Extremely small nukes: from machine gun bullets to tank shell

The nuclear arms race gave the world not only ballistic missiles, strategic bombers and submarines, and much smaller nuclear warheads and their delivery vehicles. At one time the world's rapidly developing nuclear artillery munitions (including the tank), and even that it is absolutely especially bullets with nuclear warheads. Of course, the most developed nuclear bombs — munitions, created for the application of tactical nuclear strikes against concentrations of enemy troops and a large factory sites. Nuclear weapons — it is more massive and destructive tool that is available to the modern artillery.

Such ammunition is armed with the most nuclear powers, including in the Russian Federation and the United States. It should be noted that one feature of the Russian approach to nuclear artillery is the fact that nuclear weapons are unified in the standard line unit of fire and do not need with all this in a special adaptation for their implementation. In the arsenal of the Russian army is 152 mm nuclear shells for self-propelled guns 2S3 "Acacia" 2S19 "MSTA-S", 203-mm shells for self-propelled guns 2S7 "Pion", 240-mm self-propelled mortar bomb for installation 2S4 "Tulip". But the military since the mid of the last century troubled nuclear ammunition and where the smallest caliber.

Machine-gun bullets with a nuclear warhead

The problem of developing a nuclear weapon is not ultra modern calibers. Work in this area intensively conducted in the Soviet Union and the United States since the late 60s of the last century. With all of this all developments in this area have been very strictly classified, and only just after the Semipalatinsk test site in Kazakhstan ran under yurispundentsiyu and were declassified some materials from the archives of the general public have become known some fairly noteworthy details.

So in the records of tests conducted were found mention of experiments in which the energy release is designated as "less than 0,002 kilotons," in other words, only 2 tons of explosives. In some documents it was the testing of nuclear weapons for shooting guns — mnogokalibernyh caliber machine gun rounds 14.3 and 12.7 mm, but the great thing — the tests rifle cartridges of 7.62 mm. These munitions were created for use in PCB, specifically for this cartridge design Kalashnikov machine guns and was the smallest in the world of nuclear weapons.

Meaningful reduction of weight and size, and difficulty of the design was achieved by use of non-ordinary for nuclear weapons-grade plutonium or uranium, but rather exotic transuranic element californium — more precisely, its isotope with an atomic weight of 252. After this isotope was found, physicists were stunned by the fact that the main channel of the decay of the isotope was in SF, which took off in the 5-8 neutrons (for comparison at the plutonium or uranium only 2-3). The first experimental evaluation of critical mass of the metal given a fantastically small size — only 1.8 g., But subsequent experiments showed that the real value of critical mass was greater.

But at the disposal of scientists were only micrograms of californium. The program of its production and accumulation of a stand-alone chapter in the history of nuclear programs from the USSR. On the secrecy of these developments suggests at least the fact that the name of academician Misha Jurevicha Dubik almost nobody knew, though he was an associate of the coming Kurchatov. Specifically Dubikov and was entrusted to the most rather short time to solve the issue on running a valuable isotope — California. Then he acquired from California performs a unique interior for bullets — a detail that resembled the shape of their own dumbbell or rivet. Little charge special explosives which was at a bottom bullet crushes this detail in a rather cautious ball, which was achieved with the help of its supercritical state.


When used with bullets of 7.62 mm diameter ball itself is actually equated 8 mm. Explosives used to trigger the special impact fuse, designed for the applets. As a result, the atomic bullet came out of overweight. Therefore, in order to save ballistics of bullets, a normal hand-gunner, and scientists had to make a special powder that is assigned to a small nuclear weapon true acceleration in machine-gun barrel.

But it was not too far away all the difficulties faced by developers. The main problem, which ultimately determined the fate of the entire project — heat. It's clear that any radioactive materials are heated, with all this, less than a half-life, the stronger heat is released. Bullet, kalifornievy having a core allocated about 5 watts of heat. Warming up the bullet changes the properties of the fuse and explosives, and in the case of strong heating of the bullet could get stuck in the barrel or chamber or, worse at times, spontaneously detonate.

To avoid this, the cartridges were to be in a special refrigerator, which was a bulky (about 15 cm wide), a copper plate having a slot for 30 rounds. Place between the slots for the cartridges were filled with special channels through which is circulated under pressure without annoying watery ammonia. This cooling system provided ammunition temperature of about -15 degrees Celsius. In all this is a refrigerator consumes about 200 watts of power, and its weight was about 110 lbs., Transport refrigerator itself was only possible on a specially equipped UAZ. It should be noted that in the conventional nuclear weapons system enters the heat removal in the design, but in the case of bullets as required it has been carried outside.

