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The Military Government United States

US Modernizes Nuclear Arsenal With Smaller, Precision-Guided Atomic Weapons (nytimes.com) 230

HughPickens.com writes: The NY Times reports that the Pentagon has been developing the B61 Model 12, the nation's first precision-guided atom bomb. Adapted from an older weapon, the Model 12 was designed with problems like North Korea in mind: Its computer brain and four maneuverable fins let it zero in on deeply buried targets like testing tunnels and weapon sites and its yield can be dialed up or down depending on the target, to minimize collateral damage. The B61 Model 12 flight-tested last year in Nevada and is the first of five new warhead types planned as part of an atomic revitalization estimated to cost up to $1 trillion over three decades. As a family, the weapons and their delivery systems move toward the small, the stealthy and the precise.

And some say that's the problem. The Federation of American Scientists argues that the high accuracy and low destructive settings means military commanders might press to use the bomb in an attack, knowing the radioactive fallout and collateral damage would be limited. Increasing the accuracy also broadens the type of targets that the B61 can be used to attack. Some say that a new nuclear tipped cruise missile under development might sway a future president to contemplate "limited nuclear war." Worse yet, because the missile comes in nuclear and non-nuclear varieties, a foe under attack might assume the worst and overreact, initiating nuclear war. In a recent interview, General James Cartwright, a retired four-star general who last served as the eighth Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says the overall modernization plan might change how military commanders looked at the risks of using nuclear weapons. "What if I bring real precision to these weapons?" says Cartwright. "Does it make them more usable? It could be."

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US Modernizes Nuclear Arsenal With Smaller, Precision-Guided Atomic Weapons

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  • Good? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by LMariachi ( 86077 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @09:32AM (#51292577) Journal

    The Federation of American Scientists argues that the high accuracy and low destructive settings means military commanders might press to use the bomb in an attack, knowing the radioactive fallout and collateral damage would be limited.

    Aren't fallout and collateral damage the main problems people have with nuclear weapons? Without those factors The Bomb wouldn't have that enormous stigma attached to it, it would be just another bomb, albeit larger. Since the Cold War is over, and since everyone involved knows that smaller tactical nukes exist, there's no reason that the response to any and all non-testing nuclear explosion has to be full-on empty the silos.

    • Agreed... with minimal collateral damage, does the technique we use to blow people up carry any particular moral weight over that we blew them up to begin with?
      • Re:Good? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Rei ( 128717 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @10:07AM (#51292745) Homepage

        The concern is and always has been stepping over the red "no nukes allowed" line. Once both sides of a conflict start playing with nukes, even if it starts out with small, tactical, targeted nukes, the other side will too, and whichever side is losing will be tempted to scale up, and ultimately you're opening up the risk of escalation into full blown strategic nuclear exchange. It's been the key reason why tactical nukes have been largely avoided for so long. The consequences of nuclear war ever breaking out between major powers are just so atrocious that one doesn't want to play lightly with anything that could make it easier to happen. Even when one side isn't a major power, we all know that these regional conflicts have a habit of escalating, and that different sides have a habit of misestimating how much of a line they're stepping over from the perspective of their rivals.

        That said, the US may forced into this whether they want to or not, given that Russia's been developing - and has started deploying - tactical nuclear delivery systems. They've really been waving around their "nuclear card" a lot lately - my favorite was when they "accidentally" let a news camera capture a picture of design plans for a submarine-based cobalt bomb doomsday device among papers an officer was carrying.

        Nuclear war gaming is a really morbid topic... the whole "if we do X, then they're going to do Y, then we'll have to do Z" thing, because the casualty numbers are so absurd... "If we do X here, then their attack will only kill between 6,3 and 7,5 million people, but our counter will kill between 23 and 26 million people, so that works out well to our favor..." The fact that even a "win" is really a devastating loss to the victor is what led to the concept of MAD.

