A Moment in Air Force History

The MACE Tactical Missile program phase-out in the mid-1960s was not the end of Air Force involvement with missiles in Europe. In the 1980s, the Air Force began establishing Ground Launched Cruise Missile sites to help NATO counter the Soviet SS-20 Intermediate Range Missiles pointing at Western Europe. The first was activated at Royal Air Force Greenham Common, United Kingdom, in 1983; followed by Comiso Airlift Squadron, Italy, and Florennes Air Base, Belgium in 1984; then Wueschheim Air Station, Germany in 1986 [38th Tactical Missile Wing back in Germany again]; and finally RAF Molesworth, United Kingdom, in 1987.

There was to be a sixth GLCM—pronounced Glick’em — base at Woensdrecht, Netherlands, but it was never activated.

The plan was to base 464 missiles in Europe, but deliveries were halted after about 300 — enough to support 19 GLCM flights. A flight consisted of two launch control centers and fourTransporter-Erector-Launchers, each carrying four missiles. The missile used was the Gryphon (BGM–109G).

The Gryphon, pronounced Griffin had about the same speed (500 mph) and range (1,500 miles) as its 1960’s predecessor the MACE B. But the Gryphon was less than half the size and one third the weight of a MACE making it much more mobile. Combined with its improved accuracy and its 10 to 50 Kt nuclear warhead, the Gryphon was also much more lethal.

Its lethality made the GLCM deployments in Europe particularly controversial, but ultimately its viability as a threat succeeded in bringing the Russians to the negotiation table, producing the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty — the first United States/U.S.S.R. nuclear force reduction agreement. The treaty went into effect June 1, 1988, bringing about a phased drawdown of GLCM (and the U.S. Army’s Pershing IIs), with the last missiles leaving Europe for destruction by early 1991.

Today, only eight Gryphon missiles still exist — all have been demilitarized and are on static display as part of the U.S. Air Force Museum collection. But the technology was not lost since many of the components could be used in Gryphone’s non-nuclear twin, the BGM-109. Extensively used in Desert Storm, most know the U.S. Navy’s BGM-109, Sea Launched Cruise Missile by the name Tomahawk.