Nuclear Weapon Delivery Systems
In order for a nation to have an effective nuclear
deterrent they must be able to use that deterrent against an
aggressor. If an aggressor is capable of wiping out all or most of a
nations nuclear arsenal in a surprise attack the nation would
clearly be almost powerless to respond.
For this reason nuclear weapon-equipped powers do
not "keep all their eggs in one basket". They have a variety of
different ways to unleash nuclear weapons onto any would-be foe.
This is known as having a second strike capability.
The three delivery system types are :
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Based Nuclear Weapons
Strategic bombers such as the B-52, B1-B, Vulcan
and Russian Tupelov Tu95 & Tu26 would have been used to penetrate
enemy air space and deliver their deadly cargo onto strategic
targets. With better radar and SAMs, the role of the long range
bomber looked less important as its missions were made more
Replica of "Little Boy" Atomic
Bomb, at IWM London
The late 1950's saw the development and deployment
of ICBMs, thus reducing the role of the bomber still further.
However, advances in stealth technology in the 1990's improved the
bombers chances of invading enemy controlled air space. Both F-117
and B2 bombers have proven themselves in combat situations, and are
clearly able to evade enemy radar installations to reach their
Modern nuclear-bombers usually launch ALCM rather
than actually dropping bombs. Each ALCM costs around $2,000,000.
Non-nuclear, or conventional, ALCM were used against Iraq.
Based Nuclear Weapons
Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) are
land based nuclear weapons. They were not introduced to the nuclear
equation until around 1962. ICBM can travel up to twenty times the
speed of sound, giving American and Russian missiles a 30 minute
flight time before reaching their targets.
The early missiles only carried one warhead. Thus,
one missile, one target. However more modern missiles carry numerous
warheads, making them harder to destroy and more effective.
Mobile Missile Launcher on display
at IWM Duxford
The USSR has more ICBM than America. They are
bigger and can carry larger payloads. The USA missiles are smaller,
but more accurate.
The START treaty has helped to reduce the total
number of ICBMs.
Other land based nuclear weapons are known as
tactical weapons. These have a lower yield, but can be delivered by
short range missiles, bombs or long range cannon. A tactical warhead
has approximately the same yield as the bombs dropped on Japan in
WWII (20 kilotons)
Being able to stay submerged for up to two months
allows nuclear submarines to prevent surprise attacks from any
aggressor. A surprise attack could, theoretically destroy much if
not all of the nuclear arsenal of a foe, however, as the location of
the nuclear fleet is often unknown any aggressor would still be in
for a nasty surprise should they attempt to attack.
Since the deployment of the Polaris submarines in
1963 they have consistently got faster and quieter.
Polaris Missile on display at the
Imperial War Museum, London