The US government worked on a top-secret project for seven years to develop the most lethal, and not to mention, irresponsible weapon in history. If this weapon had been built, the United States would have produced the world’s first, and possibly last, nuclear-powered nuclear weapon. But what is the Supersonic Low-Altitude Missile?
The Super Sonic Low-Altitude Missle (SLAM) is America’s Cold War doomsday weapon. It was a nuclear-powered cruise missile that would have dropped nuclear bombs at designated sites while spewing radiation from its unprotected reactor, then crashed into an area after it was complete.
Project Pluto: The Creation of an Apocalyptic Weapon
One such endeavor overseen by the United States is the Supersonic Low Altitude Missile or SLAM. It was a weapon developed by the Air Force which is not to be mistaken for the later AGM-84E Standoff Land Attack Missile. The SLAM missile program was supposed to use a Project Pluto-developed ramjet nuclear propulsion system. The 9M730 Burevestnik, or Skyfall missile, is a Russian missile that uses a similar nuclear propulsion principle. (Source: Sandboxx)
SLAM: The Weapon Designed for Ultimate Destruction
The nuclear ramjet created for SLAM as part of Project Pluto was designed to pull air in from the front of the vehicle while flying at high speeds, generating enormous pressure. The air would then be superheated and expelled out the back of the nuclear reactor to provide propulsion. This ramjet technology, which does not need atomic fuel, is still used in some platforms today and is critical in some hypersonic missile designs.
The onboard nuclear reactor generated more than 500 megawatts of power. It ran at a blistering 2,500 degrees, which was hot enough to destroy the structural integrity of metal alloys built to endure extreme temperatures. As a result, it was determined to use specifically created ceramics from the Coors Porcelain Company in Colorado instead of metal internal parts.
The disadvantage of ramjet propulsion is that it can only operate at high speeds. To achieve those speeds, the SLAM would be launched into the air and accelerated by rocket boosters until it reached a pace that allowed the nuclear ramjet to engage. The missile could stay aloft nearly indefinitely if the nuclear ramjet system were operational, allowing it to engage several targets and potentially elude intercept. (Source: Sandboxx)
The Elimination of Project Pluto’s SLAM
Project Pluto and its SLAM missile were eventually shelved before they could ever take off. The cancellation was prompted by several factors, including the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles and the advent of global strike heavy payload bombers such as the B-52 Stratofortress. However, there were undoubtedly other factors contributing to the program’s demise.
The SLAM could not be launched from US soil or allowed to fly over any country other than its target countries since it would irradiate, destroy, or deafen anybody or whatever it flew over. That meant the missile could only be launched from just outside. ICBMs could be found in the American Midwest and reach the Soviet border.
There was also a legitimate concern that building such a horrible weapon might prompt the Soviet Union to retaliate. The Soviet Union ensured that whenever the United States presented a new weapon or strategic capability, they could match and resist it. As a result, it was plausible to conclude that if America’s nuclear-capable doomsday missile became operational, the Soviets would follow suit and develop their own. On July 1, 1964, Project Pluto and its SLAM missile program were canceled. (Source: Sandboxx)