Davy Crockett: The Mobile Nuclear Missile Launcher That Fired Neutron Bombs

Warfare History Network

Warfare History Network

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What a weapon.

Davy Crockett: The Mobile Nuclear Missile Launcher That Fired Neutron Bombs

Design work for a minimum-size atomic warhead called the XW-51 began at the University of California Radiation Laboratory in the mid 1950s. It later shifted to the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, which was also working on compact warheads, and re-designated the W-54 in January 1959. Initially intended to be used for lightweight thermonuclear weapons, the prototype subsequently was adapted for a variety of tactical uses by the armies in the field.

XW-51 precursors, as well as compact LASL designs, were first evaluated as part of Operation Plumbbob at the Nevada Test Site in 1957. The most powerful of these Plumbbob prototypes was a boosted, plutonium-cored implosion device that produced a 9.7-kiloton yield. This device incorporated the latest technological advances, prominent among them the powerful, plastic-bonded explosives (PBX) that could be machined into lenses that shaped a perfectly symmetrical shock wave to compress the fissile core to the density needed to sustain an atomic chain reaction. Deuterium-Tritium gas-boosting was also used, a technology first evaluated with a sealed beryllium core during Operation Teapot in 1955. Known as fusion boosting, this process used neutrons from the fusion of a D-T gas mixture blown into a hollow core just before detonation to greatly accelerate the chain reaction.

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