The most important test yet of a proposed nuclear warhead that could smash through the Earth’s surface to destroy underground Soviet command centers was a success, a government scientist said Thursday.
A bullet-shaped warhead armed with high explosives but “mock” radioactive plutonium slammed through 22 feet of hard volcanic rock in a Sept. 28 test at the Tonopah Test Range in New Mexico.
The first stage of a Genie rocket carried the four-foot warhead casing aloft for four miles. The second stage drove it into--and through--the ground at 1,400 m.p.h.
Harry Vantine, head of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory project to develop the controversial Earth-penetrating weapon, said the warhead passed its most critical test so far.
“It was a major milestone in our program,” the physicist said. “It is one of the most difficult design tasks we’ve ever attempted.
The California government research lab is trying to determine the feasibility of a warhead that could survive a plunge through concrete, rock, buildings or the debris of a nuclear war.