During a recent hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT) said the Y2K problem is "the ultimate form of Russian-roulette."
Committee Chairman James M. Inhofe (R-OK) agreed. "I can't think of one [issue] that's more significant."
Y2K, also known as the millennium bug, refers to the ability of computers to recognize the year 2000 when the date rolls from 99 to 00.
Deputy Secretary of Defense John J. Hamre and Gen. John A. Gordon, deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency, told the panel that they are confident U.S. critical systems will be ready for Y2K. They expressed concern, however, that other countries' failure to update their computers could have serious implications for U.S. national security.
"It's offshore where some serious problems remain for us," said Dodd.
Of most concern, officials agreed, are potential glitches in the computers that run Russia's nuclear arsenal.
Throughout the Third World, additionally, many nations that will fail to upgrade their computers to be Y2K compliant may leave their populations without water, telephone service or electricity.
According to government sources. Beijing will probably experience failures in key sectors such as telecommunications, electric power and banking.
Russia, meanwhile, is plagued by financial troubles that are dramatically slowing down the pace of Y2K upgrades. Alexander Krupnov, chairman of the Russian Central Telecommunications Commission, estimated it would cost $3 billion to resolve the Y2K problem.
Russia's Gazprom natural gas pipeline network is also said to be susceptible to Y2K outages, said Gordon. That would be particularly dreadful because few people could survive the harsh Russian winter without heat.
The Russian predicament can, in part, be attributed to procrastination, said Hamre. That nation, as well as others, "did not take the Y2K Issue seriously and now have little time left. '
Even bigger problems loom when it comes to military computer failures.
Surveillance, early missile detection systems, nuclear reactors, air traffic controls-all could be effected by the Y2K bug.
"Russia has increasingly grown reliant on nuclear weapons both as a political tool and military tool, but at the same time increased economic pressure has shrunk the …