Divine Strake

U.S. military& Military budget& Secrecy and democracy& Strategic weapons and space& Divine Strake29 Jul 2012 09:40 pm

by Andrew Lichterman

Back in 2006, I wrote a series of posts about the “Divine Strake” test, a very large conventional high explosive test slated to be conducted at the Nevada Test Site (now dubbed/sanitized to the “Nevada Nuclear Security Site”), intended to simulate the effects of low-yield nuclear weapons. That test was later canceled as a result of opposition both from disarmament groups and from regional opponents concerned about potential environmental effects. Along the way, I found budget documents showing that the U.S. military also was developing a very large, earth penetrating conventional bomb called the Massive Ordnance Penetrator. (see the latter part of my post titled The ‘Divine Strake’ low-yield nuclear weapons simulation: government denials and responses).

At that time, Defense Threat Reduction Agency Director James Tegnelia was quoted in an American Forces Press Service piece, denying that the Defense Department’s Hard Target Defeat program manifested anything more than a theoretical interest in developing a large conventional earth penetrator:

“One weapon Tegnelia commented on is the HTD program’s Massive Ordnance Penetrator, a multi-ton bomb. He stressed that it’s a defensive, not offensive, weapon. He told AFPS that the MOP is a test article meant to understand the design principles on which a country might build a weapon to counter hard targets. ‘We are not in the process to convince anybody to field a large earth penetrator,’ he said.” Steven Donald Smith, “U.S. Agency Works to Reduce WMD Threat,” American Forces Press Service, April 3, 2006 (emphasis added).

Tegnalia made this statement despite budget request documents filed earlier, in February 2006, listing among the FY2005 accomplishments of the “CP operational warfighter support” program the following:

Analyzed effectiveness of massive ordnance penetration against hard and deeply buried targets and completed preliminary design.
Refined Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) concept and began detailed weapon development and testing. Planned statically- emplaced Proof-of Principle test of effectiveness of Massive Ordnance payloads. Planned demonstration of massive ordnance airblast lethality against a full-scale tunnel target. Exhibit R-2a, RDT&E Defense-Wide/Applied Research - BA2 , 0602716BR Project BF - CP Operational Warfighter Support February 2006

On July 25, 2012, the Air Force Times quoted Air Force Secretary Michael Donley stating that the Massive Ordnance Penetrator is ready for use. (h/t to Common Dreams for its coverage of the issue). The Defense Threat Reduction Agency, more likely admitting the truth rather than retroactively revising it, states on its web site that

Flight tests have been successfully conducted at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. MOP integration activities for initial weapon delivery are also complete. Final system refinement, design and test will be complete in 2012 with additional weapon deliveries in 2013. The Air Force is managing and funding the program at this time, with Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) providing support.
Early tests of MOP were conducted by DTRA under the MOP Technology Demonstration effort. These tests began in 2004 with DTRA partnering with the Air Force Research Laboratory. DTRA conducted flight tests from 2008 to 2010. Defense Threat Reduction Agency, “Massive Ordnance Penetrator.”

All of this illustrates once again that on most matters, there is little reason to believe that any official of the United States Government is telling the truth when speaking for public consumption.

Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Strategic weapons and space& Divine Strake30 May 2006 10:06 pm


Behind the Western Shoshone flag, protesters move down the road towards the Nevada Test Site gate, May 28, 2006

Andrew Lichterman

Sunday, I was at the Nevada Test Site, speaking at a demonstration against Divine Strake, a high explosive test that will detonate 700 tons of high explosive to simulate the effects of a low-yield nuclear explosion. One of the main points of my talk there was that mainstream debate about U.S. weapons programs remains largely confined to how best to pursue military dominance in service of what really is a global empire. Whether either empire or the use of overwhelming violence to sustain it are acceptable remains well outside the realm of “reasonable” discussion.

