The appearance of the atomic bomb gave rise to a new class of weapons - strategic. For some time after the appearance of nuclear weapons (NW) in the United States, and then in the USSR, it was considered as a “battlefield” weapon, scenarios for its use were actively worked out, and large-scale exercises were carried out. It was believed that the use of nuclear weapons in real combat is just a matter of time.
Meanwhile, the number of nuclear weapons in the United States and the USSR was rapidly increasing. At a certain moment, it became clear that its use threatens not only the mutual destruction of the warring parties, but also the emergence of significant risks for the very existence of human civilization. Nuclear weapons have turned from “weapons of war” into “weapons of deterrence,” nuclear parity has been achieved, preventing the Cold War from going into a hot phase. At the height of the Cold War, the number of nuclear warheads in the United States was about 30,000 units, in the USSR - 40,000 units.
Despite the fact that a cold war was going on between the United States and the USSR, there were almost continuous "hot" military conflicts in the world, in which both superpowers were directly involved and often suffered very tangible losses. Nevertheless, not one of the superpowers, apart from the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, has never used nuclear weapons in military conflicts. Thus, nuclear weapons became the first weapon that is not actually used, but at the same time the costs of creating and maintaining them are very high.
Depending on the carriers, nuclear weapons are either singled out as a separate type of armed forces, as is done in Russia - the Strategic Missile Forces (Strategic Missile Forces), or are part of the Air Force (Air Force) / Navy (Navy). There are also tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) for various purposes, however, one way or another, under existing conditions, their use can only be justified in the event of a global conflict, so that to some extent it can also be classified as a weapon of a strategic nature.
As mentioned earlier, nuclear weapons used to deter the enemy from full-scale aggression are useless in local conflicts. Information about the readiness of the military to use tactical nuclear weapons in local conflicts periodically pops up, such statements, in particular, sounded from the lips of some US military and politicians. Sometimes it was even announced that tactical nuclear weapons had already been used by the same USA or Israel, but there is no evidence of such use.
One of the interesting directions is the creation of the so-called "clean" nuclear weapons, ensuring minimal contamination of the surrounding area by radioactive decay products, but apparently at the moment such research has reached a dead end. In attempts to reduce the size of nuclear weapons, various exotic fissile materials, for example, such as the hafnium isomer 178m2Hf, were considered as "stuffing", however, for various reasons, no real weapon was created on the basis of these studies.
Former Chief of Staff of the US Air Force, General Norton Schwartz, said that America has high-precision tactical nuclear weapons with low emission of radiation and with the lowest possible "collateral losses" for the civilian population. Obviously, what was meant was not "clean" nuclear weapons, but the latest modification of the B61-12 nuclear bomb with an accuracy of hitting from 5 to 30 meters and with a TNT equivalent power adjustable from 0.3 to 300 kilotons.
Despite the optimism of the American military, it is likely that low-yield nuclear bombs will remain in storage, unless, of course, the situation in the world goes badly, since their use will lead to extremely negative consequences from a political point of view and may cause a global conflict. If the United States nevertheless decides to use TNW, it will automatically release the "genie from the bottle", which is possible for one, then it is possible for others, following the United States, other countries can start using TNW - Russia, China, Israel.
Carriers of nuclear weapons
In addition to the nuclear charges themselves, the strategic nuclear forces also include their carriers. For the Strategic Missile Forces and the Navy, such carriers are intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), placed respectively in mines, on mobile ground platforms or on strategic missile submarines. For the Air Force, carriers of nuclear weapons are primarily strategic missile-carrying bombers.
The most involved in local wars are strategic missile-carrying bombers, which are actively used to deliver massive strikes against the enemy with free-fall and guided munitions with conventional warheads. It can be noted that from the point of view of nuclear deterrence, missile bombers are the most useless component of the nuclear triad, primarily because in the event of a surprise attack, the aircraft with a probability close to 100% will not be refueled and equipped with nuclear weapons. Taking into account the compact basing of missile bombers at several air bases, this will allow the enemy to destroy them with the first disarming strike. In addition, their weapons - long-range cruise missiles (CR) can be detected and destroyed by almost all types of tactical aircraft and air defense (air defense) of the enemy. The situation can be partially corrected by the development of long-range aeroballistic missiles with a nuclear warhead, but taking into account the remaining problem of destroying carriers directly at airfields, the feasibility of this can be called into question.
The USA uses their bombers most actively in local conflicts, to the extent that some aircraft are completely withdrawn from the strategic nuclear forces and are intended only for strikes with conventional weapons.
Russian strategic aviation has also been noted during the military operation in Syria, using cruise missiles (which can rather be considered field tests and demonstrations of force) and free-fall bombs.
With the use of ICBMs in local conflicts, everything is much more complicated. There is a Global Rapid Strike (BSU) program in the United States. As part of the BSU program, it was supposed to provide the US armed forces with the ability to strike a target anywhere in the world within 60 minutes from the moment the order was given for destruction. Non-nuclear ICBMs, hypersonic weapons and space platforms were considered as the main means of destruction of the BSU.
The creation of space strike platforms at the present time, apparently, is at the stage of preliminary research, although it may become a serious threat in the future. The first samples of hypersonic weapons are being tested and may be put into service in the coming years.
However, the simplest solution is non-nuclear ICBMs. The United States is considering the possibility of equipping Ohio-class strategic submarines with Trident II ICBMs with a conventional warhead, including four warheads with a satellite navigation system and several thousand tungsten rods or a monobloc warhead weighing up to two tons.According to calculations, the speed of approaching the target should be about 20,000 km / h, which eliminates the need for explosives, ensuring the destruction of targets with the kinetic energy of the damaging elements. When using warheads with destructive elements in the form of tungsten pins directly above the target, the warheads are detonated, after which a tungsten shower is likely to destroy all life in an area of approximately one square kilometer.
On the way to the implementation of the BSU concept, in addition to technical difficulties, there were political obstacles. In particular, the use of non-nuclear ICBMs by the United States in some situations can provoke a massive retaliatory strike by Russia or China. Nevertheless, developments in this direction continue, in the START-3 treaty, ICBMs with non-nuclear equipment are counted as a conventional ICBM with nuclear warheads. According to the US command, the number of non-nuclear ICBMs will be limited, so they are not able to significantly weaken the defensive capabilities of the United States, while the real threat of the use of such weapons will give much more military and political dividends.
Until the plans for the deployment of non-nuclear ICBMs are implemented, their only real application is the infrequent launch of satellites into orbit, and disposal by launching as part of ongoing exercises.
Strategic conventional weapons
To what extent can the use of non-nuclear strategic weapons be effective within the framework of the activities of the Russian armed forces? It can be assumed that in some cases the deterrent effect from unfriendly actions achieved by equipping strategic delivery vehicles with conventional warheads may be higher than from nuclear weapons.
The realization by the leadership of any unfriendly non-nuclear country that it can at any moment be destroyed by weapons from which there is practically no protection will greatly facilitate their adoption of reasonable and balanced decisions. As targets of the second level, one can consider a military base, ships at the pier, large industrial facilities, and elements of the infrastructure of the fuel and energy complex.
Thus, the task of strategic conventional weapons can be formulated as inflicting damage on the enemy, significantly reducing its organizational, industrial and military capabilities from a distance, minimizing or eliminating the likelihood of a direct combat collision with the enemy's armed forces
Based on the task to be solved, an approximate composition of forces and means can be formed that can be effectively used to solve tasks with strategic conventional weapons, which we will talk about in the next article.