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Tactical Nuclear weapons - still relevant?

This is a discussion on Tactical Nuclear weapons - still relevant? within the Military Strategy and Tactics forum, part of the Global Defense & Military category; Does anyone know of any countries that are still actively developing tactical nuclear weapons or would still conceivably use them ...


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Old May 15th, 2013   #1
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Tactical Nuclear weapons - still relevant?

Does anyone know of any countries that are still actively developing tactical nuclear weapons or would still conceivably use them if stock piled?

I think I would exclude north Korea from this for the time being because any tactical use would be part of a very large scale use, so really more of a form of strategic use of a tactical device.
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Old May 15th, 2013   #2
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Does anyone know of any countries that are still actively developing tactical nuclear weapons or would still conceivably use them if stock piled?

I think I would exclude north Korea from this for the time being because any tactical use would be part of a very large scale use, so really more of a form of strategic use of a tactical device.
Arent all Nine Nuclear Weapon possessing states already possessing or in the process of developing Tactical nuclear weapons ? I dont know the ramifications of the START series of discussions / actions / Plans on Tactical nuclear weapons, however i believe US and Russia still have active Tactical weapons.

Dont know how successful North Korea's program has been on this, however their first Nuclear Test was suspected of being 1 Kilo Ton or lesser yield, so they might have developed nuclear weapons of smaller yield.

Pakistan has been on the airwaves in the recent past for having developed or developing Tactical Nuclear weapons..

Also arent NATO countries in mainland Europe also basing some Tactical weapons to balance the size of the Russian Armies.
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Old May 15th, 2013   #3
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Relevant, yes, but maybe the real question is, who finds them more relevant? Today there are "only" 200 or so US nukes in Europe, which is far less compared to the days when the US feared Soviet conventional superiority in Europe.
On the other hand, decline in Russia's conventional military force has led Moscow to increase reliance on its stockpile of TNWs. Some estimates give them up to 6000 TNWs.
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Old May 15th, 2013   #4
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I thought the US withdrew all tactical nuclear weapons and were just stockpiling them (there may be a stock pile in europe) but that is different from having them in airbases ready to go. George bush era?

I thought the russians were doing much of the same, keeping them in central stockpiles where they can be more securely locked up and more cheaply maintained. However they were still operating with them on board ships etc. Was this policy changed after the Kursk disaster?

I don't think they did this as formally part of START, but just a way to reduce incidences and costs. It also allows them to redeploy them whenever needed without breaking any treaties. Hence the US policy of not telling anyone when a ship is carrying a nuclear weapon, even though we can guess most of the time, destroyers etc don't carry them (aircraft carriers maybe?)

North Korea seems not to have a deliverable weapon at this time. However, you would imagine it would be something they would be interested, as an artillery or missile device non hydrogen. How small can you build a nuclear weapon? Can you build it small enough that people won't immediately (within a few seconds) know it was nuclear?

Pakistan and India I would imagine have most of their nuclear power as tactical nukes. But are they currently developing new ones?
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Old May 15th, 2013   #5
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The thing about tactical nuclear weapons is they are pretty much the same resource wise (fissile material) as a strategic nuclear weapon. They are simply customised for the nature of the target (usually requiring lower yield) and the launcher system. But if you are building nuclear weapons the cost is not much different to a warhead for an ICBM. In some cases some very small tactical nuclear warheads actually require more fissile material to be made smaller than more normal sized nuclear warheads.

Typical nuclear bombs still cost several million dollars just for the fissile material even when produced by massive, highly efficient (by nuclear weapons standards), production systems like those that existed in the Cold War in the USA and USSR. There is an obvious cost advantage in the payload delivery system as a nuclear warhead in a basic air dropped bomb form does not require too much additional expense (assuming the fighter bomber that will drop it is a pre-existing resource) compared to building a costly long range ballistic missile. But a nuclear bomb can be dropped on a tactical or strategic target as per choice. Many advanced bombs as used by the US have ‘dial a yield’ so you can even customise between a tactical or strategic target for weapon effects.

In terms of legality and arms limitation both the US and USSR are limited in the number of nuclear weapons deployable by strategic range platforms. But there is no limitation on tactical nuclear weapons. The US is limited to 500 nuclear weapons for deployment by bombers of which 150 are B61 bombs. These are effectively identical to several hundred other B61s the US retains for tactical use. Except the tactical weapons have lower yield settings than the strategic ones. There are also several thousand B61s in the non-operational stockpile.

