The HAWK missile system was the main US air defence missile system during the Cold War and remained in use during the First Gulf War, although despite being deployed in large numbers by the US was never actually fired in anger.
This is a clear case of the acronym coming before the official title of Homing All the Way Killer!
The early version of this system was a complex piece of technology split over a surprisingly high number of individual components. A full battery would have six missile launchers (with three missiles each), two launching section control boxes (each controlling three launchers), long range, shorter range and range finding radar sets, two illuminator radar sets (to light up the targets during an attack) and a control centre in a truck, as well as back-up controls, generators and seventeen 114 meter long cables to connect it all. One thing that emerges throughout the book is that although the system was designed to be mobile, it was often deployed in permanent installations, in particular in Germany – pictures show the radar systems installed on top of tall towers, greatly reducing any mobility!
As the author traces the development of the HAWK system over several decades it becomes clear that this modular system was a key strength. In the 1970s the system was made more mobile by putting the missile launchers onto a vehicle and producing a mobile version of the smaller control centres. In the 1970s the Improved HAWK system replaced the original vacuum tube based electronics with far more reliable and sturdy solid state systems. Individual radar units could be replaced. At the sharp end the missile itself could be upgraded. Realistically all the Improved HAWK system kept from the original was the general configuration of modules and the name.
The operational history of these missile systems is unusual. American missiles were sent to Vietnam, where their bases were sometimes caught up in fighting on the ground, but they never fired a missile in anger. Most units were posted to Germany, where fortunately they were never needed. American HAWK units were deployed to the Middle East during the First Gulf War, but once again never fired in anger.
However the system was used elsewhere. The system was used in combat for the first time by Israel during the Six Day War, although the first aircraft shot down was actually Israeli. Over the next twenty years Israeli HAWK systems shot down around 38 enemy aircraft. Iran purchased some before the Islamic revolution, which were then used against Iraq. Kuwait also purchased some, and these were also used against Iraq!
This is an interest technical study of a major but somewhat unfamiliar weapons system, giving a clear picture of just how complex the problem of air defence was in the jet age.
Design and Development
Legacy of the Hawk Missile System
Author: Marc Romanych & Tacqueline Scott