When the Manhattan Project was founded in 1942, the aim of the ambitious project was to develop a new type of bomb to counter the darkness closing in around the world. This bomb was not envisioned as the tool of Armageddon at that time, but a more effective bomb that could perform in a single device what a fleet of B-29s and B-17s dropping tons of ordinary from the skies could do...maybe end the war quicker. The moment those bombs exploded over two cities in Japan, the world changed forever. There also a radical shift in the realms of the military and politics how the atomic bomb would alter warfare, international diplomacy, as well as the political spheres both at home and at aboard. When the Soviet Union exploded their own atomic bomb in 1949, there was another alternation, then again when thermonuclear weapons were developed in the 1950’s, and then yet again during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Nuclear weapons are one of those rare military weapon systems that enter into the lives of every man, woman, and child on Earth as well as all avenues of our modern society. This second part of the Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear War blog series
, FWS will be exploring and attempting to explain the military's relationship with the nuclear bomb.
The Military Role of Nuclear Weapons
There much attention paid to the horror that nuclear weapons can unleash if ever used on mass scale, but we have to remember that they are a weapon system that operates within the strategic plans and policies of nine nations across the globe. In the post-proliferation world, the primary role for nuclear weapons is deterrence against any hostile launch and to offer a hellish counter-strike if nuclear weapons were launched against the nation. Laying out the case on the military role of nuclear weapons was put into harsh reality in a 1983 article written by former Sec. of State Robert McNamara for the Foreign Affairs Journal entitled "The Military Role of Nuclear Weapons: Perceptions and Misconceptions (Foreign Affairs Vol. 62, No. 1 (Fall, 1983), pp. 59-80)".
There on page 79 he states: “nuclear weapons serve no military purpose whatsoever. They are totally useless-expect only to deter one’s opponent from using them
”. He counters the claims that tactical nuclear weapons could be used to off-set the Warsaw Pact numerical advantage with this: “it increased the likelihood of a nuclear incident that could conceivably lead to an absolute escalation
(pg. 74-76)”. If this is indeed true of the nuclear armaments around the world that the true power of the nuclear weapon lays in the realm of diplomacy and politics.
What Happened to Nuclear Weapons as an Asset of the Military?
Since the events in August of 1945, the global history has always had mushroom clouds hanging over it, and the stakes only increased with the Soviet Union achieving status as a nuclear power on August 29, 1949. Shortly into the history of the nuclear age, it became clear that with the US, USSR, and Red China possessing the capability to create a man-made extinction level event, that nuclear weapons' military capabilities became limited, if not all together void of their original purpose. A nuclear-armed nation could not use their WMD without severe penalty, and even a limited exchange could tip-off of an chain of events that could led to the end of the world as we known it. This horror was one that no one seemed stupid enough to unleash, and we all can be grateful for. While we can view the military role of nuclear weapons as either defensive, where they deter the other side from offensive nuclear strikes, the so-called doctrine mutual assured destruction or M.A.D. Of course, any their very nature, nuclear weapons are offensive. However, during the Cold War, it could be said that nuclear weapons became a tool of international politics and dipolamcy with some nations developing them for nationalism and status, this has been a view fortified by nations, like India and Pakistan develop nuclear weapons simply to increase their international status. No more of a better example can be seen than the nuclear programs of North Korea and Iran. It is likely, that if nuclear weapons are used in military fashion, than it will come at the hands of terrorists.
The Military's Role in an Post-Nuclear Exchange World
It is often assumed that nuclear war is the end of the story for organized government, society, and economy…but what about the military in the post-nuclear war world? Throughout the Cold War, governments planned and prepared for Doomsday with continuation of government plans, civil defense organizations, emergency communication system like the US government GWEN communication system, fallout shelters, and underground complexes along with hidden military supply depots. All of these plans and facilities were designed to allow for post-nuclear an command, control, and communication network for coordination in both recovery and defense operations.
For course, all of these plans are designed on assumed outcomes from computer models of an post-nuclear war world, and the grim reality could be far different. First I think it needs to be stated that there would be surviving military units after a nuclear war, especially in the case of the US military, given their global missions, international reach, and far-flung bases in isolated regions of the world. There would be surviving US military units at sea, in places like Afghanistan, and in underground complexes. These units could be on their own for surviving in war-torn world and without orders. However, they would be in a better position than most in the new reality. There have been some works depicted military units in such situations.
The 1980’s RPG Twilight 2000
from GDW Games was set around NATO units trapped in a post-nuclear war Europe with Warsaw Pact, NATO, warlord units engaged in battle for control and supplies. These trapped units did not operate under orders from higher headquarters, but were merely engaged in survival. At times, these remains of the military in the post-apocalypse horror world are the only semblance of law and order. Often these units get roped into local issues resulting from World War III or are continuing the war against the Warsaw Pact as revenge for the horror. This is part of the role of the remaining military units: peacekeeper force. Military units could be providing security for relief centers, isolated, but still operating towns and centers, or sheltering survivors on their way to refugee camps. Another type of role that military units could have is whatever the hell they decide. Military units would be without orders and making it up on their own. Some might given to imposing whatever laws and control they deem since they have the guns, training, and supplies.
Some might become the guardians of protections for hamlets and towns that need protection and help in forming city-states in the new wasteland. Overseas units may attempt to organize and pool their resources to mount an expedition to return to their nuked homeland to find survivors, family, or orders on what do next. Either way, military units would be a highly desired commodity in the post-nuclear horror and we could see them take on similar roles and destinies as military units in the post-Roman Empire Europe.
Sea-based military units role in the post-nuclear war world is the most unknown as to their role. There would be surviving submarines and ships out there and would represent a untouched piece of the old pre-nuclear war world. Some of the larger naval fleet units would be likely targeted by nuclear weapons, like US Navy carrier groups, but surviving naval ships would have supplies, aircraft, and weapons to mount missions of mercy, recovery, or continue the war against whatever is left of the enemy navy. We could see naval assets being one of the largest surviving elements of the military in the post-nuclear world.
