The suitcase nuke question.

Regarding Recent column on suitcase sized tactical nukes entitled Could a nuclear weapon be built and carried in a suitcase? Here’s a little more specific info on the topic.

Back in the mid 1970’s, I was a grad student working for Ted Taylor, the dude who designed the explosive trigger for the first U.S. thermonuclear bomb and several small tactical nuclear weapons back in the 1950’s. Ted became a tireless advocate of nonproliferation when the government declassified the basic information needed to build a nuke in the 1970’s. Ted’s opinion was partially based on having couple of us go thru the newly declasssified documents in his filing cabinet and dug up three parameters you needed to know for a DIY nuclear weapon. Ted also had some of his grad students at Princeton repeat the exercise.

One of these “personal nukes” Ted worked on was the Davy Crockett. It used a beefed up recoilless rilfe to shoot a W-54 nuclear warhead. This little atomic powered firecracker weighed about 50 lbs with a selectable yield of 10 - 250 tons (This is just about to the minimum practical size and yield for a fission warhead).

The whole M388 artillery projectile was only 30 inches long, 11 inches in diameter, and weighed 75 pounds. This handy dandy personal protection device was around from 1961 to 1971. An earlier version included a 155 mm artillery piece and a huge 288 mm shell fired from what was, commonly called an “atomic cannon.”

The heavier 155 mm version was transported by either an APC or a duce and a half truck. The 120 mm version could be hauled around and fired from an Army jeep, but it could be dismounted, lugged a short distance and fired by the 3-man crew. Withj only a 2.5 mile range it was a “fire and forget” type weapon - more precisely the soldiers who fired it would be dead and forgotten thanks to an lethal radiation dosage 600 rem within a quarter mile
of ground zero. This was the embodiment of MAD on a personal level.
So the answer to the question is yes assuming you had the weapons grade materials.

Ah yes, Ted Taylor. I’d hoped to bring him up, but was beaten to it by someone who knows several orders of magnitude more than I on the subject.
I’ll just mention that in John McPhee’s The Curve of Binding Energy, Ted Taylor takes McPhee on a walk through the World Trade Center and remarks that even a badly designed bomb, one that resulted in a “fizzle yield”, would suffice to bring down the towers. This was in 1974.
Even though the weapon ultimately used was a different one, in his analysis of motives and targets, Ted Taylor turned out to be one prescient guy.

I visited the National Atomic Museum out in Albuequerque, NM back in the late 80’s and early 90’s. I looked at the said object (Davy Crockett) in The Curve of Binding Energy. Even if (if memory serves me correctly that the warhead was a bit on the small on the side, something twice the diameter would still be quite portable.

This link talks about using a variation of the Davy Crockett warhead as special demolition munition.

Here a picture of the Davy Crockett attached to a rocket motor. The bomb casing (dark) looks like the one you would see in a comic book.

Your comments, along with your username, lead me to ask you to please become a member of our community! I would enjoy hearing more from you. :slight_smile:
Where, O where did you come up with that name? :smiley: :smiley:

Sorry Jim Bob Boy but right about that time, Ted Taylor left IR&T for Princeton. So your yield estimate of “several orders of magnitude” of domain knowledge is more like just a lousy firecracker.

Yeah and the way Ted produced that insight was exhausting just to watch.

When Ted was thinking about some issue, he’d walk down the hallway past my office at a breakneck pace. The admins flattening themselves against the wall trying to avoid Ted’s bow wave and the turbulence from his wake. Ted’s stride would increase to about six foot the more he pondered. He’d pick up speed on each lap.

He’d be moving at some fraction of lightspeed when he’d suddenly come to a dead halt, step into my office, and sit down without a word. In a few minutes, Ted would pose a totally bizarre question like “How much money would you take for your baby?”.

Wthout waiting for an answer he’d be back in hallway, accellerating at 3 or 4 G’s with the admins trying to keep all the papers on their desk from being sucked into the vortex Ted left behind. A minute later Ted would be back in his normal orbit, and he’d flash by my door again.

Later on in the day, he might stop by and explain what issue he was working thru in his head.

My favorite among Ted Taylor’s ideas (that I know about) has nothing to do with bombs. Some years ago I learned (it may have been in The Curve of Binding Energy) that he had proposed to Princeton that they suspend pipes in some watertight basement-like spaces, then shovel snow and slush into them over the winter. Come spring, the pipes would be embedded in blocks of ice, and they could run water through them and thence to the radiators in offices and classrooms, for some extremely low-cost air-conditioning. I don’t know how far he ever got with implementation, but I was impressed less by the practical aspects of the scheme than by the conceptual audacity of moving thermal energy across time.
I wrote to him to ask for more information about the project, but I was not disappointed when I got no reply. One ordinary person’s fair time share of that brain’s attention is an awfully brief interval.

Thank you Jake. I always look forward to getting the latest “Straight Dope”.

Buck was my D&D character that lasted for several years. He started out just being my alter ego but he may have become the dominate personality. I can’t really tell who’s in charge any more because the patients are running the asylum. It’s cheaper, more fun and like my son told me one day,

*“Dad, I’ve glad you don’t suffer from mental illness. You enjoy every minute of it” * :smiley:

So Jake, what is it about my username that you found so unusual?? :wink:

best regards,


My favorite idea came from Taylor, Freeman Dyson and Stanislaw Ulam

While I was digging thru Ted Taylor’s filing cabinet, I came across a blurred copy of a schematic for what looked like a spaceship. I’d had no clue what it was. I pinned it up over my desk and was gonna ask Ted, One of my co-worker’s came by to grab me for lunch and he saw the schematic.

