Fire Shuts Down Russian Early-Warning System

By Bleek, Philipp C. | Arms Control Today, June 2001 | Go to article overview

Fire Shuts Down Russian Early-Warning System


Bleek, Philipp C., Arms Control Today


A MAY 10 fire at a Russian satellite-control facility at least temporarily compromised Russia's ability to detect the launch of longrange missiles from the United States, highlighting the deterioration of the country's early-warning capabilities.

The fire broke out in the early morning hours at a satellite-- control center near Serpukhov, a city outside Moscow, and was reportedly extinguished only after it had effectively gutted the building. The blaze appears to have knocked out communication with four early-warning satellites that monitor U.S. ICBM fields.

Russia maintains a variety of early-warning capabilities that provide some redundancy, but the loss of communication with the satellites likely increased the time Russia would have required to detect a launch, decreasing the amount of time available for Russian officials to determine whether an attack was underway.

Russian news sources provided conflicting reports as to how quickly contact with the satellites was restored after the fire. While some reported that uplinks were re-established at another control center within 24 hours, others cited Russian officials stating that contact was not fully restored until four days after the fire. A U.S. administration official was able to confirm that contact with the satellites had been lost, during which time the satellites would have gone into a "safekeeping mode" in which no data could be transmitted, but was unable to clarify how quickly contact had been re-established. …

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