UGM-27 Polaris

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The Polaris missile is a medium range, submarine-launched IRBM. It was developed as a mobile nuclear deterrent in case of a Soviet nuclear attack. The idea came from Admiral Arleigh Burke, who handed the design of the missile over to Admiral William "Red" Raborn, an ingenious and free-thinking officer.

Admiral Burke had decided that a mobile ballistic missile platform was more practical than a large, stationary one, for obvious reasons—a mobile launcher would be harder for the Soviets to destroy. A ship had great mobility, but putting a large liquid fuel missile on a ship would be very dangerous, because if the ship tipped and the lethal liquid oxygen and hydrogen fuel spilled out and ignited, the ship and its crew would be destroyed. Plus, the shortest ballistic missile the United States had was the Jupiter, which stood far too tall, at 65 feet.

A submarine-launched missile was far more practical. For one thing, beneath the sea it is far calmer than at the surface, and the missile would probably not tip over. However, if the liquid fuel spilled, it would be far more catastrophic than on a surface ship, being in a closed space.

Raborn decided that a solid fuel missile would be better. The upkeep on a solid fuel missile is easier, it is less dangerous, and it can be launched from a submarine.

On November 15, 1960 the George Washington, SSBN-598 was launched. It carried 16 Polaris missiles.


The United States has phased out Polaris in favor of the Poseidon missile and Trident missile. Britain used Polaris in its Resolution-class submarines until 1996 but now uses Trident in its Vanguard-class submarines.


Type: Two stage medium range submarine launched nuclear missile

Dimensions: Length-28 ft. Width-4.5 ft. Weight-30,000 lbs

Guidance system: Self-contained inertial guidance system, free of outside commands

Warhead: 160 kiloton, nuclear