The Corporal was the first U.S. guided missile system to be approved for nuclear armament, and the first operational guided missile of the U.S. Army. It evolved from a series of Army research rockets begun in 1944/45.
The first missile to carry the name Corporal was the small WAC Corporal (designated RTV-G-1 in 1947) sounding rocket, first launched in September 1945. The WAC Corporal B was later also used to create an experimental two-stage research rocket, when it was mounted on top of captured German V-2 missiles. 8 of these vehicles, known as RTV-G-4 Bumper, were used for tests between 1948 and 1950.
The immediate forerunner of the tactical Corporal SSM was the RTV-G-2 Corporal E surface-to-surface test vehicle. It was first flown in May 1947. The Corporal E was used to evaluate basic principles of ballistic guided missile construction, flight, and guidance. Because the Hermes program would need more time to lead to an operational missile, it was decided in 1950 to develop the Corporal E into a tactical nuclear-armed ballistic missile, designated SSM-G-17 Corporal. In 1951, the Army's missile designation system changed slightly, and the RTV-G-2 and SSM-G-17 became RV-A-2 and SSM-A-17, respectively. However, the RV-A-2 designation was dropped almost at the same time, and all Corporal test rounds were known as XSSM-A-17.
Main contractor for Corporal was the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and the early Corporal E missile airframes were built by Douglas. However, the contract for the production of the operational missiles went to Firestone in 1951, after missile design had been frozen. The first tactical SSM-A-17 Corporal version was also known as Corporal Type I. The first flight occurred in August 1952, and in April 1954 the first Army units began training with the missile, which was designated as Guided Missile XM2 in service. The SSM-A-17 was armed with a W-7 nuclear fission warhead (20 kT).
The Army originally planned to develop a Corporal Type III missile with a further improved guidance system, but in 1958 this was cancelled, because development of the much more advanced MGM-29 Sergeant made good progress. After the Sergeant became operational in 1962, the Corporal was quickly phased out, and the last Corporal was retired in 1964. In 1963, the M2 and M2A1 missiles had been redesignated as MGM-5A and MGM-5B, respectively. About 1100 Corporal Type I, II, IIa and IIb missiles were delivered to the U.S.