Thrawn Rickle 23

Tactical Nukes—Nuclear Devices
© 1993 Williscroft

General George S. Patton once said a soldier should not strive to die for his country, but rather should “...make the other poor dumb slob die for his country.” An ideal battle is one wherein only enemies die. Any weapon that nudges a battle in this direction is a “good” weapon.

Tactical nuclear weapons were developed for exactly this purpose. A commander faced with overwhelming odds can destroy large enemy troop and equipment concentrations with small yield tactical nukes. An unfortunate consequence of this action, however, is residual radioactivity. It limits friendly troop movements, and it has long-term environmental effects.

A nuclear explosion results when refined plutonium is suddenly jammed sufficiently close so that naturally released neutrons trigger more neutron releases, which trigger more and more, causing a rapid buildup of pressure accompanied by an enormous release of energy – a big explosion. Normally, there is also a concurrent large, deadly release of neutrons and high energy electrons. Explosion by-products can remain dangerously radioactive for a long time and may be carried great distances when contained in smoke and dust. This is the specter that nuclear weapons add to the equation.

Mushroom clouds result from big explosions, not nuclear ones. Blast, flash burn, and fire storms are not nuclear effects – bigness causes them too. Investigators have discredited Carl Sagan’s nuclear winter hypothesis. So residual radiation is the only real “unacceptable” consequence of nuclear weapons.

Air-burst technology bypasses this limitation. An air-burst weapon produces an explosion rivaling tactical nuclear blasts by filling the air above a target with an explosive mixture of fuel, and then igniting it all at once. Although such an explosion leaves behind total devastation, it does not have the long-term environmental impact of residual radioactivity 

A second alternative uses nuclear technology, but in a radically different way. A recent development very substantially reduces nuclear blast effect while significantly increasing initial release of high energy neutrons and electrons, and it practically eliminates any consequent nuclear fallout. The result is little or no blast damage, nearly total destruction of animal life within the burst radius, and no residual effects at all. Using such a neutron device, a commander can eliminate opposing enemy troops, while leaving their equipment, structures, the landscape, and the environment essentially intact. For most of the enemy troops, death is practically instantaneous, although for those in outlying areas of the burst radius, death, while just as certain, will be slower.

Such a weapon seems “ideal,” but there are political and ethical considerations. When weapons are divided into only two categories – conventional and nuclear – the problem devolves into who will employ nukes first. This is unfortunate, because the answer usually will be to refrain from using all nukes. In the face of overwhelming odds, resulting friendly troop deaths will escalate dramatically. When individual weapons are viewed more dispassionately, tactical neutron devices become more like conventional high-kill battle field weapons, and much less like strategic, high-yield thermonuclear bombs. Their use can then not only be tolerated, but encouraged as a way to reduce significantly friendly battle field deaths – our fathers, sons, and brothers – without the specter of “nuclear holocaust.”

When the alternatives are hand-to-hand combat, outnumbered five-to-one by battle-hardened enemy soldiers, or destruction of those soldiers without significant risk to friendly troops, the choice should be clear.