In 1967, a 107-country Outer Space Treaty was signed that prohibits biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons from being sent into or utilized from Earth’s orbit in space. It wasn’t counted on that the US Air Force’s most simplistic weapon ever — a rod made out of tungsten metal which could strike a city with explosive power similar to that of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
During the times of the Vietnam War, the United States used what is known as “Lazy Dog” bombs. These were just simple pieces of solid steel, less than two inches in length, with fins fitted in. These didn’t have any explosive materials — and were easily dropped down by hundreds at a time from warplanes in flight above the country of Vietnam.
Lazy Dog projectiles or “kinetic bombardment” would be able to reach speeds of upwards to 500 mph as they hurdle towards the Earth’s surface, and could penetrate nine inches into concrete after being dropped to Earth from as little as 3,000 feet high.
This concept is similar to firing bullets at a target, only instead of a velocity loss as it travels through the air, the projectile gains energy and velocity that is expended upon impact. Sort of like shotgunning a big area of jungle, and raining down bullet-sized death at high speeds.
This is how “Project Thor” came to exist.
Instead of using hundreds of smaller projectiles from the distance of a few thousand feet away, Thor utilized a big projectile from a few thousand miles above the planet. This “Rods From God“ concept was some telephone-pole-sized (20 feet in length, and a diameter of one foot) tungsten rods, dropped down from Earth’s orbit, reaching speeds of upwards to ten times the speed of sound.
These rods would be capable of penetrating hundreds of feet into the ground, obliterating any suspected secret underground sites or hardened bunkers. Not only that, but when the rod makes impact, the explosion would be up to par with the intensity of a ground-penetrating nuclear weapon — but without the fallout. This type of weapon would be able to impact a target within a notice of 15 minutes.
A Quora user employed in the defense aerospace industry quoted costs of nothing under $10,000 USD per pound in order to launch anything into outer-space. With being made up of 20 cubic feet of dense tungsten, and a weight of over 24,000 pounds, it’s simple math. Just one of these tungsten rods alone would have a prohibitively expensive cost. The cost of $240 million per rod was unimaginable during the Cold War.
In present times, not so much. The Bush administration even considered revisiting the concept to destroy the underground nuclear sites of rogue nations in the years following the events of September 11, 2001. An interesting fact to consider is that the price of a single Minuteman III ICBM was $7 million in the year 1962, when it was initially introduced. ($57 million considering inflation).
The issues with using a nuclear payload is that they weren’t designed to penetrate deep into the ground. Additionally, the fallout caused by a nuclear device is likely to devastate potential friendly and nearby areas.
A vital takeaway from the idea of weapons such as Project Thor‘s is that hyper-sonic weaponry packs an enormous punch and may be in the future of global warfare.