The Nike defense system was a significant aspect of both civilian life and military planning during the Cold War era in the United States. Nike missiles were radar guided, supersonic antiaircraft missiles. In keeping with the U.S. doctrine of "deterrence," planners hoped that systems like the Nike would make a direct attack on the continental United States so costly as to be futile. Nike Missile Site C-47 near Wheeler, Indiana, is an intact Nike base intended to protect a major potential target, Chicago. Although the Army's first surface-to-air missile defense program began in a 1944 memorandum, it was not until the Soviet Union developed new long range, high altitude bombers capable of reaching the United States, combined with the detonation of their atomic bomb in 1949, that the United States began to respond. President Truman reinforced the long held tenant that the Army was in charge of ground based antiaircraft artillery when he put them in charge of protecting the U.S. mainland from attack.
The Nike systems depended on three functional areas or components: radar systems to obtain, identify and track targets; a launch site with capability to handle multiple rockets; and an administrative section to coordinate and authorize launch. The mission of the Nike within the continental United States was to act as a "last ditch" line of air defense for selected areas. Nike missile sites like C-47 were constructed in defensive rings surrounding major urban and industrial areas. In all, the Army built more than 250 Nike-Hercules missile batteries across the United States during the late 1950s and early 1960s, protecting strategic military and civilian targets--the Chicago defensive area had about 20 bases ringing metropolitan Chicago. The SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) accords limited the deployment of the Nike-Hercules missiles. With the exception of batteries in Alaska and Florida that stayed active until the late 1970s, by 1975 all Nike-Hercules sites had been deactivated. C-47 closed in 1972.