The U.S. Nuclear Weapons Cost Study Project was completed in August 1998 and resulted in the book Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940 edited by Stephen I. Schwartz. These project pages should be considered historical.

A Snark missile on its mobile launcher.

A Snark missile on its mobile launcher. The white canisters attached to both sides of the fuselage are solid-fuel rocket boosters.

The Snark program began in 1946, after the Army Air Forces issued a requirement for a nuclear-capable missile able to travel 5,000 miles (8,045 kilometers) at a speed of 600 miles (965 kilometers) per hour. The intercontinental-range missile resembled an airplane and was 67 feet (20.4 meters) long and had a wingspan of more than 42 feet (12.8 meters). Although the prime contractor, the Northrop Corporation, promised that it could develop the missile within two and a half years at an average cost of $80,000 per missile (then-year dollars), severe production and testing problems were encountered as the task proved much more difficult than anticipated. So many missiles crashed during tests around Cape Canaveral, Florida, that the surrounding waters were said to be “Snark infested” and therefore dangerous for swimming.

The Air Force eventually deployed a single squadron of 30 missiles in February 1961 at Presque Isle, Maine, only to see President John F. Kennedy order them withdrawn the following month because they were “obsolete and of marginal utility.” The Snark program cost a total of $4.2 billion (in constant 1996 dollars), not including the costs to manufacture an estimated 30 W39 warheads, each with a yield of 3-4 megatons.

Credit: U.S. Air Force Museum