Document created: 9 September 02
Air University Review, July-August 1979

Strategic Implications
of Enhanced Radiation Weapons

a preliminary analysis

Dr. Donald M. Snow

In July 1977 the Carter administration announced that it was prepared to arm the W70-3 Lance missile with the so-called "enhanced radiation" or "neutron" warhead for theater use, primarily against Soviet armor in Europe. The announcement has caused a flurry of reaction and debate both within the United States and among members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance. The debate has focused on several issues regarding use of this type of warhead at the tactical level, while discussions of possible strategic implications of enhanced radiation (ER) bombs have been missing from analysis.

The context of the current debate has focused on the short-range delivery (the Lance missile has a 170- mile range) of small warheads supporting conventional forces. The deuterium-tritium fusion reaction, which is the basis of ER warfare, is not limited to small warheads but can be extended to warheads of the megaton or larger yield; there are practical but not theoretical limits to the size of a fusion reaction.

Although the original announcement of the wedding of the ER warhead with the Lance missile created the impression that a new technological breakthrough in warhead design had been achieved, the technology, in fact, is not new at all. Rather, the "basic designs for the 'enhanced radiation device' ...were completed at California's Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in December, 1958," and the first experimental weapon was detonated in spring 1963, according to a Los Angeles Times account.1 Work on ER weaponry was largely associated with development of the antiballistic missile (ABM) system,2 an Army project that may help explain why, in its 1977 reincarnation, ER weaponry has been associated with tactical battlefield applications. Ac. cording to Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus, "the Ford administration...originally requested funds for the enhanced-radiation Lance,"3 public knowledge of which came about "when ERDA [Energy Research and Development Agency] failed to delete from published testimony at a House public works appropriations subcommittee hearing the fact that the warhead...was to be produced."4

The technology underlying ER warheads is thus "an old one," as one author puts it.5 There is, however, little knowledge about this kind of device in the literature and little understanding of how so-called "neutron bomb effects" compare to other forms of nuclear reaction. Basically, there are three forms of nuclear reaction in warheads: fission, fission-fusion, and fission-fusion-fission.6

The main fusible nuclei are the heavy isotopes of hydrogen: deuterium (H2) and tritium (H3)…. At temperatures of tens of millions of degrees, H2 and H3 will fuse, liberating a very fast neutron and a great amount of energy.7

The process is called fission-fusion because creation of the heat necessary to begin the fusion process requires the use of a small fission explosion or trigger. Fusion itself does not create any residual radiation, although the freeing of neutrons by the process creates enormous initial neutron and gamma radiation. Some residual radiation is emitted by the fission trigger, and there is some concern about the physical properties of otherwise inert materials when they are subjected to neutron bombardment. There are no theoretical limits on the size of a fusion reaction. Since the entire reaction occurs in milliseconds and because of the randomness of neutron emission, not all the possible fusions of deuterium and tritium will occur, so that practical warhead designs place an upward limit in the one-megaton (MT) range.

The ER weapon, obviously, falls into the category of fission-fusion or thermonuclear reactions. It is an extremely powerful and efficient form of nuclear reaction that derives its effectiveness by suppressing certain of the effects of nuclear blasts while enhancing others. The way in which these blast effects are "rearranged" in the thermonuclear (as opposed to the fission) reaction creates the rationale for their utilization in battlefield conditions and provides some properties that may give these weapons strategic applicability.

As is well known, the basic lethal effects of nuclear explosion come from heat, pressure, and radiation (initial and residual). While fission warheads rely heavily on all of these effects to accomplish their deadly purpose, the major effects of ER weapons occur through the emission of neutrons. As Harold M. Agnew explains it:

...the fusion process produces neutrons, heat, blast and fallout but produces many more neutrons and, specifically, more high-energy neutrons in relation to the other products than does the fission process.8

Thus, the secret to enhancing the radiation from this kind of weapon involves maximizing the proportion of neutron emission compared to other nuclear effects. Feld summarizes the degree to which this can occur:

In principle, if it were possible to neglect the effects of the fission trigger, a pure thermonuclear bomb...could release up to 80 percent of its energy in the form of fast neutrons.9

The power of the reaction derives from the fact that the so-called "fast neutrons" emitted in the thermonuclear reaction create more energy than neutrons produced in fission. Frank Barnaby notes that "the neutrons produced during the fusion process have much greater energy than fission neutrons. On average, each deuterium-tritium fusion event produces 14 MeV of free neutron energy, compared with 3 MeV for each fission event."10 Moreover, "fusion is a more efficient explosive process than fission. The complete fusion of, for example, about 6 grammes of deuterium and about six grammes of tritium would produce an explosion of one kiloton."11 By comparison, about 56 grams of plutonium are necessary to create a one-kiloton fission reaction.

