Nuclear weapons crew had one wrench for 450 intercontinental ballistic missiles


In all fairness, it was a very good wrench, and Sears would replace it for free whenever it broke. :wink:


I’m making the assumption here that it had to do with usual red tape. With the military you can’t just go to the hardware store and buy new tools, you have to have someone provide a contract, has to meet criteria for quality, weight, number manufactured, etc, etc. That’s usually why the government ends up with $100 hammers. Someone probably didn’t want to be bothered with the BS so everyone else had to make due with the one tool.

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There might be a security aspect too, where the bolts used on the warheads were some crazy shape/size to prevent tampering. If that’s the case ordering a new one would have a whole new layer of bullshit to wade through.


Forget about the red tape or the scarcity due to some super secret shape… the U.S. military employs machinists… Making a wrench is not nuclear rocket science.


Red tape is at least half of what the government does. It literally explains people’s entire salary/position. Sadly common sense is not a weapon the military is willing to wield.


It definitely sounds like the tool isn’t something you can buy off-the shelf:

“that single wrench was impossible to find — symptomatic of custom-built systems that date to the 1950s and ’60s.”

I also wouldn’t be surprised to learn that special alloys may also be involved, e.g. to prevent sparking.


Ah, but do the machinists have the security clearance to know what a warhead attaching wrench looks like?


The fewer of these nuclear-warhead-attaching wrenches out there, the better. It lets the right-wingers think they can still attack the Commies, but if a mass launch would require 450 Fedex trips, it’s less likely to happen.

(Unfortunately, in reality, they’d do the job with vice-grips or jerry-rig whatever else they needed.)


Security clearance in the military is usually granted when your job requires you know something. So, yes. If an officer assigns the job of creating more wrenches, then getting that clearance would be easy.

How the hell are we still alive?

The more I learn about how things (don’t) work in large organizations (government and business alike), the more I have absolutely no idea.

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Turns out there was only one wrench for all the kill-everybody machines. So, here we are.


Frankly, I’m sort of surprised they don’t just hammer a Harbor Freight lugnut socket over the bolt till it fits.


Maybe people whose job it is to end the world stop giving a damn about most of the things in it.

Call it a warhead detaching wrench. Problem solved!

Given how much of the planet we have the ability to destroy using conventional weapons, ICBMs seem like the aging relative in the nursing home that everyone wishes would stop being a bother but of course no one is willing to do away with.

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No, that’s the Russians.

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Depending on exactly what the wrench was for, it may also have been a moderately special wrench.

Nuclear warheads incorporate a substantial chunk of conventional explosive to handle the shoving the actual nuclear material into shape. ICMBs incorporate alarming amounts of various chemically touch propellants.

Under such circumstances, it’s not unlikely that some safety standard or other required use of non-sparking Beryllium Copper alloy tools (or some equivalent) for work anywhere near potentially dangerous systems.

None of that excuses failing to process the required purchase orders and get the people the tools that they need; but there are applications where The Special Blessed Item from The Approved Vendor is actually there for a reason aside from institutional inertia.

(in that vein: certain nuclear waste passivation techniques use bentonite clay, best known as ‘kitty litter’. Somehow, ‘organic’ kitty litter (which is made of compressed plant materials and is basically a decent solid biofuel) got swapped in to a batch of waste barrels being packed at Los Alamos for disposal. Because of that, seemingly minor, swap, the barrels started swelling and sometimes leaking, forcing a hasty secondary re-encapsulation. Fun stuff like that is why you buy the right product, from a vendor who doesn’t switch products without switching SKU numbers.)


Good thing the Swedes weren’t in charge of the ICBMs, the entire thing could have been put together with a 4 mm Allen wrench…