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A B61 nuclear bomb in various stages of assembly; the nuclear warhead is the bullet-shaped silver canister in the middle-left of the photograph.

A warhead is the forward section of a device that contains the explosive agent or toxic (biological, chemical, or nuclear) material that is delivered by a missile, rocket, torpedo, or bomb.


Types of warheads include:

Often, a biological or chemical warhead will use an explosive charge for rapid dispersal.


Explosive warheads contain detonators to trigger the explosion.

Types of detonators include:

Type Definition
Contact When the warhead makes physical contact with the target, the explosive is detonated. Sometimes combined with a delay, to detonate a specific amount of time after contact.
Proximity Using radar, sonar, a magnetic sensor, or a laser, the warhead is detonated when the target is within a specified distance. It is often coupled with directional explosion control system that ensures that the explosion sends the fragmentation primarily towards the target that triggered it.
Timed Warhead is detonated after a specific amount of time.
Altitude Warhead is detonated once it falls to a specified altitude, usually in an air burst.
Remote Remotely detonated via signal from operator. (Not normally used for warheads except for self-destruction)
Combined Any combination of the above.

See also


  1. "The B61 (Mk-61) Bomb". The Nuclear Weapon Archive. 9 January 2007. Archived from the original on Nov 30, 2023.
  2. "B61". April 16, 2017. Archived from the original on Mar 16, 2023.
  3. "B61 Nuclear Gravity Bomb". Brookings Institution. Archived from the original on Mar 10, 2012.
  4. Stephen I. Schwartz. "Atomic Audit - The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940". Brookings Institution Press, 1998.
  5. "B61 Thermonuclear Bomb". Hill Air Force Base. 2008. Archived from the original on May 25, 2011.
  6. "NNSA Achieves Significant Milestone for B61 Bomb". NNSA. June 30, 2006. Archived from the original on Jul 30, 2009.
  7. Chuck Hansen, U.S. Nuclear Weapons: The Secret History, (New York: Orion Books, 1988), pp. 162–164.