        Even on the battlefield it leads to weird situations. For example, part of the reason that neutron bombs were developed was the realization that should Soviet forces (which stressed a "deep battle" doctrine involving huge numbers of rapidly advancing tanks) flood into western Europe, the west could use nuclear weapons against their forces to try to stop them, but tanks tend to have a habit of surviving nuclear blasts unless they're near the epicenter. The radiation load might be fatal to the crew, but that could take days or more, and meanwhile the Soviet "zombie crews" could have taken control of a large chunk of Europe before they become too sick to continue. With neutron bombs, Soviets would have to respond by spreading their tanks out more, which greatly reduces their ability to be defended and supplied. It's possible to make tanks resistant to neutrons by incorporating neutron absorbers, such as boron, or moderators like hydrogen... but ironically the depleted uranium sometimes used in tank armour these days could actually enhance the yield of the radiation by undergoing fast fission.

        Oh, and it's worth pointing out that dial-a-yield nuclear bombs are often effectively neutron bombs at their lower yield settings.

        • Re:Good? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Applehu Akbar ( 2968043 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @10:37AM (#51292933)

          "Once both sides of a conflict start playing with nukes, even if it starts out with small, tactical, targeted nukes, the other side will too, and whichever side is losing will be tempted to scale up, "

          Even if the conflict is with a non-nuclear country, or one with no long-distance delivery technology, there is a fear that a contained strike, say the US blasting an ISIS underground redoubt, would 'normalize' nuclear warfare in the future.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by blackanvil ( 1147329 )

            "Once both sides of a conflict start playing with nukes, even if it starts out with small, tactical, targeted nukes, the other side will too, and whichever side is losing will be tempted to scale up, "

            Even if the conflict is with a non-nuclear country, or one with no long-distance delivery technology, there is a fear that a contained strike, say the US blasting an ISIS underground redoubt, would 'normalize' nuclear warfare in the future.

            Not to mention that if the fallout is encountered by even one citizen of another nuclear state, let alone an embassy or crosses a border into a nuclear armed country, they may well consider that an attack and retaliate. Nuking Daesh should be safe-ish in that one regard, but even there you have Israel (still denying they have nukes), would they show restraint if, say, fallout from a Russian nuke contaminated their northern territories? How would Turkey, a member of NATO, respond if their country was irradia

        • Oh, and it's worth pointing out that dial-a-yield nuclear bombs are often effectively neutron bombs at their lower yield settings.

          Oh, thanks for that. As if I didn't need something else to make me feel more hopeful about our world.

        • What do you mean tactical nukes have been avoided? Usage or deployment? Bush the elder once decommissioned whole categories of tactical nukes unilaterally(and in a stealth operation too) because he considered them too dangerous.

          Anyway I agree the 'red line' argument is important. And currently we have a combination of increased tensions and reduced threshold for using nukes. Reduced because people have become too confident 'since we managed pretty well for such a long time' . I think that confidence has alw

    • Re:Good? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by JoshuaZ ( 1134087 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @09:45AM (#51292657) Homepage
      Not using nuclear weapons at all is an important taboo precisely because it can get out of hand so quickly. No nuclear launches is a clear bright line, in some sense a Schelling point https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Focal_point_(game_theory) [wikipedia.org] . Once small nukes are in use, the bright line no longer exists.
    • The point of nukes (Score:2, Insightful)

      by sjbe ( 173966 )

      Aren't fallout and collateral damage the main problems people have with nuclear weapons?

      No. The main problem is that they are weapons of mass destruction that can vaporize entire cities in an instant. They are weapons that are specifically designed to kill a large number of people over a large area very quickly. THAT is the main problem with them. Let's not lose sight of why nukes are scary. The fallout merely adds the problem.

      The term collateral damage when applied to nukes is kind of meaningless. The entire point of a nuke is to destroy everything in a rather large radius. There reall

      • "you are unavoidably and intentionally targeting non-combatants and infrastructure when you make the decision to use one."

        Hence both the MAD protocol and the palpable reluctance to use 'conventional' nuclear weapons.

        "Yes this remains true for "tactical nukes" too."

        Um, if the yield is small enough, the fallout/residual radioactivity are the only detriments, and if you're targeting underground facilities, these may actually be tolerable, relative to the threat of not using them.

