Jeffrey LewisThe M Word

I don’t have much to add to Page’s excellent post and Foreign Policy article on the politics of stockpile “modernization”, other than to repeat my suggestion that we all stop using the “M” word — modernization:

I wish, by the way, wonks would stop using “modernize” as though it has some technical meaning. If it has any meaning, we are modernizing now, though it seems clear that is not what advocates of modernization mean by the word.

I tend think think that the ongoing Life Extension Program counts as modernization — and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Replacing an old fuse with a modern fuse to give the W76 a capability it didn’t have before, to pick one example, seems like modernization to me. So do most of the other improvements in the ALT and MOD process.

I see clearly the domestic political advantage in selling a weapons activity as modernization, just as clearly as I see the international downside of doing so. Whether to use “modernization” is an issue of salesmanship and priorities; it doesn’t affect which option along the now famous “spectrum” of activities a policymaker chooses.


  1. FSB (History)

    Congress was forced to give up their role in setting monetary policy because they were incompetent to handle such technical matters, and the Federal Reserve was formed.

    Similarly, they are out of their depth in technical issues: “modernization”, nukes, missile defense, climate change, etc.

    All these need to be run by an Office of Science Policy, like the Fed.

    This would lead to a distinct reduction in douchebaggery, mainly by the anti-intellectual loony right-wing.

    • anon (History)

      Sounds like a job for the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA).

      This was one of the 4 congressional agencies, set up specifically to provide Congress with its own scientific think tank. It recognized the role that science played in policy and the fact that most Members could not understand the science themselves. OTA was eliminated in 1995, as a part of the Gingrich revolution. The new Republican majority apparently decided that it didn’t want science to advise policy. We can see the results of that decision across a wide spectrum of policy areas where religion, demagoguery and ignorance substitute for science in the making of U.S. policy.

    • FSB (History)

      Well, why not set up the OTA now that Democrats own the WH and Congress? If the democrats weren’t the biggest useless triangulators in the history of the universe they may achieve something yet.

  2. George William Herbert (History)

    At the very least, we need to have everyone be precise and clear when they talk about the various activities.

    There are parts which are hard to make now, and which are not core functional parts of the weapons physics package, and which modernized functional replacements are easy (external electronics, parachutes, etc).

    There are parts outside the physics package, whose function can be enhanced significantly by replacement with more modern technology (new fuze, new casing).

    Then there are life limited parts inside or associated closely with the physics package, whose replacements will probably evolve over time as more modern materials and technologies come online, and whose changing detail design is unlikely to affect the physics package performance as long as they meet the same functional specification (neutron generators, arm/safe electronics, firing electronics, etc).

    Then there are the actual core physics package functional components.

    We have refurbishment activity that attempts to manufacture identical versions of those original functional components.

    We have refurbishment activity with slightly improved components, where the improvement is felt to be very low risk of changing functional behavior.

    Then we have major changes where components get updated to a configuration which wasn’t live tested, either by a medium design change or materials update, or mixing and matching components between different tested designs (primary from A and secondary from B, for example).

    Then there are new designs, where some functional component is effectively all new.

    RRW was in one of the last two categories. SLEP programs are down near the bottom. What’s in the middle tends to get muddied up by people playing agendas, but it is important to know what you’re precisely doing with a proposal or program…

  3. EarthenBerm (History)

    GWH makes good points. And just like the metric system, we’d all be better off if we used the same definitions for the same activities across national boundaries.

    Stay tuned. Some of us hope to have more to say on this in a bit.

  4. Paul (History)

    Iran has test fired a variation of their Shahab-3 liquid fueled missile, this time made without jet vanes:

    I point you to an earlier comment from 2008 by Geoff Forden here:

    “So what does this mean for missile proliferators in general and Syria and Iran (and North Korea since they are all involved in the development of these missiles) in particular? It means that they are still having a hard time producing graphite tough and pure enough to be used in large missiles. It also indicates that a top priority for their missile engineers will be to develop other thrust vector control mechanisms.”

  5. hass (History)

    You like photos of nuclear stuff so here are photos of how to load nuclea fuel rods into a reactor: