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Why can't any missile carry a nuclear warhead?

  1. Dec 19, 2012 #1

    Question about nuclear weapons:

    Often you hear about a missile that is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.
    But actually, why can't any missile be capable of this? Just take your favorite missile, build for it a nuclear warhead which is the same shape and size as the missile's original warhead (and with the same interfaces), and install it on the missile instead of the original warhead.

  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 19, 2012 #2
  4. Dec 19, 2012 #3


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    Well, warheads with nuclear weapons are different than conventional ones, so the missiles are different because there special features (not subject to public discussion). Also, some missiles were designed specifically to carry multiple warheads. The very old warheads were quite heavy, so specific missiles were designed for those warheads. The use of 'capable' is now perhaps a misnomer.
  5. Dec 19, 2012 #4


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    The use of "capable" is probably too out of date. With technology, MIRVs can be lugged into appropriate trajectories, and can let nuclear weapons be individually targeted. We have too much killing power, IMO.
  6. Dec 19, 2012 #5


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    Nuclear warheads tend to be much more powerful than conventional ones, so the detonation has to be adjusted to reflect that difference.
    That means different fuzes, maybe different trajectories, surely different interlocks and data links. Nukes are pretty expensive, you don't want to loose one in a launch accident and if that happens, you don't want to loose the whole base. Putting a nuke on a missile under normal circumstances forces you to consider these issues and address them. That makes the nuclear capable part.
    Of course, in an emergency, that all may go out the window. Given the proliferation of suicide bombers, even a Cessna would make an effective nuclear delivery vehicle.
  7. Dec 19, 2012 #6


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    I think part of the answer is whether a missle of a given level of engineering can carry a nuclear warhead of comparable engineering level. The US army had nuclear artillery rounds but that required exponentially greater refinement of the fissile material. A WW2 German V1 buzz bomber or modern equivalent cruise missile can carry one.

    If a country is just starting their nuclear program one would expect their level of refinement is just enough to build a working device, it's going to be big and heavy, and they'll need a big missile to get to target.
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