        Put simply, nukes that are smal

        • Put simply, nukes that are small enough and precise enough are merely really powerful bombs, and only inspire a slightly irrational response such as "ZOMG NUKES!",

          Or another slightly irrational response such as "next suicide bomber will carry a nuke".

          Never forget that bombs are never just powerful; they are powerful relative to their size and weight, thus the TNT equivalence scale.

          A suicide bomber in a car can't carry a hundred thousand kg of dynamite.

      • by DarkOx ( 621550 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @10:14AM (#51292787) Journal

        The term collateral damage when applied to nukes is kind of meaningless.

        Not at all. In the context of "Total War" collateral damage would be harm done to to you or your allies. Destruction of an entire enemy city and nothing else would be zero collateral damage. You are attempting to destroy their will and ability to make war. You break the their means of production, you break their will to fight when they realize their homes and loved ones cannot be protected thru their military efforts. The destruction of non-combatants and infrastructure is valid and I would argue even moral warefare tactic if you yourself are in fact under mortal threat, maybe even if the threat you face falls well below that level.

        There was for example little or no "collateral damage" when we bombed Japan, or for that matter Dresden.

        Considering Syria today and the siege warfare taking place, I am not even so sure its all that great the UN and various groups are getting food aide in. If the public was starving so to would eventually the combatants (though probably only after mass non-com casualties because after all the solders will be the last not to eat they have guns after all). Short of starving I am not sure what it will take to get these various groups to give up the fight. By getting food in their we prolong the siege, and the bloodshed.

        • by stjobe ( 78285 )

          There was for example little or no "collateral damage" when we bombed Japan, or for that matter Dresden.

          There was huge amounts of what we today call collateral damage, but back then they didn't use the term "collateral damage".

          It was more or less seen as inevitable that there would be civilian losses and damage to civilian infrastructure even if the intended target was military (as it almost invariably was, with some notable exceptions - the Blitz for example specifically targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure).

          It wasn't until the 1991 Gulf War "collateral damage" started to get used as "unintended ci

          • by swb ( 14022 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @01:08PM (#51293869)

            There was for example little or no "collateral damage" when we bombed Japan, or for that matter Dresden.

            There was huge amounts of what we today call collateral damage, but back then they didn't use the term "collateral damage".

            Now it's "collateral damage" because we're killing a bunch of civilians or destroying civil infrastructure we'd rather not.

            Then it wasn't collateral damage because we MEANT to kill civilians and destroy civil infrastructure because we believed that breaking the enemy's ability and will to fight would aid our war effort and shorten the war.

            That's why it's called total warfare (or scorched Earth warfare) -- you don't want the enemy to have ANYTHING that enables them to fight, and that includes a population able to function at any meaningful level of productivity, and they aren't very productive if they are starving, homeless and lacking any infrastructure that enables them to be productive.

            This was the partial goal of the allied military and very much part of the post-war pacification of Germany, where deliberate allied policies forced the population into famine and stripped them of much of their industrial capacity. Make no mistake, there was no accidental, collateral damage to German civilians, it was a deliberate policy during and after the war to crush the German population into submission.

          • by sudon't ( 580652 )

            There was huge amounts of what we today call collateral damage, but back then they didn't use the term "collateral damage".

            Collateral damage is unintended destruction, (whether of people or infrastructure). The planners of the Dresden bombing, and all the other fire bombings done during WW II, fully intended the destruction of those cities, and the deaths of their inhabitants. The idea was to cause the complete demoralization of the enemy. There is no collateral damage in total warfare.

      • by quenda ( 644621 )

        No. The main problem is that they are weapons of mass destruction that can vaporize entire cities in an instant.

        Not even close. The bomb itself, and soft targets close underneath yes. If it's a very large nuke, it may level the CBD and destroy most unreinforced brick/wood buildings in a small city. Those photos of Hiroshima? That is from fires more than blast or flash. Tokyo was worse.