Why Nuclear Weapons are so Dangerous Militarily
I think it is pretty obvious why nuclear weapons are dangerous, however, there are other ways that nuclear weapons could be dangerous besides that they can wiped out cities and kill millions in a matter of seconds. Firstly, even a small nuclear exchange could trigger a even wider crisis or even massive shift in global weather and environmental patterns that could result in mass extrinction. Dropping temperatures from nuclear fallout could trigger a nuclear winter that could be followed by a nuclear summer. This would impact world food supplies, crops, and livestock. This means a continuous loss of human life even after the initial nuclear exchange. That is also obvious to most, but there another element that is more dangerous than the assumed effects of an exchange of thermonuclear weapons: nuclear escalation.
At the time of World War II, the United States atomic weapons program was a nearly $2 billion price tag that ended the war in the pacific swiftly, saving lives and demonstrating the true horror of using nuclear weapons. However, it also demonstrated that a nation that did not possess the bomb could be victim of an aggressive nation that had the bomb. Shortly after their use in 1945, the Soviet Union, Britain, and France all feverishly worked to achieve their own atomic weapons. This escalation sets about a fanatic atmosphere in international relations and within the society of the nations involved.
Money that could be derived for other uses (guns or butter argument) is diverted into nuclear weapons development and rises the stakes for their "enemy" to construct more nukes to overwhelm them (Pakistan vs. India). Before long, the amount of bombs grows like a cancer that consumes resources. But how can you not developing them if your mortal enemy cross the ocean or mountains has them? They could wiped out your largest cities and military centers without you possessing the same response capability. Once the weapons are developed, stockpiled, and maintained...there is another danger: the spark. If we take the Pakistan and India situation, which is normally tense over Kashmir, any threat of war or armed conflict could spiral out of control into a nuclear horror. In seconds, the Indian and Pakistani nuclear war could unleash an humanitarian crisis the world has never seen along with global consequences that could effect agriculture the world over. Any conflict between those nuclear armed nations could push other nations to the brink of nuclear exchange, like dominoes falling.
US Atomic Weapons Policy Prior to August 29, 1949
For about four years to the month, the United States was the only nuclear armed state in the world and this allowed for an interesting time frame for diplomacy and military strategy with that one element in the post-war/post-nuclear world. It was believed at the time that atomic bombs could be the ultimate “Big Stick” foreign policy tool and the mere threat of the US dropping the bomb could alter a situation or behavior. Of course, if a nation pushed their luck and the US decided to use the A-bomb, it carried far less deadly consequences because only America had the bomb.
When the US and USSR nearly went to war during the Berlin Blockade, B-17 bombers were deployed to West Germany armed with atomic bombs. In October of 1947, the Joint Chiefs of Staff develop plans to end the Soviet threat using the small atomic bomb stockpile at the time…this would have been a one-sided nuclear war. The easy of atomic warfare and the presumed power of a threat was to be a major policy of the US in the post-war era and directly affected the branches of the US military until Korea. During those initial years, the branches of the US armed forces rushed to figure out how to incorporate atomic weapons into their service to achieve access to the bomb, funding, and their continued survival.
There was a thought that the need for a vast conventional army, navy, and air force was nonexist in the atomic era. This downsizing lasted only a short time, but the weakness of this mental attitude towards the conventional military was reflected in the American forces that were shipped to the Korean conflict were ill-prepared for the conflict and were issued surplus World War II gear. With the policy of containment/ proxy warfare of the Cold War and the Soviets having the bomb, there was a shift to having nuclear force and a conventional force to deal with the threats as they presented themselves. While the use of tactical nuclear weapons was one option in any warfare situation, such as the Chinese invasion during the Korean War, it was much more risky given the Soviets have the same capability and any use of nuclear weapons could be the spark that lit a bonfire that could consume the entire world.
The Nuclear Triad
During the recent American presidential election cycle, Donald Trump was asked a question about the nuclear triad during a Republican debate and he was stumped like some of us watching. I had never heard the term and I thought we should devote a few lines to the primary global nuclear weapon policy/doctrine: the nuclear Triad. Simply put, this is when a nuclear force is divided into three parts: nuclear bombs/missiles, silo-based ICBMs, and submarine-based missile systems (SLBM). While the other two are self-explanatory and common knowledge, it is the first one: nuclear bombs/missiles. This covers quite a bit of territory and it includes the traditional bomber-based nuclear weapon, missiles fired from small aircraft, land-based tactical nuclear missiles, and even nuclear tipped cruise missiles. The idea to the Triad is to a flexible nuclear force able to respond to any threat and any tactical environment.
With Triad, you have a philosophy of response and development and this has become the “bedrock” of most of the Nuclear Club members’ nuclear force. The formation of the Triad took years and much technological progress. The bomber-based nuclear leg of the Triad was developed in 1945, the ICBM was developed in 1959, and the Submarine based system came about in 1960. The other piece of the Nuclear Triad is what was being debated at the Republican debate: modernization of the nuclear triad. It has been quoted that America has not modernized its nuclear fleet in the last 25 years and that $108 billion is being sought to upgrade the US nuclear arsenal via the Triad. The process of modernization of the US nuclear arsenal is already underway under the Obama Administration. At current, the US ICBM stockpile will need retirement by 2030, the SLBMs retirement is around 2027, and the bomber fleet is around 2058.
Tactical Nuclear Warfare: Land and Sea
To most people, nuclear weapons are the massive rockets living in vast underground complexes in areas of states that people do not visit and they are launched to unleash nuclear doomsday. However, NATO wanted to use smaller intermediate/short range smaller yield nuclear weapons against the conventional numerical advantage of the Warsaw Pact in the form of new type of warfare born out of the Cold War in Europe called Tactical Nuclear Warfare (TNW). What is the difference between tactical nuclear weapons and the strategic nuclear weapons?
