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Discussion on the Current Status of Russian Early Warning System

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Updated February 19, 2002

On February 10, 1999 The Washington Post published two articles by David Hoffman discussing the status of Russian Early Warning (EW) system. In particular, the author of the publications quoted Pavel Podvig, Research Associate with our Center. "...The system now has only three active satellites ...Every 24 hours, the high elliptical satellite system is blind during two periods; one is nearly six hours long, the other about an hour long..." - Pavel Podvig said in an interview.

The publications in The Washington Post attracted considerable attention.

State Department spokesman James Rubin told a news conference that it would be difficult to assess the current situation over Russia's missile defense system because of its classified nature. "...Nevertheless, it's fair to say that we are concerned about the potential deterioration of Russia's ballistic missile attack warning capabilities without referencing any specific systems,..." Rubin said.
Yadernaya Bezopasnost magazine

Major General Vladimir Dvorkin, the Head of the 4-th Central Research Institute of the Defense Ministry gave some comments on the Post's publication in an interview to the Russian NTV (a TV company). However, he refused to talk about the current status of the Russian EW system. "...I am unable to speak or confirm how many hours we can or can not watch, because this matter is a state secret. Regardless of what I'll say, if these figures are good or not - I'll have to give my next interview being in jail somewhere in Siberia..." (NTV News, 22:00, February 10, 1999)

The comments by Pavel Podvig to David Hoffman were quoted by Fort Worth Star-Telegram (February 14), Florida Times-Union, (February 11), Times Union (February 10), Cincinnati Enquirer (February 10) and other U.S. newspapers. Russian Novyye Izvestiya (February 11) and Rossiiskiye Vesti (February 17) have also responded.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta (February 13) published comments from Russian officials: "...Sources in the Russian Ministry of Defense do not deny the fact that lack of financing decreases potential to launch military satellites...However, they completely reject the blames of (EW system - E.M.) "blindness". They also think, that such claims were financially supported by proponents of prompt deployment of U.S. national missile defenses...".

"...Unfortunately, there is an inaccuracy in David Hoffman's article...Russian Early Warning system has a capability continuously control the areas, where the U.S. can potentially launch ballistic missiles..." - Pavel Podvig asserts: "...though some facts do provide the basis to conclude, that Russian EW system is obliged to function not in a complete constellation, the conclusion, that it is on the verge of collapse, is not justified..." (Comment by Pavel Podvig, - in Russian, February 18, 1999)

In the end of June, 1999 Novyye Izvestiya daily published an article which increases concerns on the state of Russian early warning system: The "dead time" in observation is nearly 9 (!) hours a day. This period of time when satellite system is blind shifts depending on season of the year. In particular our military do not see the U.S. ICBM bases during the day, but in winter they'll be able to monitor the bases at nights...The system now has only three active satellites. Nobody knows about how long they'll be able to operate in future... The latest EW satellite was launched in 1997. The guaranteed service life of these satellites is three years only...".

"...Currently, Russia is totally blind to a Trident attack from the Atlantic and Pacific, and, for all practical purposes, it is equally blind to a Minuteman or MX [missile] attack from the continental United States,..." concluded three specialists, writing recently in Spectrum, the bulletin of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers: False alarm, nuclear danger, (by Geoffrey Forden, Pavel Podvig and Theodore A. Postol, IEEE Spectrum, March 2000, V37, Number 3.)

The discussion continues. Thus, this page will likely be updated.

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Articles in The Washington Post, February 10, 1999

Press Responses to David Hoffman's articles

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