        • by mrchaotica ( 681592 ) * on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @12:21PM (#51293539)

          As far as nuclear weapons go, the Hiroshima bomb was pretty darn small. (Not as small as "tactical nukes," but small.) Hydrogen bombs such as the B83 [wikipedia.org], which is at 1.2 megatons the most powerful US nuclear bomb in active service (let alone discontinued or experimental weapons such as the 25-megaton B41 [wikipedia.org] or the 50-megaton Tsar Bomba [wikipedia.org]) are perfectly capable of completely destroying even large cities. For example, Wikipedia says the B41 could destroy reinforced structures in an 8-mile radius and houses in a 15-mile radius. For perspective, if such a weapon were targeted at Lower Manhattan, it would totally destroy everything from Newark to Queens (and houses all the way to Yonkers and Hempstead)... before considering things like fires. Admittedly, you might need more than one if you were targeting a really spread-out area like greater LA.

          • by quenda ( 644621 )

            For example, Wikipedia says the B41 could destroy reinforced structures in an 8-mile radius and houses in a 15-mile radius.

            It does? Where do you get that? I'm seeing 2.4km and 6km (5psi, 4 mile?) respectively.
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

            I'm Australian, so "large city" means fifty times that area. And "vaporize" does not mean blast-wave damage.

            For perspective, if such a weapon were targeted at Lower Manhattan, it would totally destroy everything from Newark to Queens

            Looking at map ... you are talking 20km away . Several kPa / 1psi. That's a bit of storm damage, not destruction (5psi). A huge difference - what is your source?

      • by evilviper ( 135110 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @11:38AM (#51293287) Journal

        The main problem is that they are weapons of mass destruction that can vaporize entire cities in an instant.

        Non-nuclear devices like the FOAB [wikipedia.org] can do much the same.

        Conventional napalm destroyed Japanese & German cities, and killed as many people as the first atomic bombs, yet it doesn't have the stigma.

        The fallout merely adds the problem. The term collateral damage when applied to nukes is kind of meaningless.

        Quite the opposite. Collateral damage is a huge issue with nukes. Haven't you ever heard of Nuclear Winter? [wikipedia.org] Destroying the ability of the entire planet to sustain life, and for years to come, is about the biggest glaring example of collateral damage you could ever come-up with.

    • Re: Good? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Kythe ( 4779 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @11:03AM (#51293107)
      The problem isn't the use of weapons with less collateral damage. The problem is the response from those who have nukes, but not the precision-guided, limited collateral damage variety.

      It's a psychological issue--once nukes have been used, it's more feasible to respond by using nukes. And lest we think the psychology of the situation doesn't matter, remember that mutually assured destruction (MAD), which kept the world fron nuking itself back to the stone age for more than a half century, was and is based entirely on the psychology of nuclear weapon use.
    • The would still be collateral damage, fallout and stigma, just less of it. But I think the real loss of ever using a weapon like these is that when dealing with countries like North Korea fine distinctions don't work. If you use any sort of nuclear weapon in one limited situation they will maintain they can use all types they have whenever the Dear Leader is feeling pissy.

      There really is a great deal of value in simple messages like "Never again."
    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      1. No US military commander except the president can authorize the use of nuclear weapons.
      2. The US not building this will not prevent other nations from building them.
      3. This is just a nuke with a JDAM kit on it.

  • by Zontar_Thing_From_Ve ( 949321 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @09:33AM (#51292585)
    1) China and Russia are likely to do the same thing eventually. Russia in particular is pumping a lot of money into modernizing their nukes. Do we really want to end up having to catch up here?
    2) This might make China and Russia less likely to start some crap if they fear that the US might nuke them in retaliation. There are a lot of countries that would be really happy if both China and Russia would calm down right now.
    • I'm not sure that having nuclear weapons that do less damage will deter China or Russia. Right now, if they develop and then consider using precision nuclear weapons against us, the fact that we have old-fashioned, city leveling bombs only would give them more of a reason to decide not to use their future precision-guided weapons. That's the reasoning I see working.

      • You want to deter China or Russia?

        These aren't the weapons you're looking for. We have those already.

      • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

        Only if they think we will actually use those 20kt+ devices. If they think we might be to squeamish for that sorta thing and try to fight back with traditional chemical explosives and arms they suddenly have a huge advantage on the battle field. At least if their assessment of us proves accurate (I suspect it would).

