The discussion below is a rare glimpse into the world of modern warfare and weapons design. The participants are the author and one or more members of America’s advanced weapon research facilities. We begin our discussion examining potential elements used to replace plutonium in both reactors and weapons as well.
Below is the unclassified part of a discussion covering subjects that may well define not only warfare but human survival as well as seen from inside the advanced weapons research community.
Q: Shouldn’t we be replacing Plutonium in our weapons and fuel programs now that America’s production capability is declining?
A: We have so much PU already in storage. Why break something that is not broke? This is the same argument that the Thorium people are claiming. Yes Thorium will work in a reactor but why. Its efficiency is too low. You still need uranium to get it started, just less. Neptunium will work but why? It takes at least twice as much and production rates would be one tenth as much. Why build a new breeder reactor just to make more radioactive fuel and waste when we have over 100 tons of PU already made and in storage.
The other issue is testing. NO new weapons can be made or tested. End of story, PU works and it is cheaper. This is just another physics test.
Q: America is losing its capability of maintaining the “big bomb” inventory that is the basis of the START agreements from back in 1991.
A: Nuclear criticality designs up until now have all been based on these big bomb concepts. Today it’s the micro nuke. How small can you make it? 911 was the demo for what small nukes can do. The clock cannot be reset. This was called a fizzle back in the 1950’s and 60’s but a fizzle still goes bang. It is just a much smaller bang. So they ignored it. Today the war fighting doctrine has changed.
Q: How does this fit into our smaller military concept?
A: We are out of troops and a jet fighter costs 65 million dollars each. So the emphasis is on drones, cruise missiles and robots to do the fighting for you. A 3 kiloton nuke weighing 100 lbs. replaces 20 B-52 bombers. Do the math, which one is cheaper? And the PU is paid for, it’s free. We don’t have to make it we already have it in stock. Micro nukes can be mass produced fast and cheap when needed. Just assemble and test. Cruise missiles weighing less than 1,000 lbs., not 4,000 lbs. Any plane can drop one. Even a Cessna 150 can be turned into a drone. Mortars and tanks can shoot the rounds. Man-pad / RPG micro nukes are just around the corner. Nuclear tipped hand grenades and 36 mm rounds are next.
Q: What kind of small nuclear weapons are in the pipeline?
A: Even a blob of PU-239 the size of a quarter (250 grams) will go bang if compress properly and adequate neutron reflection is used in the design. That’s enough PU to make a minimum 25 plus ton bang. Remember even if the fizzle rate is equal to 1 kilogram of PU, it makes a 1 kiloton bang. So 1gram of PU is equal to 1 ton of TNT.
Q: What can you tell us about working in these micro nuke programs?
A: Even at Sandia the biggest fear is PU Flakes going off by accident during machining of PU-239. If it is improperly compressed; it will make a very small explosion. If you fill a glass vile with PU-239 oxide flakes add some acid and compress it properly you will get a small nuclear chain reaction in the single ton range. It is called a nuclear Co-hearer, Detonator, Trigger or “Red Mercury.” Put that into a 40mm grenade launcher and it will drop a small building or take out any bunker ETC. PU in a liquid state is more dangerous than in a solid state. It only takes 480 grams of PU in a liquid state to form a critical mass.
Q: We have a lot of conflicting information about “critical mass” in the design and operation of “after 2nd generation” weapons. What can you tell us?
A: Critical mass is bases on surface area, density and compression size of the PU. This effects how efficient the neutron reproduction process will be. If it is too small you lose too many neutrons. But with a proper neutron reflector that problem can be eliminated. The only problem is in how small you can physically compress the PU and how well.
Q: In earlier discussion we went over why W54 warheads were used for 9/11 and how oblong pits had been remachined. How critical is shape and design of pits?
A: They do not have to be perfectly spherical in order to go off. That only effects efficiency of the design. It will still detonate. Before 2000 this was called a fizzle design. Today it is called a micro nuke.
Q: What are the current applications for these technologies?
A: Before 911 nobody wanted it, just like the Neutron bomb. Today after Iraq and Afghanistan it is all the rage. Every battle field commander wants them. It is the perfect force multiplier. If we had that in WW2 the losses that we suffered at Normandy, Iwo Jima and Tarawa would never had happened.
Q: What will these weapons look like in the future?
A: Plastic injected molded mass produce missiles, mortars and drones that are tipped with micro nukes will be all of the rage in the next major conflict. This makes everything big obsolete. 1980’s era Tanks, Artillery, bombers and ships are all just junk waiting to be scraped, blown up or sunk.
Q: Based on what you are saying, the US has made irreversible strategic blunders in defense planning.
A:Thanks to Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, we are now stuck with 1980’s technology based weapons that no longer work as designed. They are cold war era weapons systems designed to fight cold war era weapons. Those days are over. The B-52 can’t get thru. SAM’s have to be mobile. Fire finder radar finds artillery so it has to shoot and scoot. An RPG can take out any tank now. Nobody wants to lose a battleship or the Kaiser will be upset, just like in WW1. You could not afford to lose it because it cost too much. The B-1, the F-22, the F-35, the M1 Abrams tank, the 155 self-propelled howitzer, the Trident sub and the super-carrier are the classic examples of this kind of thinking. Big everything equals big profit for Boeing ETC.
Q: How did America let itself be outmaneuvered like this?
A: While we have been living off 1980’s Space Shuttle technology the world caught up. Now the Space Shuttle is scrap and we have nothing to replace it with, why? The microchip replaced the typewriter and internal guidance systems and the laser replace the M-16 and dumb artillery. Saddam lost because he bought the wrong weapons systems. We lost Vietnam and Korea for the same reasons. The two biggest feared weapons of WW2 were the German MG-42 machine gun and the German 88 mm howitzer, not the Tiger tank or the Me-262. Those two weapons killed more men than any other weapons system. With the Jap’s it was the 40 mm tree mortar. In Korea it was the Chinese 82mm mortars that did us in. In Vietnam it was cheap rockets, booby traps and ambushes. In Iraqi it was the IED. In WW1 it was the Maxim machine gun. Technology changes with time and we are stuck in a 1980’s mentality. Everybody else just simply watched us, studied our systems and tactics, then they simply bypassed us.
Q: What should a nation with too much heavy hardware do?
A: Look at the Germans and the French today, they are dumping all of their heavy tanks, artillery and jets for smaller, lighter, cheaper and meaner weapons systems that are new. We are still stuck with weapons designs from the 1980’s. Nobody goes to war using Enfield rifles or M-1 Garand’s any more. The bull-pup is all the rage. The m-16 is so 1960’s and the AK is so 1950’s… We need new weapons to fit the modern battlefield and not more 1980’s junk. The F-22 and F-35 were technology demonstrations that failed. Scrap them now. The B-58 supersonic bomber, the B-2 stealth bomber and the F-117 stealth attack bomber; Well they only worked for a short period of time then they became obsolete. How much did we waste on them? Why? Who profited?
Now we have junk Trident subs with no replacement warheads that work. Why? We had to withdrawal the M-1 tank due to improvements in RPG technology. The F-22 was assigned to national guard units, just like the F-102 was. Why? Because it doesn’t work. Just replace them with a stealth version of the F-16 and the F-18; they work. This is what Japan and South Korea are doing. You just make a stealth version of the F-5 / F-20 in both the manned and un-manned (Drone) versions. Cheap effective and affordable.
Gordon Duff is a Marine combat veteran of the Vietnam War that has worked on veterans and POW issues for decades and consulted with governments challenged by security issues. He’s a senior editor and chairman of the board of Veterans Today, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.