Friday, September 30, 2022

How America Watches for a Nuclear Attack

In late February, when Russian President Vladimir V. Putin announced that his country’s nuclear weapons were entering “special combat readiness”, America’s surveillance gear went on high alert. Hundreds of imaging satellites, as well as other private and federal spacecraft, began looking for signs of increased activity among Russia’s bombers, missiles, submarines and storage bunkers, which hold thousands of nuclear warheads.

Image analysts said the orbital fleet has yet to find anything worthy of concern. Echoing personal assessments, US and NATO officials have given no indication that Russia is preparing for a nuclear war. “We haven’t seen anything that has helped us adjust our currency, our nuclear posture,” President Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on March 23.

But US nuclear watchdogs have reason to continue the search, experts said. Moscow has long practiced using relatively small nuclear explosions to compensate for battlefield damage. And some military experts are concerned about what Mr Putin might do to restore his reputation for edgy ruthlessness, following setbacks in Ukraine.

If Russia was preparing for nuclear war, it would usually disperse its bombers to make them vulnerable to enemy attack, said director of the nuclear information project at the Federation of American Scientists, a private research organization in Washington. Hans M. Christensen said. But right now, he said, “none of it is clear.”

Since 1962, when one of America’s first spy satellites failed to find a shipment of missiles and 158 nuclear warheads that Moscow had sent to Cuba, US surveillance powers in orbit have increased. Today, hundreds of public and private imaging satellites continuously scan the planet to assess crops, map cities, manage forests, and rapidly unveil the secret functions of nuclear states.

Russia’s arsenal exceeds the nuclear stockpile of all other nations in size, posing a challenge for analysts to fully assess the state of its game. Private US firms such as Maxar, Capella Space and Planet Labs have provided analysts with hundreds of close-up images of Russia’s nuclear forces. Planet Labs alone has a conglomerate of more than 200 imaging satellites and has created a feature of zeroing in on military sites.

The Private Fleet tracked Russia’s nuclear forces long before the war, performing maintenance work as well as revealing regular drills and drills. Such a baseline understanding helps analysts gauge actual war preparedness, experts said. “You track this stuff down and start to understand what the normal looks like,” said Mark M. Lowenthal, a former CIA assistant director for analysis. “If you see a deviation, you have to ask if there’s anything wrong.”

A false alarm sounded shortly after Mr Putin’s announcement. A Twitter account, The Lookout, Posted That a satellite had spotted two Russian nuclear submarines leaving the North-West port. The Express, a London newspaper, warned under the headline of “strategic readiness”. The news flash received little attention as seasoned experts felt that the sub departure was a well-planned exercise.

Nevertheless, Jeffrey Lewis and Michael Deutsmann, satellite image specialists at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, Calif., continue to monitor Russia’s submarine fleet because their movements can provide reliable indications of higher states of readiness for nuclear war. Huh.

Normally, about half of Russia’s submarines armed with long-range missiles go to sea on scheduled patrols, while others stay at their berths for rest, repair and maintenance. Analysts see empty pores as a warning sign.

To assess the current situation, Dr Lewis zoomed in on a large submarine base known as Gadzhiyevo in Russia’s arctic north. Images of it on Google Earth show a dozen large piers rising out of rocky fjords.

The Middlebury team examined a close-up image taken by Planet on March 7 that showed four of Russia’s submarines along Gadzhiyevo’s two piers. Mr Deutsmann said a different image of the entire base showed that all of its active submarines were in port – suggesting they were not preparing for a nuclear attack. “During a high state of readiness,” he said, “I would expect many submarines to be out at sea.”

The team also studied images of a military base in the Siberian forests where mobile launchers carry long-range missiles on backcountry roads as a defensive strategy. Mr Deutsmann said images taken on March 30 by one of Capella’s radar satellites, which can see clouds as well as in the dark of night – show no signs of unusual activity.

Finally, near the banks of the southern Volga River, the Middlebury team spotted the Saratov-63, a nuclear weapons storage site for Russia’s Air Force, along with long-range missiles. There is a bomber base nearby. Images taken by Planet on March 6 revealed an icy landscape and, Mr Duitzman said, no evidence of a high alert status.

In 1998 a senior US military official visited an underground bunker at Saratov-63 and reported that it not only possessed extremely powerful nuclear weapons, but even fewer weapons, sometimes referred to as tactical weapons. . Small arms are seen as playing a major role in Russian nuclear attacks because their power may be a fraction of the destructive power of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, Japan, blurring the line between conventional and nuclear weapons and making them more vulnerable. can be useful.

Analysts and nuclear experts say accumulating evidence suggests Mr Putin’s declaration of “combat readiness” was not an order to prepare a weapon, but a sign that a war message may soon arrive.

Pavel Podvig, a longtime weapons researcher in Russia, said the warning was most likely to the Russian military about the possibility of a nuclear order. Nikolai Sokov, a former Soviet diplomat who negotiated arms control treaties, agreed. “It’s a nod to the command-and-control chain,” he said. “It simply means, ‘Come to mind. There may be an order.'”

But Dr. Lewis of the Middlebury Institute said Mr. Putin’s order sent more military personnel to central posts that transmit orders and messages between dispersed forces. “That’s why we didn’t see anything,” he said. “It was increasing the number of humans in the bunkers.” He said the exercise is a standard part of how Russia raises its level of nuclear readiness: more people are needed to prepare for war than to maintain sites in standby mode.

Dr. Lowenthal, a former CIA assistant director and now a senior lecturer at Johns Hopkins, said he found the personnel aspect of Moscow’s escalatory process most troubling.

“We can develop a good baseline in general” and regularity in the movement of Russian nuclear weapons, he said. “It’s the internal stuff that’s always worrisome.” Imaging satellites, after all, cannot see what people are doing inside buildings and bunkers.

He said the main uncertainty was the “level of automaticity” in Russia’s escalatory war alerts – a theme addressed in “The Dead Hand”, a Pulitzer Prize-winning 2009 book that described a semiautomatic system that In this event it operated automatically. Russian leaders were killed. In that case, Russia’s nuclear powers would hand over some low-ranking officials in a concrete bunker. It is not clear whether today Moscow is dependent on something similar.

Dr. Lowenthal said, “You’re never quite sure” how Russia authorizes the use of nuclear weapons. “That’s the thing that bothers you.”

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
Nation World News is the fastest emerging news website covering all the latest news, world’s top stories, science news entertainment sports cricket’s latest discoveries, new technology gadgets, politics news, and more.
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