        Smaller more target-able devices would also be potentially very useful against naval power. A lot of US force projection depends on aircraft carriers. If you could reliably target and destro

        • Considering China's push for control of waters in its area, and the ramp up of its own carrier fleet, this is one of the more interesting comments I've seen.

    • There are a lot of countries that would be really happy if both China and Russia would calm down right now

      Same could be said for the USA, stop starting more wars already.

      • Well, though we've butted our noses in a few wars, some we probably shouldn't have, we have not started a new once since Shrub (the lesser Bush) left office. So, at least, it's an improvement. The problem is the mess we left from the last two we did start has gotten so big, no one really knows how to deal with it.

        • by TheReaperD ( 937405 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @10:34AM (#51292919)

          I hate replying to myself but, I had an extra item to add and we can't edit here.

          The problem that the US has had in the middle east is that we have tried all three general policies: diplomacy only, limited engagement and full regime change. The end result has been similar in all three, all the countries involved and their neighbors hate us, people have vowed to get revenge on us for our actions (or inactions) and it has been a large to huge drain on the national treasury. Limited engagement seems to have had the fewest US lives lost and tend to be the cheapest, even above diplomacy. The problem with this option is that you have to support one the the existing factions and when it comes to the middle-east, factions that we find acceptable to our policy goals is next to impossible (see Libya and our current problems with [IS/ISIS/ISIL/Daesh]). It's literally a damned if you do and damned if you don't scenario.

          • Maybe it's not just us. The Middle East has a nearly 10,000 year history of localized warfare. WWI and WWII mearly made a messy place messier. We've been nibbling at the edges since then.

            It's not always about you.

          • I think it wasn't the policies that were bad, but poor implementation of the policy. Bush was not the most competent guy around, but even he realized that Rumsfeld should be fired after his lousy execution of the Iraq war. The Afghanistan action was an embarrassment from the beginning (and Bush personally deserves credit for that).
          • It helps that we don't rely on Saudi oil as much as we used to. Fracking is kinda filthy, but for the first time in my lifetime we don't need to be muscled around by the Saudis to keep our nation moving. And they feel the hurt - to raise cash, they've announced they may offer shares of their state-owned oil company to the pubic [bloomberg.com]. And that's not the worst... the whole region is literally heating up, to the point it may become uninhabitable in 80 or 90 years [washingtonpost.com].

            It may not hurt now to re-think who's side we hav

        • Syria and Libya may not have turned into true wars without US/Saudi involvement (they could have been simple government massacres).

    • Isn't it America that is fighting in the most conflicts all over the world?

    • I think the opposite is the desired effect. I recall reading that what eventually drove the final nail into the USSR and Communism, was that nuclear weapons (as the summary indicates) are fantastically expensive to develop, build, maintain, and all the infrastructure needed to support them, and that trying to keep up with the US essentially bankrupted the Soviet economy.

      Further developments would only do the same I suppose. However the risk however is someone deciding to say screw it, if they are using smal

  • by IndustrialComplex ( 975015 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @09:34AM (#51292589)

    I'm not so sure I'm comfortable with a precision modernization program for a nuclear arsenal. For better or worse, our MAD deterrent seems to have worked. No country has used nuclear weapons since WWII. They are doomsday weapons and any use of them would escalate a conflict well into a total-warfare situation regardless of their precision. A nuclear weapon applied even on the most restricted and limited of targets is the most destabilizing thing you can probably do. Worse yet, it encourages other countries to consider 'usable' nuclear weapons of their own. As much as I hate our current situation I would hope we would work towards disarmament rather than finding more palatable means to deploy nuclear weapons.

    • "Worse yet, it encourages other countries to consider 'usable' nuclear weapons of their own."

      That is already happening.North Korea may not be so ready to use theirs, but if you assign the same reluctance to Iran, you are not listening to them.

