Nuclear sledgehammers


John Kerry's opposition to the development of a new generation of small nuclear weapons designed to penetrate enemy underground WMD production facilities, command posts, and the like, clearly betrays his 'America last' strategy in dealing with the Axis of Evil.  But, his stated policy on this subject also shows his, and his military advisors' utter lack of technical and operational knowledge on this critically needed weapon system.  North Korea—region> and Iran—region> have taken note.

Par for the course, Kerry and the left's nuclear fear—mongering is predicated on the American public's myopic view of fearing anything 'nuclear.'  Contrary to the gloom and doom movies of the 80s, there is a huge difference between multi—megaton city busters and the tactical nukes that were designed for use against Warsaw Pact armor formations crossing the East—West German border if the Cold War had turned hot.  These types of small nukes are precisely the yield needed to develop the new bunker buster mini—nukes to defeat hardened and deeply—buried targets (HDBTs).  Of course, you wouldn't know the specifics by listening to Kerry and his ilk.  Nor do they tell you that these tactical weapons have been removed from the inventory by treaty since the late 80s, with the result that the US—region> now is at a distinct operational disadvantage due to the lack of these weapons.

Let's talk yield and what is means for military operations.  The bomb dropped on Hiroshima was around 17 kilotons.  Anti—nuke activists are fond of telling us that this bomb was small compared to today's weapons, and they are right if one compares it to strategic weapons, which have normally have yields of hundreds of kilotons on up into the megaton range.

However, the group of tactical nukes that includes tube artillery—fired rounds, battlefield missiles, and atomic demolition munitions (ADM) that were common in US Cold War inventories, ranged from 0.1 to 10 kilotons, with the lower range dominating in terms of numbers of weapons available.  Why?  Because these nukes had to support maneuver of friendly troops by destroying enemy troop formations or channeling their movement into disadvantageous terrain.  In other words, our own troops had to be close by the detonations in order to capitalize on the blast and heat of the weapons.  This meant these nukes had to be small enough to concentrate the effects to the immediate target area.

By treaty with the former Soviet Union, these tactical nuclear weapons were removed from our inventory starting in the late 80s.  The term tactical nuclear weapon is not even used anymore. The US—region> now has only strategic and 'non—strategic' nuclear weapons in its inventory, but therein lays the confusion.

'Non—strategic' is a very misleading term that in no way equates to a tactical—yield weapon.  For example, non—strategic weapons include Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles—Nuclear (TLAM—N) and some gravity bombs that have yields in the hundreds of kilotons.

The lack of a true tactical nuclear capability, such as the type for a bunker—buster, has placed commanders such as General John Abizaid in a dilemma.  If an underground WMD facility is discovered, or if Bin Laden's headquarters is plotted in a cave under a mountain, the good general has only a few options:

1) throw a hundred kiloton nuke out there and hope it doesn't incinerate too many surrounding towns in the process;

2) pound the area with conventional bombs and JDAMs and hope for the best;

3) invade and commit ground troops in a prolonged campaign at a time and place not of our choosing.

If the non—strategic nuke option is chosen, it would be what is known to old soldiers as using a 'sledgehammer to crack an egg,' while demolishing the entire kitchen in the process.  Realistically, the option of conducting a massive nuclear strike with a weapon that yields in the hundreds of kilotons is no option at all, given the extensive collateral damage that would result from the detonation.

As usual, Kerry and the left are putting the CINC and our military in an operational lockbox, based upon an outmoded treaty with a country that no longer exists.  And, just as with the Anti—Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, President Bush should declare it overcome by events and press ahead with development of the bunker busters.

Kerry's opposition to these small nukes reveals a fundamental lack of understanding of military capabilities and superpower benefits and the associated responsibilities and burdens.  The typical leftist knee—jerk reaction of a 'no nukes' policy would make one almost think that Kerry doesn't want us to be victorious on the battlefield.

He wouldn't really want that, would he?

Douglas Hanson is our military affairs correspondent