Nobody hates a suicide mission more than a Green Beret. Through the entire training pipeline, it is emphasized that a highly trained Special Forces soldier is a national treasure who should smart his way out of things and live to fight another day. Turns out that the National Command Authority was quite willing to throw Green Berets at a certain difficult problem with very slim odds of survival.

Between 1964 and 1988, selected Army Special Forces ODAs were trained to hand-deliver nuclear weapons. Project Green Light was a highly classified program that assigned Special Forces MFF and scuba teams to deliver the devices around the world, from Eastern Europe to Korea and Iran. The objective was to deter aggression and, if necessary, stop communist forces. While conventional planners considered this a suicide mission, the Green Berets assigned to Green Light planned a way out and expected to be around for exfiltration. If anybody could pull it off, these guys could.

Throughout the Cold War, Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces had their NATO counterparts significantly outnumbered. We used to say, “Quantity has a quality all its own.” The United States planned to use nuclear weapons to balance the odds. President Dwight Eisenhower sought to deter Soviet aggression  by threatening to respond to any conventional attack with a full strategic nuclear attack, a doctrine known as massive retaliation.

The problem with massive retaliation was the lack of flexibility. If communist forces launched a limited, non-nuclear attack, the president would have to choose between conventional defeat or a strategic nuclear exchange that would kill millions. What emerged was the concept of limited nuclear war, which provided for the use of tactical nuclear weapons to delay communist forces long enough for reinforcements to arrive.

Conventional Army engineer units planned to employ these small weapons like big land mines against mountain passes and in front of enemy formations as part of a barrier plan, landscaping irradiated obstacles.

The U.S. developed several different types of lightweight nuclear devices in the ’50s and ’60s. The smallest of these was the W-54 nuclear warhead: 10.75 inches in diameter and 15.7 inches long, it weighed approximately 50 pounds. It was fired by a mechanical timer and had an adjustable yield between 10 tons and one kiloton (the equivalent of a thousand tons of TNT). The W-54 nuclear device was used by the Air Force on the AIM-26A Falcon anti-aircraft missile and the AGM-45 Walleye anti-submarine missile. The Army employed the W-54 on the M-29 Davy Crockett, a jeep- or truck-mounted recoilless rifle with about a three-kilometer range. Special Forces got the man-portable Special Atomic Demolition Munition version.

Designed at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory and built by the Atomic Energy Commission, the W-54 was test-fired using the 155 millimeter Davy Crockett under simulated battlefield conditions, detonated 20 feet above ground at a distance of 1.7 miles.