The deadly effects of the explosion are created both by heat and blast and neutron radiation. According to Barnaby, within a 500meter radius of a one-kiloton ER blast, everything would simply disappear (primarily from heat and blast effects). Within one kilometer (KM), there would be immediate incapacitation and early death (within hours from the neutron and gamma radiation) for all exposed individuals. Within two KM of ground zero, there would be severe radiation sickness, and most exposed individuals would die within a few weeks.12 It might be emphasized that these effects would result from use of a warhead one-fifteenth to one-twentieth the yield of the devices used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and that outside the immediate heat and blast area (the 500-meter radius), very little collateral damage would occur.

Because "enhanced achieved not so much by increasing the output of neutrons as by suppressing everything else,"13 heat and blast effects are limited to the immediate blast area. Lethal effects occur when neutrons penetrate and destroy tissue, a principle employed in radiation treatment of cancer. As Agnew puts it, "...certain of the radiations such as neutrons have what the medical profession calls a high LET (linear energy transfer). This means they interact with living tissue in a strong manner."14

The lethality of neutron radiation occurs because neutrons will penetrate any medium, although with varying effectiveness depending on the medium. Schematically, this relationship can be described by the formula

N = Noe-MX

where N is the number of penetrating neutrons, No the initial number radiated, and e to the minus mu X is an exponential factor wherein mu is the absorption coefficient (mu, in turn, is a function of the type of material and the energy of the radiation) and X the thickness of the substance being penetrated. The MX factor is stated negatively to connote the degradation effect (active radiation is effectively limited to the period light is being emitted from the stem of the explosion and constantly decreases). The relation between the absorption coefficient and thickness, obviously, is inverse; the greater the thickness of a given material, the more neutrons will be absorbed by it. Thus, reducing radiation effects involves using protective substances that are highly absorptive or of

increasing thickness. Conversely, enhancing penetration involves improving the penetrability of the neutrons by devices such as increasing their speed or by more closely approximating what physicists refer to as a mono-energetic beam of neutrons (making more uniform the speed of the stream of irradiated neutrons).

In terms of capability as a "people-killer," the effectiveness of these weapons depends on the penetrability of neutron radiation through various materials that might be used as protection against this weapon. Virtually no public information is available on this crucial point, but some less direct information is. For instance, the weapons have been heralded for their use against Soviet armor, such as tanks. Since their kill-power derives from their radiation effects, apparently neutron radiation will penetrate Soviet armor plating efficiently enough to contaminate the inhabitants. According to Towell, "Data on regular nuclear blasts indicated that the lethal radius of any given amount of neutron radiation against troops in tanks or in foxholes was only 20-30 per cent less than the effective radius for troops out in the open."15 In addition, Feld maintains that, "these neutrons can penetrate reasonable thicknesses of materials--up to, say, a meter of concrete...."16 This latter factor is of some importance when dealing with the application of ER warheads as a countermeasure to the Soviet civil defense program.

These weapons are thus very lethal. "A workable neutron bomb would probably have the same radiation (neutron)-killing capability, at a given range, as a 'normal' nuclear weapon of about five times the explosive power."17 If delivery capabilities allow it, the weapons can be used highly selectively. Herbert Scoville observes:

Special designs to allow more and higher neutrons to escape from the bomb material enhance the neutron effects, but even if ten times as many neutrons are released, the lethal range will only be increased by about one-third.18

At the same time, since fusion produces no residual radiation, "the cleanest bomb would be a fission-fusion bomb with the minimum amount of fission necessary to trigger the thermonuclear reaction."19 In the context of tactical utilization of these weapons as proposed by the Carter administration, however, there has arisen considerable controversy.

