In 1973 the Army's short-range Lance missile was deployed with the Livermore Lab-designed W70 warhead. Three years later the Lab was asked to modify this warhead with an enhanced radiation capability. The modified version was deployed in 1981
Lance was developed for the Army to replace the Honest John and Little John systems (the W45 for Little John was the third Lab-designed warhead in the stockpile) and provide a short-range, tactical surface-to-surface missile. It featured increased accuracy, short reaction time, and simple maintenance.
The Lance and its ground-support equipment were designed to provide full mobility in all types of terrain and withstand the rigors of forward battle-zone operations. A self-propelled launcher carries, erects, and fires the Lance missile. A lightweight launcher could be towed by a 2 1/2-ton truck, but its primarily use was in helicopter operations.
The Lance missile was provided with a guidance system that eliminated the need for meteorological information and was completely self-contained. Another innovation for Lance was the propulsion system, which consisted of a liquid-fueled, prepackaged, bi-propellant rocket unit.
In April 1976, the Laboratory began development of an enhanced radiation version of the W70 warhead for the Lance. One of two warhead yields under or over a kiloton could be selected. Work was suspended for political reasons by the Carter administration in September of the following year, but production engineering resumed in 1978 and the first production units were completed by 1981. In 1991 the warhead was slated for retirement, and the last unit was retired September 1992.
The W79 and the W70-3 were to be the first battlefield nuclear weapons to include an "enhanced radiation" (ER) capability. ER provided a relatively high fraction of the prompt weapon output in the form of neutrons (hence the nickname "neutron bomb"). ER technology began to be developed at Livermore in the early 1960s and entered the stockpile in 1974 with the deployment of the W66 warhead for the Sprint antiballistic missile interceptor.
ER weapons were also developed for NATO forces. They were far more effective than previously deployed battlefield nuclear weapons for blunting a Soviet armored invasion of Western Europe and hence strengthened deterrence. A lethal radiation dose to enemy troops- likely protected in armored vehicles- could be achieved with the much smaller yield of an ER weapon than with a standard nuclear weapon. ER weapons could be employed to strike enemy units much closer to urban areas while avoiding collateral damage to towns and civilians.
By the time the W70-3 and the W79 were part of NATO forces, they had become the center of an international controversy. A principal concern expressed by opponents was that by virtue of the lower yield and greater utility of ER weapons, their deployment would serve to lower the threshold for nuclear war. This controversy led to a 1985 Congressional order that future W79s be built without the ER capability, and existing units were modified to remove this capability. Eventually, all US battlefield nuclear weapons were retired in accordance with President Bush's September 1991 address to the nation.
In May 1999 it was reported that China was close to deploying a nuclear missile with a warhead whose design draws on stolen American secrets. Some U.S. officials said the new Chinese weapon will use design technology from the W-70 warhead, a small bomb designed at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the 1970s. China stole secret design information about the W-70 from the lab in the late 1970's or early 1980's, Government investigators said. A scientist was fired in from Lawrence Livermore in 1981 in connection with the investigation into the suspected theft, but no one has ever been arrested in the case. The FBI said it did not have evidence to bring charges in the case.
On two occasions, the PRC has stolen classified U.S. information about neutron bomb warheads from a U.S. national weapons laboratory. The United States learned of these thefts of classified information on the neutron bomb in 1996 and in the late 1970s, when the first theft - including design information on the W-70 warhead - occurred. The W-70 warhead contains elements that may be used either as a strategic thermonuclear weapon, or as an enhanced radiation weapon ("neutron bomb"). The PRC subsequently tested the neutron bomb.
For the Livermore-designed weapon systems being retired the Lab has a continuing active responsibility to ensure safe and timely dismantlement and disposition of excess materials. In 1996, Livermore completed dismantlement of the W48 artillery projectiles, the W55 SUBROCs, and the W70 Lance warheads.
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