Topols' Three Secrets

Moscow Rossiyskiye Vesti 18 Dec 97 pp 1, 2
"Exclusive Interview" with Major General Vitaliy Denisyuk, chief of the Strategic Missile Forces Central Command Post, by Pavel Anokhin

Your Rossiyskiye Vesti correspondent was the first journalist from a civilian publication to visit the Strategic Missile Forces [SMF] holy of holies, the Central Command Post, on the eve of their professional holiday. Major General Vitaliy Denisyuk, chief of the SMF Central Command Post, gave him an exclusive interview.

These days a strategic missile regiment fitted with the new- generation 45-tonne single-warhead Topol-M ICBM is starting to perform combat tasks. Specialists believe that they are five or six years ahead of their foreign counterparts and far cheaper than current missiles to develop and operate.

The Topol-M missile system is being commissioned in the Russian strategic nuclear forces' grouping regardless of whether heavy missiles are stood down from combat alert duty or not. It is intended that the Topol-M ICBM grouping will comprise an equal number of mobile and silo-launched missiles. Some 90 of the 360 launch silos vacated by the RS-20 ICBM's, which are being stood down from combat alert duty, need to be converted for the latter.

Apart from Saratov Oblast the Topol-M systems will be deployed in Valday, the southern Urals, and the Altay. Russia's nuclear argument in international politics is still a weighty one as your Rossiyskiye Vesti correspondent saw during a visit to the Central Command Post./

[Anokhin] An order to use nuclear missile weapons can be given only by the supreme commander in chief who, in accordance with the country's constitution, is the Russian president. But if something happens to him, suppose he falls seriously ill, who will make such an important decision?

[Denisyuk] I cannot name the specific individuals but no one doubts that the Kremlin has made provision for every eventuality. The United States, for instance, has a predetermined hierarchy of officials. Its President is especially trained twice a year so as to be prepared for a nuclear conflict. He flies straight from the White House by helicopter to Fort Ritchey where he sits at the control panel and the game begins: He is briefed on the situation and he makes the decisions.

[Anokhin] Does our president play a similar game?

[Denisyuk] That is the prerogative of the Russian Armed Forces General Staff.

[Anokhin] Is the Central Command Post linked directly with the Russian president?

[Denisyuk] No, there is only a direct line in the SMF commander in chief's office, which the supreme commander in chief can use to make a personal call and give the order. But the Central Command Post has a direct line to the defense minister and the chief of the General Staff.

[Denisyuk ends] The Central Command Post is outwardly an ordinary building: There is a hotel for the duty shift and a canteen. The most important elements are under ground. You take one step then another...27 steps down and you find yourself in a place where there are and there can be no outsiders. There is a long narrow winding corridor with a host of offshoots, which make you think of a maze. On the way grilles and hermetically sealed doors follow one after the other and there is even a whole system of safety doors. Each has an electronic device, intercom, and combination locks. At each door the officer escort constantly stopped to announce our presence. We finally approached a door bearing the inscription "Main Hall."

It was cramped rather than spacious: The lighting was subdued, there were computers and countless telephones. The electronic wall clock highlighted the time in Moscow, Chita, Kamchatka, Washington.... A wall panel was lit up. There was nothing sensational to the untrained eye. Officers at the monitors even looked very ordinary. They were under the command of the "duty general" or, to be more precise, the commander of the alert forces. His authority extends to dozens of regiment, division, and army command posts and reaches every launcher.

[Anokhin] How are duty officers at the Central Command Post picked? Do they undergo special training?

[Denisyuk] We pick people ourselves. We watch them at work for a long time and assess their sharpness and efficiency. They are generally specialists with great practical military experience, at least six years' experience of regimental combat alert duty. I think that the fact that around 70 percent of those on combat alert duty are master-rated or first- and second-class specialists speaks for itself. Their training is continuous -- special drills on days when they are preparing for alert duty, alert duty itself, and a whole system for summing up results. Suffice it to say that our service involves constant training drills -- around 2,000 per year.

[Anokhin] Do people embarking on combat alert duty undergo a medical check?