The Lance missile-equipped enhanced radiation warhead has been advanced as a theater weapon in Europe. The use of small ER warheads to attack Warsaw Pact armor and incapacitate the crews through exposure to intense neutron radiation is said to have at least three tactical advantages. First, Secretary of Defense Harold Brown maintains that, because of reduced heat and blast damage, "they would make our constraints policy of minimizing collateral damage easier to achieve."20 Since heat and blast are limited to the immediate zone around the blast, it is thus argued that there would be less damage to buildings and landscape than with other weapons. Second, since there is virtually no residual radiation from the weapons (other than the radiation from the fission trigger), forces could occupy the attacked area within a matter of hours without special protective clothing and without fear of contamination. Third, if the armor were attacked outside the limited area where heat and blast effects occur but inside the zone of intense radioactivity (the one-kilometer zone in the example above where radiation achieves the necessary 800 rad level), the tanks themselves would be largely undamaged and could be appropriated for NATO use.

Despite these advantages, the use of ER weapons in the manner suggested has met considerable resistance. Reservations about the ER-Lance weapon have basically been focused on two concerns: that the existence and potential use of such weapons may contribute to lowering the nuclear threshold; and that, since little is known about the long-term effects of neutron radiation on humans and some Inert materials such as soil, their use may be inhumane and even border on self-imposed bans on radiological weapons.

The purported virtue of the ER-armed Lance missile is that it would be a useful tool for dealing with the overwhelming Warsaw Pact advantage in armor, and especially tanks, should war break out in Europe. This very usefulness is viewed by some, however, as a vice, in that such a weapon might be employed in situations where more conventional nuclear weapons would not. As one European observer puts it, "we believe that the only real motivation for the development of the neutron bomb is the intention to use it in cases where existing nuclear weapons would not be employed."21

This argument basically says that the use of ER warheads, because they do not present many of the difficulties associated with other nuclear weapons (e. g., large-scale collateral damage, residual radiation), is more "thinkable" and, thus, lowers the nuclear threshold. Feld states that, "by contributing to the illusion that nuclear weapons are usable...the deployment of neutron bombs could greatly enhance the chances of . . . nuclear war,"22 and thus raises the possibility of unleashing the escalatory process.

This line of argumentation is similar to the more general debate about whether the doctrine of flexible response, by elaborating contingency plans for controlled employment of nuclear weapons, contributes to the likelihood of actual use and thus lowers the threshold. The essence of this general problem was captured by Alain Enthoven in 1965:

There is and will remain an important distinction ...between nuclear and non-nuclear war, that both combatants can recognize and agree upon, if they want to agree upon one. And, in the nuclear age, they will have a very powerful incentive to agree upon this distinction and limitation because if they do not, there does not appear to be another easily recognizable limitation on weapons--no other obvious "firebreak"--all the way up the destructive spectrum to large scale thermonuclear war.23

Secretary Brown, writing in the 1979 Annual Report, recognizes this potential problem but maintains that ER weapons do not lower the firebreak: "These weapons would not lower the nuclear threshold: the consequences of using any nuclear weapons are so uncertain that the decision to release enhanced radiation weapons would be no easier than any other nuclear decision."24 Regardless of the position one takes on this issue, the problem is well summarized in the staff summary of the Arms Control Impact Statement (ACIS) of the ER-equipped Lance: "The principal dilemma for policy-makers considering the W70-3 is whether the perceived gains for deterrence outweigh the perceived risks of a lowered nuclear threshold. "25

Arguments opposing ER weapons on the basis of their effects focus on two elements: their capacity for causing human suffering and their potential effects on the ecosystem. Those opposing the employment of the weapons on humanitarian grounds in turn tend to argue on one of two grounds.

First, outside the area where instant (or nearly instant) incapacitation and death occur, little is known about the psychological and physiological impact of massive doses of neutron radiation. These opponents raise the hypothetical question of whether soldiers so exposed and knowing they were dying, but not yet physically incapacitated, would fight with more abandon and ferocity than a normal soldier. Since death, in the outer reaches of the affected area, can take weeks and be accompanied by a gradual and gruesome onset of radiation sickness, the capacity f9r destruction of such individuals could be quite high and might cancel any advantages that the initial use of the weapons had created.