Tactical nuclear devices are deployed by attack jet aircrafts, field artillery pieces, vehicle mounted missile launchers, and even recoilless rifles to target larger formations of enemy armor, field bases, and advancement pathways, also known as “flexible response”. Strategic nuclear weapons like ICBMs and SLBMs are much larger in both scale and nuclear yield given that their objective in a nuclear conflict was to wipe out cities and military installations. It was also believed that TNWs could be used on the World War III European or Korean battlefields without the apocalyptic consequences of a full exchange. However, if this war had begun in West Germany, the long-feared nuclear war could have been first waged in the woods of West Germany via tactical nuclear weapons that could be not under the greatest control as the larger nuclear weapons.
The Russians do not use the term TNWs and instead prefer “non-strategic nuclear weapons” (NSNWs) and given that the tables have turned since the Cold War with NATO having numerical superiority over the Russian Federation, and their view was to use NSNWs as a deterrent NATO from moving against Russia (as seen in 2014 invasion of Ukraine) and a means to security and freeze the current situation in Europe at its current point.
From the articles I read, it seems that Russia has no taste or appetite for tactical nuclear weapons and would prefer the days of when they possessed the large conventional force. However, Tactical nuclear weapons and their use in a future war is hotly debated among some European nations, like Germany. Some articles I read call the nuclear contest between the US and the Russians as a “bipolar confrontation”. With the signing of the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the two superpowers, the role and future of tactical nuclear weapons was dimmed, but the treaty was mostly devoted to strategic weapon systems, not the tactical variety. At the moment, the US had about 150-200 TNWs in five NATO member nations (Belgium, Turkey, the Netherlands, Germany, and Italy) while Russia maintains about 48 tactical nuclear storage sites in their territory and with an unknown number. There has been some debate in the US and Europe policy/think tank circles to completely eliminate short-range tactical nuclear weapons due to their costs, doubts in being realistically used in an NATO-vs.-Russia war in Europe, and avoiding the temptation of using them in case of further Russian incursion into Europe sparks a war.
During the research phase for this second installment, I was reading through a 1980’s book on modern naval warfare and there was an entire section on the use of nuclear weapons in naval surface warfare. For the section I deduced that the use of nuclear weapons against naval targets was a form of tactical nuclear warfare. In such a scenario, submarines could be used to shower a naval carrier taskforce with nukes, much as land-based artillery could use nuclear weapons to take out an large formation of armored units. Nuclear weapons could be used as an area denial weapon to prevent the naval taskforce from movement towards an objective or area. In addition, I’ve read that nuclear tipped cruise missiles could be used to neutralize larger naval vessels like an aircraft carrier or even using nuclear bombs against submarines. The use of nuclear weapons against naval forces was tested by the United States with Operation: CROSSWINDs at Bikini Atoll in 1946.
Nuclear Weapon Platforms:
Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs)
Under the water was reserved for marine life and the surface was the dominion of man for warfare. That charged with the advent of the submarine and by twin world wars, the submarine had transformed the dark depths of the oceans of the world into battlegrounds. Beneath the waves were steel sharks that stalked and waited like underwater assassins and snipers. They hunted warships and cargo ships alike with their actions being frontpage news. However, the invention of nuclear weapons altered the submarine forever in both how it was powered and its power in wartime. Ballistic nuclear submarines (SSBN AKA "Boomers") are one of the most deadly, flexible, and expensive nuclear launch platforms in modern warfare with only six of the nine members of the Nuclear Club wielding SLBMs firing SSBNs.
Designed to be a first and secondary strike weapon systems, the SSBN has greater survivability in an nuclear exchange and is more terrifying than the bomber or silo based launcher system due to its nature of be the stealthy nuclear-armed underwater ninja of the naval world that can unleash nuclear missiles without even emerging from the water. Armed with a close cousin of the ICBM, the SLBM has a range greater than 5,000 kilometers and is fitted with between 8-12 MIRV that are in the 400-500 kiloton range.
If we are to use a single US Navy W-88 455 kt MIRV warhead against Dallas using Nukemap, it could kill over 170,000 and injury 375,000 with a blast radius of under one kilometer and thermal out to over 8 kilometers. Now, imagine an Russian Typhoon
class SSBN launching all of 20 of its SLBMs at the eastern United States seaboard with 10 MIRVs per missile, each with around 200 kilotons, for a grand total of 200 warheads striking the enemy. That is the power of the SLBM armed boomer subs, especially at a nation with a great deal of coastline like the United States and Russia is at an advantage due to the limit of warm water ports and coastlines. At present six nations have SLBM armed SSBNs and here are the numbers:
- France: 4
- India: 1
- China: 6
- Russia: 12
- USA: 18
- North Korea: Maybe 1?
- Pakistan: Underdevelopment to counter India's new SSBN.
Jet Fighter/Carrier-based Nuclear Weapons
At one time, there were more United States nuclear weapons at sea than the entire US nuclear stockpile today. These WMDs were divided among the surface fleet and the submarines with the surface relying on nuclear tipped cruise missiles and the B61 and the B57 nuclear bombs that could be carried most current US fighters, including the F/A-18 Hornet, and stored US Navy carriers. These carried yields in the 0.3-340 kiloton range that could generate a blast radius of nearly an half-an-mile, thermal burns at over four miles and kill an estimated 168,000 people in downtown Dallas with 322,000 injured.
