The Atomic Army: A Case Study in Strategic Landpower

  • September 15, 2015
  • Dr James C McNaughton

In the mid-1950s, the U.S. Army became the world’s first landpower trained and equipped to deliver nuclear fires on the battlefield. Within a decade the Army operated ten different nuclear weapons systems, even though by then their strategic rationale had sharply eroded. For a time, industry’s ability to design ever smaller and more sophisticated weapons outstripped their operational rationale. Yet soldiers and leaders at unit level continued to maintain these complex systems for field artillery, air defense artillery, atomic demolition munitions and intermediate-range ballistic missiles. They devised solutions to the problems of sharing the technology with allies and the Reserve Components and securing the weapons on foreign soil. Soldiers continually innovated as new and improved systems became available and maintained these capabilities through decades of rapid change, including non-nuclear conflicts, the transition to an All-Volunteer Army and racial and gender integration. The Army adapted its personnel management, training, security and maintenance systems at enormous cost. Not until the end of the Cold War did the president finally direct the Army to stand down from this demanding mission.