Second, little is known about the genetic implications of exposure to neutron radiation, leading Miettinen to conclude, "No ‘deterrent’ which would have incalculable consequences for future generations should be introduced to the battlefield under the guise that the weapon is 'small' and 'clean."'26 Viewing the overall effects of ER weapons on humans, Barnaby says, "The high lethality of these weapons, and their potential for causing unnecessary human suffering, are sufficient reasons for banning them."27 Senator H. John Heinz III (R-Pa.) goes a step further: "To perpetrate death by neutron radiation smacks of the sort of chemical and biological warfare that has historically outraged civilized nations."28

The second concern involves the stimu1ation of certain otherwise dormant elements in the soil that exposure to the massive neutron bombardment associated with detonation of an ER warhead would entail. Elements that could be affected include carbon and cobalt,29 and the commentary on the Arms Control Impact Statement carries the additional admonition: "Neutrons emitted by the detonation would combine with nitrogen present in the atmosphere to form Carbon-14 (C14) isotopes. C14 is highly radioactive with a half-life of 5,720 years."30

While the W70-3 proposal has stimulated considerable controversy within the limited confines of that program, there has been no public dialogue about potential strategic implications of this warhead. For instance, the analysis of the Arms Control Impact Statement states, "The ACIS does not intimate whether it expects anyone will perceive a strategic application for ER weapons ...It does not comment on whether the United States has plans for applying the ER concept to strategic weaponry."31

This silence is strange because enhanced radiation warhead technology does have potential strategic applications. While making no pretense of being exhaustive or even representative about potential strategic implications of ER weapons, I perceive at least one possible strategic mission that is worthy of consideration, if not necessarily adoption. That application would involve arming a portion of the cruise missile force (more specifically the air-launched cruise missile or ALCM, and as command and control and accuracy increase, possibly the submarine-launched cruise missile or SLCM) with ER warheads as a direct response to challenges to the hostage effect crucial to the doctrine of mutual assured destruction (MAD) posed by the Soviet civil defense program. If employed in a proper manner, such a deployment could have a beneficial effect on the strategic nuclear balance by reducing the Soviet's ability to calculate survivability and recovery in a general nuclear exchange. Because the neutron radiation emitted by these weapons can penetrate passive defense structures (air raid shelters), Soviet survival plans would be compromised. By attaching these warheads to an obviously second-strike weapon such as the ALCM and withholding their use to the point where general countervalue exchange occurs, this deployment could have the simultaneous effects of raising the nuclear threshold by reinforcing the assuredness of destruction and preserving maximum flexibility of nuclear response.

The effects of the Soviet passive defense program, which includes elements such as evacuation plans for the Russian urban population, air raid shelters to protect key personnel, and the conscious dispersal of industry and population, have been the subject of considerable debate. The discussion has encompassed both the effectiveness of the system in protecting the population and the implications of the program for strategic stability. Because much of deterrence is psychological and thus based on perceptions of the utility of strategic programs, much conjecture has emerged about what the Russians think the effects of their civil defense program are.

The literature on the subject is growing, but Paul H. Nitze summarizes the issue effectively for our purpose:

. . . the Soviet Union has adopted programs that have much the same effect on the situation as an ABM program would have. And as the Soviet civil defense program becomes more effective it tends to destabilize the deterrent relationship for the same reason: the United States can then no longer hold as significant a proportion of the Soviet population as a hostage to deter a Soviet attack.32

Much of this analysis arises from two sources. First, stated Soviet nuclear strategy does not make the same sharp distinctions between deterrence and warfighting that American doctrine does. Indeed, the Soviets, at least publicly, maintain that the basis of their deterrence of an American nuclear attack is American knowledge that the Soviets would win such a war. From that mind-set, a war-winning strategy that includes civil defense follows.33 Second, the' Soviets have talked increasingly of their ability to protect their population. As Nitze points out:

In the Soviet Defense Manual issued in large numbers beginning in 1969 and 1970, the estimate is made that implementation of the prescribed evacuation and civil defense procedures would limit the civilian casualties to five to eight percent of the urban population and three to four percent of the total-population--even after a direct U.S. attack on Soviet cities.34

The effect is "dangerously eroding the U.S. deterrence posture."35

These claims are hotly contested by other observers, who point out that the Soviet projections are almost entirely conjectural in nature; the Soviets have never attempted the evacuation of a major city, for instance, the effectiveness of which would depend on such unpredictable factors as weather.36 Statements about the level of civilian survival if procedures are carried out doubtless have an exhortatory intention, and it is not clear that the Soviets believe these pronouncements. Regarding Soviet strategic statements generally, Jack L. Snyder avers that "the Soviets may be not only inscrutable, but also inveterate liars."37 Secretary Brown is also reported to be "skeptical of the utility of these programs for either superpower and confident of the U.S. ability to overcome Soviet civil defense measures through retargeting and other expedients."38

Speculation on the effectiveness of Soviet civil defense programs is not intended here. The fact is that the Russians have engaged in an elaborate and expensive civil defense buildup and that they would not have made such an investment without reason. The obvious purpose is the protection of the population or, at least in the shelter program, "protecting essential cadres and key industrial personnel."39 To the extent the Russians believe in the effectiveness of this program (and it is not particularly important if they are correct unless we can convince them otherwise), they can begin realistically to calculate personal and societal survival and recovery from a nuclear war. In turn, such perceptions weaken the hostage effect that is vital to MAD and the ultimate recourse under the policy of flexible response and, thus, the basis of deterrence as it is understood by Americans and presumably Russians.

The arming of ALCMs with ER warheads may be an effective way to alter Soviet perceptions about survival arising at least from the shelter program. The combination of these technologies may be appealing for at least three reasons:

This point is particularly important, considering the kinds of people the Soviets seek to protect in the shelters. Their calculation of winning a nuclear war apparently is premised on saving the highly skilled portion of the population for which the shelters are designed. Since "our deterrent is based on the ability to destroy what the Soviet leadership values most--the Soviet state as a functioning entity, the economic base which is the pride of the Communist regime, and the nation's ability to recover from a nuclear war"40--the last individuals one wants to release from the hostage relationship are those who would be the major architects of recovery.

John J. McLucas further points out that the current cruise models are comparatively primitive and that the technology is available to produce "a future fleet of cruise missiles that is tied together through data links at a control center, which keeps track of their position and performance."43 Such a system could direct retargeting and evasive actions, among other things. The ALCM is thus not only a very effective attack weapon, but it will in all likelihood improve significantly.

If most normal conceptions of how a nuclear war might be conducted are correct, the kinds of values against which ER warfare would be most effective are not targets one would wish to attack early in an exchange. Congruent with Thomas C. Schelling's analysis of the "diplomacy of violence,"44 one would want to withhold attacks on critical values such as population as long as possible in order to maintain an ability to threaten increased and unacceptable hurt on the enemy. Alternatively, most Americans find the massive annihilation of innocent civilians repulsive and would prefer not to do so unless the situation were truly desperate, as in the case of a Soviet counter-cities attack on the U.S.

These usage scenarios imply that the United States would want to be in a maximal position to control and withhold these weapons as long as possible during an exchange. The ALCM fired from SAC bombers (B-52s or converted 747-type aircraft) or Trident-launched SLCMs seem to fit that need. As Ohlert states, "The cruise missile represents the ideal in offensive weaponry for a second-strike oriented nation. Its slow speed precludes its use as a first-strike weapon, while its high pre-launch survivability deters an opponents first-fire decision."45 Thus, the high lethality of these weapons, delivered with great accuracy above or near the shelters (probably low air blasts), would put some of the terror back into the "balance of terror," while not being as provocative as they would if launched from other platforms such as ICBMs (which, as they become more vulnerable, will require progressively earlier launch). For ER weapons to be effective tools, one must have maximum control of them, and the enemy must know this control exists: the terror they engender can be allayed by an enemy's knowing the U.S. will use them only in desperate situations and knowing the U.S. has the capacity to control them until such use is absolutely necessary.

