Military-Grade Awesome

Time To Get Snarky

That’s an SM-62 Snark jet-powered ICBM launching from a truck. No, this is not made up. It really happened.

In 1946, while we were still working out the details of a true ICBM program, Northrop was tasked with developing what would be one of the first. Called the Snark after a Lewis Carroll character, it was a W39 thermonuclear warhead powered by one Pratt & Whitney J57 jet engine and two Aerojet rocket boosters.

One of the coolest features of the Snark was a celestial navigation system. This system was criticized for being overly complex, but proved during tests to give the missile very good accuracty. In one test in 1958, the Snark missed its target at Ascension Island by 4 miles, outside its accuracy requirement. Of course, its critics jumped on this. However, it was later found that the charts used to program in the target were not very accurate, and the missile landed exactly where it was told to.

The Snark missile had a very brief and tumultuous life in service. It was primarily deployed at Patrick Air Force Base in Florida, just south of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It proved to be very accurate and wildly unreliable. Snark missiles routinely suffered mechanical failure thousands of miles away from the intended target. So many Snark missiles were lost in the Atlantic Ocean off Patrick AFB that the Air Force crews began referring to that area of the Atlantic as “Snark infested waters”.

By 1961, the next generation of ICBMs was coming on line and President Kennedy ended the Snark program. It’s now passed into the shadows of history. Sad, really. Because it looks bad ass.

[Image Credit: Public Domain]

  • Being a thermonuclear device means having a very generous accuracy envelope, doesn't it?

    IDK how a celestial navigation system works, but I bet some keen interest in accurate mapping was inspired by events like this.

    Sounds like The Air Force crews were infested with snark as well.

    • CaptianNemo2001

      you simply track a "fixed object" as you pass through space… BUT you also know how you are supposed to be relative to that "object" at all times and thus you adjust your course to keep yourself relative to the "object"