Pentagon details U.S./Russian Y2K center to avoid nuclear exchange

The United States has reached an agreement with Russia to set up a center to ensure that neither nation launches a nuclear attack erroneously if computers controlling the two nations' nuclear weapons malfunction because of Year 2000 date code problems.

John Hamre, deputy secretary of Defense, said the Defense Department plans to locate the new Center for Year 2000 Strategic Stability at a facility in Colorado Springs, Colo., home of the U.S. Space Command and the North American Air Defense Command, which can track missile launches worldwide.

Hamre today told a joint hearing of the House Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology and the House Subcommittee on Technology that while the Pentagon is not concerned that the Russians will issue a false launch if their computer systems malfunction because of Year 2000 problems, "we are less than optimistic that Russian early warning systems will function" because of Year 2000 problems. "It is possible that Russian computer screens could go blank," Hamre said.

Hamre said DOD has modeled the strategic stability center after the joint Cold War-era Berlin air traffic control center, in which Russian, French, English and American air traffic controllers worked side by side to guide commercial aircraft in the air corridors leading to Berlin.

Hamre said the new strategic stability center would provide Russian officials at the Colorado Springs center with missile launch data from highly classified U.S. early warning systems that provide a global view of possible launches of missiles. Russian personnel will be given access to computer screens "that will allow them to look at our data," Hamre said during an ad hoc press briefing after the hearing. Hamre added that the Russians will not be able to manipulate that data.

U.S. missile launch detection systems are so refined that the space command has installed a terminal at Air Force installations in Kuwait that can detect possible launches of Iraqi Scud tactical missiles, which are much smaller and harder to detect than the intercontinental ballistic missiles used by the Russian strategic rocket force.

If needed, the Russians also will be able to install their own secure communications lines directly into the center, linking the Russian personnel there to commanders in Moscow.

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