In assessing the potential use of ER warheads as strategic weapons, we need to examine three additional points. First, are these weapons compatible with American strategic doctrine and particularly the limited options/ MAD doctrinal debate? Second, what objections might be raised to these weapons? More specifically, are the objections raised about tactical use of ER weapons as valid in the strategic context? Finally, what, if any, arms control implications do these weapons have? Will they force a Soviet response that will add yet another spiral to the arms race? Because these questions have not yet been discussed in the public literature, the analysis must be somewhat tentative.

I believe the addition of ER weapons to the American arsenal would be compatible with the doctrine of mutual assured destruction and would be supportive of the notions of limited options and essential equivalence. The compatibility with MAD is straightforward: the basis of that doctrine is the holding of the Soviet population as the hostage of American nuclear might. The Soviet shelter program, against which it has been suggested ER weapons might be an effective response, is dangerous to the stability of the strategic balance because it represents (or can be perceived to represent) a loosening of the hostage effect by promising the survival of key Soviet personnel and, thus, the capacity for postwar recovery. The ability to calculate survival in turn makes calculation of the fighting of a nuclear war less irrational and, thus, potentially more "thinkable." To the extent that ER weapons remove the ability to calculate survival, they make MAD-based deterrence more credible.

MAD as a basis for deterrence doctrine has, of course, been criticized as lacking credibility as a deterrent against anything but an all-out nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. Many observers view such an attack as the least likely form of Soviet nuclear aggression, both because it would be suicidal and because Soviet doctrine appears to favor a counterforce strategy. The dilemma in American MAD strategy has been described as the ex post-ex ante problem: the all-out countervalue destruction prescribed in MAD may provide maximum deterrence, but it might leave the U.S. with a single fighting option should deterrence fail.46 The result has been the re-emphasis of flexible nuclear response, operationalized through the notion of limited nuclear options (LNO) and the force characteristics of essential equivalence.

The heart of the new doctrine is that, should nuclear exchange occur, the United States should have appropriate and symmetrical means to respond, rather than the single option of leveling Soviet cities. Thus, as former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger pointed out, the U.S. should be able to respond to a limited Soviet counterforce strike in kind, rather than having the dual options of launching a massive countervalue response that would invite the destruction of American cities or of doing nothing.

Without dealing with the merits of the limited options/MAD debate, it is sufficient to say that the ultimate option within the doctrine of limited options is the threat of massive countervalue attack that is the centerpiece of MAD. LNO seeks to limit nuclear war beneath the level of general exchange, but central to doing so requires the maintenance of adequate and appropriate forces to guarantee the suicidal nature of general exchange. Thus, ultimately the hostage effect holds as a control over general exchange even in a limited nuclear environment. To the extent that holding in reserve the ER-cruise option contributes to the hostage effect, it is compatible with the general flexible response position.

The second question involves the objections that can be raised about strategic, as opposed to tactical, use of ER warheads. To address these objections requires looking again at the objections to the W70-3, though these objections are largely obviated in the strategic context.

The first objection to battlefield ER weapons is that they potentially lower the nuclear threshold because of their tactical utility. In the kind of potential strategic use suggested where these warheads would be held back as an ultimate countervalue weapon only to be employed when exchange had degenerated to the general level, this argument loses its force: the threshold would long since have been crossed before use of ER weapons is even contemplated. In the strategic context, it is rather possible to argue that such weapons raise the threshold by reinforcing the awful human consequences of nuclear exchange: the hostages recognize they are still (or once again) prisoners and, thus, certain victims.

The second objection is more delicate to deal with because it deals essentially with the inhumanity of systematically subjecting people to lethal doses of neutron radiation. Certain aspects of the argument are probably not germane (the question of the fighting tenacity of contaminated soldiers, for instance), but others are. Radiation death, particularly for those who would die slowly, is obviously cruel and inhumane. It is also true that the genetic mutations that might occur in the survivors are not clearly understood, nor are ecological impacts such as the creation of C14 isotopes.

A response to these objections can take two interrelated forms. First, the use of nuclear weapons against humans is awful to contemplate under any circumstances and could hardly ever be couched in humanitarian terms. Killing people with neutron radiation is cruel, but so is extinction through fire, overpressure, and residual radiation. As has been pointed out, in one sense ER weapons are "clean" bombs: the residual radiation they emit is limited to that produced by the fission trigger. Conventional fission-fusion-fission warheads, while not as "dirty" as early versions, inevitably include residual radiation, the consequences of which for humans and the ecosystem are also largely speculative. In other words, this objection may amount to little more than asking what kind of postwar nuclear wasteland one prefers.