[INDENT]“Hey, where did ya find that…”

I told him :

*It was in the declassified file cabinet. *

*“That should not of been in there. It’s still classified.
You should take that down off your wall…” * I did so immediately. At lunch, my co-worker fed me some titbits about the mysterious spaceship. I was dumbfounded.

Obviously, the schematic was from the Orion project.

Looking back it just kills me that we let the puppy slide. If we had pursued it we’d be sailing 10,000 ton spaceships the size of navel destroyers all over the solar system. Instead of running R/C cars on Mars, we’d be trashing the place with beer cans. And instead of a few hot shot test pilots being the only dudes on to walk on the moon. We’d all be able go there and leave trash in every crater. Yeah, we shouldn’t trash the place but the important thing is that we could had the option to do it.

What were we smokin’ to think that chemical rockets were ever gonna be practical for space travel. And we let them use most of the NASA budget for the worst designed-by-committee engineering project in history,One that still costs us $10K per pound just to get into LEO. We just plain screwed up letting those captured Nazi scientists run the U.S. space program.

Ya know what torques my ass? I wrote dirtside command and control software and provided support to mission controllers on a half dozen spacecraft for NASA. If we had gone with Orion back in the 1960’s, there’s a damn good chance I could be been doing the same damn thing UP IN SPACE as one of thousands of Orion crewmembers we’d have by now. :smiley:

And I might of, had they chosen the best technology for good solid engineering and science reasons rather picking an inferior technology because that’s what the Nazi rocket scientists knew. No matter how good the alternative, never in a million years were the Nazi rocket scientists gonna ever pick a technology that would have cost them their jobs. :dubious:

Now I’m probably never gonna get off this stinkin’ lousy dungball of a planet. :smack:

best regards,


Ahh, Orion.

I was at a con once where Freeman was scheduled to speak. He came up ill that weekend, however, and his son George delivered the talk. I would have loved to have seen Freeman, but George had all his notes and visuals, and discussed in detail several of the early space schemes Freeman was a part of. Of course, an awful lot of it was about Orion. There was a lot of discussion about actually trying one out in Nevada before the TBT.

The best part, though, was that the convention was held in Bellingham, WA. And the guest of honor was Larry Niven.

I second the motion.

An area of expertise, an entertaining prose style: Buck has it all!

For those (like myself) who had never heard of the Orion Project, the wiki link is here:

Holy. Bloody. Molely.

The OP should definitely stay on this board. There are specialists of many things, here, but I don’t think we yet have someone who knows how to build nuclear weapons…

It will be convenient to take over the world…

buck please stay here. And check out the other message boards.

[INDENT]OK, Annie.

Check out what other boards? Why? What will I find?

Annie, I thought you just said you wanted me to stay here.

I’m very, very confused now. :confused: [/INDENT]


I mean the other Straight Dope Boards–General Questions, Great Debates, etc. and esp. the Pit.

Forums, rather.

Or if the Zombies attack.

oh yeah, cool!

Just like “Pinky and the Brain”. Which one do I get to be?

Actually, assuming we had the weapons grade material, I don’t know if I could get the gun-type weapon to go boom. Now I do have a housemate the necessary skill set and practical knowlege that could pull it off.

The housemate is this 6-5" country boy from Arkansas. He’s a biker, a former Navy SEAL trained in demolitions, and a 7th generation gunsmith. The Arkansas accent disguses his IQ score of 160.

This ol’ country boy makes McGuyver look like a total moron when it comes to anything mechanical and electronic. I’ve been an engineer for more than three decades and I’ve never met anyone that can kludge or who can cobble together something that works faster and better than this dude.

Ahh, I see we already have someone who gets to be “Pinky”… :rolleyes:

best regards.


A screaming thing comes across the sky. It’s a V-2 rocket carrying twelve thousand pounds of symbolism, and it’s coming down on your poor, deluded, postmodern head. - Thomas Pynchon in ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’

JFTR - That image is not a rocket motor. The warhead assembly is loaded into a recoilless launcher; either the XM-28 or -29. This particular launcher uses center-venturi recoil compensation, similar to the 75mm and 105mm Panzerabwehrwerfers (PAWs) used by the German army on Crete in WWII, or the Carl Gustav launcher uses. Compare that to the rather more familiar perimeter-venturi breech design (note the scalloped notches - those are the venturi), such as is used on the M-40 106mm recoilless rifle.

Augh. Wrong link… Images of the M-40 breech are found on this page. Click on the the thumbnails.

Really good stuff you dug up there!

Time for dumb question?

So limme see if I got this correct, difference between rocket launcher and recoilless rifles is the propellent gas from ther “shell” drives the launcher with the external warhead out a rifled barrel that spin stabilizes the delivery package. The excess propellent gas is released in a controlled fashion hence the no recoil. And there is no on-board propellent after the initial conflaguration so no more energy is available after the shell / launcher leaves the barrel, right?

And a rocket launcher is just a hollow tube to redirect the the hot gas from the rocket engine on the associated finned stablized warhead. And being a rocket it takes its propellent along with it and it accellerates until the propellent burns out in a few mlliseconds, correct?

So what would be the benefits of using a artillery shell instead of rocket propellent?

For example, does an RPG fire like a mortar or is it really a rocket propelled? Or is it sorta like a recoilless rifle?

Or am I totally confused and way off base? :confused:

To get back more on topic–

Please correct me if I’m wrong about this but I believe the next generation of tactical nuclear artillery is suppose to be a hybrid - a smart GPS guided cannon shell with an auxillary rocket booster that extends the range of the shell 70 to 100 miles vs the maximum 20 to 30 mile range of conventional artillery. Nuclear and conventional versions are intended to replace the 10,000 lbs HE bombs and bunker busters.

best regards