Jeffrey Lewis4 Score and 7 Interceptors


No, not Scores. Scores, as in, “four score and seven years ago …”

Or, as in, the US will deploy “scores” of missile defense interceptors in Europe. Bob Gates defends the Obama Administration’s shift in missile defense architecture in the New York Times, sizing the number of missiles with an archaic measure normally reserved for livestock:

All told, every phase of this plan will include scores of SM-3 missiles, as opposed to the old plan of just 10 ground-based interceptors.

The archaic usage is deliberate. On Monday, a “senior government official” gave a background briefing at the Arms Control Association in which he also deployed the same term to describe the number of interceptors. When asked to clarify “scores,” the senior government official said Administration officials “have a number in mind” but haven’t discussed it with our allies yet. (Indeed, since “burden-sharing” figures so heavily into the discussion, the final number will be negotiated within NATO).

For those of you who, like me, do not normally find ourselves counting sheep and cattle, a “score” numbers 20. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “score” derives from the practice of marking your shephard’s crook while inventorying your herd:

Presumably from the practice, in counting sheep or large herds of cattle, of counting orally from 1 to 20, and making a ‘score’ (sense 9) or notch on a stick, before proceeding to count the next twenty.

Um, ok. So, that also works for missile defense interceptors. I guess.

Administration officials couldn’t really use the awesomely appropriate “boatloads” of missiles — though that would have been perfect — because an an Aegis ship has 90 or 96 VLS tubes and the Navy isn’t keen to put more than two dozen interceptors per ship.

So, instead, we get Bob Gates doing Abe Lincoln.


  1. Muskrat (History)

    Henceforth throw-weight shall be measured in “Stone.” Anyone making the newbie mistake of calling more than one stone “stones” will be held in Gaol for a fortnight. It’s one stone, two stone, three stone… etc. Missile weights will be noted in “hundredweights.” Much like the START Joint Agreed Statement on the meaning of the word “ton,” there will will be a US-Russia agreement on whether “Hundredweight” means the “short hundredweight” or the British “long hundredweight.”

    Forsooth, to Geneva! (Exeunt, pursued by a bear….)

  2. FSB

    so Iran will now multiply its target number of missiles in its arsenal by (scores/10)?

    Yeah, the new plan is about as sensible as the old plan really.

  3. raghar (History)

    However when you are talking about scores of crows, you mean hundreds.

    Basically scores means uncountable, not that it matters as the real number of interceptors would be between 0 and 300. (Actually Russian S-400 system is superior because is decentralized and capable of aircraft interception.)

    The question is: Would they be able to make fools from EU countries by selling them lots of bottles of a snake oil?

  4. Bob Reed (History)

    The problem may be getting skeptical allies to sign on for something that mey be reneged on at a later date…

    And, while the batteries would presumably be manned by US troops, providing the “trip wire” strategic deterrent to the Russians simultaneously, the fact still remains that the SM-3 batteries will not be able to intercept an ICBM or any missile of comparable kinetics…

    And who’s to say that they haven’t been buying Russian technology and components at one their weapons “yard sales” and spiriting it across the Caspian sea; or smuggling it through the “stans”…

    I believe in trust, but verify. And considering the way that Iran has stalled, mislead, and shut out the international inspectors that gives me reason to be concerned…

    All the best

  5. Gridlock (History)

    Still in common usage here in the UK.

    What do you use when you mean more than dozens but less (or less alarming-sounding) than hundreds?