      I've considered the theory that the primary deterrence to a first-strike nuclear attack by developed (and even some 'developing' countries) is their substantial industrial, social, cultural, and economic investments. They have much to lose, more than to gain from the e

      • by swb ( 14022 )

        Does Iran have sufficient investments to restrain their potential use of nuclear weapons, if they do in fact acquire them?

        It depends on whether or not you consider them rationally motivated or religiously motivated.

        If its the former, I've always considered the Iranians stupid for wasting resources on developing nuclear weapons. Unless enough time passes that they are able to match the United States in delivery capabilities (the full triad, not just a couple of land-launched ICBMs), they really can't do very much of them. And I don't see the Iranians all that close to an ICBM, let alone a fleet of bombers capable of bypassing

      • 100,000 Iranians were attacked by chemical weapons, and they showed notable restraint in responding. The only reason they wanted nuclear weapons is that the country that sold those chemical weapons to be used against them has nukes of its own and continues to threaten them with regime change. They would be extremely unlikely to use nukes, except in response to being nuked.

    • by tnk1 ( 899206 )

      The problem is that the Cold War, for all the fear and all of the decades, is only the very first breaths of the baby that the Manhattan Project produced. MAD worked because there was fear of nuclear bombs far and above what they actually are. Eventually that mystique will fade.

      I believe that use of nuclear weapons in the future isn't a threat, it's a certainty. It may well start off small, but eventually, enough could be used over time to effectively turn the world into the place we all feared as a long

  • Of course... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cirby ( 2599 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @09:35AM (#51292595)

    The FAS also claimed that more-precise weapons back in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s would cause nuclear war.

    And that a missile defense system would cause nuclear war (except for the one the Soviets built and still use, of course).

    Oddly enough, over the last half-century, none of the things the FAS said would increase the chances of a nuclear war actually caused a nuclear war. The things that nearly caused WWIII were things they never actually mentioned...

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Tailhook ( 98486 )

      The US has precision nukes! Quick; nudge the the Doomsday Clock to 23:58 and call a press conference!

      Meanwhile Putin has scheduled a fusillade of Topol-M test launches for 2016. Chirp, chirp, chirp.... nothing said.

      It's no mystery to me why Trump is a thing.

  • by drewsup ( 990717 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @09:35AM (#51292605)

    " and its yield can be dialed up or down depending on the target, to minimize collateral damage."
    But... does it go to 11?

  • Adapted from an older weapon, the Model 12 was designed with problems like North Korea in mind...

    It seems unlikely the Supreme Leader will quit these saber-rattling stunts as long as he is getting this type of response.

    It's kind of like rewarding a five year old's tantrum with the toy he wanted to begin with, isn't it?

    • Adapted from an older weapon, the Model 12 was designed with problems like North Korea in mind...

      It seems unlikely the Supreme Leader will quit these saber-rattling stunts as long as he is getting this type of response.

      It's kind of like rewarding a five year old's tantrum with the toy he wanted to begin with, isn't it?

      Possibly. OTOH, at some point the North Korean military leadership may decide they are better off without him than with him; given their understanding of the military situation and their actual capabilities, vice his claims.

    • So long as the game is 'saber-rattling', we're fine.

  • Dial-a-nukes (Score:4, Informative)

    by Rei ( 128717 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @09:37AM (#51292613) Homepage

    knowing the radioactive fallout and collateral damage would be limited.

    Um, the more you dial it down, generally the dirtier the explosion. For a given bomb, higher yields equate to more complete fission of the fuel and higher neutron fluxes that are better at transmuting the heavy actinides into lighter, shorter-lived products. Likewise, the bigger the bomb, the smaller the fallout relative to its yield - they're more effective at dispersion and more of the power comes from fusion, less from fission. For example, the Tsar Bomba was a remarkably clean bomb despite its tremendous yield, while the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (low yield, low percentage burn, pure fission) were very dirty.