Yesterday, Exhibit A for the narrowness of Beltway discourse appeared in the New York Times: an article about the proposal to put non-nuclear warheads on Trident submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs; see Michael Gordon, “Pentagon Seeks Nonnuclear Tip for Sub Missiles,The New York Times online, May 29, 2006) Much of the piece was devoted to the hyper-narrow debate in Congress, focused mainly on whether or not a non-nuclear SLBM launch might be mistaken for a nuclear attack on another nuclear weapons state (particularly Russia), resulting in a catastrophe for us (and really, who else do U.S. politicians care about, anyway?). The rest covered the barely broader perspectives offered by Washington arms controllers, some of whom apparently support the move to conventional strategic missiles, and some of whom do not. The most critical comment came from Steve Andreason, a former Nation Security Council staffer:

“‘Long-range ballistic missiles have never been used in combat in 50 years,’ Mr. Andreasen said. ‘Once the U.S. starts signaling that it views these missiles as no different than any other weapon, other nations will adopt the same logic.’” Gordon, “Pentagon Seeks Nonnuclear Tip for Sub Missiles.”

Bruce Blair, President of the World Security Institute and normally a sensible and insightful voice on arms control issues, offered views that were, if correctly reported, pretty disappointing. According to the Times, Blair described the development of highly accurate and destructive non-nuclear missiles with global reach as “a welcome trend toward substituting conventional weapons for nuclear systems, assuming that adequate safeguards can be worked out to avoid the risk of inadvertent nuclear confrontation.” The Times piece quoted Blair directly as saying

“‘They make a lot more sense than 14 subs loaded to the gills with nuclear-armed Trident missiles in this day and age.’” Gordon, “Pentagon Seeks Nonnuclear Tip for Sub Missiles.”

One can never know what someone really said to a reporter, or what the context was–reporters’ agendas frame the interview, and inevitably drive the choice of quotes. But to put it simply, anyone who thinks that its good for the U.S. to spend a single dime on new, more useable strategic weapons, whether nuclear or conventional, is not on the same side of the global struggle that I am. Further, under anything like the current distribution of wealth and power and with nuclear arsenals still numbering in the thousands, substituting a few highly accurate, destructive, and usable “conventional” missiles for nuclear ones will not reduce the nuclear danger. In the real world of a military industrial complex intertwined with thoroughly corrupt political and corporate elites firmly committed to global military dominance, we won’t get conventional strategic weapons instead of nuclear weapons. We will get dangerous numbers and varieties of both.


Divine Strake26 May 2006 02:35 pm

Andrew Lichterman

The National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA) announced today that it is withdrawing its Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the massive Divine Strake high explosive test, originally slated to be conducted at the Nevada Test Site on June 2. The NNSA press release announcing the FONSI withdrawal mentioned no new date for the test, which apparently has been delayed indefinitely.

Divine Strake has sparked widespread opposition in the region, based in part on worries that it could mobilize radioactive materials at the site, which was used to conduct both above ground and underground nuclear explosive tests for four decades. Many also oppose the test as unnecessary and provocative, because government budget and planning documents show that one of its main purposes is to simulate the effects of low-yield nuclear explosions on underground structures.

The NNSA press release fails entirely to mention that Divine Strake would occur at a test range where the United States conducted the vast majority of its nuclear tests– 100 above ground tests and over 800 underground tests:

“This action is being taken to clarify and provide further information regarding background levels of radiation from global fallout in the vicinity of the Divine Strake experiment. Atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons by several countries in the 1950s and 1960s resulted in the dispersion of radioactive fallout throughout the northern hemisphere. The efforts of the Nevada Site Office are focused on explaining, in a means clearly understandable to all, what background radiation from this fallout means with respect to the contemplated DIVINE STRAKE experiment.” NNSA Press Release, “NNSA Withdraws FONSI for Divine Strake Experiment,” May 26, 2006.

For more on Divine Strake, see the previous entries on the topic on this site.

UPDATE: Associated Press story in the Las Vegas Sun on the test postponement and the status of the Divine Strake lawsuit.

Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Divine Strake24 May 2006 09:29 pm


Summer storm clearing over the Nevada Test Site

Andrew Lichterman

Divine Strake, a very large non-nuclear explosive test that is part of a program intended to “develop a planning tool that will improve the warfighter’s confidence in selecting the smallest nuclear yield necessary to destroy underground facilities while minimizing collateral damage,” will be challenged in the coming weeks in court and at the Nevada Test Site gate. A lawsuit has been filed by two Western Shoshone tribes and affected individuals, challenging the adequacy of the environmental review for the test. Divine Strake has been postponed, and no new date for the test has been announced. According to a press release describing the lawsuit, Divine Strake could mobilize radioactive materials into the atmosphere, posing a risk to people downwind. The press release also noted that the lawsuit would address other implications of the test, stating that Divine Strake “reflects a doctrine of warfighting in which nuclear weapons could be used first, against states not possessing nuclear weapons, in an integrated fashion with non-nuclear forces” which “is wholly inconsistent with a ‘diminishing role for nuclear weapons in security policies’ agreed by the United States in 2000 and a central element of compliance with the [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] disarmament obligation.” An expert declaration by John Burroughs, Executive Director of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, filed in support of the lawsuit, provides an analysis of the international law implications of Divine Strake.

A Nevada Test Site event protesting Divine Strake is on for this coming weekend, May 27-28. A schedule of workshops, speakers, and other activities, along with directions and logistical information, is posted at www.gput.org/events.shtml I will be speaking at the Test Site on May 28, and I hope to see some Disarmamentactivist.org readers there.

A revised version of the Western States Legal Foundation Information Brief, The Divine Strake Nuclear Weapons Simulation: A Bad Signal at a Bad Time, is now available, updated to reflect the postponement of the test. For more about the Nevada Test Site, see The Nevada Test Site: Desert Annex of the Nuclear Weapons Laboratories, Western States Legal Foundation and Nevada Desert Experience Information Bulletin (2005).

Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Strategic weapons and space& Social movements and protest& Divine Strake16 May 2006 09:41 pm


Nevada Test Site, August 6, 2005

Andrew Lichterman

On May 20th, there will be a demonstration at Vandenberg Air Force Base, near Lompoc, California. Vandenberg is a major test facility for U.S. nuclear missiles and other strategic weapons and a command center for U.S. military space operations. It plays a continuing role in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, coordinating the use of military space technologies to assist ground warfare, and likely will be used to test next-generation strategic weapons, both nuclear and conventional. It also is one of the two sites where mid-course ballistic missile interceptors have been deployed. For more information on Vandenberg Air Force Base, see the Western States Legal Foundation(WSLF) Information Brief, Vandenberg Air Force Base: Where the Present and Future of U.S. Warmaking Come Together. For updates and information on parking, car pools., etc. for the May 20th demonstration, visit the web site of the Vandenberg Peace Legal Defense Fund.

On May 28th, there will be a rally and demonstration against the Divine Strake weapons high explosive test at the Nevada Test Site. One of the main purposes of the Divine Strake test is to simulate the effects of low-yield nuclear weapons against underground structures. With strategic weapons research proceeding on a number of fronts ranging from the continued modernization of intercontinental ballistic missiles and research on next-generation missiles and bombers to refinement of plans for nuclear weapons use through experiments like Divine Strake, the United States is leading the world into another century of arms racing.

For more information on Divine Strake, see previous entries on this site; for a short overview see the Western States Legal Foundation Information Brief, The Divine Strake Nuclear Weapons Simulation: A Bad Signal at a Bad Time. For more on the role of the Nevada Test Site in weapons development past and present, see the joint WSLF/Nevada Desert Experience Information Bulletin, The Nevada Test Site: Desert Annex of the Nuclear Weapons Laboratories. For updates and logistical information about the May 28th Nevada Test Site event, check the Divine Strake pages at Citizen Alert, the Shundahai Network, and the Nevada Desert Experience.

I will be speaking at both of these events. If you are a DisarmamentActivist.org reader and are at either event, I hope we get a chance to meet.

Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Strategic weapons and space& Divine Strake01 May 2006 02:52 pm

Andrew Lichterman

On a media tour of the Nevada Test Site tunnel complex where the Divine Strake test is slated to take place, a Defense Threat Reduction Agency official implicitly acknowledged that the test data likely will be used to study nuclear weapons effects. According to the Las Vegas Sun,

“The detonation could simulate ‘a number of weapon concepts,’ said Doug Bruder, director of the counter-weapons of mass destruction program for the Defense Department’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

‘It could be nuclear or advanced conventional,’ he said. ‘A charge of this size would be more related to a nuclear weapon.’” Launce Rake, “Test blast linked to nuke weapons,” Las Vegas Sun, April 28, 2006.

But Bruder also continued the DTRA non-denial denials apparently aimed at diverting attention from the nuclear weapons effects testing purposes of Divine Strake, emphasizing that the test “‘does not replicate any existing or planned nuclear weapon.’” id. Bruder noted, however, that

“‘There are some very hard targets out there and right now it would be extremely difficult if not impossible to defeat with current conventional weapons. Therefore there are some that would probably require nuclear weapons.’” Las Vegas Sun, “Test blast linked to nuke weapons,” April 28, 2006

According to the Las Vegas Sun piece, some or all of Bruder’s statements were caught on tape by CNN. So far as I have been able to determine, CNN Burder’s remarks did not make it into CNN’s broadcast coverage (see CNN transcript, “On the Story,” “U.S. Tests Non-Nuke Bombs in Nevada Desert,” aired April 30, 2006)

To the extent that they confirm the nuclear weapons research and planning applications of Divine Strake, Bruder’s statements are consistent with previous government descriptions of the test series of which the test is a part. DTRA budget requests and other government documents reveal ongoing research aimed at better understanding how low-yield nuclear weapons can be used to destroy underground targets, and at upgrading strike planning techniques for determining what kind of weapon, whether conventional or nuclear, can best be used to destroy particular types of targets. For more analysis and document references, see previous posts regarding Divine Strake on this site.

UPDATE: Part of Bruder’s remarks were broadcast in another CNN segment: The Situation Room, April 27, 2006 (transcript here).

Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Strategic weapons and space& Divine Strake28 Apr 2006 11:09 am

Andrew Lichterman

I have written a two page information brief, “The Divine Strake Nuclear Weapons Simulation: A Bad Signal at a Bad Time,” for the Western States Legal Foundation. The information brief is available on the WSLF web site as a pdf file (click here). It summarizes some of the material regarding Divine Strake previously posted here, and provides contact information for the coalition opposing the test.

Previous Divine Strake posts:

“Divine Strake” and the talk of a nuclear attack on Iran

The “Divine Strake” low-yield nuclear weapons simulation: government denials and responses

Did the WashPost Miss Explosive Story?

Iran& Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Strategic weapons and space& Divine Strake12 Apr 2006 10:28 pm

Andrew Lichterman

There have been two related sets of news stories in the past week involving nuclear weapons. Seymour Hersh, writing in the New Yorker, and the Washington Post ran stories regarding planning for a possible use of nuclear weapons in an attack on Iran. The reported rationale for considering nuclear weapons use is that some underground Iranian facilities might be difficult to destroy with conventional weapons. A scattering of newspapers have reported that a large conventional test explosion called “Divine Strake,” planned for June at the Nevada Test Site, will simulate nuclear weapons use. One purpose of the program of which that test is a part, according to Department of Defense budget documents, is to “develop a planning tool that will improve the warfighter’s confidence in selecting the smallest proper nuclear yield necessary to destroy underground facilities while minimizing collateral damage.”

Both reports subsequently were denied by government sources. Nonetheless, It is virtually certain that they are to a large extent true. There undoubtedly are plans being prepared for possible attacks on Iran, and that process likely includes examining (if not choosing) nuclear options for hard to destroy facilities. All the evidence except the government denials themselves suggests that data from the “Divine Strake” test will be used to refine understanding of nuclear weapons effects on underground structures, and that such understanding will be incorporated into the tools and procedures used to plan and execute nuclear strikes (In a previous post I provided a summary of the Divine Strake coverage, including government denials and responses to them).

