'Divine Strake': The Process Behind Naming Bombs

The Pentagon announces it will explode a new bomb at a Nevada test site on June 2. The 700-ton bomb is called "Divine Strake." William Arkin, author of Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs, and Operations in the 9/11 World explains how bombs get their funny names.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Now a story about a very large bomb with a very odd name. Defense officials this week announced plans to test 700 tons of explosives out in the Nevada desert. It's scheduled for this June by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. DTRA is working to develop conventional bombs that can blow up underground bunkers.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And the name of that test is Divine Strake.

NORRIS: That's Divine Strake. Strake spelled S-T-R-A-K-E.

BLOCK: Sounds like we've come a long way from the bomb names Little Boy and Fat Man. Those were nicknames for the nuclear bombs dropped in 1945 on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

NORRIS: Well it turns out that since 1975, the Defense Department has had a computer system for coming up with official nicknames. We called up William Arkin for an explanation. He's the author of the book Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs and Operations in the 9/11 World.

Mr. WILLIAM ARKIN(Author of Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs and Operations in the 9/11 World): This system for code names is called the NICKA, the nickname and exercise codeword system. And in that, they assign a two-letter block to each command and agency. So the Defense Threat Reduction Agency gets the D I code letter block. Dial, digger, dimming, dipole, direct, dingo, diamond. They come up with the first name, and then a second name is joined to it to make, in theory, a discreet, descriptive, alliterative non-insulting name.

BLOCK: So Divine Stake is part of the Divine series. But there are a lot of series and names out there.

Mr. ARKIN: One of the ones I like best is Bubble Girl. There's another series Busy Lobster. There's the Cluster Series. So you have Cluster Pearl, and Cluster Hawk and Cluster Chase. You'd have to ask why would they use a silly word to describe something that's so serious, and I think those are the ones that seem to fall through the cracks.

NORRIS: Well Strake sounds serious, but what is it? We looked up Strake in the Oxford English Dictionary. It listed nine definitions. William Arkin found the one he thinks might apply here.

Mr. ARKIN: A strake is, is, just looked it up. An aerodynamic surface generally mounted on the fuselage of an aircraft to control airflow. And a strake is commonly confused with a canard or a winglet. Hey aren't you glad to know that now?

BLOCK: Some how Divine Canard and Divine Winglet don't sound nearly as destructive.

BLOCK: That was William Arkin author of the book Code Names.

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