The answer to that theoretical question, quite obviously, is that the most preferable nuclear wasteland is no wasteland at all, leading to the second form of response. Since the consequences of the use of nuclear weapons are so unpredictable but potentially catastrophic, the "best" nuclear weapons to have are those that contribute most to the unlikelihood that any nuclear weapons will ever be used. To the extent that ER weapons would add to the stability of the nuclear system, they may, through an admittedly somewhat convoluted sort of logic, be viewed as "humanitarian," in that they make the use of any nuclear weapons less likely.

The final consideration is the impact the ER-cruise option would have on arms control and, more specifically, whether deployment would place the Russians in a position where they feel compelled to respond in such a manner as to harm arms control efforts. Setting aside the impact of cruise per se (which, because of size and ease of concealment, raises serious verification problems that apparently will be addressed in SALT II with a launcher sublimit of 70-120 bombers), the decision to deploy strategic ER warheads can be examined.

As has been pointed out, the technology to produce these weapons has been available to the United States for twenty years, and there is little reason to believe the Soviets cannot produce them as well. At the same time, deployment of the warheads would be impossible to verify, and, to the extent that verification remains a sticking point in ongoing discussions, deployment limits remain a problem.

The most important question concerns Soviet motivation to deploy, and the answer is mixed. On the one hand, Soviet pronouncements emphasize counterforce and war-winning. Implicit in this strategy is, at the end of a successful war, having something left that was worth winning (Soviet manuals, for instance, include occupation plans for Europe). In that context, a warhead that minimizes collateral damage is appealing in that it would preserve a maximum value at war's end. On the other hand, the Soviets have emphasized very large warheads, generally above the practical one-MT limit apparently imposed on ER warheads. Doubtless this preference results partially as compensation for lower Soviet accuracy in delivery. If the argument regarding the utility of ER weapons is valid, they are most useful when delivered with extreme accuracy. Until the Soviets have developed delivery systems with the kind of accuracy attributed to American cruise missiles (how far away they are is conjectural), they may find them undesirable as a component in their arsenal. If the history of arms control is a guide, they will probably object to them (the Russians have generally objected to .limits on anything they do not have or technologically cannot produce that the U S. has for fear of cutting off (future options).

Obviously, this analysis, particularly as it relates to possible objections to ER warheads and arms control implications, is very tentative and incomplete. The purpose here has not been to produce a definitive statement or advocacy of the strategic application of enhanced radiation warheads but rather to raise the veil of consideration of this option and thereby, it is hoped, begin to stimulate public debate. The combination of ER warheads with cruise missile technology as a means to counter Soviet civil defense programs is but one possible application of this technology. There may be important technological or policy difficulties to this potential application that need critical

examination, and there are doubtless other potential applications that should be explored. Regardless of the conclusions regarding strategic implications of ER warheads, the technology is available, and the options need to be analyzed.

University of Alabama,


1. Robert Gillette. "Neutron Bomb Is Almost 20 Years Old; Was Focus of Heated Controversy in 1961," Los Angeles Times, July 13, 1977, p. 10.

2. Alton Frye, "The High Risks of Neutron Weapons," Washington Post, July 17, 1977, p. B1.

3. Walter Pincus, "Neutron Arms Deemed Dangerous to SALT," Washington Post, July 6, 1977, p. A11. According to Pat Towell, this occurred in a 1975 report by then Secretary of Defense Schlesinger to Congress on tactical weapons. See "Neutron Bomb Poses Dilemma for Congress," Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, July 9,1977, p. 1405.

4. Walter Pincus, "Production of Neutron Arms Backed," Washington Post, July 12, 1977, p. A1. This report is confirmed by Towell, op. cit.

5. Bernard T. Feld, "The Neutron Bomb," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, September 1977, p. ll.

6. The basic physics, in a readable format for the nonphysicist, can be found in Albert Legault and George Lindsey, The Dynamics of the Nuclear Balance (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1974).

7. P.30.

8. Harold M. Agnew, "A Primer on Enhanced Radiation Weapons," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, December 1977, p. 7.