What is important is what these two chains of events mean. They can be understood along a continuum that ranges from the normal grinding along of an immense military apparatus that always is refining its understanding of nuclear weapons and always is preparing contingency plans to attack a variety of potential adversaries, to danger signs of a near-term attack on Iran that could involve nuclear weapons use if certain factions within the government have their way. I would place these events somewhere in the middle of this range, with nuclear weapons use still highly unlikely but some kind of attack on Iran growing steadily more likely, although not on the immediate horizon. This is an extraordinarily secretive administration, making its intentions difficult to discern. It is also a very fluid political moment domestically, with an ongoing constitutional crisis that evidently is viewed by the incumbent government mainly as a political problem to be managed using all the tools at its disposal, which could include the distraction of a conveniently timed, and, from its perspective, “manageable” use of military force. This is a government that has shown itself willing to roll the dice, and it may include dominant elements (and not only in the Executive branch) who believe that the worst outcome– widespread war in the Middle East and Persian Gulf region and some measure of global economic chaos– will one way or another allow it to consolidate an increasingly autocratic form of rule. (more…)

Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Strategic weapons and space& Divine Strake12 Apr 2006 11:20 am

Andrew Lichterman

In my Friday March 31 entry “Did the WashPost miss an explosive story?” I provided evidence that the “Divine Strake” experiment which will detonate 700 tons of explosive in the Nevada desert is intended to simulate the effects of a low-yield nuclear blast on underground structures. Since then, there has been a round of investigation and commentary by various reporters and arms control experts, summarized below. In the early rounds the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) confirmed that Divine Strake was indeed the “Full-Scale tunnel defeat demonstration using high explosives to simulate a low yield nuclear weapon ground shock environment at Department of Energy’s Nevada Test Site” described in last year’s budget request. Later, DTRA changed its story, claiming that language suggesting that the purpose of the “Divine Strake” test had changed, and that language regarding its nuclear weapons applications had been left in this year’s budget request by mistake.

In the initial round, John Fleck of the Albuquerque Journal wrote the first piece on April 2, drawing on material from this site. Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists got the first official confirmation that the Divine Strake test is the one referred to in the budget documents provided in my analysis last Friday. He wrote on the FAS Strategic Security Project Blog that

“The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) today confirmed to FAS that the upcoming Divine Strake test widely reported in the media to be a non-nuclear event is in fact a low-yield nuclear weapons calibration simulation against an underground target….

In response to an email earlier today, a DTRA spokesperson 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 on underground facilities.”


Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Strategic weapons and space& Divine Strake31 Mar 2006 10:42 am

Andrew Lichterman

The Washington Post ran a story Friday headlined Pentagon to Test a Huge Conventional Bomb.

According to the Post,

“A huge mushroom cloud of dust is expected to rise over Nevada’s desert in June when the Pentagon plans to detonate a gigantic 700-ton explosive — the biggest open-air chemical blast ever at the Nevada Test Site — as part of the research into developing weapons that can destroy deeply buried military targets, officials said yesterday.”

It appears possible, however, that the Post missed the real story. There is considerable evidence that one of the main purposes of the “Divine Strake” test, if not the only one, is to use a large conventional high explosive charge to simulate the effect of a low yield nuclear weapon, although the picture is blurred a bit by recently released budget documents. February 2005 Department of Defense budget documents reveal plans to conduct a “Full-Scale tunnel defeat demonstration using high explosives to simulate a low yield nuclear weapon ground shock environment at Department of Energy’s Nevada Test Site” in fiscal year (FY) 2006. The descriptions of the same program in February 2006 (FY 2007) documents continue to state that the program of which the test apparently is a part “will develop a planning tool that will improve the warfighter’s confidence in selecting the smallest proper nuclear yield necessary to destroy underground facilities while minimizing collateral damage.” But the descriptions of specific activities in the current budget document deletes references to nuclear weapons, substituting vague general language about weapons effects (details and document links below; click on “more” to continue). (more…)