Events during the arms race

Nuclear development

Both sides competed with each other to obtain more nuclear weapons than the other. They also tried to develop more powerful weapons.

The USA believed there was a ‘Missile Gap’ in the 1950s and massively increased spending to try to catch up.

The table below shows the timescale of weapon development during the arms race.

YearWeapon development
1949USSR tests its first atomic bomb
1952USA tests its first hydrogen bomb
1953USSR tests its first hydrogen bomb
1957USSR tests its first intercontinental ballistic missile
1957USA tests its first intercontinental ballistic missile

Delivery systems

The first atomic bombs were delivered by bombers, but these could be slow and there would have to be airbases positioned around the world.

Both the USSR and USA began to develop missile technology that could put rockets in space. This opened up new possibilities for the delivery of nuclear weapons.