Encyclopedia Astronautica

Credit: via Andreas Parsch
American short range ballistic missile, which replaced the Little John, Sergeant and Honest John rockets in US Army service in the 1970's. Retired in 1992.

Planning began in the late 1950s for more modern technology replacements of second generation Army missiles. In 1962 Ling-Temco-Vought was selected as prime contractor for the Honest John replacement, dubbed Lance. In order to obtain the high performance desired in a smaller missile, the typical use of solid propellant in a tactical weapon was abandoned in favor of storable liquid propellants. The Rocketdyne engine had higher performance and could also be finely throttled in flight to maximize range. Lance's four spin motors, not the Rocketdyne engine, produced the trademark black smoke in every firing picture. The missile's inertial system monitored acceleration to ensure that the engine was throttled to keep to the precise predetermined trajectory, compensating for any atmospheric changes or disturbances. First Lance test flight was in March 1965. Tweaking of the design resulted in the Extended Range Lance (XRL), with a range of 140 km, eliminating the need to develop replacements for other short range second generation rockets. The decision was made to put only the XRL into production. This decision and problems with the engine resulted in tests extending from 1967 to 1971, with first deployment in May 1972. Lance missiles were armed with a W-70 variable-yield thermonuclear weapon (1 kT - 100 kT), with a convention warhead becoming available in the 1980's. The liquid propellant of the Lance inventory became an important resource when an explosion at a propellant plant resulted in insufficient liquid propellant in the United States to keep US Air Force Titan space launchers in service in the 1980's.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union the Lance's mission came to an end. All were withdrawn from service in 1991-1992. The Army put the conventional ATACMS into service as a replacement for the conventional Lances.

Initial Operational Capability: 1972.

Historical Essay © Andreas Parsch

LTV MGM-52 Lance

The Lance was a short-medium-range tactical surface-to-surface missile, which replaced the MGM-29 Sergeant and MGR-1 Honest John in U.S. Army service. It was also the last nuclear-armed tactical ballistic missile of the U.S. Army.

In the late 1950s, the Army began to formulate requirements for a new series of ballistic missiles, called Missile "A" through "D". Missile "A" was to become a replacement for the MGR-3 Little John, Missile "B" for the MGR-1 Honest John, Missile "C" for the MGM-29 Sergeant, and Missile "D" (which evolved into the MGM-31 Pershing) for the PGM-11 Redstone. In 1962, Ling-Temco-Vought (LTV) was selected as prime contractor for Missile "B", which at that time was expected to become a short-range (50 km) missile. In November 1962 the name Lance was assigned, and in June 1963 the designation MGM-52 was allocated.

The Lance used a new variable-thrust boost-sustain liquid-fueled rocket engine, using storable liquid propellants. The engine was built by Rocketdyne, and its development turned out to be rather troublesome, causing many delays. Additionally, the Lance used 4 spin motors immediately after launch which produced the charactersitic black smoke which accompanied every Lance firing. The Lance was guided by a completely self-contained inertial system (AN-DJW-48) using the principle of DCAM (Directional Control Automatic Meteorological) Compensation. In this system the missile's accelaration was constantly monitored by an accelerometer, and the variable-thrust sustainer engine provided exactly the amount of thrust to keep the missile on the predetermined trajectory, compensating for any atmospheric changes or disturbances. The first test flight of an XMGM-52A missile occurred in March 1965, and the tests continued through 1965-66, including validation of the DCAM guidance principle.

In 1965, studies showed that by using a higher performance engine, larger missile fins, and by removing the ballast from the warhead section, the range of the Lance could be significantly increased to about 140 km. The modified missile was called Extended Range Lance (XRL), and effectively combined the requirements for Missiles "B" and "C". The XRL was designated MGM-52B, and while testing continued with the XMGM-52A, it was decided that only the MGM-52B would be fielded.

The first light of an XMGM-52B XRL missile occurred in May 1969, and in the next year the required range and accuracy of the XRL could be demonstrated. However, serious troubles with the rocket engine plagued the flight tests between 1967 and 1971, and the Lance was not declared ready for deployment until May 1972. By this time the planned chemical and conventional warheads had been cancelled, and the initial Lance missiles were all armed with a W-70 thermonuclear variable-yield (1 kT - 100 kT) warhead. The final production configuration of the Lance with all the changes made during XMGM-52B testing (including a slightly redesigned fin and tail section) was designated MGM-52C.

The first operational Lance battalion was deployed in Europe in September 1973. Compared to the Sergeant it replaced, Lance was far easier to operate and maintain. The missile could be fired at short notice (reaction time was less than 15 minutes), and because of its compact size, more missiles could be moved by a single unit.

In 1976 the development of a non-nuclear warhead section for the MGM-52C resumed. This was a cluster warhead designated XM251, which used M40 submunition bomblets. The M251 warhead entered service with the U.S. Army in 1978, and conventially armed Lance missiles (with several warhead types) were used by many NATO countries. In 1977, a derivative of the W-70 nuclear warhead, the W-70 Mod 3, was ready for production. This was an ER (Enhanced Radiation, a.k.a. "Neutron Bomb") warhead, designed to produce a much higher neutron radiation level (to kill enemy soldiers at longer range and-or behind better shielding), and significantly smaller blast-heat effects than "usual" thermonuclear warheads (to limit damage to civilian buildings). The ER warhead was originally cancelled for political reasons, but eventually built beginning in 1981. However, the ER warhead was never issued to field units.

When the Cold War ended at the beginning of the 1990's, there was no longer a need for nuclear-armed SRBMs. Deactivation of Lance began in 1991, and was completed in June 1992. This quick retirement was possible, because in 1991 the new MGM-140 ATACMS SRBM (with conventional warheads only) had become operational. The remaining Lance missiles are used as targets, but they are not redesignated as MQM-52. In total, about 2100 Lance missiles were built.


Note: Data given by several sources show slight variations. Figures given below may therefore be inaccurate!

Data for MGM-52C:

Length 6.1 m (20 ft)
Diameter 0.56 m (22 in)
Weight 1290 kg (2850 lb)
Speed Mach 3
Ceiling 45 km (150000 ft)
Range 120 km (75 miles)
Propulsion Rocketdyne liquid-fueled rocket motor (booster: 186 kN (42000 lb), sustainer: variable up to 20 kN (4400 lb))
Warhead W-70 thermonuclear (1 kT - 100 kT), or M251 conventional warhead with M40 submunitions
Main Sources

[1] James N. Gibson: "Nuclear Weapons of the United States", Schiffer Publishing Ltd, 1996
[2] Bill Gunston: "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rockets and Missiles", Salamander Books Ltd, 1979
[3] Redstone Arsenal Historical Information Website

AKA: MGM-52.
Status: Active.

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Associated Countries
See also
  • Lance American short range ballistic missile family. More...
  • missile Guided self-propelled military weapon (as opposed to rocket, an unguided self-propelled weapon). More...

Associated Manufacturers and Agencies
  • Boeing American manufacturer of rockets, spacecraft, and rocket engines. Boeing Aerospace, Seattle, USA. More...

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