Suitcase bomb

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Suitcase with hypothetical nuclear weapon mock-up inside

A suitcase bomb is a bomb which uses a suitcase as its delivery method. While conventional bombs can be hidden in any type of container, suitcase bombs have been threats primarily in two different contexts: conventional bombs in suitcases on airplanes (where there are many suitcases, and where even a small bomb will cause a crash), and suitcases with small nuclear weapons inside (sometimes called suitcase nukes).

Suitcase bombs have been used in terrorist attacks in Israel — particularly cellphone-detonated bombs which are left behind in a public bus and set off.

In 1997, former Russian National Security Adviser Alexander Lebed made public claims about lost "suitcase nukes" following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In an interview with the newsmagazine Sixty Minutes, Lebed said:

"I'm saying that more than a hundred weapons out of the supposed number of 250 are not under the control of the armed forces of Russia. I don't know their location. I don't know whether they have been destroyed or whether they are stored or whether they've been sold or stolen, I don't know."

However both the US and Russian governments immediately rejected Lebed's claims and cast questions to his credibility. Russia's atomic energy ministry went so far as to dispute that suitcase nuclear weapons had even ever been developed by the Soviet Union. Later testimony however insinuated that the suitcase bombs had been under the control of the KGB and not the army or the atomic energy ministry, so they might not know of their existence. Russian president Vladimir Putin, in an interview with Barbara Walters in 2001, stated about suitcase nukes, "I don't really believe this is true. These are just legends. One can probably assume that somebody tried to sell some nuclear secrets. But there is no documentary confirmation of those developments."

Only a nation with an extremely advanced nuclear program could manufacture warheads small enough to fit into a suitcase. Both the USA and the USSR manufactured nuclear weapons small enough to fit into large backpacks during the Cold War, but neither have ever made public the existence or development of weapons small enough to fit into a suitcase. The smallest nuclear warhead manufactured by the USA was the W-54, used for the Davy Crockett warhead which could be fired from a 120 mm recoilless rifle, and a backpack version called the Mk-54 SADM (Small Atomic Demolition Munition). While this warhead, with a weight of only 51 lb (23 kg), could potentially fit into a large suitcase, it would be a very tight fit. While the explosive power of the W-54 — up to an equivalent of 1 kiloton of TNT — is not much by the normal standards of a nuclear weapon (the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II were around 13 to 15 kilotons each), it could still do tremendous physical damage to a structure (it would be many, many times more powerful than the explosive attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in 1995, for example, with a yield of 0.002 kiloton).

Whether Russian "suitcase nukes" exist, much less are lost, is still currently unknown, though the threat of the old Soviet nuclear arsenal falling into malicious hands has been behind many American and Russian joint-initiatives after the Cold War to bolster Russia's ability to keep its nuclear weapons secure and accounted for, while the amount of weapons is being scaled down as well. Even if such weapons do exist, and have been lost or stolen, the dangers of a terrorist organization getting its hands on them may be highly overestimated, given the logistical difficulties of advertising, seeking, and actively purchasing such a politically and economically valuable device in total secrecy.

The technology required to manufacture a nuclear warhead miniaturized to such an extent that it could fit into a suitcase restricts the independent development of "suitcase nukes" to only nations with highly-advanced nuclear weapons programs which have performed many nuclear tests. However it is conceivable that if such weapons had ever been produced, that they could be stolen or sold to malicious organizations or states without advanced nuclear technology of their own.

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