Atomic demolition munition

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Internal components of the MADM setup. From left to right: packing container, W45 warhead, code-decoder unit, firing unit.

Atomic demolition munitions (ADMs), colloquially known as nuclear land mines, are small nuclear explosive devices. ADMs were developed for both military and civilian purposes. As weapons, they were designed to be exploded in the forward battle area, in order to block or channel enemy forces. Non-militarily, they were designed for demolition, mining or earthmoving. However, apart from testing, they have never been used for either purpose.

Military uses[edit]

Shot Uncle of Operation Buster-Jangle, had a yield of 1.2 kilotons,[1] and was detonated 5.2 m (17 ft) beneath ground level.[2] The yield is approximately the same as the maximum yield of the W54 equipped SADM. The explosion resulted in a cloud that rose to 11,500 ft, and deposited fallout to the north and north-northeast.[3] The resulting crater was 260 feet wide and 53 feet deep.[4]

Instead of being delivered to the target by missiles, rockets, or artillery shells, ADMs were intended to be emplaced by soldiers. Due to their relatively small size and light weight, ADMs could be emplaced by military engineers or Special Forces teams, then detonated on command or by timer to create massive obstructions. By destroying key terrain features or choke points such as bridges, dams, mountain passes and tunnels, ADMs could serve to create physical as well as radiological obstacles to the movement of enemy forces and thus channel them into prepared killing zones.[5][6]

According to official accounts, the United States deployed ADMs overseas in Italy and West Germany during the Cold War.[7][8][9] Recent scholarship also indicates that the most modern types (SADM and MADM) were deployed in South Korea.[10][11][12] Seymour Hersh referred to the deployment of ADMs along the Golan Heights by Israel in the early 1980s.[13]

Civilian uses[edit]

ADMs have never been used commercially although similar small devices, often modified to cut down on fission yield and maximize fusion, have been deeply buried to put out gas well fires as part of the Soviet test program.

The Soviet Union tested the use of nuclear devices for mining and natural gas extraction (stimulating gas flow in a similar manner to Fracking) on several occasions starting in the mid-1960s, as part of the Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy program. Tests for similar purposes were carried out in the United States under Operation Plowshare, but due to radioactive contamination caused by the tests, no direct commercial use was made of the technology although they were successful at nucleosynthesis and probing the composition of the Earth's deep crust by Vibroseis which has helped mining company prospecting.[14][15][16]

United States ADMs[edit]

H-912 transport container for Mk-54 SADM

In the 1950s and 1960s, the United States developed several different types of lightweight nuclear devices. The main one was the W54, a cylinder 40 by 60 cm (about 16 by 24 inches) that weighed 68 kg (150 lb). It was fired by a mechanical timer and had a variable yield equivalent to between 10 tons and 1 kt of TNT. A Field non-variable yield version of the W54 nuclear device (called the "Mk-54 Davy Crockett" warhead for the M-388 Crockett round) was used in the Davy Crockett Weapon System.


The Mk 30 Mod 1 Tactical Atomic Demolition Munition (TADM) was a portable atomic bomb, consisting of a Mk 30 warhead installed in a X-113 case. The X-113 was 26 inches (66 cm) in diameter and 70 in (178 cm) long, and looked like corrugated culvert pipe. The whole system weighed 840 pounds (381 kg). Production of the TADM started in 1961 and all were removed from stockpile by 1966. A weapons effect test of the TADM was made in the 1962 Johnny Boy("Johnnie Boy"[17]) shot of the Dominic II series (which is more accurately referred to as Operation Sunbeam), the yield of Johnny Boy/Johnnie Boy was about .5 kt.[18] A preceding ADM test which resulted in a comparable yield, was test shot "Danny Boy" of Operation Nougat, also producing a yield of about 0.5 kiloton.[19]


Scientists look at a MADM nuclear land mine. Cutaway casing with warhead inside, code-decoder / firing unit is at left.