Of relevance to the subject of this thread several hundred B61s (400 planed) are being upgraded to Mod 12 for use in F-35. This will include a GPS/INS guided tail kit, which will certainly give these weapons the accuracy with tactical yield to destroy any man-made object (like an ICBM silo).
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Old May 15th, 2013   #6
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I thought the US withdrew all tactical nuclear weapons and were just stockpiling them (there may be a stock pile in europe) but that is different from having them in airbases ready to go. George bush era?
There are still several hundred air dropped tactical nuclear weapons at operational level (at air bases ready to go with trained aircrews) in US service. Other types of tactical nuclear weapons like artillery and anti-submarine warheads have all been withdrawn from service but are in the non-operational stockpile. These weapons cannot be reactivated overnight as no one is trained to use them and they would need a technical refit. But within months, years the US could return to the same tactical nuclear posture as in the Cold War if needed.
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Old May 16th, 2013   #7
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I believe that the UK retired their last Air launched nuclear warheads in 1998 when they decommed the gravity bombs. No idea if they are still in storage or have been dismantled (or if Typhoon and F-35 could be certified to drop them).

Any idea about France?
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Old May 16th, 2013   #8
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I believe that the UK retired their last Air launched nuclear warheads in 1998 when they decommed the gravity bombs. No idea if they are still in storage or have been dismantled (or if Typhoon and F-35 could be certified to drop them).
The WE 177 bombs have all been completely decommissioned. The only nuclear weapons in British hands are the Trident warheads.

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Any idea about France?
The French have both nuclear warheads on their SLBMs and 80 nuclear armed cruise missiles (60 air force, 20 navy). The latter are apparently going to be reduced but not completely decommissioned.

The French retain the ASMP cruise missile as a last resort warning shot capability. That is if you push them too far you get a single missile and then if you keep it up a full salvo of SLBMs. The British apparently have some Trident missiles with only a single warhead so can provide a similar one shot last resort warning capability with their submarines.
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Old May 16th, 2013   #9
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Of relevance to the subject of this thread several hundred B61s (400 planed) are being upgraded to Mod 12 for use in F-35. This will include a GPS/INS guided tail kit, which will certainly give these weapons the accuracy with tactical yield to destroy any man-made object (like an ICBM silo).
Abe, do you know if F-35 internal payload weight requirements were partially driven by a requirement to carry existing (and possibly future) weapons in the tactical nuclear arsenal? I'm just curious as the relative internal payloads of the F-35 as opposed to the F-22 are often talked about, and I wonder if one of the reasons the internal bay was increased in size on the F-35 was to account for nuclear weapons. After all it's going to be a long time until anything comes of any new bomber projects and 20-odd B-2s will only get you so far. It'd be interesting to know if there's anything on the drawing boards besides the F-35 that's slated for nuclear armament, such as a weapon-carrying UAS.
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Old May 16th, 2013   #10
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Abe, do you know if F-35 internal payload weight requirements were partially driven by a requirement to carry existing (and possibly future) weapons in the tactical nuclear arsenal?
Nah. The bomb bay size was driven by the 2,000 lbs JDAM. But with the full knowledge that there are a range of standard weapons smaller in volume and weight than the 2,000 lbs Mk 84 bomb with JDAM kit. Which includes the various CBU dispensers and the B61 nuclear bomb the latter being pretty much the standard US (and nuclear sharing force NATO) nuclear bomb. In hindsight the bomb bay probably should have been a bit bigger to enclose a JASSM store but such is life. The F-22 was never planned to carry air to ground ordnance internally. Though the deeper bay of the F-23 (for a different way of carrying air to air weapons) would have been able to carry a wider range of air to ground weapons.
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Old May 16th, 2013   #11
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Nah. The bomb bay size was driven by the 2,000 lbs JDAM. But with the full knowledge that there are a range of standard weapons smaller in volume and weight than the 2,000 lbs Mk 84 bomb with JDAM kit. Which includes the various CBU dispensers and the B61 nuclear bomb the latter being pretty much the standard US (and nuclear sharing force NATO) nuclear bomb. In hindsight the bomb bay probably should have been a bit bigger to enclose a JASSM store but such is life. The F-22 was never planned to carry air to ground ordnance internally. Though the deeper bay of the F-23 (for a different way of carrying air to air weapons) would have been able to carry a wider range of air to ground weapons.
I see, thanks for the information. The thought had been floating around in my head for a while. Hopefully JASSM launches will take place at a sufficient distance that external carriage doesn't prove to be too much of an issue, and for the mid range I suppose there's always JSOW-ER, which looks like it's shaping up to be quite a looker.

