Thriller Guy has mentioned more than a few times how difficult it is these days for writers to come up with at least a mildly credible Method of Mayhem for their villains to employ. Since everything about a thriller has to be big, the weapon has to be big (big enough to destroy the world) or the average reader will yawn a ho hum and give up on a book. This means, usually, a nuclear weapon of some sort is called for, though the fiends who figure out ways to harness and direct earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunamis and other natural disasters have certainly had their day. And let's not forget turning all our robots and electrical devices against us. But in general, nukes win in this department, and “suitcase” nukes are by far the favorite weapon of choice with writers still honing in on the fact that there were 48 bombs of this type that were mislaid by Russia sometime after the end of the cold war.
It has since become clear that wherever these bombs are today, they are most probably no longer operable, though TG supposes that the nuclear material could be used with conventional explosives to manufacture a “dirty” bomb that would be quite deadly from the dangers of radioactivity over long periods of time. So since readers still want that big bang, where are you going to get it?
Recently Stars and Stripes magazine came out with an article that answers that question and TG is happy to pass it along to all you writers out there looking for a good weapon of mass destruction. Here are some excerpts, but TG recommends that anyone interested should read the original article that they will find here. From the excellent article…
“For 25 years, during the latter half of the Cold War, the United States actually did deploy man-portable nuclear destruction in the form of the B-54 Special Atomic Demolition Munition (SADM).
“Soldiers from elite Army engineer and Special Forces units, as well as Navy SEALs and select Marines, trained to use the bombs, known as "backpack nukes," on battlefronts fromcommunist forces.”
“In 1958, when the Army came knocking for an atomic demolition munition that could be carried by a single soldier, the AEC looked to the Crockett's (Davey Crockett was an atomic rifle) lightweight Mark 54 warhead for its solution. The resulting weapon would be a smaller, more mobile version of the ADMs. The Army, though, would have to share the device with the Navy and Marine Corps.
“The AEC's final product — the B-54 Special Atomic Demolition Munition — entered the U.S. arsenal in 1964. It stood 18 inches tall, encased in an aluminum and fiberglass frame. It rounded to a bullet shape on one end and had a 12-inch-diameter control panel on the other. According to an Army manual, the weapon's maximum explosive yield was less than 1 kiloton — that is, the equivalent of a thousand tons of TNT. To protect the bomb from unauthorized use, the SADM's control panel was sealed by a cover plate secured by a combination lock. Glow-in-the-dark paint applied to the lock allowed troops to unlock the bomb at night.
“When hauling the weapons on foot, things were even more difficult. Dan Dawson, an ADM engineer, remembers how difficult it was to run with a backpack nuke. During a training exercise, his unit simulated a mission to blow up a railroad tunnel but found it difficult to move a SADM across a patch of open ground.
"To get [the SADM backpacker] across this open area in a hurry, two of us, one on each side, had to support him under his arms and trot with him across this open area. You could carry it, but you couldn't run with it."
“As Cold War tensions abated, the United States began recalling SADMs to the continental United States. The weapon was officially retired in 1989, with the departments of Defense and Energy declaring that it was "obsolete" and that "there was no longer an operational requirement" for it.”
TG here again… All of this begs the question, where did all these weapons go after it was declared obsolete? I’m sure the official answer is they were safely all accounted for, decommissioned and the nuclear material safely disposed of. Yeah, sure. TG has no doubt that there’s a couple of these things hanging from hooks in some old guy’s garage, sitting on dusty racks in an armory somewhere or hidden away by a right-wing nutter General who’s balanced on the edge of using them to re-establish America as the greatest Goddamn country in the world.
At any rate, Thriller writers, there you go, have at it. And if that isn’t enough for you, there’s always the Davy Crockett nuclear rifle mentioned above. I’m sure there are a couple of them still kicking around somewhere as well.