Joe 4

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Country Soviet Union
Test site Semipalatinsk Test Site, Kazakh SSR
Period August 1953
Number of tests 1
Test type Atmospheric test
Device type Fusion
Max. yield Total yield 400 kilotons of TNT (1,700 TJ)
Test chronology
← RDS-3
RDS-4 →

Joe 4 (warhead name: RDS-6s (Reaktivnyi Dvigatel Specialnyi; Special Jet Engine)) was an American nickname for the first Soviet test of a thermonuclear weapon on August 12, 1953, that detonated with a force equivalent to 400 kilotons of TNT.

Scholars dispute the authenticity of RDS-6 as a thermonuclear device as it did not manage to produce a yield consistent with a true hydrogen bomb.[1] It utilized a scheme in which fission and fusion fuel (lithium-6 deuteride) were "layered", a design known as the Sloika (Russian: Слойка, named after a type of layered puff pastry) model in the Soviet Union. A ten-fold increase in explosive power was achieved by a combination of fusion energy and neutron-initiated ("boosted") fission. A similar design was earlier theorized by Edward Teller, but never tested, in the U.S. as the "Alarm Clock".[2]


The Soviet thermonuclear weapons program initially researched two weapon designs. One design was the Sloika (RDS-6s), the other design was the Truba (Russian: Труба, pipe/cylinder) (RDS-6t). The RDS-6t was a two-stage gun-type bomb with a deuterium-tritium secondary and was similar to the U.S. “classical Super” design. When the United States detonated a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific in 1952 (Ivy Mike), higher priority was given to the RDS-6s design, which was considered to be more likely to work.[3]

Andrei Sakharov's study group at the Theoretical Department of FIAN (the Physical Institute of the Soviet Academy of Sciences) in 1948 came up with a second concept: adding a shell of natural, unenriched uranium around the deuterium would increase the deuterium concentration at the uranium-deuterium boundary and the overall yield of the device, because the natural uranium would capture neutrons and itself fission as part of the thermonuclear reaction.[4] This idea of a layered fission-fusion-fission bomb led Sakharov to call it the sloika, or layer cake.[4] This bomb was also known as the RDS-6s or Second Idea Bomb. This bomb led to the RDS-37.

Joe 4 detonated with a force equivalent to 400 kilotons of TNT. The Soviet physicist Yuli Khariton estimated that Joe 4's yield was 15% to 20% fusion, the rest fission boosted by the fast neutrons released in the fusion. Being a single-stage weapon, though, it was not capable of being scaled up indefinitely like "true" hydrogen bombs (see Teller-Ulam design for more details on the distinctions between fusion weapons).

Despite its inability to be scaled into the megaton range, the detonation was used by Soviet diplomats as leverage. The Soviets claimed that they too had a hydrogen bomb, but unlike the United States' first thermonuclear weapon, theirs was deployable by air. The United States didn't develop a deployable version of the hydrogen bomb until 1954. The Sloika model was never widely deployed.

The first Soviet test of a "true" hydrogen bomb was on November 22, 1955 under the directive of Nikolai Bulganin (influenced by Nikita Khrushchev), code-named RDS-37.[5] All were at Semipalatinsk Test Site, Kazakh SSR. Like RDS-6, it was a "dry" weapon, using lithium-6 deuteride instead of liquid deuterium.

See also



  1. ^ Kort 1998, p. 187.
  2. ^ Rhodes 1995.
  3. ^ "Soviet/Russian Nuclear Arsenal". Atomic Forum. Archived from the original on 2009-01-05. 
  4. ^ a b Zaloga 2002.
  5. ^ Kort 1998, pp. 187-188.


  • Holloway, David (1995). Stalin and the bomb : the Soviet Union and atomic energy, 1939-56. New Haven London: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-06664-3. 
  • Kozhevnikov, Alexei B. (2004). Stalin's great science : the times and adventures of Soviet physicists. London: Imperial College Press. ISBN 1-86094-420-5. 
  • Rhodes, Richard (1995). Dark sun : the making of the hydrogen bomb. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-80400-X. 
  • Kort, Michael (1998). The Columbia guide to the Cold War. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-10772-2. 
  • Zaloga, Steve (2002). The Kremlin's nuclear sword : the rise and fall of Russia's strategic nuclear forces, 1945-2000. Washington, D.C: Smithsonian Books. ISBN 1-58834-007-4. 

External links

  • Soviet and Nuclear Weapons History
  • Soviet/Russian Nuclear Arsenal
  • Video footage of the Joe-4 Nuclear Test
  • Nikolai Bulganin
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