The last verified deployment of the fighter deployed nuclear bomb is the First Gulf War when it was believed that they might have to be used if Iraq used WMD and by 1993, the surface navy was stripped of their nuclear bombs. It is believed that other nations followed suit with the surface navy nuclear bombs with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles being the exception in most cases. These variant of the standard cruise missiles were an excellent delivery system for submarine and surface naval forces due to being difficult to detect, maneuverability to avoid counter-ballistic systems, and was a flexible platform for conventional and nuclear warheads, like the US W-80 150 kiloton warhead for the USN Tomahawk
Silo-Based Nuclear Weapons
The single deadest nuclear missile in the inventory is the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that is specifically designed to shower its target(s) with independent warheads. They are city killers and require special care and consideration. One of the ways to protect and defense ICBMs is by housing them in deep underground launch silo facilities. The first missile housed and launched from an underground facility was an Nazi Germany V-2 rocket at a site in northern occupied France at La Couple. These underground launch sites were a massive undertaken by the governments that constructed them with most in the United States being based in central states, including Oklahoma where I was raised. Most extended about 100 to 180 feet underground with tight quarters for the crews, and there is doubt if the missile silo could survive a direct nuclear strike.
There some effort to hide the location of the off-the-base launching sites, causing some of these sites to be closer to your community than you might believe. When decommissioned, the majority of these sites flooded and are dangerous from structural failures. Some are renovated into luxury survival shelters. When the launching sites were no longer needed, these silos just sit there as a silent monument. At current, the USAF maintains about 450 ICBM underground launching sites, manned 24/7 by a mission launch combat crew of normally two more with mixed sexes serving alongside one another since 1988. The duty shift was 24 hours and they were psychological screened to withstand the stress of the awesome responsibility they held. If the call came, there was an elaborate process to confirm the codes, and both of the crew members had to turn to the keys to launch. While missile crews were trained and prepared to unleash doomsday, their duty shifts are thankfully uneventful. Given the 24 hour shifts and being locked in under a massive door, this allowed missile crews to don sweats, bunny slippers, Snuggies all while reading and watching movies. Seriously....read here
Vehicle-Based Nuclear Weapons
To increase the survivability and the mobility of nuclear missiles, some are mounted on special transport vehicles called “transporter erector launcher”. These massive wheeled vehicles are able to transport and launch their ICBMs all while avoiding counter-battery system and air strikes. The weakness of these mobile launchers is the taxing weight of the launching systems, the limited speed, and time to setup and launch can be long. One of the most famous ICBM carriers/launchers is the Russian MZKT series of 14 wheeled heavy transport vehicles that pops up all over the internet and was a key element of the film Spies like Us
. Some of the launching vehicle platforms are also used for rocket artillery and Triple-A.
Long-Range Strategic Bombers
Bombers have been a cornerstone of modern warfare since the First World War and are designed to pound the enemy from the air, breaking their will to fight. During the 2nd World War, Germany and Japan were pounded by allied bombing missions to break to back of these nations’ and to forward the agenda of surrender. In some ways, this was the iconic bomber war, and was an encapsulating moment in their collective history. In August of 1945, the role of the long-range bomber aircraft was altered forever and today, the only real-world use of nuclear weapons has been via bomber aircraft.
With the other two legs of the nuclear Triad being developed around 1959 and 1960 along with increased anti-aircraft artillery technology, the role of the strategic long-range bomber aircraft has seemed lessened in the eyes of some in the military, government, and the public. The apex for the US strategic bomber was 1959 at 1,854 with current levels at around 157, and it is highly likely that global long-range bomber fleets will never reach those numbers again. This is mainly is due to the ability of missile-based nuclear weapons to wipe out cities with one ICBM packed with MIRVs.
Instead of one missile per target(s), several bombers have to be used to strike the same target to effect the target in same manner as an a single ICBM. However, out of the three legs of the nuclear triad, the submarine force, and the bomber are able to be dual-use platforms from nuclear delivery and conventional warfare options, allowing them both to possess better flexibility than in-the-ground ICBMs or land-based missile systems. The USAF has used all three of their in-service long-range strategic bombers for conventional warfare operations.
The workhorse of the US bomber fleet is the B-52 and has been used during conventional warfare air campaigns in Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The newer bombers of the US fleet, the B-1B and the B-2 have also been used for bombing and CAS missions as well. Besides the tactical/mission flexibility platform of the bomber, there is the power projection. As seen with China flying their H-6 bombers around the South China Sea to demonstrate their power and claim to that region recently. The same was true when the US deployed B-2 Spirit bombers to Europe and South Korea to be a symbol of power and capability. What does the future hold for nuclear-armed long-range strategic bombers? Not much. Modernization is the order of the day with a continued eye to flexibility in both missions, conventional and nuclear. As long as their nuclear weapons, it is likely there will be bombers as some part of the future nuclear triad.
Nuclear Artillery Shells
During the Cold War, NATO and the Warsaw Pact developed nuclear shells that could fire from either specially constructed or standard field artillery cannons. The idea behind these insane sounded weapons was to use these field cannons in the same role as tactical short-range nuclear weapons: against large formations of enemy targets. These were conceived when nuclear weapons were thought to be the answer to future warfare situations; as well as to counter the numerical conventional force advantage of the Warsaw Pact over NATO.
As crazy as all of this seems, these nuclear weapon shells were tested and could have been issued to battlefield units if the need arise, especially if the Soviets had invaded West Germany. To best field these nuclear artillery, US Army developed the M65 280mm atomic cannon nicknamed “Atomic Annie” in the 1950’s. About 20 of these cannons were constructed with the cannon being able to fire a 280mm shell at 20 miles. The US Army was not the only ones involved in nuclear artillery, the majority NATO and Warsaw Pact member countries developed and stored thousands of nuclear artillery shells, but the vast majority of nuclear shells were removed from Europe by the very early 1990’s. Even by the 1970’s and 1980’s, the advent of tactical nuclear launchers made the role of nuclear artillery nearly obsolete. The standard yield of the nuclear shells was around 40 kilotons, greater than the output of the original atomic bombs dropped on Japan and they can have a devastating effect on an area, but the range of the cannon placed the hellish effects of the nuke shell outside of the artillery cannon and crew.