Anyway, apologies all for the brief off topic.
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Old May 16th, 2013   #12
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The WE 177 bombs have all been completely decommissioned. The only nuclear weapons in British hands are the Trident warheads.

The French have both nuclear warheads on their SLBMs and 80 nuclear armed cruise missiles (60 air force, 20 navy). The latter are apparently going to be reduced but not completely decommissioned.

The French retain the ASMP cruise missile as a last resort warning shot capability. That is if you push them too far you get a single missile and then if you keep it up a full salvo of SLBMs. The British apparently have some Trident missiles with only a single warhead so can provide a similar one shot last resort warning capability with their submarines.
Thats a pretty interesting scenario. A single warhead ICBM and you can dial them down to 5kt?

Surely the russians can't have all of the 6,000 weapons ready to go. That would be costing a huge portion of their budget.

B2's were somewhat designed around tactical nuclear strike perhaps? I remember calculating off some figures that the US could do three passes with the B2's fully loaded with serviceable nuclear weapons before depleting a stockpile. Im not sure which bombs or which year I calculated this...

ICBM's are devastating, but are really tools for MAD. They aren't really great for delivering tactical devices, as anyone seeing an ICBM incomming is going to have to assume its the start of an all out attack. I suppose it could target a far away, isolated purely military target to make a statement. Or just target empty soil. An ICBM would make it very clear where its coming from.

F-35 with nuclear weapons would be a pretty scarey thought. A UAV is even worse. Could we see it become a popular class of weapons. Low speed, stealthy, low yield UAV deliverable. I could see these becoming popular in say the middle east/Asia on both sides if a nuclear arms race occurred, as they would be deployable, deniable etc.
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Old May 16th, 2013   #13
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F-35 with nuclear weapons would be a pretty scarey thought. A UAV is even worse. Could we see it become a popular class of weapons. Low speed, stealthy, low yield UAV deliverable. I could see these becoming popular in say the middle east/Asia on both sides if a nuclear arms race occurred, as they would be deployable, deniable etc.
I think it's almost inevitable that with the development of low observable strike UAS, there will come a nuclear delivery capability. After all, if one is going to push the button, one wants to ensure the maximum level of success, yes? And there's a distinct possibility that future long-range bombing missions will become increasingly unmanned, as funding for a manned aircraft seems to be so hard to come by and unmanned systems are proliferating both in number and capabilities. It wouldn't surprise me if something like the X-47B, with internal carriage set aside for 2000 pound-class weapons, could be readily adapted to drop a brace of B61s, perhaps with an adapted JDAM kit or similar precision aid. Don't know if it'd make much difference to the drone, assuming the electronics were hardened (and that's an easy assumption to make given the technology to do so has been around for years).
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Old May 24th, 2013   #14
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Pakistan and India I would imagine have most of their nuclear power as tactical nukes. But are they currently developing new ones?
Most of the nuclear weapons in Pakistan and India are of strategic significance - including the warheads on missiles with 150km range. Given the proximity between the two states they would have strategic implications.

Introduction of TNWs is relatively new and I am assuming they are only in small numbers. Pakistan has conducted only two or three tests of 'Nasr' TNW system. India I guess has done one or two tests of their 'Prahaar' TNW system.
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Old May 26th, 2013   #15
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I thought the US withdrew all tactical nuclear weapons and were just stockpiling them (there may be a stock pile in europe) but that is different from having them in airbases ready to go. George bush era?

I thought the russians were doing much of the same, keeping them in central stockpiles where they can be more securely locked up and more cheaply maintained. However they were still operating with them on board ships etc. Was this policy changed after the Kursk disaster?

I don't think they did this as formally part of START, but just a way to reduce incidences and costs. It also allows them to redeploy them whenever needed without breaking any treaties. Hence the US policy of not telling anyone when a ship is carrying a nuclear weapon, even though we can guess most of the time, destroyers etc don't carry them (aircraft carriers maybe?)

North Korea seems not to have a deliverable weapon at this time. However, you would imagine it would be something they would be interested, as an artillery or missile device non hydrogen. How small can you build a nuclear weapon? Can you build it small enough that people won't immediately (within a few seconds) know it was nuclear?

Pakistan and India I would imagine have most of their nuclear power as tactical nukes. But are they currently developing new ones?
Why would a destroyer not have nukes? In most cases you are right they won't carry any but if I'm not mistaken nuclear tipped TLAM-N's should have no obstacle being fired from most U.S. navy ships. Does anyone know is the U.S. kept their nuclear ASROC torpedoes? These days you'll almost never see this but the capability is there.
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