W54: How powerful is the smallest nuclear bomb that can be put in a backpack?

Do you know how much the smallest nuclear bomb in the world weighs? It is said that it can be put in a backpack, so how powerful is it?


In 1945, the United States dropped the first military atomic bomb “Little Boy” on Hiroshima, Japan. It has to be said that the name is very American-style humorous. The little boy is actually not small. The specific size of the atomic bomb was 3 meters long, 71 centimeters in diameter, and weighs around 4.4 tons. Because the “Little Boy” atomic bomb was very heavy, the US military can only take off from Tinian Island, so they can reach Japanese territory.

Because the size was too large and difficult to deliver, after World War II, all countries with nuclear weapons work to reduce the size of nuclear weapons.

Taking the United States as an example, during the Cold War, in order to resist the threat of the steel torrent of the Soviet tank force, a tactical nuclear bomb was developed. The weight of this nuclear bomb is only 27kg, and the weapon model name is W54 . The W54 nuclear warhead is actually a rocket projectile. The U.S. military has developed a launch platform for it – the M-388 rocket launcher that can through W54 4 kilometers away. This nuclear warhead can be said to be the world’s smallest nuclear warhead.

How powerful is a small nuclear warhead?

Although the W54 nuclear bomb is the smallest nuclear bomb in the world, it is very powerful. When it exploded, all life in a radius of 5 kilometers was obliterated, and high-rise buildings within 600 meters could be dust. After the explosion, the nuclear radiation range could reach 10 kilometers making that place unable to conduct military operations. After all, a nuclear bomb is a nuclear bomb, no matter how small it is, it is incomparable to conventional bombs.

Army Jeep was a nuclear launch vehicle
Army Jeep was a nuclear launch vehicle



However, the fate of the W54 is embarrassing. After this nuclear rocket was delivered to the army, it was criticized by many people. Soldiers think this is the most stupid weapon. You must know that the maximum range of the m-388 rocket launcher is only 4 kilometers. The range of the nuclear warhead explosion has exceeded the maximum range of the rocket launcher, which means that for every W54 launched, you have to sacrifice your own soldiers. Later, because of safety issues, the US military had to take it down.


Soviet Response

The US military has W54 nuclear tactical rockets, so what small nuclear weapons does the Soviet Union have? The Soviet Union did an excellent job of maintaining secrets. So far, I’ve only heard that the Soviet army had a nuclear torpedo, which is small enough to be crammed into a nuclear submarine or carried by a bomber. The Russian tactical nuclear arsenal still has this nuclear torpedo.

Soviet nuclear armed Torpedo
Soviet nuclear armed Torpedo

However, some friends may have heard that the Soviet Union once developed a tactical nuclear grenade. The explosive power of this grenade is equivalent to 40 tons of TNT, which is only the size of a cricket ball. Is this real?


I can tell you guys clearly that this is definitely fake, it’s all made up by military fans.

I believe everyone is familiar with the use of grenades. Generally, soldiers throw them by hand. They are mainly used for defense and killing infantry. Is it necessary to use such a powerful power as 40 tons of TNT? And nuclear raw materials are not so cheap, it is simply bluff.


Of course, a nuclear weapon the size of a cricket ball cannot be built with the current level of human technology, because nuclear weapons all have a critical mass to explode. The so-called critical mass of explosion, in simple terms, means that the nuclear material must reach a certain weight in order for a nuclear explosion to occur. Taking uranium-235 as an example, its critical mass for explosion is 48kg. No matter how high the purity of uranium-235 is, it can only undergo nuclear combustion without nuclear explosion. At present, human beings have found that the minimum nuclear critical mass material is plutonium, and it is said that 5kg can produce a nuclear explosion.


If there were a cricket ball-sized nuclear grenade, how powerful would it be? Can it blow up a city?

We need to know that there are two types of nuclear weapons, one is nuclear fusion and the other is nuclear fission. The energy release of nuclear fusion is theoretically about 10 times that of nuclear fission, but the actual situation can vary by 100 times. Let’s take nuclear fusion as an example. The fusion of one gram of matter will release the energy of 140 tons of TNT. Now the cricket ball in the world weighs about 50 grams. In this way, the maximum power of a nuclear bomb with the weight of a tennis ball can reach 7,000 tons of TNT.


Many people are not sensitive to this number. The ammonium nitrate explosion in the Lebanese port last year. It is estimated that the explosion equivalent was only 900 tons of TNT, and the Lebanese port was directly razed to the ground within a radius of 2 kilometers. If a nuclear bomb the size of a tennis ball can really be created, the power is seven times that of the Lebanese explosion, and it is absolutely feasible to raze a small county.


Of course, here we ignore the conditions for the initiation of nuclear fusion, which is purely based on mass.

In fact, the utilization rate of nuclear materials in nuclear weapons is not 100%. In the last century, the utilization rate of nuclear materials in the world was mostly between 1.2% and 3%. Only 200 grams of concentrated nuclear materials of 10 kg can play a role. In 1995, China increased the utilization rate of nuclear weapons raw materials to 95%. Because of the improved utilization efficiency of nuclear materials, nuclear weapons will become smaller and smaller in the future. If researchers can solve the problem of high-energy X-ray sources, cricket-ball-sized hydrogen bombs can be easily manufactured.

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