    • Re:Dial-a-nukes (Score:4, Interesting)

      by TheReaperD ( 937405 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @10:10AM (#51292767)

      Yea, I learned a little bit about it when a few of us got together on a brain exercise about if we could build a nuke out of materials we could actually obtain. (And, if any law enforcement is listening; no, we did not acquire any materials, build anything and the plans were erased right after we were done.) The yield was going to be low and the fallout was disgusting but, it would have worked. Strangely enough, one of the friends that got a masters in nuclear physics for fun checked our math for us and calculated the fallout. When he gave us the calculation, he said basically the same thing, the more powerful the blast per amount of material, the less fallout you get. So, if you want a small, clean explosion, you use the least amount of material possible to produce the explosion. Any remaining material just floods the area with radiation that lingers for a very, very long time.

    • I somehow doubt that there is an actual "dial" on the device, be it digital or analog. I feel like that feature is referring to a field serviceable warhead that can be swapped out; as opposed to one that is fixed in place from the OEM. Although your idea is not without merit, the US has experimented using nuclear fallout as an area denial weapon in the past. That just doesn't sound like the kind of thing that they can sell to Obama.

      • Quite a few of the warheads mounted on submarine delivery platforms have a selectable yield, usually managed by ensuring a particular stage in the warhead doesnt fission or fusion as required.

      • I somehow doubt that there is an actual "dial" on the device, be it digital or analog. I feel like that feature is referring to a field serviceable warhead that can be swapped out; as opposed to one that is fixed in place from the OEM. Although your idea is not without merit, the US has experimented using nuclear fallout as an area denial weapon in the past. That just doesn't sound like the kind of thing that they can sell to Obama.

        Note that I don't know what I'm talking about, but my understanding is that dial-a-yield refers to the use of cores that are injected with lithium deuteride, to fusion-boost a fission reaction, and the dial is how much lithium deuteride is injected (and how much is left in the supply, which is carried along with the bomb.) In that sense, it is pretty much a dial because it's the same warhead hardware regardless of yield, with a software or hardware change that determines the explosive yield.

    • The Tsar Bomba was clean because they set off only 2 of the 3 stages. It had the fission primary and fusion secondary, but had a steel/lead casing rather than the U-238 casing it was designed with, bringing it down from possibly 150MT to the 50MT we saw.

      2 reasons:
      They didn't want to poison half their arctic forever just to impress us.
      And the plane that dropped it barely got away as it was. Dropping the 150 version was probably going to be suicide.

      The full bomb would have been very, very dirty. And the cobal

  • As a family, the weapons and their delivery systems move toward the small, the stealthy, the precise...the hackable.

    • Nonsense. Lockheed Northrop Dynamics has assured the Department of Defense that the new Strategic-Kinetic Yankee Network contains the most advanced anti-hacking defenses, including not just intrusion countermeasures, but also the latest in artificially intelligent active defense. This advanced system will control all of the nuclear delivery systems, and is absolutely certain to be the safest from any attempt at outside intrusion. Yes, under the umbrella of safety provided by SKY-Net, we have nothing to worr
  • As a software developer, the "dial" sounds like something marketing would sell to cover asses later but wouldn't actually be developed. For example, "Oops, we didn't mean to fry [nearby city] when we blew up [target] with our Surgical Nuke (TM). We really did set the dial to 'just kill bad guys' but our engineers must have fucked it up somehow."

    • Yep. You probably wouldn't fry a nearby city, but even on the low end the yields are high enough that anything within a mile or so of ground zero's going to end up extra-crispy. That also makes "precision" a highly relative term. I'd rather reserve the nukes for when we intend to go all-in.

      Not that we need nukes to do the job. Thermobaric and fuel-air bombs don't have the explosive yields of nukes, but they can do almost as good a job on surface structures and in populated areas. Even good old incendiaries

  • We've had Neighborhood Nuclear Superiority [youtube.com] for decades! It even attaches to your garden hose!
    It helped me reinforce my territorial imperative!

    • Oh, you're a member of the Evil Geniuses for a Better Tomorrow Neighborhood Nuclear Superiority Program (EGBT, NNSP) too? Cool! We'll have to nuke it out some time. I'll have my drones do a fly by on your drones.

  • Mini Nukes and a Fat Boy launcher...... PLEASE!