In this case, even frozen bullet can only be used within an hour after the removal of the refrigeration unit. This is the time needed to izderzhat the fact that the charge store, take a suitable position, in order to determine and make a shot. If, during the still shot is not carried out, the bullet had to be put back in the incubator. In this case, if bullet refrigeration system is provided over an hour, such cartridge subject to disposal.

Another drawback of such overwhelming bullets become non-reproducibility of the results. Each individual burst energoeffekivnost bullet ranged from 100 to 700 kg. of TNT depending on the time and test storage, lots of bullets, and most importantly — a material purpose, which got ammo. All of it was the fact that the ultra-small atomic charges are the interaction with the environment on a fundamentally different level than the traditional nuclear munitions. With all of this, and the result is different from the effects of an ordinary chemical explosives. In the case of chemical explosives detonation ton ton stand hot gases which are moderately heated to a temperature of 2-3 thousand degrees Celsius. In the case of a bullet — a tiny ball, which failed to pass the environment of nuclear fission energy.

For this reason, the shock wave has such ammunition rather feeble in comparison with chemical explosives same power while radiation, in contrast, received far enormous amount of energy. For this reason, keep the fire of a machine gun had a very probable sighting distance, but even in this case, the gunner could get a healthy dose of radiation exposure. For the same reason, the maximum queue length is limited by 3 shots.

Recoilless gun "Davy Crockett"

In general, even the 1st shot the bullet itself was more than enough to solve some problems. Despite the fact that modern armor
of tanks did not allow such a pool to break through the protection, the massive energy release in that the bullet was warming up to the stage of metal melting, so that the tower and the caterpillar tightly welded to the tank corps. At the same bullet hit the wall of brick it evaporates about 1 cubic meter of masonry, which could lead to the collapse of the structure.

Because of the collapse of work in this area, as that term storage of ammunition unique kalifornievyh not exceed 6 years, up to now did not survive a single bullet. All californium was removed and used for purely peaceful scientific purposes, such as getting the heavy parts.

Nuclear ammunition for tanks

At present, the issues of equipping tanks missiles with nuclear warheads are increasingly subject to criticism, with all this information to the media that the new Russian tank with a 152 mm rifled gun can get into your own ammunition and nuclear weapons, has caused a real stir. But there were times when questions of equipping the Army staged a similar instrument is sharp and humanitarian impact of their use are of no value.
In the 1950s, opposing military units were engaged in full preparation for the complete nuclear war. With all of this the U.S. was ahead of the Soviet Union in matters of miniaturization of nuclear warheads. In the early 1960s, Americans have adopted the 120-mm and 155-mm recoilless rifles, "Davy Crockett." It was comparable to small and light guns (weight about 50 kg. The first and 180 kg. Of the second). "Davy Crockett" could run a 35-kg projectile at a distance of 2 to 4 km., Respectively. According to various estimates, the power of the 1st charge reaches up to 1 kiloton. These recoilless rifles were transported by ordinary jeeps and operated by the Marines and the Army.

By creating such an instrument, the Americans decided to go even further. In the late 1950s, the U.S. began work on the creation of the 152-mm guided munitions "Shilleleyla", which was due to enter into a light tank ammunition M551 "Sheridan" and MBT M-60A2. In the serial version of such a missile weighs 4.1 kg., And apart from a nuclear warhead could be fitted with an ordinary shaped-charge warhead. Aiming at the target missile carried by the infrared beam. The largest range of fire reached 4-5 km.

Easy tank M551 "Sheridan"

The first new 152-mm gun-launcher got a light tank "Sheridan" with the armor of 13 mm and a total weight of 16 tons. In this tank can be loaded up to 12 guided missiles. There were produced about 1700 data of combat vehicles, some of them even managed to war in Vietnam, where the tanks proved its not a good survivability.

The program to create the M-60A2 weighing 44 tons is not completely developed as well. Despite the fact that the tank was equipped the most advanced at that time automatic FCS, which has analog-to-digital ballistic computer and laser rangefinder, the tank quickly disappointed the military, his first 152-mm gun and a rocket to it. Tank got to the army to the point where nuclear weapons are similar variants were retired. In ordinary cases, he was also very fragile and not so effective. As a result, the M-60A2 did not stay in service, and pretty quickly they were converted to engineering vehicles.

It should be noted that almost all of that equipment for the American tanks nuclear weapon remains virtually unexplored area of the history of armored forces. In the Soviet Union in the late 1960s were also conducted design work on developing a nuclear weapon armor. True, it was a 150-pound unguided missiles with warheads to 0.3 kilotons and a range up to 8 km. As a base for their installation were considered BMP-1 and T-64A, but none of these options are not executed serially.

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