W88

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In 1999, information came out implying that in some U.S. designs, the primary (top) is prolate, while the secondary (bottom) is spherical.


The W88 is a United States thermonuclear warhead, with an estimated yield of 475 kiloton (kt), and is small enough to fit on MIRVed missiles. The W88 was designed at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the 1970s. In 1999 the director of Los Alamos who had presided over its design described it as "the most advanced U.S. nuclear warhead."[1]

The Trident II SLBM can be armed with up to 8 W88 warheads (Mark 5) or 8 W76 (100 kt) warheads (Mark 4), but it is limited to 4 warheads under SORT.

Design revelations

Information about the W88 has implied that it is a variation of the standard Teller-Ulam design for thermonuclear weapons.

In 1999, a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News reported that the U.S. W88 nuclear warhead, a small MIRVed warhead used on the Trident II SLBM, had a prolate (egg- or watermelon-shaped) primary (code-named Komodo) and a spherical secondary (code-named Cursa) inside a specially-shaped radiation case (known as the "peanut" for its shape). A story four months later in The New York Times by William Broad reported that in 1995, a supposed double agent from the People's Republic of China delivered information indicating that China knew these details about the W88 warhead as well, supposedly through espionage (this line of investigation eventually resulted in the abortive trial of Wen Ho Lee). If these stories are true, it would indicate a variation of the Teller-Ulam design which would allow for the miniaturization required for small MIRVed warheads.[2][3][4]

The value of a prolate primary lies apparently in the fact that a MIRV warhead is limited by the diameter of the primary — if a prolate primary can be made to work properly, then the MIRV warhead can be made considerably smaller yet still deliver a high-yield explosion — a W88 warhead manages to yield up 475 kt with a physics package 68.9 in (1.75 m) long, with a maximum diameter of 21.8 in (0.55 m), and weighing probably less than 800 lb (360 kg).[5] Smaller warheads can allow a nation to fit more of them onto a single missile, as well as improve in more basic flight properties such as speed, mileage, and range.

The calculations for a nonspherical primary are apparently orders of magnitude harder than for a spherical primary (a spherically symmetric simulation is one dimensional, while an axially symmetric simulation is two dimensional; simulations typically divide up each dimension into discrete segments, so a one dimensional simulation might involve only 100 points, while a similarly accurate two dimensional simulation would require 10,000), which would likely be the reason they would be desirable for a country like the People's Republic of China (which already developed its own nuclear and thermonuclear weapons), especially since they were no longer conducting nuclear testing which would provide valuable design information.[6]

See also

  • W25 - small yield warhead used in AIR-2 Genie air-to-air missile
  • W53 - the warhead used on the Titan II ICBM
  • W54 - very small yield warhead, one of the smallest warheads built
  • B61 - a bomb carried by a variety of aircraft
  • W80 - warhead which armed nuclear cruise missiles
  • W81 - development of the W61 for the Navy's Standard missile
  • W84 - similar development for the Air Force's aborted GLCM missile
  • W85 - similar development for the Army's Pershing II missile

References

1. ^ Harold M. Agnew, "Letter: Looking for Spies in Nuclear Kitchen", Wall Street Journal (17 May 1999), p. A27.[1]
2. ^ Dan Stober and Ian Hoffman, A convenient spy: Wen Ho Lee and the politics of nuclear espionage (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001). ISBN 0-7432-2378-0
3. ^ Howard Morland, "The holocaust bomb: A question of time" (February 2003) [2]
4. ^ William J. Broad, "Spies versus sweat, the debate over China's nuclear advance," New York Times (7 September 1999), p. 1.
5. ^ Nuclear Weapon Archive
6. ^ Christopher Cox, chairman, Report of the United States House of Representatives Select Committee on U.S. National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns with the People's Republic of China (1999), esp. Ch. 2, "PRC Theft of U.S. Thermonuclear Warhead Design Information". [3]

External links

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Los Alamos National Laboratory