  • by nehumanuscrede ( 624750 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @10:42AM (#51292969)

    We've had precision guided nuclear capable weapons systems for years.
    Just to pick one ( since it was my particular specialty for years ): the Tomahawk Cruise Missile.

    The Block III variant came in four fantastic standard flavors that could be ship, air and even sub-surface launched:

    109A - Nuclear Tipped with a W-80 Warhead. Dial-a-yield of 5kt or 150kt. ( Google the W-80 for more info )
    109B - Anti-ship flavor. Conventional warhead.
    109C - Land-attack flavor. Conventional warhead.
    109D - Land-attack flavor, sub-munitions dispensing warhead.

    This is just the Tomahawk. I haven't kept up with the other cruise missile variants, gravity or guided smart-bombs, or even
    the advances ( if any ) in the ballistic missile platforms.

    So, I'm not entirely sure what all the fuss is about since we've had selective yield weapons since at least the late 70's.
    Personally, since there is no putting the genie back in the bottle, I would prefer a much smaller yield high precision device
    over the city-flattening strategic overkill ones that defined the Cold War era.

    Folks may argue that the desire to use them would increase since they're not as terrible as their strategic brethren, but some
    of these weapons are older than many of the folks reading this and have had this capability the entire time. Yet, we haven't been
    tossing them around en-masse during our many, many conflicts around the world over the years. Unlikely we're going to start now.

    • None of these weapons are really relevant now- both US and Soviet have thermobaric weapons that have similar uses without the nuclear stigma. The one place thermobaric is useless is underground, which is why they are developing these penetration weapons.
    • Also, the Tomahawk was used in both conventional and nuclear capacities, so the "they won't know if it's a nuke or not!" argument is BS. Now, with ballistic missiles they might have a point, since ICBMs pretty much were only ever used to carry nukes, but cruise missiles and other such weapons are a different story.
    • I believe there was even a movie about stealing them from a ship staring Steven Siegal... Even the movie is very old now.

    • The concern I would have about "strategic" dial-a-yield weapons are the fact that any remotely delivered weapon has the chance of becoming a "dud" for whatever reason.

      So perhaps you just set the yield to 5kt and fired it off and it embeds itself into some earth without detonation... Then someone can come along, and provided they know what they are doing, just captured enough material for a 150kt nuclear explosion against you. I'm sure there are countermeasures and everything but still.

    • Ultimately, the point here is if we don't keep working (spending) on nukes, advancing them, new models and all, the people who know about nukes will retire and die off, and no young-uns will learn the trade... which would be all cool, except that Iran and NK and Pakistan and fuck knows who else has started making them, and their politician bosses are going to sabre-rattle to get what they want. Strong first-world deterrent is, unfortunately, the only way to make sure those sabres stay buried in their scabb

  • It was my understanding that the plowshare program was ended because they weren't able to make them detonate cleanly enough to use they were plenty precise enough for the applications they tried as I recall.

    But then again they have been using depleted uranium rounds on the battlefield for years so It may just be considered acceptable now.

    • But then again they have been using depleted uranium rounds on the battlefield for years so It may just be considered acceptable now.

      Depleted uranium is the waste left after something like 95% of the U-235 is removed from Uranium ore. It's not a "nuclear weapon" - the bulk of the nuclear weapon fuel has been removed. It is only about 60% as radioactive as natural uranium, which makes it a poor candidate for a radiological weapon, and is actually used for radiation SHIELDING in medical and industrial devic

  • I also worry that they are using super computers (and I *know* they have the fastest computers in the world) to calculate how to win a limited nuclear war. Now, some will say that's a good thing. And maybe it has to be done. But one also has to worry that the computer will came back with a result like "99.5% Success!" And then certain powers might be all to inclined to go for it.

  • Now all we need is (somehow) Trump getting elected, and he really would destroy the world. Using even ONE of these damn things would start World War 3. Is this just sabre-rattling by the U.S. in light of the DPRK baring their chihuahua-sized teeth and yapping furiously?
  • This is exactly what Trump is looking for. More usable nuclear weapons.
  • No really, I have to ask, are are we the baddies? [youtube.com]
    Sometimes I'm not so sure we're the good guys anymore.

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