P.D. Smith: Russia's Doomsday Machine was real





[P.D. Smith is a writer. Doomsday Men, his cultural history of science, superweapons and other strangeloves, is published by Penguin in the UK, St Martin’s Press in the US, and by Companhia das Letras in Brazil.]

On 13 November 1984, a Soviet missile was launched from Kapustin Yar, east of Stalingrad. About forty minutes later an R-36M intercontinental ballistic missile blasted off from an underground silo in Kazakhstan. Known to Western intelligence experts as the SS-18 Satan missile, it was capable of carrying either a single 24-megaton warhead or eight independently targeted 600-kiloton warheads. The bomb that killed some 200,000 people at Hiroshima was just 12 kilotons.

The launch was monitored by the West’s spy satellites. But it was an unexceptional moment in the history of the arms race and soon forgotten. Only after the Berlin Wall had been breached, and the ice of the cold war began to thaw, did military analysts realize the significance of these otherwise unexceptional rocket launches. They were the first operational test of what the Western press later described as ‘Russia’s doomsday machine’.

In my book Doomsday Men, I showed how popular culture played a vital role in inspiring the dream of the superweapon, a dream that in the nuclear age turned into the nightmare of mutually assured destruction, or MAD.

More than any other weapon, it was Leo Szilard’s chilling notion of the cobalt bomb (first described on American radio in 1950) that came to symbolize the threat of global nuclear destruction. The C-bomb consisted of one or more massive hydrogen bombs jacketed with cobalt. It was the ultimate weapon, a doomsday device which could spread radioactive fallout across the entire planet.

As throughout the history of superweapons, fiction and film played a key role in exploring the horrific implications of the C-bomb and how it could be used to create a doomsday machine, most famously in Peter George’s best-selling thriller Red Alert (1958) and Stanley Kubrick’s cold-war classic (based on George’s novel) Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964).

As Ambassador DeSadeski explains in Dr Strangelove: ‘If you take, say, fifty H-bombs in the hundred megaton range and jacket them with cobalt thorium G, when they are exploded they will produce a doomsday shroud. A lethal cloud of radioactivity which will encircle the earth for ninety-three years!’

Twenty years after Kubrick’s film depicted the world being destroyed by a Soviet doomsday machine, the real one became operational. Nicknamed by its commanders ‘The Dead Hand’, it was a sophisticated system of sensors, communication networks and command bunkers, reinforced to withstand nuclear strikes. At its heart was a computer. As soon as the Soviet leadership detected possible incoming missiles, it activated the system, known by its code name ‘Perimetr’. Part of the secret codes needed to launch a Soviet nuclear strike were released and the computerized process set in motion. Then, like a spider at the centre of its web, the computer would watch and wait for evidence of an attack...


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Arnold Shcherban - 9/26/2009

Western right ideologues and brainwashed by them Western intelligentsia have never stopped anti-Soviet propagandist campaign, in general, insinuating that it was mostly Soviets who threatened the world peace, in particular, despite
the dissolution of the Soviet Union 18 years ago.
And therefore, it should be Soviets, FIRST started planning for so-called nuclear Doomsday and allegedly created an ultimate weapon that would destroy the world (if US and NATO - the greatest peace-lovers and peace-makers did not counteract), notwithstanding the well-known nowadays facts about supremacy and primacy of the US military technological advances over Cold War period.
Enough is enough, sirs...

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