The first proposals in the field of nuclear weapons of directional action, according to known data, refer to the end of the fifties. Later on, at the theory level, several variants of such weapons were developed. In this case, the original concept quickly became interested in the military, which led to special consequences. All work on this topic was classified. As a result, by now only a few American projects have become famous. There is no reliable information about the creation of similar systems by other countries, including the USSR and Russia.
It should be noted that not much is known about American projects. In open sources, there is only a limited amount of information, mostly of a very general nature. At the same time, there are many estimates and assumptions of various kinds. However, in such a situation, you can create an acceptable picture, even without special technical details.
From engine to gun
According to known data, the idea of directional nuclear weapons appeared during the development of the Orion project. During the 1950s, NASA and a number of related organizations were looking for promising rocket and space technology architectures. Realizing that existing systems may have limited potential, American scientists came up with the most ambitious proposals. One of them envisaged the rejection of the "chemical" rocket engine in favor of a special power plant based on nuclear charges - the so-called. atomic pulse engine.
The project with the working title "Orion" provided for the construction of a special spacecraft, without the main engines of traditional design. The head compartment of such a device was allocated for the crew accommodation and payload. Central and tail belonged to the power plant and accommodate its various components. Instead of traditional fuels, the Orion ship was supposed to use low-power compact nuclear charges.
According to the basic idea of the project, during acceleration, the Orion atomic-pulse engine was supposed to alternately throw charges over a solid tail plate. A nuclear explosion of limited power was supposed to push the plate, and with it the whole ship. According to the calculations, the substance of the decaying charge was supposed to scatter at a speed of up to 25-30 km / s, which allowed for a very high thrust. At the same time, shocks from explosions could be too strong and dangerous for the crew, as a result of which the ship was equipped with a depreciation system.
In the proposed form, the Orion ship engine was not distinguished by energy perfection and efficiency. In fact, only a small part of the nuclear charge energy transmitted to the tail plate of the ship was used. The rest of the energy was dissipated into the surrounding space. To improve the efficiency required processing engine. At the same time there was a need for a radical change in the existing design.
According to calculations, a more economical atomic-pulse engine in its design should have resemble existing systems. Undermining nuclear charges should be inside a solid housing with a nozzle for the release of matter and energy. Thus, the products of the explosion in the form of a plasma had to exit the engine in only one direction and create the necessary thrust. The efficiency of such an engine could be tens of percent.
In the late fifties or early sixties, the new engine concept received an unexpected development. Continuing the theoretical study of such a system, scientists have found the possibility of its use as a fundamentally new weapon. Later, such weapons will be called directional nuclear weapons.
Nuclear rocket engine with internal charge detonation. NASA / nasa.gov picture
It was obvious that a stream of light and X-rays should come from the nozzle of the engine along with the plasma. Such an “exhaust” posed a particular danger to various objects, including living organisms, which led to the emergence of a new idea in the field of nuclear weapons. Produced plasma and radiation could be sent to the target for its destruction. Such a concept could not fail to interest the military, and soon began its study.
According to known data, the project of a nuclear weapon of directional action received the working name Casaba Howitzer - “Howitzer“ Kasaba ”. An interesting fact is that such a name did not reveal the essence of the project and even made confusion. The special nuclear system had nothing to do with howitzer artillery.
A promising project is expected to be classified. Moreover, the information remains closed until now. Unfortunately, very little is known about the real features of this project, and the few available information in the bulk do not have official confirmation. However, this did not prevent the emergence of a number of plausible estimates and assumptions.
According to one of the common versions, the "Kasaba" howitzer should be built on the basis of a heavy-duty case capable of withstanding the detonation of a nuclear charge and not transmitting x-rays. In particular, it can be made from uranium or some other metals. In such a housing should provide a hole that performs the functions of the barrel. It should be blocked with metal plates - beryllium or tungsten. Inside the case is placed nuclear charge of the required power. Also, the "gun" needed means of transportation, guidance and control.
The detonation of a nuclear charge should lead to the formation of a cloud of plasma and X-rays. The total effect of high temperature, pressure and radiation should instantly evaporate the body caps, after which the plasma and the rays are able to go towards the target. The configuration of the "barrel" and the material of its cover influenced the angle of divergence of the plasma and radiation. In this case, it was possible to obtain efficiency up to 80-90%. The rest of the energy went to the destruction of the body and dissipated in space.
According to some reports, the plasma flow could reach speeds of up to 900-1000 km / s; X-rays are able to move at the speed of light. Thus, the radiation should first have been affected by this target, after which it was ensured that it was hit by a stream of ionized gas.
One of the alleged variants of the Casaba Howitzer system. Figure Toughsf.blogspot.com
The Kasaba product, depending on the components used and the technical specifications, could show a firing range of at least several tens of kilometers. In airless space, this parameter has increased significantly. A nuclear weapon of directional action could be mounted on a variety of platforms: land, sea and space, which in theory allowed to solve a wide range of tasks.
However, the promising "howitzer" had a number of serious technical and combat flaws, drastically reducing its practical value. First of all, such a weapon turned out to be overly complex and expensive. Moreover, some design problems could not be solved with the technologies of the middle of the last century. The second problem affected the fighting qualities of the system. The release of plasma did not occur simultaneously, and it stretched into a rather long stream. As a result, the limited mass of the ionized substance should have affected the target for a relatively long time, which reduced the actual power. X-ray radiation, too, was not an ideal damaging factor.