Atomic Recoilless Rifle
One of the most portable tactical nuclear weapons was the M-28/M-29 "Davy Crockett" tactical nuclear recoilless guns that fired the M-388 atomic rounds that where equal to about 10-12 tons of TNT (.01 kilotons). Weighing in at 51 lbs, the atomic round had an effective range of about three miles with an effective range of out to about 1500 feet. Why was such a batshit device developed? The numerical advantage of the Warsaw Pact, the proximity between East and West Germany and North and South Korea caused the United State military believe that tactical nuclear weapons were a solution and counterbalance to these strategic issues. The Davy Crockett was an extension of that thinking.
In the advent of an invasion in Europe or the Korean peninsula, these could have been deployed via three man specially trained infantry units that could be transported into battle by an jeep or APC in an effort to stem the tide of Red armored units. Over 2,000 of the M-388 type warheads were placed in armories in the US, Europe, and South Korea. However, it was a short-lived weapon system, be deactivated and removed from 1968-1971. Besides the threat of the enemy, the Davy Crockett could be deadly to the crew as well due to possible lethal exposure to radiation. How effective is this micro-nuke? Using our old friend Nukemap at the downtown area of Dallas (hometown of FWS), deployment of M-388 would result in 50 foot fireball effective range, with thermal damage at 450 feet, and radiation range at 1,400 feet. If launched in present day downtown Dallas, there would be 530 people killed and 3,150 people injured. In some ways, the Davy Crockett atomic rifle system was the real-world manifestation of the atomic weapons seen in the pages of Starship Troopers
Nuclear Armed Trains?!
One of the key factors in nuclear weapons and warfare is survivability. This is why there are vast underground complexes, nukes on subs, and in Soviet Russia, nukes on trains! During the Cold War, the USSR developed a mobile launch railroad platform that could fire a three-stage ICBM called the RT-23 "Molodets" with 10 independent warheads nested inside. Deployed in 1987 onboard the M62 class locomotive, the plan was to store the nuclear trains and roll them out during a crisis. While adventurous, the project was short-lived with the end of the Cold War ending the nuclear-armed trains. Out of the 92 RT-23 Molodets
ICBMs developed and fielded, 56 were based on the railroad system.
The story with nuclear-armed trains is not over. This year, both Russia and China are developing mobile railroad launching systems with Russia targeting a 2018 date for deployment. While the idea of putting n nuke inside a boxcar to avoid incoming strikes sounds good, their tactical advantage is lessened by modern spy satellites, the few storage facilities for the nukes-on-a-train in Russia, and damage that could be dealt to a railroad during a nuclear war. What about the US? There was a project in the 1980’s to put the Peacekeeper ICBM on a railroad launching system, but the end of the Cold War ended the program in 1991. There has been some that have advocated that US develop their own nuclear trains.
Suitcase/Backpack Nuclear Devices
There is often much talk of small portable nukes that can fit into suitcases and backpacks and has a topic of popular media. While nuclear weapons can be micronized (Generation III nuclear weapons) to fit with such luggage, it leads to an issue: the small the nuke, the smaller the explosion. Suitcase nukes ram two containers of uranium together to form an explosion. The backpack nuclear device is larger with a yield of around 3-5 kilotons that in a major urban area, like downtown Dallas, could yield as much as 25,000 killed and 29,000 injuries with more being possible in more densely packed urban areas like New York City or Washington D.C. One of the terrifying ways that these portable nuclear devices could have been used by Soviet Russia was detailed by GRU defector Stanislav Lunev.
He claimed that specially trained and equipped agents of the KGB and the GRU would use RA-115 nuclear devices smuggled into the United States to take out and/or disrupt certain targets prior to a full-scale nuclear exchange, such as a decapitation strike in Washington D.C. He also claims that a number of these suitcase nukes are missing and unaccounted for. There are also rumors of small nuclear devices being in private Russian hands and hidden around the country. The United States backpack six kiloton nuclear device was called the “Special Atomic Demolition Munition (SADM)” and was designed to be used against large Warsaw Pact targets like dams, power plants, and bridges in the advent of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe. Specialized troops, often cited as Navy SEALs or Army Special Forces, were trained in airborne tactics to parachute into the target AO and deploy the nuclear device. This could have a one-way mission for those involved. There were even smaller micro-nuclear devices that were in the one kiloton range and a medium range special demolition munition for the nuclear landmines.
The Nuclear Landmine and...the Underground Chickens?!
There were some batshit insane plans and ideas back during the madness of the Cold War, and this is one of those. To prevent the overrunning of West Germany by Soviet shocktroopers and spearhead armor, the British came up with a plan to plant atomic landmines to be an area denial weapon for invading communists. The “Blue Peacock” plan conjured up in the 1950’s was to bury about 10 atomic devices with ten kiloton warheads in the North German plain to prevent the invaders. While the technology was sound, the British were worried about accident detonations or failed detonations due to the bitter German winters. To keep the atomic landmines warm, the British invented a very interesting and unique solution: chickens. Buried with the landmine would have been several chickens and seed to counter the cold of the winter. Every couple of weeks, patrols would check on the chickens and feed them. When the records of Blue Peacock were released in 2004, the British press asked if this was some sort of joke, and it was not. By 1957, the project was cancelled to the relief of the West Germans and the chickens.
Atomic Hand Grenades?!
The very mention of a weapon system called an "atomic hand grenade" maybe some sort of joke, but given the British underground-nuke-chicken-warming strategy, we all know the insanity of the Cold War. While there is little in the way of hard evidence, most “sources” point to someone in the United States military dreaming this one up and decided quickly that they could not slim an atomic bomb to palm-sized nor could anyone throw the atomic hand grenade outside of the blast radius. Could have made those incidents when soldiers drop grenades into their own foxholes very interesting.
The Fear of "Loose Nukes"
The Nuclear Club of Nine is comprised of nine governments that have a vested interest in keeping their nation’s sovereignty and its people alive, even governments that are purported to not care about the welfare of their own people (North Korea). This, in some ways, keeps the peace and the lack of use by the nuclear weapons since 1945. However, it is non-state agents that could be the next users of nuclear weapons and they could acquire these “loose nukes” on some sort of black market connection. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, thousands of nuclear weapons, materials, and personnel were adrift in the chaos.
