Polaris is also the name of the first operational SLBM
system deployed by the United States. Begun in the mid 1950s, the program was motivated by the desire to find an absolutely secure second-strike system
, as well as the Navy's desire to spoon off as much of the postwar 'missile money' boom as possible. Immediately following the war, the U.S. government
began to fund ballistic missile
programs at a rapid rate; the U.S. Army had the Jupiter
project, the Air Force had Titan
and others, and the Navy needed in. They created an entire bureaucracy named the Special Projects Office
, which survives to this day.
The Polaris was, in fact, the missile system carried by the submarines, although they were referred to as 'Polaris boats.' These subs, which were in the initial run simply nuclear attack submarines that had been bisected and had a missile room installed, carried sixteen Polaris A1 missiles on their initial patrols. This missile had a range of approximately 1200 nautical miles, allowing the submarines to remain in an operational area ranging from the North Sea to the Mediterranean while still being able to hit strategic targets inside the USSR (read: Moscow).
Successive upgrades increased the range of the missiles, allowing the subs larger and larger patrol areas. The development of this system spurred technology in a range of fields, from solid-fuel rocketry to inertial navigation systems. The concept of the SLBM has continued to evolve, through the Poseidon upgrade to the Polaris and on into the Ohio class Trident missile boats currently in service.