The Polaris missile was a submarine-launched, nuclear-tipped ballistic missile. It was designed to be used as part of the US Navy's contribution to the United States' tripartite nuclear deterrent; air, land and sea based systems. Lockheed were the prime contractor and developed the solid-fuel missile in the late 1950s. The first flight took place on 7 January 1960.

The George Washington Class were the first fleet ballistic missile submarines and were designed to carry sixteen of the new missiles. The missile entered service onboard the USS George Washington in 1960.

The Polaris A-1 had a range of 2200 km (1367 miles). The improved A-2 could fly 2300 km (1430 miles) but with the newer redesigned A-3 that range went up to 4600km (2858 miles).
The Polaris A3 missile with its increased range was the first to provide global reach. Design of the Polaris A3 was restricted in size by the volume available in the submarine's (SSBN) launch tube. The A3 was basically a new design rather than an evolution of earlier versions.

The A3's first test flight took place at Cape Canaveral on 7 August 1962. The first launch of a Polaris A3 missile from a submerged submarine, the USS Andrew Jackson (SSBN-619), took place on 26 October 1963 and the first A3s went on US Navy patrol on 28 September 1964, on board USS Daniel Webster.

To meet the need for greater accuracy over the longer ranges the Lockheed designers included reentry vehicle concepts, improved guidance, fire control, and navigation systems; penetration aids and missile trajectory shaping techniques to achieve their goals.

To obtain the major gains in performance of the Polaris A3 over earlier examples there were many improvements including propellants and material used in the construction of the burn chambers.

The US Navy began to replace Polaris with Poseidon in 1972. This turned out to be a less than reliable system and in the 1980s both systems were replaced by the Trident.

The British became interested in Polaris after the cancellation of the airborne launched Skybolt missile. At first the Americans offered the British the opportunity to take over the development and production of the Skybolt programme but that was judged both too costly and to have too higher level of risk. British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and US President John F Kennedy met in Nassau in 1962 and an agreement was reached whereby the United States would supply Britain with Polaris missiles, launch tubes and the fire control systems. Britain would manufacture the warheads and build the submarines. The Polaris Sales Agreement was signed on 6 April 1963. It is not generally known that the Americans offered the French a similar deal but they were not prepared to give the Americans any undertakings on missile usage so the deal did not go forward.

The British Polaris submarines were the Resolution Class. Because of the overwhelming numbers of American missiles the U.S.Navy Polaris had not been designed to penetrate Anti Ballistic Missile defences. However the British, with far fewer, had to ensure that their small Polaris force could penetrate the ABM screen around Moscow. The British therefore almost immediately the missiles were in service began a programme of improvement. Under the name Chevaline the number of warheads on each missile was reduced but the number of decoys was increased. Additional countermeasures were also added. Although Chevaline was a British programme and was designed in this country almost half of the production costs were spent in the United States. The project suffered cost over runs and delays and was not put into service until 1982.

A problem with the British Polaris was that it remained in Royal Navy service long after it had been retired by the United States Navy; consequently many spare parts and repair facilities in the U.S. were unavailable unless production lines were re-opened at considerable expense.

The last Royal Navy Polaris missile submarine cruise took place in 1996.

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