Some believe that some of the loose nukes, materials, and former nuclear personnel expertise were sold on the black market. Books, films, television shows, and even documentaries were all created surrounding this collective fear of loose nukes being turn against the United State or the Russian Federation by terrorists. While there is no hard proof of the complete whole nuclear weapons ever being sold on the black market for hard currency, there are some believe that nations like Iran and North Korea benefited from this and their own nuclear programs are the fruit of those relationships. There were attempts at nuclear weapons sales that were broken up, including by Al-Qaeda in the 1990’s and some believe that Saudi Arabia purchased loose nuclear weapons from underground sources. This fear caused the US to aid Russia money to secure its remaining nuclear stockpile.
Was it Right or Wrong to Drop the Bomb on Japan?
One of the historical events debated by students, teachers, historians, and idiots is if it was right for the United States to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945. It seems that every August, someone posts on the internet or social media that the dropping of the bomb was an act of terrorist or that America is wrong or some shit like that. As a history teacher, I often pose this question to my students after laying down the facts, and most believe that it was “right” to drop the A-bomb rather than mount a land invasion of the Japanese mainland. This is my belief as well, and I will be laying out the case for the only proper use of nuclear weapons as they were intended.
The heart of the argument of the anti-drop side is that the US targeted civilian cities and not military targets. Hiroshima, site of the first atomic bomb drop in history on August 6th, 1945 with the deployment of “Little Boy”, was an industrial/port center as well as having a headquarters for Imperial Army, a vast amount of military supplies. The city prior to the bomb had a population of 350,000 (including Korean slaves) and 12 American POWs were being held in a police station. They were killed in the bombing. Importantly, Hiroshima was not targeted by US bomber raids over Japan, allowing the damage from the new weapon to be truly gauged. Nagasaki was a major site of the military-industrial complex and the city’s population of 240,000 civilians was near completely employed by the military factories.
In addition to those civilians, where thousands of Korean slave labors, Korean and Chinese contractors, Japanese soldiers, and 400 Allied POWs in a camp north of the city. The original target city of the 2nd atomic bomb was actually Kokura, but a faulty fuel pump caused the B-29 bomber “Boxcar” to divert to the 2nd target: Nagasaki. When Fat Boy exploded, 20 British POWs were being held inside the city, and 19 of them survived the blast. These cities were directly involved in the war effort for the Japanese, and are valid military targets.While it is true that Japanese civilians were killed in the two atomic blasts, it was not like the Imperial Japanese military cared about civilians being hurt or killed by their own actions throughout the war. We know from their invasions of the islands, their sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, their treatment of the Chinese, Koreans, and US POWs, along with their attempts to start a massive forest fire in the American Northwest. And then there is Imperial Japanese medical unit 731, which experimented on Chinese civilians without concern or care in a horror show of man’s cruelty to one another.
In a queer way, the US atomic bombing may have saved lives on both sides of the conflict. The United State military commanders and planners were laying out the massive operation to invade the Japanese mainland with help from Commonwealth and Soviet allies. Operation DOWNFALL would be one of the largest invasions of the war and would involve millions on both sides of the invasions. Estimates start that there could be north of 500,000 to one million allied casualties with millions of Japanese casualties. As seen through the Pacific Campaign, the Japanese were fanatically in their defense of the islands, having in some cases being burned out of caves via flamethrowers, and one can wonder what the level of defiance that the Japanese population would have put up during a foreign invasion. It would have been a bloodbath on both sides with my parental grandfather, who was an infantry officer, right in the middle of the shit. The atomic bombings may have saved his life and the lives of those under his command. In total, the combine loss of live and injuries from the two atomic bombs on two cities is about 200,000. Using cold hard math, the numbers simply do not lie. An interest historical fact is that over half-a-million Purple Heart medals were manufactured for the expected invasion of mainland Japan, these original surpluses are still being issued to wounded service members for Iraq and Afghanistan.
At times, when I had heard people discuss the dropping of the bombs being some sort of terrorist act, I am left with an impression that they believed that the Japanese of the 2nd World War are the same as the Japanese of today…and they should not think that. We think of Japan as the makers of the best cars in the world, Anime, Manga, Mecha models, and all of that Hello Kitty
shit that is occupying my daughter’s room at present. The violent imperialistic desires of the Japanese Empire fueled Sadao Araki’s writings, drove them to invasion and bloody campaigns across Asia and the South Pacific, in some ways; the Japanese people were under a spell of expansionism/nationalism. The sudden end of the war via the atomic bombs were a collective jolt to shocked the Japanese people back to reality and see the error of their ways. Since the end of the war, Japan has become a dominate force on the world stage, just not through military means. Some claim that a non-destructive demonstration of the power of the atomic bomb would have convinced the Imperial Japanese leadership to surrender without the loss of life, but once again, all you have to is examine their battlefield behavior to ascertain the effectiveness of that endeavor.
Lastly, I believe that the usage of atomic weapons in warfare allowed the world to witness the horror and grim effectiveness of these new types of weapons. This may have been one of the mechanism of peace and account for this low usage of nuclear weapons. If they had not been used, human nature is such that someone would have wanted to see what they could do in a real world situation. After all, some men just want to watch the world burn.
What if...Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan had the Bomb before the United States?
The "What If" game is fun for us historians and one of the topics that I've heard discussed many times is what if the Nazis or the Imperial Japanese had developed the A-Bomb prior to the United States around 1943? One of the factors limiting the Nazis from waging a nuclear bombing campaign against America would have been their lack of carriers and long-range bombers. It is thought that the ocean would have given the US Manhattan Project an important buffer and with the US being now in a real race to save the world against a nuclear armed madman...the US would have developed the atomic bomb as well. While the US was protected by their oceans, the Russians were not, and they may have suffered tactical atomic weapon strikes, attempting to reverse the Nazi battlefield losses. Hitler, being Hitler, would have been just as obsessed with attacking and conquering the Soviet Union as he was in actual history.
