Let's put this out there, right off the bat. Nuclear weapons are insane. Loony. Absolutely nuts. Usually though, someone somewhere can make an argument for their theoretical use that would involve maximum harm to the enemy with minimal damage to yourself. Sometimes, though, that equation goes wrong.
Earlier this week we looked at the giant Soviet nuclear gun. That thing is definitely batty, what with its giant cannon at one end and what was essentially a tank at the other end turning it into a self-propelled howitzer. The Americans had a crazy nuke gun, too, and for awhile it looked like maybe we'd just stand and shoot atomic cannons at each other.
The thing is though, with both of those artillery pieces the actual physics package was intended to reach at least 15 miles away before the thing actually exploded. And even then, that was way too close.
What would happen, then, if you wanted it to explode even closer?
The AIR-2 Genie was a doomsday rocket of absolute desperation. With the Cold War in its deepest freeze but without the benefit of long-range ICBMs, American military planners thought the only way New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago would be bombed would be in massive waves of Soviet bombers. Unfortunately, if 100 of them come at you at once, you may not shoot them all down. And really, only one getting through your defenses is necessary for absolute devastation.
In 1958, when the AIR-2 was introduced, the problem was compounded by the fact that missile guidance systems still weren't quite up to snuff. Directly hitting all of the bombers coming at you was going to be a near-impossible task. The solution was to launch one, single, solitary missile. That missile, completely unguided, with a nuclear bomb on board, would cause a big enough explosion to hopefully wipe out all the attackers. With a big enough boom, you wouldn't need a guidance system.
Oh, and the range was only six miles. In case you're forgetting, most nukes make a bigger boom than that, so it was basically a suicide device.
The craziest part about this? In the only live test during Operation Plumbob, the US Air Force put five guys directly under the blast to prove how "safe" it was to use over populated areas.
And the US government made 3,000 Genies.
The Chicken Nuke
When Cold War planners were planning out the seemingly inevitable Hot War, they had dreams dancing in their heads of massive waves of Russian soldiers and tanks sweeping across Germany. The British, being plucky, were confident they would lose.
The Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment developed a nuclear land mine that could be detonated either by wire or by an eight-day timer that would completely obliterate the advancing enemy columns. Not such a bad idea if you're a fan of indiscriminate wastelands.
The only problem was that land mines tend to be buried in the ground, where it can get cold. Cold temperatures would freeze the electronics in the nuke mines, preventing them from doing their intended deadly deed. Clearly, a solution was needed to heat those bad boys up.
Blankets? No, too safe. One of those gel packs you put in your mittens when you ski? How pedestrian. No, this was 1954, and everything needed to go whoosh and phflew, so something high-tech was needed. Oh yes, that's right.
The idea was to seal the chickens inside the nuclear casing as the Western armies retreated from the German plain. With a supply of food and water inside, the chickens would last for roughly a week, and their body heat would be enough to make sure everything went kaboom as normal.
Once again, chickens.
Somehow the British actually ordered ten of these things in 1957, but supposedly none were made before the project was cancelled a year later.
Let's just hope there are no chickens buried under Germany.
The Backpack Nuke
Local news likes to whip everyone into a tizzy with tales of terrorists and backpack nukes, but the reason we know it's a real possibility is because backpack nukes are a real thing. And we would know, because we made them.
The H-912 container for the Mark 54 Special Atomic Demolition Munition (SADM) could be feasibly carried on your back, although it does look a bit bulky. The idea would be for two guys (Navy SEALs or otherwise) to parachute into Soviet territory, set it, and forget it. The second guy would be there essentially just to back the first guy up, though in a pinch it looks like it could be used on a one-man mission.
Though it doesn't look that big, it could actually destroy the equivalent of a few city blocks.
How fast can you run?
The Nuclear Torpedo
Quick! Doomsday is upon us! The only way to save our cities is to get rid of all the enemy subs! Both the East and the West made nuclear torpedoes that survived in service into at least the 1970s. That's not such a bad idea if you really want to sink something, but nukes aren't something you just want to be using all willy-nilly. As torpedoes had the nasty habit of sometimes escaping from their tubes, this necessitated a two-step process for their use.
First, the torpedo would be fired, and then a second button would be pushed to detonate it. This meant you would need a wire to connect the original sub and the newly-fired torpedo.
Nothing wrong with that, right? Just get a really long wire. And then you realize how a "really long wire" is still too short for you to get away.
The American Mark 45 torpedo had a really long wire, but even at its longest it was only eight miles in length. Even if you sunk somebody, with an 11 kiloton warhead on board, you were bound to go down to the bottom with them.
Alright, so this isn't about blowing up something really close, but blowing up something really far. But it's still absolutely nutty.
Let's be honest. The Cold War wasn't so much fought over differing economic ideologies. That would be silly. As annoying as his economic policies are, I've never seen Ben Stein beaten up by Paul Krugman. No, the Cold War was about who was best, and who was biggest.
The only way to prove this is to threaten to beat each other up. But how could you make sure the other guy knew you really meant it? Like "oh boy he must really mean business."
Easy – you come up with the silliest plan humanly possible.
You nuke THE MOON.
Project A119, conceived before the Apollo landings, was ostensibly created for "science." There's no real science purpose to nuking the moon, though, so it's kind of obvious what it was really about. Also, they intended to blow up the nuke on the Moon's horizon, for maximum visibility from Earth.
Just one question. During the Cold War, did everybody absolutely lose their minds?