[Denisyuk] Everything here is reliable. The medical staff arrive at 0815 hours, open the office, and examine the whole shift - -- blood pressure, pulse, vision, excitability.... In the event of any abnormalities a person is not allowed on alert duty and a medical note is provided to that effect.... [Denisyuk ends]

Vitaliy Denisyuk himself joined the Central Command Post 12 years ago and has been in charge of it for 10 years now. He has been in the SMF since 1960, from the very beginning. He has climbed all the rungs on the command ladder -- from division to duty general. He thinks that he has been lucky: He was one of the first to master the Pioner missile system -- the technology of the 20th century -- and now the Topol-M -- the technology of the 21st century.

He was duty general 26 April 1986 when the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power station took place. His colleagues still gratefully appreciate his promptness in moving missile divisions from field positions exposed to radioactive contamination to fixed- site positions.

[Anokhin] Vitaliy Semenovich, civilians and possibly many military men know little about the role and influence of the Central Command Post?

[Denisyuk] One of the strategic missilemen's most important tasks is to keep the duty forces constantly ready to perform any task. To that end a landline, radio, and space communications system has been created for the command and control of armies, divisions, and regiments. It needs to be stable, that is, be able to relay orders and convey them using several channels.

Given that a missile's readiness to obey an order ranges between 30 seconds and two minutes, orders have to get through even more rapidly. Complex equipment at every command post makes this possible; it is connected up by communications channels and operates continually. The system is so effective that if some of the command posts are disabled, the order will nonetheless reach a certain number of launchers and they will launch missiles.

Our second equally important task is to ensure nuclear safety. Every missile is continually monitored -- its temperature, hermetic seal, and the presence of the requisite parts. Special apparatus prevent outside infiltration. Even if an operator wants to do this without authorization, an alarm signal immediately sounds and the missile is sealed off. No work involving a missile, no matter where it may be, begins without authorization from the duty general. Any elimination of a missile malfunction and any transportation is continually monitored by the Central Command Post on a special technological map. Even if the duty officer at the Central Command Post "flips his lid" and wants to do something with a missile, he cannot do anything since an order will be immediately be given for the entire system to be replaced.

The Central Command Post's third task is to ensure collaboration between the SMF and other combat arms and the Russian Armed Forces General Staff.

[Anokhin] Is it true that officers' alert duty in the SMF lasts three or four days in a row?

[Denisyuk] A tough, stable system has indeed taken shape due to the complexity and diversity of the tasks being performed. Moreover, we are committed to uniformity [privyazany k odnotipnosti]. If a division, say, has to take up combat alert duty every day, it will have no life or time for maneuvers, so to speak. It can take missilemen a whole day just to relinquish or relieve a "post" -- an inventory is taken and the post is relinquished in return for this inventory. [Denisyuk ends]

The SMF Central Command Post monitors the world military-political situation at every specific moment in time. People here know which submarine has taken up alert duty, which has quit, and the state of the installations of their colleagues in the nuclear club. And, of course, they have information on all the details of each of their native homeland's launchers.

The Central Command Post is a fortified structure sunk tens of meters into the ground where there are thousands of square meters of buildings with highly complex combat command apparatus and communications systems, diesel engines, powerful refrigeration units, a computer center, air regeneration systems, and stocks of food and medicine....
[Anokhin] How long can the Central Command Post hold out on its own if the need arises?

[Denisyuk] Long enough to carry out its tasks. In a nuclear war we do not need to hold out for more than a day. Everything will be decided in that time. Our aim is to give the order for the missiles to depart with our last breath.

The state of the nuclear missile forces now is such that if necessary they can be launched and inflict a massive retaliatory strike. At present neither they nor we have the potential, and it is unlikely to emerge in the next 10-15 years, to develop the number of effective defense systems needed to halt a massive nuclear missile strike. There is no benefit to be derived by anyone from such a war.

[Anokhin] Boris Yeltsin's recent statement caused a hullabaloo in society and some politicians even called it "ill-conceived...."

[Denisyuk] There are no ill-conceived statements about nuclear missile weapons at that level. This was one of those statements that had been prepared for a long time and analyzed carefully, and of which there were several versions. We were set the task in advance and we analyzed everything most thoroughly.

[Anokhin] Russian civilians are afraid that our "nuclear shield" may prove holey after 2005.

[Denisyuk] As you can see, this year we are deploying [stavim]

Topol-M launchers. And our defense will not suffer if we reinforce our "nuclear shield" with these missiles every year. By replacing the most outdated missile systems with new ones we are acting within the framework of the START II accords.