Apparently, the development of the project Casaba Howitzer lasted no more than a few years and stopped in connection with the determination of the real prospects of such weapons. It was based on fundamentally new ideas and had quite remarkable combat capabilities. At the same time, the nuclear weapon turned out to be extremely difficult to manufacture and operate, and also did not guarantee the defeat of any assigned target. It is unlikely that such a product could be used in the army. The works were stopped, but did not declassify the project documentation.
Cumulative nuclear charge
Back in the thirties, a so-called was proposed. shaped charge: ammunition in which the explosive had a particular shape. A concave funnel on the front of the charge ensured the creation of a high-speed cumulative jet collecting a significant part of the explosion energy. A similar principle soon found application in new anti-tank ammunition.
According to different sources, in the fifties or sixties, it was proposed to create a thermonuclear ammunition operating on a cumulative principle. The essence of this proposal was to manufacture a standard thermonuclear product, in which the charge of tritium and deuterium had to have a special shape with a funnel in the front. As a fuse, it was necessary to use a "normal" nuclear charge.
Calculations showed that, while maintaining acceptable dimensions, the shaped thermonuclear charge can have very high characteristics. Using technologies of the time, the cumulative plasma jet could reach speeds of up to 8-10 thousand km / s. It was also determined that in the absence of technological limitations of the nature of the jet is able to pick up three times greater speed. Unlike Kasaba, X-rays turned out to be only an additional damaging factor.
Cumulative thermonuclear charge scheme. Figure Toughsf.blogspot.com
How exactly it was proposed to use the potential of such a charge is unknown. It can be assumed that compact and light bombs of this kind could be a real breakthrough in the fight against buried protected structures. In addition, the cumulative charge could become some kind of super-powerful artillery guns - on land and other platforms.
Nevertheless, as far as is known, the project of a cumulative thermonuclear bomb did not go further than theoretical research. Probably, the potential customer did not find the point in this proposal and chose to use thermonuclear weapons in the “traditional” way - as a payload of bombs and missiles.
"Prometheus" with shrapnel
At a certain point, the Kasaba project was closed due to the lack of real prospects. However, later returned to his ideas. In the eighties, the United States conducted work on the Strategic Defense Initiative ("Strategic Defense Initiative") and tried to create fundamentally new anti-missile systems. In this context, they recalled some offers from previous years.
The ideas of Casaba Howitzer were reworked and refined as part of a project with the code name Prometheus. Some features of this project led to the nickname “Nuclear shotgun”. As in the case with the predecessor, the bulk of information on this project has not yet been published, but some of the information is already known. On their basis, you can make an approximate picture and understand the differences between "Prometheus" and "Kasaba".
In terms of overall architecture, the Prometheus product almost completely echoed the older Howitzer. At the same time, another “dula” cover was proposed, due to which it was possible to obtain new combat capabilities. The opening in the casing was again planned to be closed with a solid tungsten lid, but this time it should be covered with a special heat-insulating composition based on graphite. Due to mechanical resistance or ablation, such a coating was supposed to reduce the effects of a nuclear explosion on the lid, although complete protection was not provided.
The nuclear explosion in the hull should not evaporate the tungsten lid, as it was in the previous project, but only crush it into a huge number of small fragments. The explosion could also disperse the fragments to the highest speeds - up to 80-100 km / s. A cloud of small tungsten shrapnel, which has a sufficiently large kinetic energy, could fly several tens of kilometers and collide with a target that was in its path. Since the Prometheus product was created within the framework of the PIO, intercontinental ballistic missiles of a potential enemy were considered as its main objectives.
However, the energy of small fragments was insufficient to ensure the defeat of the ICBM or its head part. In this connection, Prometheus should be used as a means of selecting false targets. The warhead and the false target differ in their basic parameters, and it was possible to identify a priority target in terms of the features of their interaction with tungsten fragments. Her destruction was assigned to other means.
As you know, the Strategic Defense Initiative program led to the emergence of new technologies and ideas, but a number of projects did not produce the expected results. Like a number of other developments, the Prometheus system was not even brought to the bench tests. Such an outcome of the project was associated both with its excessive complexity and limited capacity, and with the political consequences of the deployment of nuclear systems in space.
Too daring projects
The fifties of the last century, when the idea of directional nuclear weapons appeared, was a rather interesting period. At this time, scientists and designers boldly offered new ideas and concepts that could most seriously influence the development of armies. However, they had to face technical, technological and economic constraints, which did not allow them to fully implement all the proposals.
It was such a fate that awaited all known nuclear-powered nuclear weapon projects. A promising idea turned out to be too difficult to implement, and this situation seems to persist to this day. However, having studied the situation with old projects, an interesting conclusion can be made.
It seems that the US military is still showing interest in concepts like Casaba Howitzer or Prometheus. Work on these projects stopped long ago, but the responsible persons are still not in a hurry to disclose all the information. It is possible that such a regime of secrecy is associated with the desire to master a promising direction in the future - after the appearance of the required technologies and materials.
It turns out that the projects created since the late fifties, for many decades ahead of their time in terms of technology. Moreover, they still do not look too realistic due to known limitations. Will you be able to cope with current problems in the future? It remains only to guess. Until then, nuclear weapons of directional action will maintain the ambiguous status of a most interesting concept without real prospects.
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