nukes: "tactical" vs. "terrorist"

The Hiroshima anniversary has me thinking; a major concern about nukes is the possibility of a terrorist group (or country) getting their hands on one. As I see it, a nuclear weapon can’t be anything but a terrorist weapon. Without getting into the right or wrong of the Japanese bombings (which probably belongs in “Great Debates”)the only time nukes have been used was as a “weapon of terror”–and very successfully.
Is there such a thing as a “tactical” nuke–a battlefield weapon the use of which wouldn’t result in making the target completely unusable (or at least very undesirable) for either side for a very, very long time? I seem to remember this was a selling point for the neutron bomb, but I haven’t heard about that in a decade or two.
Sorry for the long post, I was trying to make myself as clear as possible, and probably left y’all a mudhole.
–Alan Q

There are “low-yield” nuclear artillery shells in the kiloton range. These can be fired from conventional artillery pieces out to 15-20 miles, but they leave that area of the “battlefield” unusable for a considerable period of time. Good for eliminating large concentrations of troops and material, though.

“We didn’t want that hill, anyway.”

And the neutron bomb is supposedly an improvement over “standard” tactical nukes. It’s designed to put out as much energy as possible in the form of neutron radiation.
The idea was that if the Soviet Union ever invaded western Europe, and we had to resort to nukes to stop massed tank battalions, a neutron warhead would be less damaging to our allies’ territory than ordinary tactical nukes.
Neutron warheads would put out less heat and blast, but still have the same kill radius due to the neutron radiation, which penetrates steel and would kill Soviet tank crews who would otherwise be protected against blast, thermal effects, and x-ray or gamma radiation.
Sounds kinda’ cold blooded, but like there’s a nice way to kill people in war?

Nickrz already mentioned nuclear artillery shells - also there are (or at least, used to be) small nuclear air to air missiles designed to take out bomber groups, and also small nuclear depth charges for killing submarines. Since the nuclear air to air weapons could be used over oceans, they might not affect land based life too much. You can dial down the yield of nukes quite a lot.

I hope they’ll never be used again, but I suspect they will be at some point. Either in terrorist hands, or the hands of new nuclear powers. And it’s not very hard for a country to become a nuclear power if it wants to - most of the countries that aren’t, aren’t because they haven’t tried, not because they couldn’t if they did try.

peas on earth

Caspar Weinberger wrote a book a few years back called “The Next War”.

In it he portrays possible future battlefield scenarios where the U.S. would be forced to use “tactical” nukes vs. North Korea and Iran.

Interesting read.

During the Cold War, the US actually considered the idea of tactical nukes, as opposed to strategic. They would have troops stand about 2 miles from ground zero, and then charge in after the explosion. Needless to say, the practice has yielded, in recent years, a large amount of political fallout and megabuck lawsuits.

Durring WW2, the allies carpet bombed the piss out of germany, again and again, and the good old germans fired rocket after rocket at brittish cites, because the could. I think 60’s brought the ugly of war into the public view, and because of it, we have a warmer, fuzzier and more humane feeling about war should be. And public opinion has kept the military on a very short leash. Not all countries have shared this “civilian casualties are bad” kind of enlightenment. So fundamentally, the nuke is still a good weapon to have in a lot of peoples eyes. The kink in the works, is that once that can of worms is opened, all the other nuclear powers, particularly NATO counties are going to start frowning very deeply. It could also make a retaliatory strike more feasable if the military establishment can sell their “all japs and krauts are evil” propaghanda to the public again. Lets not forget that McAurthor very strongly campainged to nuke the hell out China. By the prez didnt think he could sell it to the public.
But all in all, the

You bet, they even had backpack launchers. All short and intermediate nukes were banned some treaty that Bushy and Gorby in the early 90’s (or maybe it was Yeltsin, who can remember).

I think the nuclear club has also had the luxury of not having to fight a war on their own soil, but the neutron bomb was for exactly that contingency. The russians were hip to this though, they had wide tank formations that would limit the number of tanks effected, and neutron radiation is mostly prompt, and drops to low levels fairly quicly so tanks could be restaffed in only a few weeks.

Well, all in all the nuke had successfully prevented direct armed confontion armed confrontation between nuclear powers for 50 some years, until SOMEBODY had to go a blow it. India! Packastan! We are looking in your direction! But didnt the big CA tell us the prez whatsisnose wanted to use nukes to dig the panama canal or some such nonsense?

I’ve mentioned before that my brother is an S-3B Viking pilot. Part of his training is in the use/dropping (Obviously never with real ones) of Nuclear mines and similar bombs. He says that is is a bit of a weird feeling to have that set of switches in the cockpit.

I think there is a good chance that nukes will be used a fair amount in the future, but not nessasarily as weapons. Orion Drives for asteroid mining come to mind.

