The part of the nuclear weapon that contain the actual nuclear device is called warhead. In order for this to function as weapons and to reach the objective to be necessary any kind of weapon bearer. Nuclear weapons can for example be designed as air-craft delivered bombs, but today it’s more common that nuclear weapons are mounted on missiles.
Strategic nuclear weapons
Strategic nuclear weapons have typically been used by the USA and Russia to directly threaten each other’s home countries. Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) and Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs) belong to this category, as do intercontinental aircraft equipped with bombs or missiles. ICBMs can reach targets up to 10,000 kilometres away. The missile travels at about 20,000 km/h – meaning it can travel 10,000 km in 30 minutes.
Mid-range nuclear weapons
Mid-range nuclear weapons have a range between 1,000 and 5,500 km. Such weapons could, for example, reach Russia from Western Europe or Japan from North Korea. The weapons belonging to this category are mainly ground-based missiles and aircraft-delivered weapons.
Tactial nuclear weapons
Many of the delivery devices, especially for intermediate and strategic nuclear weapons, are ballistic missiles. These are propelled by rocket engines that fire for a short period of time, no more than a few minutes. The weapon then moves towards the target in a parabolic trajectory and cannot be steered. During the 1980s, cruise missiles were developed as nuclear delivery devices. In contrast to ballistic missiles, cruise missiles can correct their trajectory and even navigate. They can be launched from aircraft, ships, submarines, or ground-based launch pads.
Other weapon types include:
The Bunker Buster or the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator: small, tactical nuclear weapons capable of penetrating the earth to explode underground weapon stores, repositories of biological and chemical weapons, or hidden enemy bases. Development of the RNEP was terminated by the US Congress as the result of strong opposition from the scientific community and civil society. Nevertheless, the US still has some large, crude “bunker busters” in its nuclear arsenal from earlier periods of weapon development.
Radiological weapons: conventional bombs that disperse radioactive materials, also known as “dirty bombs”. The yield is the same as that of conventional explosives, but the radioactive materials increase the danger to human beings and other living organisms. The technique is relatively easy to master, making dirty bombs attractive to terrorist groups. Depending on the size of the explosive device, which radioactive substances are used and where it is detonated, the effects of a dirty bomb will vary.
Detonating a dirty bomb can be expected to attract a lot of media attention and create massive fear and concern among the population affected. Radioactive fallout can also make areas close to the place of detonation uninhabitable for a long time, necessitating expensive clean-up and economic loss for the affected community. The panic caused by a dirty bomb would probably be the most effective result.
The neutron bomb: a form of atomic or hydrogen bomb that has been modified to reduce the explosive power (the shock wave) and maximise the radiation. Neutron bombs have been considered particularly evil, since the reduced shock wave means buildings and infrastructure are preserved while the increased radiation kills people. The plans for developing these weapons led to massive protests during the 1980s, and the idea was abandoned.
Last update: December 30, 2015