Exactly what it says on the tin: how do I design a tank to fight a nuclear war?

Nukes in this setting are limited to one kiloton yield or below by treaty, with the smallest ones having a yield of ten tons of TNT; any country that detonates nuclear weapons with a yield greater than one kiloton gets attacked with strategic nuclear weapons by every other country.

Tech level is modern, except with advanced-enough point defense and air defense systems that tactical attack aircraft and carriers have been replaced with self-propelled guns and battleships, respectively.

These tanks need to both be able to fire nuclear weapons and withstand a nearby hit to the best of their ability.


2 Answers 2


Probably something like Object 279

enter image description here

This unusual tank was designed in 1959 to fight on nuclear battlefields that the designers thought may exist in the future. Thankfully they didn't.

Key features that make it able to (it is claimed) survive a nuclear blast are:

  • Heavy weight: at 60 tonnes it was about 20% heavier than many of it's contemporaries, preventing it from being tossed around easily.
  • Low, aerodynamic profile: This tank doesn't have a curved profile for speed - it has it to deflect a blast wave up and over the top
  • Extremely wide tracks: It's hard to push something around that has such a phenomenal level of surface traction. This also meant that this tank could navigate terrain that regular tanks would struggle with.
  • Sealed interior and life support system: details are sketchy, but it is reported to have a degree of CBRN protection. This would likely include near airtight seals, and a comprehensive air treatment and filtration system.

In terms of armament, although the 130mm gun was not designed to fire nuclear shells, some of the smallest nuclear artillery shells designed were as small as 127mm with sub 1kt yields. According to nukemap a 1kt yield should have a fireball of about 80m in radius, and heavy damage out to about 220m. It seems plausible that this tank could launch shells far enough (modern effective ranges for tank guns seem to be about 4km) to not be caught in the worst of the blast.

  • $\begingroup$ Great Start! Add to it a free-floating crew compartment enclosed in a roll cage enclosed in an omni-directional pivot to cancel any spin and mounted on shock-absorbers capable of negating most of the concussion. That way the crew stays relatively still even if something hits close enough to flip the tank around a bit. Hardened electronics to get past the EMP and liquid-hydrogen tanks which can be vented to diminish the blast heat. $\endgroup$ Sep 15, 2021 at 20:28
  • $\begingroup$ @HenryTaylor No one cared about the crews. Those were cheap and replaceable. Hose the interior out and find 3 more conscriptees. Certainly better than wasting resources on internally free-floating roll cages. $\endgroup$
    – John O
    Sep 15, 2021 at 21:01
  • $\begingroup$ @HenryTaylor a hamsterball cage isn't going to protect anyone from inertial forces when the tank is brutally shoved and bounces across the landscape. $\endgroup$
    – BMF
    Sep 16, 2021 at 14:07
  • $\begingroup$ @BMF,It might not actually work, but simply by looking like it might work will help with recruiting pilots for the doomed juggernauts. Consider how many of us happily drive in cars because the airbags will protect us, even though airbags cause a lot of injuries in low impact collisions. $\endgroup$ Sep 16, 2021 at 15:00
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think the weight is to prevent it being tossed around, but rather because it has an extremly thick armor. $\endgroup$
    – Sebastian
    Sep 17, 2021 at 14:20

To Serve nuclear weapons - build a monster

Upshot-Knothole Grable, tested in 1953 fired a nuclear artillery projectile.

The M65 cannon used had a bore of 280mm (11"), barrel length 1380mm (54") and weighed 77 tons. It fired a AFAP (artillery-fired atomic projectile) round up to 32km at 625 m/s. The AFAP round in this test had an airburst detonation at 160m altitude, estimated yield: 15 kilotons (Hiroshima).

The kind of tank that can mount an 11", 77 ton cannon is going to be an absolute monster. A landship weighing hundreds of tons, if we're talking integrated radars / air defense systems like Tor-M1 on the same platform pretty soon you will need nuclear power just to propel the thing.

If you're willing to accept smaller payloads, and thus smaller delivery systems (short range missiles) you could end up with something more closely resembling a main battle tank. I still think most of the vehicle would be dedicated to erecting and firing the missile.

To fight on a nuclear battlfield, not as bad

  • Hardened electronics like those used in satellite and aerospace systems.
  • Radiation shielding and sensors in the crew compartment.
  • Sealed CBR air recycling.
  • Some anti-radiation iodine pills in the first-aid kit.
  • Low profile and low center of gravity to resist blast waves and drag effects.
  • Maybe even some ablative, insulated armor like they have on the space shuttles to withstand the heat of a near miss.
  • Also, a breach with double seals or that doesn't open directly into the crew compartment.
  • integrated, low-drag antenna fairings that won't get torn off in the high pressure winds

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .