Giant nukes VS little nukes

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,392
Italy, Lago Maggiore
In these days US and Russia are planning to follow two opposite nuclear doctrines [US are going to produce little tactical nukes, while Russia seems to be producing a 100 megatons torpedo to generate devastating radioactive tsunamis].

Historically, the Cold War has seen a real run to produce wider and wider arsenals and to realize more and more powerful bombs. It was the mutual total destruction strategy. The principle was simple: since you cannot be sure to know where all my subs are and you cannot be sure to be able to intercept all my ICBMs … it’s better for you not to attack me, otherwise I will disintegrate you!

Now at Washington they are thinking to a “functional” dimension for nuclear warheads to be used in military actions, causing enough damages, but not persuading the enemy to retaliate on large scale.

The theory [as for I have understood] is:

“I attack you, using little nukes, to damage you. If you retaliate using your giant nukes I will use my own giant nukes against you”.

There is a corollary: this evolution could make the nuclear weaponry available for conventional wars. Also the competitors of the United States could develop similar “mini-nukes”, but they should have the suitable platforms to “deliver” them … like subs, long range stealth bombers, carriers to get close … let’s say that the MNS [I’ve created this acronym: Mini Nukes Strategy] requires logistics and a wide capability to project the force.
 
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janusdviveidis

Ad Honorem
Mar 2014
2,009
Lithuania
I was under impression that Soviets already produced small nukes. Nuclear artillery shells and suitcase nukes that Hollywood likes so much. Why USA is revisiting this idea right now I am not sure. New nuclear misses for Russia makes sense, they need to defeat NATO defensive systems based close to their borders such as Patriot etc.

After the abortive effort with purpose-built artillery pieces, the Soviet approach to nuclear artillery was that nuclear munitions should be fired by standard guns and howitzers (without modification), in normal artillery units. The first nuclear weapon for use from standard 152 mm artillery, called ZBV3, was finally accepted in 1965. Subsequent weapon designs followed using existing and new technology:

"152 mm projectile ZBV3 for self-propelled guns 2S19 Msta-S, 2S3 Acacia, 2S5 Giatsint-S, towed gun D-20, 2A36 Giatsint-B, and 2A65 Msta-B. The yield was 1 kiloton, maximum range 17.4 km. The nuclear weapon was designated RFYAC-VNIITF and designed by Academician E. I. Zababakhin in Snezhinsk.
180 mm projectile ZBV1 for S-23, MK-3-180 (originally a coast artillery piece), maximum range 45 km.
203 mm projectile ZBV2 for self-propelled gun 2S7 Pion, and towed howitzer B-4M, range from 18 km to 30 km.
240 mm projectile ZBV4 for mortar M-240 and self-propelled 2S4 Tulip. Normal maximum range 9.5 km, and 18 km with rocket assistance.
At the end of the Cold War, Russia followed the United States lead and deactivated its nuclear artillery units in 1993. By 2000, Russia reported that nearly all nuclear artillery shells and missile warheads had been destroyed.[6]"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_artillery
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,392
Italy, Lago Maggiore
I was under impression that Soviets already produced small nukes. Nuclear artillery shells and suitcase nukes that Hollywood likes so much. Why USA is revisiting this idea right now I am not sure. New nuclear misses for Russia makes sense, they need to defeat NATO defensive systems based close to their borders such as Patriot etc.

After the abortive effort with purpose-built artillery pieces, the Soviet approach to nuclear artillery was that nuclear munitions should be fired by standard guns and howitzers (without modification), in normal artillery units. The first nuclear weapon for use from standard 152 mm artillery, called ZBV3, was finally accepted in 1965. Subsequent weapon designs followed using existing and new technology:

"152 mm projectile ZBV3 for self-propelled guns 2S19 Msta-S, 2S3 Acacia, 2S5 Giatsint-S, towed gun D-20, 2A36 Giatsint-B, and 2A65 Msta-B. The yield was 1 kiloton, maximum range 17.4 km. The nuclear weapon was designated RFYAC-VNIITF and designed by Academician E. I. Zababakhin in Snezhinsk.
180 mm projectile ZBV1 for S-23, MK-3-180 (originally a coast artillery piece), maximum range 45 km.
203 mm projectile ZBV2 for self-propelled gun 2S7 Pion, and towed howitzer B-4M, range from 18 km to 30 km.
240 mm projectile ZBV4 for mortar M-240 and self-propelled 2S4 Tulip. Normal maximum range 9.5 km, and 18 km with rocket assistance.
At the end of the Cold War, Russia followed the United States lead and deactivated its nuclear artillery units in 1993. By 2000, Russia reported that nearly all nuclear artillery shells and missile warheads had been destroyed.[6]"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_artillery
In the 50's the "atomic cannons" gained a lot of kudos. The two superpowers produced some interesting models. The Americans had "Atomic Annie" [M65]. It fired a 15 kilotons shell.

