Tag Archives: Dead Hand

“Dead Hand” Alive and Modernized?

From Friday’s news . . . .

“Russia could shift to preemptive nuclear strike doctrine — ex-chief of RVSN”

“Retaliatory nuclear strike command and control system ‘Perimeter’ has been modernized”

“Moscow. 9 November. INTERFAKS-AVN – Russia could renounce its retaliatory strike doctrine in favor of a preemptive nuclear attack on a potential aggressor, if the U.S. deploys missiles on the territory of European states, said General-Colonel Viktor Yesin, who led the Main Staff of the Missile Troops of Strategic Designation in 1994-1996.”

“‘If the Americans start deploying their missiles in Europe, we have no choice but to abandon a retaliatory strike doctrine and move to a preemptive strike doctrine,’ V. Yesin said in an interview published in the weekly ‘Zvezda.'”

“He also said the Soviet-created ‘command’ missile system ‘Perimeter’ capable of transmitting launch commands to intercontinental missiles after an enemy nuclear strike on Russia has been modernized.”

“‘The ‘Perimeter’ system is functioning, and it is even improved,’ said V. Yesin.”

“Answering the question if the ‘Perimeter’ system can guarantee a retaliatory strike in the case of an enemy preemptive attack, the general said: ‘When it is working, we will already have few means remaining – we can launch only the missiles which survive after the aggressor’s first strike.'”

“The expert also stated that ‘we still don’t have an effective response to American medium-range missiles in Europe.'”

“‘Perimeter’ (in English Dead Hand) is an automated command and control system for a massive nuclear retaliatory strike developed in the USSR. According to open information, the ‘Perimeter’ system was created as a component part of the Airborne Command Post (VKP) system under the codename ‘Link’ developed in the Soviet Union.”

“The airborne command and control post on the Il-86VKP aircraft, airborne radio relay on the Il-76RT, silo-based command missile (KR) ‘Perimeter’ and mobile KR ‘Gorn’¹ were part of ‘Link.'”

“In a crisis period three Il-86VKP would have had the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Minister of Defense and Chief of the General Staff on board.”

“‘The aircraft didn’t have passenger windows so those on-board wouldn’t be blinded by the flash of nuclear blasts. Computers and communications were located in the nose. Two electrical power generators were hung under the wings. They guaranteed long operation of all aircraft systems,’ it says in a book from the series ‘World of Russian Weapons’ published in 2016.”

“At the determined moment the Il-86VKP would launch an 8 km long antenna which not even impulses from nuclear explosions could affect. Using this antenna the aircraft would transmit commands to launch all the country’s intercontinental missiles even in the event that all underground KP [trans. command posts] were destroyed by the aggressor’s nuclear strike.”

“The radio relay aircraft Il-76RT would transmit commands to launch missiles in distant regions, including those deployed on submarines in the Northern and Pacific Fleets.”

“‘Perimeter’ and ‘Gorn’ missiles could have transmitted missile launch commands when the aggressor had already delivered a surprise first strike and destroyed communications systems. The KR, having launched into space, where no satellite or enemy nuclear explosions could reach them, would transmit radio signals from there. The missiles ‘awakened’ by them would take off and strike the aggressor.”

“The ‘Perimeter’ missiles were reliably protected on the ground by concrete silos. ‘Gorns’ deployed on missile transporters permanently on the move.”

“According to expert assessments, the ‘Link’ system, including space KR, was one of the most important factors deterring the U.S. from a nuclear attack on the USSR.”

An interesting piece bringing Perimeter back into the news. Yesin calls the system Dead Hand. But he doesn’t describe how the system is engaged, any atmospheric, seismic, and radiation sensors, or ground-based command, control, and communications link monitors that some claim allowed it to function autonomously. Others assert these elements, though considered, were never incorporated into Perimeter.

Russian military commentator Viktor Murakhovskiy has pointed out that, even if the U.S. quits the INF Treaty, Washington is a long way from deploying new intermediate- or shorter-range nuclear missiles in Europe. So Yesin’s recommendation for a change in Moscow’s declaratory nuclear doctrine is premature.

¹ Command missile Gorn [trans. bugle, trumpet, etc.] had GRAU index 15Zh53 and deployed with Soviet SS-20 IRBMs.

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Kavkaz, Perimeter, and ‘Dead Hand’

President Medvedev with Cheget Officer-Operator (photo: RIA Novosti)

A retired colonel (probably with some firsthand experience though none is noted) used yesterday’s Komsomolskaya pravda to add to the still fairly small public body of knowledge on Soviet and Russian nuclear command and control.

Colonel Mikhail Timoshenko writes that the Soviet nuclear ‘suitcase’ was created 20 years after the U.S. developed its ‘briefcase.’  Developed in the 1970s under Brezhnev, the Soviet system came in response to the short flight-time of U.S. missiles and fears of a surprise strike.  Short-tenured CPSU General Secretary Chernenko (1984-85) was the first Soviet leader to be accompanied by the ‘suitcase’ and officers responsible for operating it.

