAN in the TM-61B variant, nicknamed Mace.
Like the other guided missile programs, numerous problems beset the Matador project. Production, engines, and most of all, guidance, were especially troublesome. The Martin Company must bear much of the responsibility for these difficulties. In 1953, the USAF Project officer wrote that the "Martin Matador program was delayed excessively because of [Martin's] poor design, inadequate testing, and difficulty in retaining qualified people." Throughout its service, observers criticized the Matador for its low in-flight reliability, high CEPs, and questionable control over long distances. A 1956 study noted that USAF did not develop Matador according to procedures and military requirements, but rather devised the missile around existing components and techniques. Further, at the time the Air Force initially deployed the Martin missile, the weapon had not demonstrated operationally acceptable performance and required major modifications.
Moreover, the Matador's limited mobility concerned the Air Force. With the prodding of the Wright Air Development Center, Goodyear developed a combination transporter/launcher. The new equipment cut both launcher weight (from the original 40 tons to 17 ), and the number of different type vehicles required to support the missile (from 28 with the Matador to 2 with the Mace).
The Air Force activated the 1st Pilotless Bomber Squadron in October 1951 for test and training purposes. This unit went to Germany with TM-61As (Matadors) in March 1954 and became operational in 1955. Eventually, six missile squadrons (comprising the 38th Tactical Missile Wing) served in Europe with just under 200 TM-61s and TM-76s. But the missile proved less than satisfactory. Missile firings in Florida and Libya dramatically demonstrated low reliability and poor accuracy. Nevertheless, the Matador soldiered on. Martin delivered the 1,000th Matador in mid-1957, but in 1959 a phase-out of the Matador began in favor of a more advanced version, the Martin "Mace." The Air Force deactivated the last unit, the 71st Tactical Missile Squadron, in April 1969 as the Army's Pershing missiles took over the Quick Reaction Alert Force role.
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