Established 1943
Research Type National security and basic science
Budget $2.2 billion

Director Michael R. Anastasio

Staff 12500
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Campus 36 square miles
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Trident II

Type SLBM
Range up to 7000 miles (11300 km)
Warheads up to Eight W76/W88
Yield Up to 3.8 megatons
Propulsion three stage solid propellant
Guidance system Inertial guidance system, with celestial reference
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Submarine-launched ballistic missiles or SLBMs are ballistic missiles delivering nuclear weapons that are launched from submarines. Modern variants usually deliver multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs) each of which carries a warhead and allows a single
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W76 is a United States thermonuclear warhead. It was manufactured from 1978 - 1987, and is still in service as of early 2007.

The W-76 is carried inside a Mk-4 re-entry vehicle. U.S.
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Sort may mean
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The Teller–Ulam design is a nuclear weapon design which is used in megaton-range thermonuclear weapons, and is more colloquially referred to as "the secret of the hydrogen bomb".
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San Jose Mercury News

The July 27, 2005 front page of the
San Jose Mercury News
Type Daily newspaper
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Trident II

Type SLBM
Range up to 7000 miles (11300 km)
Warheads up to Eight W76/W88
Yield Up to 3.8 megatons
Propulsion three stage solid propellant
Guidance system Inertial guidance system, with celestial reference
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Submarine-launched ballistic missiles or SLBMs are ballistic missiles delivering nuclear weapons that are launched from submarines. Modern variants usually deliver multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs) each of which carries a warhead and allows a single
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spheroid is a quadric surface in three dimensions obtained by rotating an ellipse about one of its principal axes. Three particular cases of a spheroid are:
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The May 8, 2007 front page of
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Wen Ho Lee (Chinese: 李文和; Pinyin: Lǐ Wénhé; born December 21, 1939) is a Taiwanese-born American scientist who worked for the University of California at the Los Alamos National
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physics package is the portion of a nuclear weapon that includes the actual explosive portion of the weapon: the detonator explosives, the fissile material, and (for fusion weapons) fusion fuel.
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Nuclear tests are experiments carried out to determine the effectiveness, yield and explosive capability of nuclear weapons. Throughout the twentieth century, most nations that have developed nuclear weapons have staged tests of them.
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W25 was a small nuclear warhead developed by the United States Air Force and Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory for air-defense use. It was a fission device with a nominal yield of 1.7 kT.
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air-to-air missile (AAM) is a guided missile fired from an aircraft for the purpose of destroying another aircraft. It is typically powered by one or more rocket motors, usually solid fuelled but sometimes liquid fuelled.
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The B53 with a yield of 9 Mt is one of the most powerful nuclear weapons built by the United States, and one of the last very high-yield thermonuclear bombs in U.S. service.
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The Titan II was an ICBM and space launcher developed by the Glenn L. Martin Company from the earlier Titan I missile. Titan II

Launch of a Titan II ICBM from underground silo 395-Charlie at Vandenberg AFB, CA in the mid-1960s.
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intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, is a long-range (greater than 5,500 km or 3,500 miles) ballistic missile typically designed for nuclear weapons delivery, that is, delivering one or more nuclear warheads.
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W54 was the smallest nuclear warhead deployed by the United States. It was a very compact implosion-type nuclear weapon design, designed for tactical use and had a very low yield for a nuclear weapon.
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B61 nuclear bomb is the primary thermonuclear weapon in the U.S. Enduring Stockpile following the end of the Cold War.

Development

The B61, originally known (before 1968) as the TX-61, was designed in 1963.
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The W80 is a small thermonuclear warhead (fusion weapon, or hydrogen bomb) in the nuclear stockpile of the USA with an adjustable explosive yield of between 5 and 150 kT TNT.
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cruise missile is a guided missile which uses a lifting wing and most often a jet propulsion system to allow sustained flight. A cruise missile is, in essence, a flying bomb.
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