Strategic nuclear weapons

A strategic nuclear weapon refers to a nuclear weapon which is designed to be used on targets as part of a strategic plan, such as nuclear missile bases, military command centers and heavily populated civilian areas such as large towns and cities.

They are in contrast to tactical nuclear weapons, which are designed for use in battle, as part of an attack with conventional forces. Strategic nuclear weapons generally have significantly larger yields, starting from 100 kilotons up to destructive yields in the low megaton range. However, yields can overlap, and many weapons such as the B61 nuclear bomb are used in both tactical and strategic roles. Indeed, the strategic Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks utilized weapons of between 10 and 20 kilotons, though this was because the "Little Boy" and "Fat Man" bombs were the most destructive (and indeed only) nuclear weapons available at the time.

A feature of strategic nuclear weapons is the greater range of their delivery apparatus (e.g. ICBMs), giving them the ability to threaten the enemy's command and control structure, even though they are based many thousands of miles away in friendly territory. Intercontinental ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads are the primary strategic nuclear weapons, while short-range missiles are tactical. In addition, while tactical weapons are designed to meet battlefield objectives, the main purpose of strategic weapons is in the deterrence role, under the theory of mutually assured destruction.

References

  • Nuclear Files - Carlucci Report
  • Public Broadcasting Service - Tracking Nuclear Proliferation
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