He would have turned the bomb on them, and the Soviets would have endured the punishment of the mushroom cloud with the same steel as they did the conventional attacks. After all, it is estimated that the Soviet Union lost about 20 million people on the battlefields of World War II, and it is likely that the small atomic bombs of the time would have not changed the fact that the Red Army would have kept coming and coming. Just with their cities in even more rubble. This could have led to the first nuclear war being waged in Europe, and Hitler dying in an last of America's nuclear power. What is unknown is the effect of America gaining atomic bombs would have had on Nazi Germany and if their would have been a shelter for America to mount an invasion...would Hitler have used the bomb to attack England? This limited atomic war in Europe of the 1940's would have altered the flow of history either way and may have used Imperial Japan to surrender quicker or develop their own bomb.
To me, it is not an nuclear armed Germany that is a risk to the US, but Imperial Japan. If Japan and Germany had jointly developed an atomic bomb, the Japanese would have certainly used it against the United States forces in the Pacific, especially as the tide was turning in 1943 against them. In addition, Imperial Japan had the naval capability to get a bomb to the shores of the US and to major US naval forces. Japan could have used the atomic bomb to halt the advance of the United States in Pacific. With both Axis powers being nuclear armed states along with the US, and all three being limited on the amount of atomic devices they would produce, the US atomic arsenal could be divided between stopping the war in the Pacific as well as the one in Europe. When the war ended, the secrets of nuclear weapons would have been more exposed than in the original timeline and we could have seen more nuclear armed nations coming out of the post-war era.
My Opinion on Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Warfare
It was only after the dropping of the two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945 did we learn the horrifying power of these new weapons. During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union amassed an unbelievable arsenal of nuclear weapons. From that day forward until today, the world lives waiting for the other shoe to drop when the missiles will be launched or the terrorists will detonate a nuclear device. It could touch off a blaze that will consume the entire world in global extinction born of our species' suicidal tendencies will unfold.
And that is why, in my opinion, nuclear war is entirely asinine. To me, nuclear war is as if two boxers possessed the power to kill one another with a single blow from their powerful fists. When one boxer launches his lethal blow, the other must respond instantly prior to his enemy's blow landing on his face. In the space of a heartbeat, both boxers have launched their other mutual assured destruction in some sort of bizarre murder-suicide pact. Both blow land, both boxers die. However, their power is so great that the referee and the audience are all killed, despite having no direct involvement in the match. If the United States and Russia launch their missiles in a full-scale exchange of nuclear weapons, both nations would be basically wiping out the bulk of their military, economic, and governmental agencies along with their major cities.
It is not just the direct nuclear strikes that could bring about the nuclear nightmare of complete human extinction, but the secondary effects of the exchange: nuclear winter and nuclear famine. Or to put it more grimly: freezing to death or starving to death. Nice. Why risk it? What is the point? If we launch, they launch. If they launch, we launch. Zero sum game. While development of nuclear weapons as allowed for many advancements in science and technology, why do we continue to even possess them if they are so deadly? Simple, because "they" have them. That is the real bitch with nuclear weapons. One side has to possess them if the other side has them. It is not just for first strike capability, but for insurance. I do believe that some nuclear weapons would be stored for special circumstances like an alien invasion, incoming asteroid, or rise of the armed Sasquatchs rebellion, but to me, it is just too much power with too much risk.
Is Nuclear War Even Winnable?
There was a brief four year period where the United States was the only nation in the world with the atomic bomb and this allowed the only time in nuclear weapon history that there could have been a "winnable" nuclear conflict. After the Soviets, the Chinese, the British, and the French achieved membership into the nuclear club; nuclear warfare became a game of global murder-suicide. If Russia and the US had fired their missiles and dropped their bombs, everyone on Earth loses.
Even if one side was able to block or intercept their enemy's incoming nuclear assault and obliterate their enemy in a nuclear firestorm...there would be still consequences for such a massive usage of nuclear weapons: economic, environmental, political, and social. Imagine if the United States would launch an all out nuclear assault and wipe Russia off of the map, the fallout and pollution from the nuclear fires thrown into the atmosphere would lower global temperatures, causing an major economic power to be gone, and nations around Russia would suffer from radiation, fallout, and nuclear refugees. There would the issue of any use of nuclear weapons, even if North Korea unsuccessful launched one of their ICBMs and it was intercepted, it could spark serious blow-back,destabilizing the hermit kingdom and forcing the regime to launch an all-out strike on the South Koreans. Let us think about the aftermath of a nuclear war: millions died, cities in ashes, most of the major nations are in rumble, and pillars of modern society are gone...why would that be winnable? Even if a few world leaders survive in deep underground bunkers, who would they be governing over? Who would celebrate the "victory"? The entire world order, social, and environment would have been dealt a massive reset and the world as we know it is gone...not much of a victory.
Should We Have Complete Nuclear Disarmament or More Nukes?
Among the camps of Hawks and Doves, there is a major issue that has dominated their arguments: the future of nuclear weapons. Some want complete international nuclear disarmament, other want to increase the nuclear stockpile. Unless there is an ironclad agreement between the Nuclear Club of Nine to complete remove nuclear weapon, there will never be any complete disarmament. If your enemy has nukes and you do not, they possess a massive tactical advantage over you that you could not be overcome with conventional weapons or forces.
The only counter to a nuclear-armed state is an defensive interception system, like the US Alaska ground-based mid-course defense system or the old SDI program from the Reagan Administration. This would be nuclear Aikido not a nuclear boxing match. For complete nuclear disarmament to work, there would need to be a level of trust, transparency, and coordination that simply does not exist between the nations of the world. It is a nice dream considering the horror even a small nuclear exchange would create, but it is just that...a dream. Would more nuclear weapons be the answer? Well, we already tried that during the Cold War and it didn't work...and what is the point anyway? The US and Russia have enough nuclear weapons to wipe each other out with capacity to spare. More nukes seems redundant and expensive. Some believe that we more nuclear weapons to overcome advancements in counter-missile interception systems, and that could be the only realistic reasons to invest the money into more nuclear weapons. Of the two possibilities: no nukes or more nukes, the answer is going to be more nuclear weapons if it is limited to just that narrow choices.
