Thursday, April 20, 2006


The Tactical Nuke: A Misnomer

Dearjude asked for some explanation on what exactly a tactical nuclear weapon is, as opposed to any other class of nuclear weapons. I found a good explanation here, which I have condensed below:

"Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNW) are hard to define precisely... TNW were often thought of as lower yield and opearating over shorter distances than multi-megaton, inter-continental strategic weapons, but such definitions are from the perspective of the Cold War nuclear calculus between the United States and the Soviet Union. In the 21st Century, a 100 kiloton weapon delivered into a port city by a ship would destroy much of the city, hardly a "tactical" attack. A small country may have a few nuclear devices of "tactical" size, but they may be enough to deter their neighbors, a strategic deterrant. [TNWs are] usable by a theater commander ... They will be targeted based on rapidly changing local circumstances, not pre-targeted like a strategic deterrant. However, under present conditions, using even the smallest nuclear weapon is considered a "threshhold decision" and is under the control of the highest national authorities, not local commanders, in all nuclear nations."
In other words, there is currently NO SUCH THING as a tactical nuclear weapon. All nuclear weapons are just that -- nuclear weapons, and none are currently left to the discretion of those in the field. Even as they are proposed for use in Iran, nuclear bombs (such as bunker busters) would not represent TNW -- commands for their use would certainly filter down from the President himself. Instead, TNWs refer to a hypothetical war in which TNW are used as regular arms in the field.

So here's my definition of tactical nuclear weapons, which differs from the previously defined version. TNWs are nuclear bombs intended to destroy specific, limited military (rather than civilian) targets that conventional weapons cannot effectively destroy, while producing a minimum of fallout and collateral damage. This is the definition that is currently in use just about everywhere, and it's probably not worth worrying about semantics.

Additional topics that you would like me to investigate can be emailed to me directly via or on skype @ conplan8022.

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