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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Dead Hand / Myortvaya Ruka

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union employed several systems for providing assured communications of nuclear weapons release authority. The Perimetr system was designed to communicate retaliatory launch orders. The related "Dead Hand" system was an automated system to determine whether Russia was under nuclear attack. Although these two systems operated in tandem, and are frequently blurred together in Russian writings, they were in fact discrete capabilities. That is, Perimetr could be used to disseminate launch orders from sources other than "Dead Hand", which in turn had communications channels in addition to Perimetr.

Russian C2 systems are designed to enable the dissemination of launch orders while under nuclear attack through several C2 systems. Maintaining control of its nuclear arsenal is of critical importance to Moscow. During the Cold War, Russia developed a centralized nuclear C2 system capable of meeting its three primary requirements: reliability, speed, and security.

Russian leaders in the Soviet era were deeply concerned about their ability to command their nuclear forces during a crisis, and long feared a decapitating strike by the United States. US nuclear strike options were to target Soviet leaders. Washington’s objective was to enhance deterrence by convincing the Kremlin that its regime could not survive a nuclear exchange with the United States. In 1972, the USSR General Staff presented to the head of the party Leonid Brezhnev and Chairman of the Council of Ministers Alexei Kosygin his calculations of the possible consequences of the US nuclear strike against the Soviet Union. The question was not hypothetical at all. The conclusions of the Soviet military were disappointing: if the United States had managed to strike first, 80 million Soviet citizens would have died, 85% of the country's industry would have been destroyed, and the armed forces would have left no trace. Brezhnev and Kosygin were obviously shocked.

Kremlin leaders feared they could be subjected to a surprise US nuclear “decapitation” attack which would destroy the systems used to transmit orders to their nuclear forces. Consequently they considered an option, known as the Dead Hand, that would enable a nuclear retaliatory strike in the event that all senior political decision makers and the military command structure were incapacitated.

The Soviet Union constructed a system called Perimeter, which is sometimes called the "Dead Hand" that would ensure Soviet nuclear forces could retaliate in the event that their leadership had been killed.

The subdivisions that make up the system:

  • URU GSh are the control radio nodes of the GSh VS, presumably: URU GSh GS: 624th PRTRC, at / h 44684,1 USS GSh MO RF, (56 ° 4'58.07 "N 37 ° 5'20.68 "E)
  • URU RVSN - control radio nodes GSh Strategic Rocket Forces of the Russian Federation, presumably GRU GSH Strategic Rocket Forces 140 th PRTRC, military unit 12407, PRTRS GSH Strategic
  • Rocket Forces 143562, Moscow Region, Istra district, pos. Sunrise (Novopetrovskoe) (55 ° 56 '18.14 "N 36 ° 27' 19.96" E)
  • Stationary CBU - stationary center of combat control (CBU) of the "Perimeter" system, 1231 CBU, military unit 20003, object 1335, Sverdlovsk region, pos. Kytlym (Mount Kosvinsky stone);
  • Movable CBU - mobile control center (PCBU) of the Perimeter system, complex 15B206: 1353 CBU, military unit 33220, Sumy region, Gluhov, 43rd rd (at 54196, Romny), 43rd RA (military unit 35564, Vinnitsa), 1990 - 1991. In 1991 it was relocated to the 59th rd, Kartaly. 1353 CBU, military registration number 32188, call sign "Pereborchik", Kartaly, 1353 CBU was in the composition of 59 rd, but because of its peculiarity and the nature of the tasks performed, it was directly subordinated to the General Staff of the RG, 1991 - 1995; In 1995, 1353 CBU was included in the 59th rd (military unit No. 68547, Kartaly), 31st RA (military unit 29452, Orenburg). In 2005, 1353 CBU was disbanded together with the 59th rd. 1193 CBU, military unit 49494, Nizhny Novgorod region, village Dalnee Konstantinovo-5 (Surovatyha), 2005 - ...;
  • 15P011 - complex command missile 15A11. 510 rp, BRK-6, military unit 52642, 7th rd (w / h 14245, Vypolzovo (Bologoe-4, ZATO "Ozerny")) of the 27th RA (military unit 43176, Vladimir), January 1985 - June 1995;

In the usual situation, the system slumbers, waiting for a command or an alarm signal from the missile attack warning system (SPRN). Having received a command or signal about launching missiles from the territory of other countries, this system goes into combat mode. Automation starts monitoring the sensor network to detect signs of nuclear explosions.

The decision to launch command missiles is made by an autonomous control and command system - a complex artificial intelligence system. It receives and analyzes a wide variety of information about seismic activity and radiation, atmospheric pressure, and the intensity of chatter on military radio frequencies. It monitors telemetry from the observation posts of the strategic missile force and data from early warning systems (EWS).

If it detects, for example, multiple point sources of powerful ionizing and electromagnetic radiation, it compares them with data on seismic disturbances in the same locations, and makes a decision whether or not there was a massive nuclear strike. In this case, Perimeter would initiate a retaliation strike bypassing even Kazbek.

Another scenario is if the country's leadership receives information from the EWS that other countries have launched missiles, it would activate Perimeter. If the shutdown command does not come within a certain amount of time, the system will launch missiles. This eliminates the human factor and ensures there would be a retaliatory strike even if the command and launch teams were completely destroyed.

In peacetime, Perimeter is dormant but continues, however, to analyze incoming information. When it is put on high alert or when it receives a warning signal from the EWS, strategic forces, or other systems, a monitoring network of sensors is launched to detect signs of nuclear explosions.

Russian leaders have repeatedly assured foreign governments that there is no risk of an accidental or unauthorized missile launch. Before launching, the system checks for four conditions.

  1. If the system were activated, it would determine whether nuclear weapons were used in the vastness of the USSR;
  2. If this were so, the system would check the communication link with the General Staff;
  3. If there was a connection, the system automatically turned off. After some time - from 15 minutes to 1 hour, which passed without any hints of an attack, it would have assumed that the list of officials capable of giving the order to strike was still in place;
  4. If the General Staff does not respond, the system sends a request to Kazbek. If there is no response there either, the artificial intelligence gives any person in the command bunker the right to make the decision. And only then it starts to act.

The system is fully automated, the human factor in its work is excluded. Such an algorithm makes it possible to guarantee a retaliatory strike even with the complete destruction of command and launch calculations.

The immediate decision to strike was taken not by the computer, but by the officers in the bunkers, and in the absence of data about what actually happened. The only information they would have is an alert from the Perimeter. Officers were trained to act according to the algorithm: pass the required levels of verification, and if everything converges, press the button.

Professor Harvard University, leading the research of the Cold War, Mark Kramer confirms in an interview with Teema that the system was never fully automatic. Despite all the sensors, the final decision has always been made by a person. "In 1982, a completely automatic system was developed, but it was not commissioned."

Perhaps we would not know anything about the "Perimeter" if in the 1990s after the end of the Cold War the Colonel of the Strategic Missile Force Valery Yarunich did not tell him about it. Yarunich did not desert to the West, and he was not accused of betrayal. He died in 2012 in Moscow.

According to unconfirmed reports, the system was already returned to combat duty in 2001 or 2003.

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