The marketplace for books about military history is crowded with an abundance of titles about every weapon system ever built, from trireme to Tiger tank, but, ironically, is almost deserted when it comes to the most fearsome weapons of all: the never-used nuclear weapons of the Cold War. That gap is partly filled by this never previously published series of declassified official histories written by Sandia National Laboratories in the late 1960s. This reproduction of a declassified report, originally classified SECRET: RESTRICTED DATA, tells the story of the Mk 25 nuclear warheads, code-named DING DONG, that were developed beginning in 1951 for use in air defense. The largely unredacted report includes a timetable of weapon events; a history of the Mk 25; a glossary of terms; and references with 57 endnotes. It tells a fascinating story.
The military requirements were driven by the potential of saturation attacks by mass formations of Soviet bombers and guided missiles that would in turn require defense of most of the perimeter of North America. "It was predicted that that air defense weapons would have to be produced in large numbers, possibly tens of thousands, in order to provide an effective defense of any sizable portion of the country. They would thus have to be economical, both in nuclear and nonnuclear costs. These weapons would have to be operationally ready at all times to respond to a surprise attack, and they would have to be able to withstand exposure to climatic extremes ranging from the arctic to the tropics. The weapons should require only minor maintenance, since it would not be possible to provide a sufficiently large group of thoroughly trained technicians."
The result of this analysis was the development beginning in 1954 of the Mk 25 air defense warhead. Beginning in 1957 the Mk 25 was deployed on the GENIE unguided air-to-air missile launched by F-89 and F-102 interceptors. The optimum yield was calculated by still-classified methods that involved tradeoffs between the probability of kill, the weight of the missile and aircraft, efficiency in the use of nuclear materials, and the time needed for the launch aircraft to escape. The Mk 25 and its successors were deployed on US and Canadian NORAD interceptors until the early 1980s.
To demonstrate that air defense nuclear weapons could be used without harm to the civilian population, the Air Force conducted a special demonstration during the John shot of the Operation Plumbob test series in 1957. Five Air Force officers volunteered to stand, hatless, directly underneath ground zero of the 1.5 kt airburst. Video of them afterwards shows them shaking hands and lighting cigars. Fun! One can only imagine how much fun the civilian population of North America would have had watching Mk 25s light up the skies over cities such as Seattle, Winnipeg, Minneapolis, Detroit, Buffalo, and Boston.
Readers who enjoy content like DR. STRANGELOVE, 13 DAYS IN OCTOBER, and FAIL-SAFE will enjoy adding this to their bookshelf.