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The Man Who Saved the World


Stanislav Petrov; The man who save the world

On 26 September 1983, Stanislav Petrov, a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Air Defense Forces, was the officer on duty at the Serpukhov-15 bunker near Moscow which housed the command center of the Soviet early warning satellites, code-named Oko. Petrov's responsibilities included observing the satellite early warning network and notifying his superiors of any impending nuclear missile attack against the Soviet Union. If notification was received from the early warning systems that inbound missiles had been detected, the Soviet Union's strategy was an immediate and compulsory nuclear counter-attack against the United States (launch on warning), specified in the doctrine of mutual assured destruction.

Shortly after midnight, the bunker's computers reported that one intercontinental ballistic missile was heading toward the Soviet Union from the United States. Petrov considered the detection a computer error, since a first-strike nuclear attack by the United States was likely to involve hundreds of simultaneous missile launches in order to disable any Soviet means of a counterattack. Furthermore, the satellite system's reliability had been questioned in the past. Petrov dismissed the warning as a false alarm, though accounts of the event differ as to whether he notified his superiors or not, after he concluded that the computer detections were false and that no missile had been launched. Petrov's suspicion that the warning system was malfunctioning was confirmed when no missile in fact arrived. Later, the computers identified four additional missiles in the air, all directed towards the Soviet Union. Petrov suspected that the computer system was malfunctioning again, despite having no direct means to confirm this. The Soviet Union's land radar was incapable of detecting missiles beyond the horizon.

It was subsequently determined that the false alarms were caused by a rare alignment of sunlight on high-altitude clouds and the satellites' Molniya orbits, an error later corrected by cross-referencing a geostationary satellite.

In explaining the factors leading to his decision, Petrov cited his belief and training that any U.S. first strike would be massive, so five missiles seemed an illogical start. In addition, the launch detection system was new and in his view not yet wholly trustworthy, while ground radar had failed to pick up corroborative evidence even after several minutes of the false alarm.

Code name TOPAZ and how a "calculator" averted nuclear war

Rainer Rupp, codename Topaz, was a West German working for the East German secret service at the heart of NATO in its headquarters in Brussels. Operation Able Archer ?83 was Reagan?s plan for a massive combined NATO exercise, simulating a nuclear war on eastern Europe using nuclear weapons and with every sense of a real situation. The realism of the exercise so alarmed the Soviet Union that they thought the exercise was a ruse for the real thing ? a pre-emptive strike against them. They were determined to get in first, and only days before the exercise was due to take place had their bombers loaded with nuclear bombs ready on the tarmac. The posture is referred to in the Soviet military as ?Launch on Attack?. Rupp was able to inform them that it was indeed only an exercise, but they still didn?t believe him until he was able, at the last minute, to provide them with highly classified documentation to prove his assertion.

In an interview for the Channel 4 program "1983: The Brink of Apocalypse", about exercise Able Archer 83, broadcast in the UK on 5 January 2008, Rupp said that he had transmitted the message that NATO was not preparing to launch a surprise nuclear attack against the USSR during the exercise to his HVA controllers. He did this by way of encoding the message on a device disguised as a calculator which then turned the message into a short electronic burst which could be transmitted to a set telephone number. He viewed this as vital to preventing a Soviet pre-emptive strike against NATO forces.

Without his timely intervention, the world would almost certainly have experienced a nuclear holocaust. For his efforts, Rupp was given 12 years in prison after German unification.


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