Missile Accuracy: Natural Consequence or Not?

The other day I was speaking to a fellow engineer about missile accuracy and mentioned Inventing Accuracy, which looks at the connections between guidance system design, nuclear strategy, and key actors (i.e. technologists, politicians, and the military). Her first comment was, “Well, why wouldn’t missiles be accurate? Why would they be designed to be less accurate?” Yet MacKenzie’s book “reveals just how wrong it is to assume that missile accuracy is a natural or inevitable consequence of technical change” (7). Before reading the assigned chapters, I thought very similarly to my friend: people in technical fields want to design and create the best technology possible so it makes perfect sense to have missiles accurate to within 100 meters. After reading, it becomes apparent that there is much more involved, such as nuclear strategy (counterforce vs. assured destruction) and political issues.

Some questions for thought: What were your preconceived notions about missile accuracy and how were they shaped by your background? For example, someone in finance might wonder if spending the extra money to develop missile accuracy within 100 meters is worth it or if it is a case of diminishing returns. How did your perception change after this reading? And what did you see as MacKenzie’s strongest argument against the belief that accuracy is a natural consequence of technical change and why? — Michelle