Directed Nuclear Weapons: American Projects

Directed Nuclear Weapons: American Projects
Directed Nuclear Weapons: American Projects

At present, nuclear weapons are used as payloads of various bombs and missiles designed to destroy important enemy targets. However, in the past, the development of the nuclear industry and the search for new ideas led to the emergence of a number of proposals that provided for a different use of such warheads. Thus, the concept of directed nuclear weapons proposed to abandon the simple undermining of the target in favor of remote impact on it due to some damaging factors.

The first proposals in the field of directed nuclear weapons, according to known data, date back to the end of the fifties. Later, at the level of theory, several options for such weapons were worked out. At the same time, the original concept quickly attracted the interest of the military, which led to special consequences. All works on this topic were classified. As a result, to date, only a few American projects have received fame. There is no reliable information about the creation of such systems by other countries, including the USSR and Russia.


Orion-class spacecraft with atomic impulse engine. Figure NASA /

It should be noted that not too much is known about American projects either. There is only a limited amount of information in open sources, mostly of the most general nature. At the same time, many estimates and assumptions of various kinds are known. However, even in such a situation it is possible to form an acceptable picture, even without any special technical details.

From engine to gun

According to known data, the idea of ​​a directed nuclear weapon appeared during the development of the Orion project. During the fifties, specialists from NASA and a number of related organizations were looking for promising architectures for rocket and space technology. Realizing that existing systems may have limited potential, American scientists came up with the most daring proposals. One of them provided for the abandonment of the "chemical" rocket engine in favor of a special power plant based on nuclear charges - the so-called. atomic impulse engine.

The project, tentatively titled "Orion", envisaged the construction of a special spacecraft without traditional propulsion engines. The head compartment of such an apparatus was allocated for the placement of the crew and the payload. The central and tail ones belonged to the power plant and contained its various components. Instead of traditional fuels, the Orion was supposed to use compact, low-yield nuclear warheads.

According to the main idea of ​​the project, during acceleration, the Orion's atomic-impulse engine had to alternately eject charges behind a strong tail plate. A nuclear explosion of limited power was supposed to push the plate, and with it the entire ship. According to calculations, the substance of the collapsing charge should have scattered at a speed of up to 25-30 km / s, which made it possible to provide a very high thrust. At the same time, the shocks from the explosions could be too strong and dangerous for the crew, as a result of which the ship was equipped with an amortization system.

In the proposed form, the Orion ship's engine did not differ in energy perfection and efficiency.In fact, only a small part of the energy of the nuclear charge was used, transferred to the tail plate of the ship. The rest of the energy was dissipated into the surrounding space. To improve efficiency, a redesign of the engine was required. At the same time, it became necessary to radically change the existing design.

According to calculations, a more economical atomic-impulse engine in its design should have been similar to existing systems. The nuclear charges were to be detonated inside a solid case with a nozzle for the release of matter and energy. Thus, the products of the explosion in the form of plasma had to leave the engine in only one direction and create the necessary thrust. The efficiency of such an engine could be tens of percent.

Nuclear howitzer

In the late fifties or early sixties, the new engine concept underwent an unexpected development. Continuing the theoretical study of such a system, scientists have found the possibility of using it as a fundamentally new weapon. Later, such weapons will be called directional nuclear weapons.

Directed Nuclear Weapons: American Projects

Nuclear rocket engine with internal detonation of charges. Figure NASA /

It was obvious that, together with the plasma, a flux of light and X-ray radiation should come from the engine nozzle. Such "exhaust" posed a particular danger to various objects, including living organisms, which led to the emergence of a new idea in the field of nuclear weapons. The generated plasma and radiation could be directed to the target to destroy it. Such a concept could not fail to interest the military, and soon its development began.

According to known data, the project of a nuclear weapon of directional action received the working title of Casaba Howitzer - "Howitzer" Kasaba ". An interesting fact is that such a name did not reveal the essence of the project in any way and even introduced confusion. The special nuclear system had nothing to do with howitzer artillery.

The promising project was, as expected, classified. Moreover, the information remains closed to this day. Unfortunately, very little is known about the real features of this project, and the few available information in the bulk does not have official confirmation. However, this did not prevent the emergence of a number of plausible estimates and assumptions.

According to one of the widespread versions, the Kasaba Howitzer should be built on the basis of a heavy-duty hull capable of withstanding the detonation of a nuclear charge and not allowing X-rays to pass through. In particular, it can be made from uranium or some other metals. In such a case, a hole should be provided that acts as a muzzle. It should be covered with metal plates - beryllium or tungsten. A nuclear charge of the required power is placed inside the body. Also, the "gun" needs means of transportation, guidance and control.

The detonation of a nuclear charge should lead to the formation of a cloud of plasma and X-ray radiation. The general effect of high temperature, pressure and radiation should instantly vaporize the housing covers, after which the plasma and rays are able to travel towards the target. The configuration of the "muzzle" and the material of its cover influenced the angle of divergence of the plasma and radiation. At the same time, it was possible to obtain an efficiency of up to 80-90%. The rest of the energy was spent on the destruction of the hull and was dissipated in space.

According to some reports, the plasma flow could reach speeds of up to 900-1000 km / s; X-rays are capable of traveling at the speed of light. Thus, first, the specified target should have been affected by radiation, after which it was ensured that it was hit by a stream of ionized gas.


One of the proposed options for the appearance of the Casaba Howitzer system. Figure

The Kasaba product, depending on the components used and technical characteristics, could show a firing range of at least several tens of kilometers. In an airless space, this parameter increased significantly. A nuclear directed weapon could be mounted on a wide variety of platforms: land, sea and space, which in theory made it possible to solve a wide range of tasks.

