- The W76-2 warhead is a new, low-yield nuclear weapon
- The Pentagon believes other countries—especially Russia—could use low-yield nukes early in a conflict, so it needs its own.
- The W76-2 has an explosive yield of 10 kilotons, or 10,000 tons of TNT, or less.
The Pentagon reaffirmed its determination to field a new nuclear weapon designed to allow the U.S. to match Russian and Chinese nukes on the battlefield. In an interview with Seapower magazine, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood stated that the nukes are necessary to counter Russian plans to use low-yield nuclear weapons early in a conflict, frightening its enemies into a ceasefire. According to Seapower:
“Rood said the need for the new low-yield weapons came from intelligence reports of Russian emphasis on the use of nuclear weapons earlier in a conflict, “and the mistaken belief that they have the ability to use a low-yield nuclear weapon earlier in the conflict in a way to deter response.” He cited Russian President Vladimir Putin’s public statements advocating the early use of low-yield nuclear weapons “as a way of deterring an adversary.”
What kind of scenario is Rood thinking about? Imagine Russia launched a blitzkrieg-style attack on Poland and the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia, or Lithuania. Russia quickly conquers all four countries before NATO can effectively muster a response. While NATO assembles a reaction force, Russia explodes a small, low-yield nuclear weapon at the Polish border. The detonation would serve warning that Russia was now prepared to use nuclear weapons to defend its conquest, forcing NATO to choose between standing down or using nukes of its own.