But, as for I have understood, now Americans are thinking to even smaller warheads [around 1 - 2 kilotons].
 
Jan 2018
1,609
China (Hong Kong SAR)
The Multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle approach is what is extremely dangerous.

"The introduction of MIRV led to a major change in the strategic balance. Previously, with one warhead per missile, it was conceivable that one could build a defense that used missiles to attack individual warheads. Any increase in missile fleet by the enemy could be countered by a similar increase in interceptors. With MIRV, a single new enemy missile meant that multiple interceptors would have to be built, meaning that it was much less expensive to increase the attack than the defense. This cost-exchange ratio was so heavily biased towards the attacker that the concept of mutual assured destruction became the leading concept in strategic planning and ABM systems were severely limited in the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in order to avoid a massive arms race."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiple_independently_targetable_reentry_vehicle
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,752
Dispargum
Going back to the early Cold War, the attraction of really large nuclear warheads was driven the inaccuracy of the delivery means. Some of the early ICBMs and SLBMs were so inaccurate the only way to ensure destruction of the target city was to use a megaton warhead.

As delivery systems became more accurate the tendency was to use warheads with smaller yields. This was especially true with tactical weapons. Several tactical nuclear weapons have since been replaced by conventional weapons - so accurate are the new delivery systems that a big blast is no longer necessary. One such example was the SUBROC.

Developed in the 1960s, the SUBROC was a submarine-launched nuclear depth charge. The submarine launched a rocket on a balistic trajectory out to a range in excess of 30 miles. The rocket then dropped a single depth charge containing a nuclear device. The depth charge could miss its target by an unknown distance but still kill its target via the large nuclear blast. In the 1980s, the replacement Sea Lance missile used a conventional torpedo instead of a nuclear warhead. (The Sea Lance system was cancelled by the end of the Cold War.)

I'm surprised that these days any of the established nuclear powers are investing resources in the development of new nuclear weapons. The US finds that maintaining its existing inventory of nuclear weapons is prohibitively expensive. The stocks of nuclear weapons inventories has fallen considerably over the past 25 years as quickly as new arms reduction treaties can be signed.
 

Naomasa298

Forum Staff
Apr 2010
35,487
T'Republic of Yorkshire
Perhaps what the US really needs is the Mother of All Nukes - the MOAN.
 
Sep 2014
1,222
Queens, NYC
Nuclear radiation is the main danger to everybody when nuclear weapons are used. Have small nukes without radiation been developed? I haven't heard so.
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
5,375
Sydney
.
Giant Nukes were developed during the 1950ies with the mutually assured destruction mindset

The ballistics were not too precise ( around half a kilometer ) to be sure the target was destroyed ,a large radius was needed .
there also was a fair bit of "my stick is bigger than your stick "

By the late 1960ies , precision had increased to a tens of meters , crushing the concrete ICBM pens was possible , each increase in precision decrease the need for yield by a power of square
smaller warheads also save a lot of weight in the launcher , making it faster or with a longer strike

Now there are talk of precision down to a few feets ,
more worrying is the constant wondering of waging theater wars where the distinction is made between "tacticals" and "strategics" strike

Fear is a great motivator for caution ,
the Nukes were at one time more powerful than human stupidity
now there is more stupidity and less powerful and numerous nukes
 

paranoid marvin

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
2,359
uk
Nukes are political weapons, but 'mini-nukes' may not be. The problem is that once you open Pandora's box and use a nuke of any size, the doors to hell begin to creak open. You simply cannot use one and not expect an equal or greater nuclear retaliation (if you're going to use it against another nation that has them or the ally of one) so I suspect they would be used against countries who cannot retaliate in kind.

The silly thing is that they can make bombs just as powerful as nukes but get away with it simply because they aren't nukes. So I fail to understand why they don't simply continue to build bigger and more powerful non-nuke bombs and therefore avoid condemnation from the rest of the world.
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,392
Italy, Lago Maggiore
Nukes are political weapons, but 'mini-nukes' may not be. The problem is that once you open Pandora's box and use a nuke of any size, the doors to hell begin to creak open. You simply cannot use one and not expect an equal or greater nuclear retaliation (if you're going to use it against another nation that has them or the ally of one) so I suspect they would be used against countries who cannot retaliate in kind.

The silly thing is that they can make bombs just as powerful as nukes but get away with it simply because they aren't nukes. So I fail to understand why they don't simply continue to build bigger and more powerful non-nuke bombs and therefore avoid condemnation from the rest of the world.
From a technical perspective mini-nukes get close to thermobaric warheads. The advantage of mini-nukes is that they are lighter that comparable thermobaric warheads [which cannot be too light with reference to their explosive power].

So ... American mini-nukes can make EU thermobaric weaponry obsolete ... ok, Italy enjoys US nuclear sharing program ... send us 50 mini-nukes, please ... [:D this was Italian humor].