Jeffrey LewisDivine Strake

I’ve been a little lazy about this whole Divine Strake business. Fortunately, several of my colleagues—John Pike, Andy Lichterman, Hans Kristensen,, John Fleck and Bill Arkin—have been all over the story.

Long story, short (via Hans): DOE is making a gi-normous (about 0.6 kt) conventional explosion that is probably a simulation of a B 61 Mod 11 Earth Penetrating Warhead:

DTRA confirmed that Divine Strake is the same event that is described in DTRA budget documents as being a low-yield nuclear weapons shock simulation designed to allow the warfighters to fine-tune the yield of nuclear weapons in strikes against underground facilities. The Divine Strake event will detonate 700 tons of chemical explosives corresponding to a yield of 593 tons of TNT (~0.6 kt). The nuclear weapon with the lowest yield is the B61 bomb, which has four selective yields down to 0.3 kt.


  1. fastfission (History)

    Honestly, I had to look up was a “strake” was, and I’m still confused even after that. None of the three definitions given at Wikipedia ( really made much sense to me with the word “Divine” in front of it. I mean, at least Minor Scale had a little humor in it which works on a number of levels. Any guesses?

    And though I’m sympathetic in a way to those who don’t like to see the U.S. doing continued weapons-related testing and/or work, I find it hard to believe that setting off a few hundred tons of explosives in a hole in Nevada is going to be more diplomatically provocative than, say, everything else the Bush administration has been up to since 2002. I think it’s pretty low on the offense-o-meter, personally.

  2. Michael Roston (History)

    Great. Watch this become another reason why the CTBT isn’t verifiable. I can just see Lil Jon Kyl in a committee room down the road – it’s not just for mystery boats exploding on the high seas any longer, it’s this future exchange.

    “Mr. Secretary, it seems to me that if your agency could do this, it would seem that you could do the reverse, couldn’t you? Couldn’t you, or say the North Koreans or the Iranians cover up a low-yield nuclear explosion by making it look like a big regular bomb?”

    “Mr. Senator, I’m afraid I’d have to have my people look into that.”

    “But it’s possible, isn’t it Mr. Secretary?”

  3. James W (History)

    A “strake” is a bevel used to level sand, as I understand it. So…setting off some kind of massive explosion might be a sort of “levelling” of the desert? I don’t know. Perhaps their imagination is running short. My dad told me he could remember a time when code words were assigned randomly in order to mystify the enemy, instead of being invested with heavy-handed symbolism. Ah, for those innocent days…

    I agree with you that it’s a minor offense. Even a positive development, in the same way that subcritical tests are a relief valve that help to convince states to back the Comprehensive Test Ban.

    I guess I have a technical question about the test, though: can a chemical explosion really mimic the effect of a nuclear weapon? The nuclear “explosion,” as I understand it, comes from the radiation superheating the surrounding mass. It happens much more quickly than a chemical explosion and I guess I would have thought that it would create a shock wave with a different pattern.

  4. Haninah

    That question about whether or not the shock waves are similar keeps coming up. Robert Nelson has this excellent paper:
    which describes in quite a bit of gory detail what an underground nuclear detonation looks like (en route to making some sobering observations about nuclear bunker busters). While the details are obviously different, especially close to the epicenter, a shock wave is a shock wave once you get past the short-range effects, and I don’t see why it wouldn’t be possible to learn quite a bit about the nuclear blast from a conventional simulation.

  5. Grace (History)

    Diplomacy? Offensiveness? Sympathetic?

    If one uses the Bush administration’s actions, to date, as a measure for what is or is not offensive, how do you scale your own personal ethics? Are they so malleable? This administration is offensive in a big way, and if we use their own massive destructive force as a measure for what we can let slide I’m afraid we might as well just give them carte blanche.

    The planned “divine strake” explosion will occur on Western Shoshone land. This is in direct violation of law which protects Shoshone sovereignty, as far as I understand it. The Shoshone do not approve of having this bomb tested on their land, whether or not the Nevada government has approved.

    So, this isn’t simply about whether or not detonating a 700 ton bomb in some random hole in the desert is acceptable or not. This is about going against laws set in place to protect land of a nation, a nation which finds this to be very offensive. There are ramifications bigger than us and further stretching than the next generation or two.

    Of course this isn’t only about the Shoshone either. I believe it’s important to hold the government responsible for everything whether it’s the bomb, the land, the people. etc. Those boys have some big money and they like to play hard.

    That’s my $ 0.02.

  6. tom foster (History)

    Without a doubt, this test is intended test the effectiveness of the B61-11 bomb for use in the upcoming airstrikes against Iran. Given that the test is on June 2, the airstrikes against Iran should start in early July. This gives them a month to analize the results and produce a technical paper. I have no problem with the test, but the administration should be more honest about what it’s for.

  7. j house (History)

    So we need some more data points on low yield effects of a B61-11, what’s the big deal?
    There are plenty of holes at the NTS..what’s another?
    The U.S. is NOT going to use nuclear weapons against just isn’t necessary.There are many,many options short of using nukes to prevent deployment of an Iranian atomic bomb.
    All of this rhetoric is getting a little ridiculous.
    Even if Iran were to destroy NYC by proxy (with their fingerprints all over it), the US would not resort to destroying a country of nearly 70 million people with nuclear bombs.
    Precision conventional strikes on the centers of power would work just fine.
    We’re along way from 1945, folks.

  8. Bob (History)

    The question has come up, does this device include any incompletely depleated uranium? BTW screed is another term for strakeā€¦

  9. JB Zimmerman

    Although wikipedia gives one of the definitions of strake which is close, there’s another related one. A strake is a long, thin, straight ‘fin’ on an aerodynamic body (in our most relevant case, a bomb casing) designed not for guidance but to regularize the airflow along the hull. This increases stability, decreases turbulence, and increases speed – all of which increase the kinetic energy of a gravity bomb, and hence penetrating power…so there’s sort of a connection, there.

  10. sassi (History)

    FYI for fastfission-
    Divine Strake?
    Strake is a nautical term:

    A single continuous line of planking or metal plating extending on a vessel’s hull from stem to stern. Your idea though is right on. THX

  11. Shawn (History)

    What is another test? There are many around the world who thinks america IS the rogue nation. This detonation is, in my view, a breach of CBT agreement in spirit.

    Bush has stated “No other president have had the strength to use nuke. And I have the strength” That is the closest I can remeber…

    As an engineer and as a scientist, I find this test to be depolorable, unnecessary and will destablize the world.

    There is nothing cool or wow about this insanity.

    It does not show our strength to the world but rather our insanity.

  12. Lorena (History)

    “divine strake” may have some subtle religious trigger point for the religious right &/or neocon types? There is a catholic high school in Houston called “Strake Jesuit” for example

  13. Carol (History)

    Those of us in So Utah have seen the effect that the testing has taken on the children and our land. What provisions will be in place if it does disrupt all of the nucular material laying around out there. Are they going to ship milk in for our kids? Or will they once again have to drink the milk from a contaminated supply and be subject to lukemia again? What about all of us that have to work outside, are we going to be given the day off? I don’t mind the test, just where they are doing it in relation to the past tests. There is NOTHING Divine about this to us here that have seen so many die from cancer. Downwinders have paid many a high price already in the past, we are going to revisit it again?