Nuclear weapons


This is something I do not collect and know even less that … pretty much anything. My understanding is there are 2 types, a “big” ones like ICBM, and “little” ones, so called tactical, which produce “small” local explosions influencing hundreds of miles, instead of thousands by the “big” ones.
My understanding is that the “big” ones are lifted into space, far from the Earth, then targeted and released to fall to earth by GRAVITY only (no propulsion).
The little tactical ones are carried to the destination by rocket propulsion, just like regular old fashioned artillery.
Eagerly awaiting corrections to the above said. Thanks in advance.


I was going to try and go into a long and detailed reply, but as with everything ammunition related, that would take acres of words!

Davy Crockett - Tactical, recoilless rifle-fired warhead
SLAM - Project Pluto - Probably the most destructive device ever imagined
AGM-129 - Modern day tactical

The “big” ones used to be of the MIRV variety and carry up to 12 rentry vehicles which could be independently targeted. I don’t think you’ll find many “dumb” dropped bombs except for in museums, even the B-52s now carry AGM-129 and BGM-109s and they’re all guided.


you seem to believe that “the little ones” have rocket propulsion over the entire flight. That is not so. For example, the Sergeant nuclear missile (MGM-29A) needed -if I remember correctly- about 180 seconds for its travel over 150 km. But its rocket motor burned only for about 30 seconds. Maximum altitude was about 50 km.

Anti-tank missiles, remotely controlled by an operator to the target (TOW, DRAGON) are examples of thrust over practically the entire flight (to give it a straight path). .


Nuclear warheads are not inherently Tactical or Strategic based on size of their yield (effect), although many people in the media and other places misuse these terms.

It is targets that are Tactical or Strategic. Tactical Targets are those targets engaged in battle or deploying into battle including the lines of transportation that will get these forces into the “Tactical” battle. Strategic targets are those targets that allow an enemy the ability to produce, or effect employment of forces, and these include the enemy’s strategic forces like ICBMs and means of defending these Strategic. In targets. In fact there are gray areas. Remember that in WWII the USAF carried out “Strategic” attacks with conventional weapons.

In the cold war, both the B-52 and the B-1B were considered Strategic weapons, but both could and were used in the tactical role, still their prime purpose was strategic attack. The US ICBMs and SLBMs (sub launched) are considered Strategic though if need be they could be targeted against Tactical targets. More recently the B-1Bs have been modified so they they cannot carry nuclear weapons and are now used solely in the tactical role. Today the B-52H and B-2 are the Strategic bombers in the US inventory.

I tactfully disagree with Strelok on the AGM-129 was a Strategic weapon. though a poor one. It was designed to be carried on the B-52H. In fact it was official classified as a Strategic weapon, as indicated by the following quote on Wikipedia:

> Les Aspin called the ACM a procurement disaster with the worst problems of any of the eight strategic weapons programs his committee had reviewed.

Most, probably all current nuclear weapons (at least the US ones) have the ability to dial in the size of the nuclear detonation within a given range based on the target being attack. The objective of the US nuclear weapons is to achieve the required effect with the minimum collateral damage. That is why you will find that the trend in US nuclear weapons has been away from high yield (city busters) to lower yield, smaller warheads on more accurate weapons. The Soviets placed a much higher value on the very large yield weapons and tested a 50megaton weapon in 1961. This is more a statement of the accuracy of their weapons than anything else. During the Cold War Strategic targets in the Soviet Union were typically the ICBMs, Other Ballistic Missiles, Strategic Missiles with shorter ranges that could be used against Western Europe or Japan, Sub Pens, Leadership, Command and Control facilities-particularly for the Strategic forces, along with the Soviet Strategic Defense Forces to create access for US Strategic Aircraft.

The Trident is the standard US SLBM carrying either 8 or 10 warheads (I have seen both listed), or a combination of warheads and decoys.It is a Strategic weapon system like the B-2 but could be used Tactically if required. Again the yield of the warheads would be tailored to the target.

Hope this helps!



Wow, Lew has “nailed it” in his description of Tactical vs Strategic targets–which as Lew says is NOT always determined by the weapons or systems. As an example, the B-61, various mods, are a very large part of the “strategic” weapons stockpile, and are carried on the B-52H in the strategic role. But, the B-61, most of the same mods, are also the primary weapon intended for our forces to be deployed to Europe, and there they may be carried by dual-role F16s in a tactical role. Of course, as Lew described, weapons effects can be modified depending on the target. Further, weapons should not be discussed by physical “size”; An example is the re-entry vehicle or warhead carried by our Minuteman III–it is smaller than earlier versions and has an ability to be adapted to the target set. The smaller size allows multiple independently targetable RVs to be launched by a single missile, a feature introduced many years ago, during the height of the cold war. Of note, the only true nuclear capable “rocket” was the Genie (AIR-2A) which has been out of the system for many years. A “rocket” is not able to be guided after launch, while a missile, propelled by a rocket motor, can be guided for at least parts of its flight. On the conventional side, the Dragon was always interesting to watch in flight, as pairs of small rocket motors are ignited in sequence, giving the missile a “loping” trajectory as each new pair contributed thrust, then burned out, giving a slight “up and down” effect to the flight path.