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:
- Explosive: An explosive charge is used to disintegrate the target, and damage surrounding areas with a blast wave.
- Conventional: Chemicals such as gunpowder and high explosives store significant energy within their molecular bonds. This energy can be released quickly by a trigger, such as an electric spark. Thermobaric weapons enhance the blast effect by utilizing the surrounding atmosphere in their explosive reactions.
- Blast: A strong shock wave is provided by the detonation of the explosive.
- Fragmentation: Metal fragments are projected at high velocity to cause damage or injury.
- Continuous rod: Metal bars welded on their ends form a compact cylinder of interconnected rods, which is violently expanded into a contiguous zig-zag-shaped ring by an explosive detonation. The rapidly expanding ring produces a planar cutting effect that is devastating against military aircraft, which may be designed to be resistant to shrapnel.
- Shaped charge: The effect of the explosive charge is focused onto a specially shaped metal liner to project a hypervelocity jet of metal, to perforate heavy armour.
- Explosively formed penetrator: Instead of turning a thin metal liner into a focused jet, the detonation wave is directed against a concave metal plate at the front of the warhead, propelling it at high velocity while simultaneously deforming it into a projectile.
- Nuclear: A runaway nuclear fission (fission bomb) or nuclear fusion (Thermonuclear weapon) reaction causes immense energy release.
- Chemical: A toxic chemical, such as poison gas or nerve gas, is dispersed, which is designed to injure or kill human beings.
- Biological: An infectious agent, such as anthrax spores, is dispersed, which is designed to sicken or kill humans.
Often, a biological or chemical warhead will use an explosive charge for rapid dispersal.
Type of detonators include:
||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.
||Using radar, sound waves, 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.
||Remotely detonated via signal from operator (Not normally used for warheads except for self-destruction).
||Warhead is detonated after a specific amount of time.
||Warhead is detonated once it falls to a specified altitude.
||Any combination of the above.