Monday, July 13, 2015

Norwegian Rocket Incident

Norwegian Rocket Incident – Black Brant Scare

Russian radar crew, in the early hours of the morning of January 25, 1995, spotted a quick moving object above the Barents Sea towards Russia’s northern border, a missile which could not be identified. Russians had observed that the U.S. nuclear submarines were the greatest treat and a Trident missile which could be launched from those quarters could have reached Russia’s mainland within a matter of 10 minutes. This Norwegian rocket incident also known as the Black Brant scare took place in those early hours when a team of Norwegian and American scientist launched a Black Brant XII four stage sounding rocket from the Andoya Rocket Range off the north-western coast of Norway.

It is said that the rocket carrying scientific equipment for research of aurora borealis over Svalbard had flown on a high northbound course including an air corridor which stretched from Minuteman-III nuclear missile silos in North Dakota to Russian capital city of Moscow. En route the flight, the rocket ultimately reached a height of 1,453km which resembled a U.S Navy submarine launched Trident missile. This resulted in a scare of a high altitude nuclear attack which could blind Russian radar and Russian nuclear forces were on high alert wherein the nuclear weapons command suitcase had been brought before the Russian president, Boris Yeltsin who had to decide to launch or not, on a retaliatory nuclear strike against the United States.

Created to Study Northern Lights 

The rocket was created to study the Northern Lights and when it rose above the horizon, the result was another type of experiment, a test that dominated the control of Russian and United States nuclear weapons. Not much is known about what Yeltsin had stated, but it could have been some of the most dangerous moments of the nuclear era providing a glimpse of the high alert nuclear launch mechanism of the Cold War and how it could go wrong even when the great superpower rivalry had ended.

United States and Russia continue to depend on a policy for quick fire decisions with regards to a possible nuclear attack and should the Russian president decide to react before its enemy’s missiles reach them, he had about eight minutes in making a decision on his action plan.

Generated & Aroused High Level of Alert

However in the Norway incident, the essential information for such a significant decision was not very clear and though the Norwegian rocket eventually fell in the ocean, it generated and aroused a high level of alert through Russian strategic forces as per the U.S. Congress testimony as well as other sources. This marked the first time that a Russian leader was compelled to use his nuclear briefcase in a real alert.

Russia’s system of initial warning on the possibility of an attack and the command and control of nuclear forces had been suffering from the same problem affecting the whole military. Russia had inherited a system of radars and satellite from the Soviet Union, however after the break-up of Soviet, most of them are no longer on Russian soil and the six year economic depression had resulted in hardship for several of the officers inclusive of those who worked in nuclear command installations receiving low pay as well as lacked permanent housing.

The radar and satellite system is said to be vulnerable since there are holes in the network which would tend to become more serious since another Russian radar station was closed in Latvia.

Experts Predict – Russia will have Nuclear Arsenal 

Vladimir Belous, a retired general and leading Russian strategist had written that `the prospect of a mistake had become particularly dangerous since the end of the Cold War’, adding that a fateful accident could have plunged the world into chaos of a thermonuclear catastrophe, contrary to political leaders’ wishes’. Degradation of Russia’s initial warning system emanates as its planned forces tend to be lessening wherein the forces comprising of nuclear armed submarines, long range bombers as well as intercontinental ballistic missiles which had been built by Soviet at the time of the Cold War had declined intensely both in quality as well as in numbers.

Experts predict that within a decade, Russia would be having a nuclear arsenal, one-tenth the size of the Soviet Union at the highest of the superpower rivalry since arms tend to control treaties, impending uselessness and the economic depression of Russia.

Launch-on-warning/Launch Retaliatory Strike

The radar and satellite gaps or holes have been causing some worry since Russia has continued adhering to nuclear doctrines of the Soviet era and the overall restriction concept is known as Mutual Assured Destructions, wherein each side is held in check by the threat of destruction by the other. A part of the cocked pistols approach was `launch-on-warning’ wherein both the sides threaten that in the event of an attack they will unleash massive retaliation before the enemy warhead had arrived.

This approach would discourage either of the sides from attempting to strike first. Russian had also inherited a second, related approach from the Soviet Union which was to preserve the ability to launch a retaliatory strike after even the enemy’s warhead had strike.

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