9. Feld, p. 11. The same 80 percent figure is used in Jorma K. Miettinen, "Enhanced Radiation Warfare," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, September 1977,p.33.

10. Frank Barnaby, "Crossing the Nuclear Threshold," New Scientist, January 19, 1978, p. 151.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid.

13. Gillette, p. 10.

14. Agnew, pp. 7-8.

15. Towell, pp. 1404-05.

16. Feld, p. 11.

17. Barnaby, p. 151.

18. Herbert Scoville, "A New Weapon to Think (and Worry) About," New York Times, July 12, 1977, p. 29.

19. Legault and Lindsey, p. 33.

20. U.S. Department of Defense, Annual Report, Department of Defense, Fiscal Year 1979,2 February 1978, p. 72.

21. Brent Sorenson, "No Neutron Bomb for Us, Please," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, December 1977, p. 7. Italics in original.

22. Feld, p. 11.

23. "American Deterrent Policy," in Problems of National Strategy: A Book of Readings, ed. Henry A. Kissinger (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1965), p. 124.

24. Annual Report, Department of Defense, Fiscal Year 1979, p. 72.

25. "The Neutron Bomb Arms Control Impact Statement," Congressional Record, August 3, 1977, p. H8500.

26. Miettinen, p. 35.

27. Barnaby, p. 151.

28. Quoted by Towell, p. 1407.

29. This concern is raised by Pincus, "Production of Neutron Arms Backed," p. A2.

30. "The Neutron Bomb Arms Control Impact Statement," p. H8499.

31. Ibid., p. H8500.

32. Paul H. Nitze, "Assuring Strategic Stability in an Era of Détente," Foreign Affairs, January 1976, p. 223. A detailed analysis of these problems is found in Leon Gouré, War Survival in Soviet Strategy: USSR Civil Defense (Washington: University of Miami Center for Advanced International Studies, 1976). See also Richard Pipes, "Why the Soviet Union Thinks It Could Fight and Win a Nuclear War," Commentary, July 1977. pp. 21-34.

33. For a thorough discussion and analysis of Soviet pronouncements on strategy, see Leon Gour6. Foy D. Kohler, and Mose L. Harvey, The Role of Nuclear Force, in Current Soviet Strategy (Miami, Florida: Center for Advanced International Studies, 1974).

34. Nitze, pp. 211-12.

35. Christopher Leeman and Peter C. Hughes, "'Equivalence' and SALT 11," Orbis vol. 201976, p. 1053.

36. A particularly skeptical analysis Can be found In Representative Les Aspin, "Soviet civil Defense: Myth and Reality," Arms Control Today, September 1976, pp. 1-2, 4-5.

37. The Soviet Strategic Culture: Implications for Limited Nuclear Options, a project Air Force report prepared for the United States Air Force (Santa Monica, California: Rand Corporation, September 1977), p. 5.

38. See William H. Kincade, "The View from the Pentagon," Arms Control Today, October 1977, p. 2.

39. Aspin, p. 2.

40. John C. Culver, "The Future of the Strategic Bomber," AEI Defense Review, vol. 2, no. 1 (1976), p. 11.

41. Ibid., p. 8.

42. Edward J. Ohlert, "Strategic Deterrence and the Cruise Missile," Naval War College Review, Winter 1978, p. 26.

43. "The Case for a Modern Strategic Bomber," AEI Defense Review, vol. 2, no. 1 (1978), p. 19.

44. Arms and Influence (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1966).

45. Ohlert, p. 13.

46. Richard Rosecrance bas written extensively on this problem. See particularly Strategic Deterrence Reconsidered, Adelphi Paper" No. 116 (London: International Institute of Strategic Studies, 1975); and his edited volume, The Future of the International Strategic System (San Francisco: Chandler Publishing Co., 1972).


Donald M. Snow (B.A., M.A., University of Colorado; Ph.D., Indiana University) is Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of International Studies, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa. Dr. Snow is the author of The Shadow of the Mushroom-Shaped Cloud: Basic Ideas and Problems of Nuclear Deterrence and Introduction to Game Theory, both published by the Consortium for International Studies Education.


The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.

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