According to Timoshenko, the ‘suitcase’ (codenamed Cheget) is part of the Kazbek automated command and control system for strategic nuclear forces and was actually introduced in 1983.  It answered the threat of a sudden nuclear attack in which the Soviet NCA might not reach the command post, or might not be able to send orders over ordinary communication lines.  The system had to have conference-call capabilities so the General Secretary, Defense Minister, and General Staff Chief could all use it.  And it had to be simple for elderly men trying to think and decide under extraordinary stress and time constraints.

Timoshenko paints a little scenario of how it would work.  The silence of the missile attack warning center is broken by an alert signal.  The launch warning puts probable targets and time-to-target information on display screens.  The duty officer asks himself, is it a system malfunction or is it war?  He decides to send the alert signal to the duty general in the Genshtab’s Central Command Post (ЦКП).  The seconds are flying.

The duty general sends the alert signal to the Gensek, Defense Minister, and NGSh as well as the duty officers of the armed services.  The three not-so-young people constituting the NCA have to decide if everyone lives or dies.  Some kind of mistake is possible.  Try the hotline, but the president is playing golf and can’t come to the line.  Or maybe he isn’t playing golf, and he’s really hidden in his bunker.  There are only seconds left to think.

Finally, the codes are entered and the Gensek (or one of the three in the NCA) presses the button.  And in front of the duty crews the indicator panel says, “Order.  Conduct Launch.”  The crews turn their keys and press their launch buttons.  Nuclear war has begun.

Timoshenko says people may wonder whether the Russian nuclear ‘suitcase’ is fundamentally different from the Soviet one.  He answers by saying it’s different in the way it’s put together.

In 1993, the Kazbek system’s service life expired.  ‘Holes’ in Cheget and Kazbek had to be patched.  Only Soviet parts were used in its development, but he USSR’s collapse left almost all microelectronics production ‘abroad.’ It was forbidden to use imported elements that might have ‘bugs.’  And there were practically no specialists remaining who knew all the intricacies of the system and terminal.  But naval officers continued to follow in the RF President’s shadow the way they had the Gensek.  And they were inseparable, practically part of his family, in the next room or behind a wall, checking the system, testing comms channels.

Timoshenko says the next problem was what if the Gensek or President, Defense Minister, and NGSh were spread out all over the country or abroad, and they still needed to be connected instantly.  Can you imagine a Soviet-era Defense Minister being ‘temporarily inaccessible’ for even an hour?

So, Timoshenko says, we had to create the Kavkaz mobile communications system, the signal of which cannot be decoded or jammed.  With such a channel, the three special subscribers could quickly get information on a nuclear attack regardless of their location, the repeater is always with the special subscriber.

But what if somehow the comms didn’t work, Kazbek or the missile attack warning system didn’t work, or all three people with the Cheget were killed? There’d be no one to make decisions or give orders.  Even more improbable–what if missile duty crews can’t launch.  What to do?  A safey net, some insurance was needed.

Simultaneously with Kazbek, development work on the Perimeter system began at Experimental-Design Bureau (ОКБ) Leningrad Polytech.  Perimeter was intended for the assured retaliatory launch of ICBMs and SLBMs, if the enemy has destroyed all command levels.  But the main thing is the system evaluated the situation and made decisions independently.

In Perimeter, there was a component with the name ‘Dead Hand.’  If its sensors reliably confirmed a mass nuclear strike, and the system itself lost comms with the RVSN’s main command nodes, several command missiles with powerful radio transmitters would launch.  Flying over Russian territory, these missiles would repeat a signal and launch codes to Russia’s missile forces.  Having gotten the signal, launch systems would work in automatic mode, giving a guaranteed retaliatory blow to the enemy.

But how can a machine know when it’s time, not too early or too late.  Creating a reliable system with such parameters is highly difficult. Timoshenko says there were lots of conditions that could block the system’s operation.

Testing was conducted from 1979 to 1982.  According to Timoshenko, the U.S. learned of Perimeter from one of its developers in 1993.  And the New York Times published an article entitled, “Russia Has ‘Doomsday’ Machine” on October 3, 1993.

Timoshenko says, at the insistence of its American ‘friends,’ the system was taken off combat duty in June 1995 as part of START I [?].

He goes on to note that naval officers with the nuclear ‘suitcase’ are not so visible these days.  They’ve probably been ordered to keep a low profile.  He relates how Yeltsin handed over his beloved ‘suitcase’ to Putin on the day of his resignation.  But Gorbachev didn’t personally hand his over to Yeltsin.   A general carried it to the new Russian President’s office.

Timoshenko tells one last story.  In 2000, NII AA [presumably the Moscow-based Scientific-Research Institute for Automated Equipment named for Akademik V. S. Semenikhin] was competing the job of chief designer and one candidate was from a Russian-American computer and electronics firm called RAMEK-VS.  Timoshenko says imagine how much would have been paid in Soviet days to get close to the nuclear button and C2 systems.