Diamondback (missile)

The Diamondback was a proposed nuclear-armed air-to-air missile studied by the United States Navy's Naval Ordnance Test Station during the 1950s. Intended as an enlarged, nuclear-armed version of the successful Sidewinder missile, Diamondback did not progress beyond the study stage.

TypeAir-to-air missile
Place of originUnited States
Service history
Used byUnited States Navy
Production history
ManufacturerNaval Ordnance Test Station
No. built0
Mass850 pounds (390 kg)
Length12.3 feet (3.76 m)
Diameter12 inches (300 mm)
WarheadNuclear warhead
Blast yield0.75 kilotons of TNT (3.1 TJ)

EngineDual-thrust rocket
Wingspan40 inches (1,000 mm)
PropellantLiquid fuel UDMH/RFNA
15 to 20 miles (24 to 32 km)
Flight ceiling80,000 feet (24,000 m)
SpeedMach 3+
Infrared seeker/passive radar guidance

Development history

In 1956, studies began at the Naval Ordnance Test Station (NOTS) at China Lake, California involving an advanced development of the AAM-N-7 (later AIM-9) Sidewinder air-to-air missile, which was then entering service with the United States Navy. Originally known as "Super Sidewinder", the program soon gained the name "Diamondback", continuing China Lake's theme of naming heat-seeking missiles after pit vipers.[1][2]

Diamondback was intended to provide increased speed, range and accuracy over that achieved by Sidewinder.[3][4] The missile's design called for it to be armed with either a powerful continuous-rod warhead or a low-yield nuclear warhead,[5] the latter developed by China Lake's Special Weapons Division, and which would have a yield of less than 1 kiloton of TNT (4.2 TJ)).[6]

The propulsion system was intended to be a liquid-fueled, dual-thrust rocket,[5] using hypergolic, storable propellants.[7] The rocket motor planned for use in the Diamondback missile was based on that developed by NOTS for the Liquid Propellant Aircraft Rocket (LAR) project.[8]

Although the design studies were promising, the Navy did not have a requirement for a missile of this sort. As a result, the Diamondback project was dropped; studies came to a halt around 1958,[1] while by the early 1960s the project was considered "inactive" and was allowed to fade into history.[3][5]


  1. Babcock 2008, pp.324-325.
  2. Bowman 1957, p.103.
  3. Jacobs and Whitney 1962, p.47.
  4. Besserer and Besserer 1959, p.72.
  5. Parsch 2007
  6. Babcock 2008, p.328.
  7. Babcock 2008, pp.387-390
  8. Babcock 2008, p.537.
  • Babcock, Elizabeth (2008). Magnificent Mavericks: transition of the Naval Ordnance Test Station from rocket station to research, development, test and evaluation center, 1948–58. History of the Navy at China Lake, California. 3. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office. ISBN 978-0-945274-56-8. Retrieved 2011-01-13.
  • Besserer, C.W.; Hazel C. Besserer (1959). Guide to the Space Age. Englewood Cliffs. NJ: Prentice-Hall. ASIN B004BIGGO6.
  • Bowman, Norman John (1957). The Handbook of Rockets and Guided Missiles. Chicago: Perastadion Press. ASIN B002C3SPN2. Retrieved 2011-01-13.
  • Jacobs, Horace; Eunice Engelke Whitney (1962). Missile and Space Projects Guide: 1962. New York: Plenum Press. ASIN B0007E2BBK.
  • Parsch, Andreas (2007). "(Other): "Missile Scrapbook"". Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles. designation-systems.net. Retrieved 2011-01-13.
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