The Special Atomic Demolition Munition (SADM) was a family of man-portable nuclear weapons fielded by the US military in the 1960s, but never used in actual combat. The US Army planned to use the weapons in Europe in the event of a Soviet invasion. US Army Engineers would use the weapon to irradiate, destroy, and deny key routes of communication through limited terrain such as the Fulda Gap. Troops were trained to parachute into Soviet occupied western Europe with the SADM and destroy power plants, bridges, and dams.

The weapon was designed to allow one person to parachute from any type of aircraft carrying the weapon package and place it in a harbor or other strategic location that could be accessed from the sea. Another parachutist without a weapon package would follow the first to provide support as needed.

The two-person team would place the weapon package in the target location, set the timer, and swim out into the ocean where they would be retrieved by a submarine or a high-speed surface water craft.


The Medium Atomic Demolition Munition (MADM) was a tactical nuclear weapon developed by the United States during the Cold War. They were designed to be used as nuclear land mines and for other tactical purposes, with a relatively low explosive yield from a W45 warhead, between 1 and 15 kilotons. Each MADM weighted around 400 lb (181 kg) total. They were produced between 1965 and 1986.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Some sources refer to the test as Jangle Uncle (e.g., Adushkin, 2001) or Project Windstorm (e.g., DOE/NV-526, 1998). Operation Buster and Operation Jangle were initially conceived as separate operations, and Jangle was at first known as Windstorm, but the AEC merged the plans into a single operation on 19 June 1951. See Gladeck, 1986.
  2. ^ Adushkin, Vitaly V.; Leith, William (September 2001). "USGS Open File Report 01-312: Containment of Soviet underground nuclear explosions" (PDF). US Department of the Interior Geological Survey. 
  3. ^ Ponton, Jean et al. (June 1982). Shots Sugar and Uncle: The final tests of the Buster-Jangle series (DNA 6025F) (PDF). Defense Nuclear Agency. 
  4. ^ "Operation Buster-Jangle". The Nuclear Weapons Archive. 
  5. ^ Employment of Atomic Demolition Munitions (field manual), Washington, DC, US: Department of the Army, July 1984, 5-106  (unclassified).
  6. ^ "The Nuclear Matters Handbook". At the height of the Cold War, however, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces had contingency plans to use craters from nuclear detonations to channel, contain, or block enemy ground forces. The size of the crater and its radioactivity for the first several days would produce an obstacle that would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a military unit to cross. 
  7. ^ Condit, Kenneth W (1992), The History of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—The Joint Chiefs of Staff and National Policy, VI, 1955–56, Washington, DC, US: GPO, p. 146 .
  8. ^ US Security Issues in Europe, 93rd Congress, December 2, 1973, p. 15 .
  9. ^ The New York Times, December 2, 1973: 1, 34  Missing or empty |title= (help).
  10. ^ Hayes, Peter (1991), Pacific Powderkeg: American Nuclear Dilemmas in Korea (PDF), Lexington, Massachusetts, US: DC Heath and Co, p. 48 .
  11. ^ Gervasi, Thomas ‘Tom’ (1986), The Myth of Soviet Nuclear Supremacy, New York, US: Harper & Row, pp. 416–7 .
  12. ^ Arkin, William M; Fieldhouse, Richard W (1985), Nuclear Battlefields: Global Links in the Arms Race, Cambridge: Ballinger, p. 61 .
  13. ^ Hersh, Seymour (1991), The Samson Option: Israel’s Nuclear Arsenal and American Foreign Policy, New York: Random House, p. 170 .
  14. ^ "Isotope recovery; neutron physics experiment; examination of heat recovery; seismic measurements; and explosive development." (PDF). 
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ Chuck Hansen Swords of Armageddon
  19. ^ "Operation Nougat September 1961 to 30 June 1962 Nevada Test Site". 
  20. ^ "Combating WMD Journal". p. 47. Retrieved 1 July 2013. 

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