Next Time on FWS...
For hundreds of years, the basic principal of firearms has reminded the same: an chemical explosion propels an kinetic projectile into the body of the enemy. However, there is another way that has been explored: using a self-propelled projectile or a micro-rocket bullet. The concept of an "rocket gun" is sci-fi gold and in the next FWS Armory
blog article by chief contributor Yoel, we will be exploring and explaining the rocket guns of the real world and science fiction!
I only recently started looking up Twilight: 2000, it's a very interesting game setting. Like a slightly more realistic Fallout. Also recognize the scene from The Day After. It was a very stark reminder for it's time, very well done for a TV movie.ReplyDelete
Just as a point of interest, the UK also has SSBNs subs. Four of them.ReplyDelete
You could also consider that as well as the SSBNs, there are SSGNs, which specialise in cruise missiles, which could be nuclear tipped. The missiles would be shorter ranged and slower but could be used in tactical strikes. The USSR/Russian boats were built with the aim of sinking NATO carrier/amphibious groups.
Another fine post on nuclear weapons. Succinct and informative and I must say, the way you described your opinions and wither or not a Nuclear War could be "Won" was for some reason eerie. I loved the way you talked about it and how everything would most likely be lost regardless of how it plays out.ReplyDelete
I must also say that I am in agreement with the decision to nuke Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In one of my High School English classes after reading Hiroshima, we were instructed to write an essay for or against the bombing and share it to the class.
I was rather alarmed at how simple the against arguments were built. They said it was inhumane, that the city was a civilian target and that it was in retaliation for Pearl Harbor.
I wrote that it was justified for the reasons you said that it was justified. It was disheartening to see that they did not view that the decision to use the bombs was shaped by how the war went and how it was predicted to go.
I look forward to the next post. :)
On Twilight 2000 photo, there is a road sign. It says Krakow, which probably means Kraków, which is a city in Poland :p Action of this game is set behind USSR lines? :DReplyDelete
Twilight 2000 is more or less Mad Max in Europe only with military surplus gear and armored vehicles vs leather and muscle cars.ReplyDelete
First off, kudos on using the "Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch" from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" to illustrate the absurdity of a nuclear hand grenade.ReplyDelete
To Mr. Anderson, Twilight 2000 starts in 1995 with Sino-Soviet border conflicts that expanded into general war between the Soviet Union and China. Nuclear, chemical and biological weapons are eventually used. As the Soviets are occupied with this war German Military leaders on both sides of the Iron Curtain rise up to reunite their homeland from the Soviets. This starts another war that NATO tries to stay out of but is nevertheless drawn into. France and Belgium withdraw from NATO to avoid the conflict.
From 1996 to 1997 NATO and the Warsaw Pact fight a conventional war with limited nuclear, chemical and biological weapons use. But on Thanksgiving Day 1997 the Soviet Union launches a surprise first strike on the U.S. and Europe. The U.S. and England retaliate.
This strike on the U.S. causes Martial Law to be declared. A rift between the U.S. government (Civgov) and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Milgov) leads to a low intensity civil war between the two factions on U.S. soil.
By the summer of 2000 the European conflict has been fought to a stalemate. To bring the war to a end NATO launches one more offensive into Poland and the Baltic States. But the offensive grinds to a halt due to determined Warsaw Pact counterattacks. With whole Divisions and command structures wiped out on both sides chaos ensues. Surviving units on both sides struggle for supplies and survival. Some continue to fight as revenge for the damage done. Others "Go Native" and join local City States emerging from the war or turn mercenary for hire to these rising new governments. Others become bandits groups, killing and pillaging to exist. And some just fight to find a way home to their native countries.
Thanks for info!Delete
I'm pretty sure that the UK has four active trident launching submarines in active service at the moment.ReplyDelete
Threads is a 1984 British television docudrama account of nuclear war and its effects on the city of Sheffield in Northern England. It is a pretty grim story that shows the effect on present and future generations.ReplyDelete
In "The Man in the High Castle" the alternate timeline has F.D. Roosevelt assassinated by a disgruntled person due to the depression. This opens a opportunity for a new president who is very firm on isolationism from the European conflict. Henceforth when America is drawn into the war it is far less geared up to fight a two front war let alone supply the allies. The Nazis develop the atomic bomb first. They nuked Washington D.C. to eliminate the political and military leaders. As a map of the timeline shows the Reich had taken Newfoundland so they could have had airfields there or due to little or no bombing of the fatherland they could have had advanced aircraft. As it was in our world the Nazis had the Focke-Wulf Fw 200 (Condor) Long-Range Maritime Reconnaissance Bomber since 1938. It was a Trans-Atlantic passenger and mail carrier until the war. It is 3,530 miles from Lorient, France, where the U-Boat pens are to Washington D.C.. The Condor had a range of 2,212 miles. Leaving it 1,318 miles short. Which is more than 1/3 of the total distance. So they would have had to come up with a better aircraft. Interesting historical note on the Condor. It was the first aircraft in history to use Henschel HS 293 Guided Anti-Ship Missiles. It carried two of them and it proved to be a capable weapons system that harassed Atlantic, Polar and Mediterranean shipping convoys.
And speaking of Nazis and the A-bomb. "Mein Fuhrer, I can walk..." Ah, our strange love affair with the bomb.ReplyDelete
Oh and before I forget, thank you for the link to the Nuke Map! I live right by Ft. Lewis/McCord Air Force Base. With the Nuke Map I was able to prove to my roommates that if just one nuke is dropped on it they might as well be sitting on the front porch of the house with me. Getting that final nuclear suntan with a cold one in their hands.