>>Being Chaotic Evil means never having to say your sorry…unless the other guy is bigger than you.<<

—The dragon observes

falcon2: the proposed program of canal digging with nukes was part of “Operation Ploughshare” the big chunk of the “Atoms for Peace” policy of the Eisenhower administration.

I have it on good authority from Ira Weinsteen formerly of the DoD and the SAC that we never specifically targeted civilians with nuclear weapons. The theory was that a Terror threat against civilians would not be a credible threat, plus there is no point in wasting a good warhead on a housing complex when you can targe the Railhead 5 miles away.
I have lived all my life less than 10 miles from both an airbase (Dobbins AFB now ARB) and a defense contractor (Lockeed-Martin GA)
so the difference between being caught in the blast and targeted is unimportant, but someone from say…Helena Montana should feel safer.

      • I seem to remember reading about conventional firearm bullets made out of some-?- radioactive material that when they hit a target, would explode with the force of ~50-100 pounds of TNT. They could be fired from any conventional firearm of the proper caliber. They weren’t difficult to make (except for the problem of aquiring the hot material) but left a mess for a long time, as usual. - MC

The bullets you’re thinking of, MC, are of the armor-piercing variety, made with a shaped core of depleted uranium for maximum density and kinetic energy. Once the armor has been broached, a conventional explosion is triggered (hopefully) killing anyone unlucky enough to be in the general vicinity.

I frankly do not believe that the DoD would or should provide an honest disclosure of what is targeted an what is not. And the very fact that the term Mega-death has been defined, indicates the civilian casualties heavily considered concequences of a nuclear exchange.

Tactical nuclear weapons and nuclear devices that could be by terrorists would be very similar, in that they would realativly small devices(in the kiloton range) and used for a political purpose. Further more all nuclear weapons are political weapons in that they require the consent of the users nation’s civilian government to be used. Terrorists would use them to threaten a target government to gain the furhterance of their agenda.

Happiness is a temporary chemical imbalance of the true state of mind

“The bullets you’re thinking of, MC, are of the armor-piercing variety, made with a shaped core of depleted uranium for maximum density and kinetic energy.” - Nickrz

      • No, it ain’t. What I am referring to is bullets made using hot material that undergoes a chain reaction upon striking the target. That’s what makes it so amazing to me. I can’t recall right now where I read it; I only remember that the material was not Uranium or Plutonium, but something lesser.
  • This program was done back in the sixties, and as far as I know it only involved experimental use. - MC

During the Cold War, the US actually considered the idea of tactical nukes, as opposed to strategic. They would have troops stand about 2 miles from ground zero, and then charge in after the explosion.


Tell me you’re joking. This would make no sense…they go “charging” in – to find what? “Holy shit, sir, There’s a big crater here, and everybody’s incinerated! What could have caused this?”

When you nuke an armored column, standing at a safe distance and then possibly sending in teams to pick up any survivors is quite enough.

The lawsuits come from testing done to find the “safe distance.”

“It all started with marbles in school…”

Furt -

He’s not joking. The US wasn’t aware of the true power of nukes for a while, so they thought they could use them as another type of regular bomb. Didn’t quite work. I don’t remember the exact years they had this plan off the top of my head, but I can find it in my old government textbooks if someone wants to know.

Also, my comment on “tactical” nukes. Nukes are not a tactical weapon. Their only strategic value is deterrence. the ideas of having nuclear weapons turns the conventional wisdom on wging war upside down. Nukes are considered a defensive weapon, not an offensive weapon. So, I don’t think there would ever be a tactical use of nukes on a battlefield.

Falcon, I think in your straight forward way you made the point my OP was vaguely grasping at–they’re only -practical- as a threat.
Alan Q
(one of these days I’m gonna have to get off my butt & figure out the UBB thing, it can’t be that hard, & life without italics is nearly unbearable!)

Damn, for once I made something clearer? It’s a first! :wink:

Guess that semester learning nuclear policy wasn’t wasted after all…

Oh. This I never heard. From what I understand of nuclear bomb design, I cannot imagine an impact as simple as that of a bullet striking a target could result in critical mass for any of the weapons-grade materials.

The “shaped charge” trigger for a nuclear device requires a (relatively) enormous amount of energy be directed at compressing the fissible or fusible material; at the beginning, conventional explosives alone were used, but I’m pretty sure they’ve graduated to using a TNT -->fission bomb -->fusion bomb trigger for the REALLY high-yield stuff.

I’d like to read more about the research you described, if you find anything, let us know.

“before they knew the true power of nukes”= before 1945? That I can believe. “During the Cold War” I find a little implausible.

After seeing Hiroshima, nobody could have thought “We’d need to send troops in to get the guys who were hiding behind trees when the bomb hit.”

“It all started with marbles in school…”