However, the promising "howitzer" had a number of serious technical and combat flaws, which sharply reduced its practical value. First of all, such weapons turned out to be overly complex and expensive. Moreover, some design problems could not be solved with the technologies of the middle of the last century. The second problem concerned the fighting qualities of the system. The plasma ejection did not occur simultaneously, and it expanded into a sufficiently long stream. As a result of this, a limited mass of ionized substance had to act on the target for a relatively long time, which reduced the actual power. X-rays were also not ideal damaging factors.

Apparently, the development of the Casaba Howitzer project lasted no more than a few years and stopped in connection with the determination of the real prospects for such a weapon. It was based on fundamentally new ideas and had very remarkable combat capabilities. At the same time, the nuclear weapon turned out to be extremely difficult to manufacture and operate, and also did not guarantee the defeat of any designated target. It is unlikely that such a product could find application in the troops. The work was stopped, but the project documentation was not declassified.

Shaped nuclear charge

Back in the thirties, the so-called. shaped charge: ammunition in which the explosive was shaped in a particular way. The concave funnel at the front of the charge provided a high-speed cumulative jet that collects a significant part of the explosion energy. A similar principle soon found application in new anti-tank ammunition.

According to various sources, in the fifties or sixties, it was proposed to create a thermonuclear ammunition operating on a cumulative basis. The essence of this proposal consisted in the manufacture of a standard thermonuclear product, in which a charge of tritium and deuterium had to have a special shape with a funnel in the front. As a detonator, a "normal" nuclear charge should have been used.

Calculations showed that, while maintaining acceptable dimensions, a shaped-charge thermonuclear charge can have very high characteristics. When using the technologies of that time, the cumulative jet from the plasma could reach speeds of up to 8-10 thousand km / s. It was also determined that in the absence of technological limitations, the jet is capable of gaining three times the speed. Unlike Kasaba, X-rays were only an additional damaging factor.


Scheme of a cumulative thermonuclear charge. Figure

How exactly it was proposed to use the potential of such a charge is unknown. It can be assumed that compact and lightweight bombs of this kind could become a real breakthrough in the field of combating buried protected structures. In addition, the shaped charge could become a kind of super-powerful artillery weapon - on land and other platforms.

Nevertheless, as far as is known, the project of a cumulative thermonuclear bomb did not go beyond theoretical research. Probably, the potential customer did not find any sense in this proposal and preferred to use thermonuclear weapons in the "traditional" way - as a payload for bombs and missiles.

"Prometheus" with shrapnel

At some point, the Kasaba project was closed for lack of real prospects. However, later they returned to his ideas.In the eighties, the United States worked on the Strategic Defense Initiative and tried to create fundamentally new missile defense systems. In this context, we recalled some of the proposals of previous years.

Casaba Howitzer ideas have been refined and refined through a project codenamed Prometheus. Several features of this project led to the nickname "Nuclear Shotgun". As in the case of its predecessor, the bulk of information on this project has not yet been published, but some of the information is already known. On their basis, you can draw up a rough picture and understand the differences between "Prometheus" and "Kasaba".

From the point of view of the general architecture, the Prometheus product almost completely repeated the older Howitzer. At the same time, a different "muzzle" cover was proposed, due to which it was possible to obtain new combat capabilities. The hole in the case was again planned to be closed with a strong tungsten cover, but this time it should be covered with a special heat-shielding compound based on graphite. Due to mechanical resistance or ablation, such a coating was supposed to reduce the effect of a nuclear explosion on the cover, although full protection was not provided.

The nuclear explosion in the hull was not supposed to evaporate the tungsten cover, as it was in the previous project, but only to crush it into a huge number of small fragments. The explosion could also disperse the fragments to the highest speeds - up to 80-100 km / s. A cloud of small tungsten shrapnel, which has a sufficiently large kinetic energy, could fly several tens of kilometers and collide with a target that was in its path. Since the Prometheus product was created within the SDI, ICBMs of a potential enemy were considered as its main targets.


Orion in flight. Probably, Kasaba's shot could look similar. Figure

However, the energy of small fragments was insufficient to guarantee the destruction of an ICBM or its warhead. In this regard, "Prometheus" should be used as a means of selection of false targets. The warhead and the decoy target differ in their main parameters, and by the peculiarities of their interaction with tungsten fragments, it was possible to identify a priority target. Its destruction was entrusted to other means.

As you know, the Strategic Defense Initiative program led to the emergence of new technologies and ideas, but a number of projects did not give the expected results. Like a number of other developments, the Prometheus system was not brought even to bench tests. This outcome of the project was associated both with its excessive complexity and limited potential, and with the political consequences of the deployment of nuclear systems in space.

Too bold projects

The fifties of the last century, when the idea of ​​directed nuclear weapons appeared, were quite an interesting period. At this time, scientists and designers boldly proposed new ideas and concepts that could seriously affect the development of armies. However, they had to face technical, technological and economic constraints, which did not allow the full implementation of all proposals.

This is the fate that awaited all known projects of directed nuclear weapons. The promising idea turned out to be too complex to implement, and a similar situation seems to persist to this day. However, having studied the situation with old projects, an interesting conclusion can be drawn.

It seems that the US military is still showing interest in concepts like the Casaba Howitzer or Prometheus. Work on these projects stopped long ago, but those in charge are still in no hurry to disclose all the information. It is quite possible that such a secrecy regime is associated with a desire to master a promising direction in the future - after the appearance of the required technologies and materials.

It turns out that projects that have been created since the late fifties were many decades ahead of their time in terms of technology. Moreover, they still do not look very realistic due to known limitations. Will you be able to cope with urgent problems in the future? So far, we can only guess. Until then, directional nuclear weapons will retain the ambiguous status of an interesting concept with no real prospects.

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