Historical Encyclopedia of Atomic Energy

By Stephen E. Atkins | Go to book overview
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Tactical Nuclear Weapons

Tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) are those weapons systems designed for use on the battlefield. They are designed to be battlefield nuclear weapons with deployment, ranges, and yields small enough to be confined to a localized military area. Almost from the beginning of atomic testing, military officials in both the Soviet Union and the United States began to lobby for atomic weapons small enough to be used on the battlefield. Much testing was done to make atomic weapons small enough to be delivered by aircraft, missiles, and guns. The problem of radiation in a battlefield situation was never solved and often ignored. Americans soon had the advantage in development of these weapons, and plans were made in 1952 for deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. It was this deployment that stimulated the antinuclear movements in Europe in the mid- and late 1950s. In October 1953 the Eisenhower administration directed the military to base planning on the battlefield use of nuclear weapons in the event they were militarily necessary. This directive resulted in the creation of the army's divisional structure into a pentomic division organization. Pentomic organization meant that military forces would be scattered on the battlefield in flexible formations to enable them first to survive an atomic attack and then to counterattack with tactical nuclear weapons. It was during the Kennedy administration that this policy was changed from dependence on tactical nuclear weapons back to conventional warfare. This policy has remained in the subsequent administrations despite the improvement in the technology of atomic weapons. A reappearance in the interest in tactical nuclear weapons took place in the Carter and then the Reagan administrations in the development of the neutron bomb. Even after the U.S. government finally lost interest in tactical nuclear warfare, the Soviet Union retained an interest

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