Category Archive 'Weapon Systems'

25 Sep 2009

“Dead Hand:” Soviet Doomsday Device Still in Operation

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Wired tells us Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (1964) film accurately predicted a system put on-line in 1985 by the Soviets that would assure an automatic Soviet response to a Western first strike.

The Cold War ended years ago, but apparently the Russians never turned off their Doomsday device.

Valery Yarynich glances nervously over his shoulder. Clad in a brown leather jacket, the 72-year-old former Soviet colonel is hunkered in the back of the dimly lit Iron Gate restaurant in Washington, DC. It’s March 2009—the Berlin Wall came down two decades ago—but the lean and fit Yarynich is as jumpy as an informant dodging the KGB. He begins to whisper, quietly but firmly.

“The Perimeter system is very, very nice,” he says. “We remove unique responsibility from high politicians and the military.” He looks around again.

Yarynich is talking about Russia’s doomsday machine. That’s right, an actual doomsday device—a real, functioning version of the ultimate weapon, always presumed to exist only as a fantasy of apocalypse-obsessed science fiction writers and paranoid über-hawks. The thing that historian Lewis Mumford called “the central symbol of this scientifically organized nightmare of mass extermination.” Turns out Yarynich, a 30-year veteran of the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces and Soviet General Staff, helped build one.

The point of the system, he explains, was to guarantee an automatic Soviet response to an American nuclear strike. Even if the US crippled the USSR with a surprise attack, the Soviets could still hit back. It wouldn’t matter if the US blew up the Kremlin, took out the defense ministry, severed the communications network, and killed everyone with stars on their shoulders. Ground-based sensors would detect that a devastating blow had been struck and a counterattack would be launched.

The technical name was Perimeter, but some called it Mertvaya Ruka, or Dead Hand. It was built 25 years ago and remained a closely guarded secret. With the demise of the USSR, word of the system did leak out, but few people seemed to notice. In fact, though Yarynich and a former Minuteman launch officer named Bruce Blair have been writing about Perimeter since 1993 in numerous books and newspaper articles, its existence has not penetrated the public mind or the corridors of power. The Russians still won’t discuss it, and Americans at the highest levels—including former top officials at the State Department and White House—say they’ve never heard of it. When I recently told former CIA director James Woolsey that the USSR had built a doomsday device, his eyes grew cold. “I hope to God the Soviets were more sensible than that.” They weren’t.

The system remains so shrouded that Yarynich worries his continued openness puts him in danger. He might have a point: One Soviet official who spoke with Americans about the system died in a mysterious fall down a staircase. But Yarynich takes the risk. He believes the world needs to know about Dead Hand. Because, after all, it is still in place.

Read the whole thing.

10 Jun 2009

XM25 Grenade Launcher

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There is also a camo version

The New Scientists calls it a rifle, though it’s really a new grenade launcher. The XM25, developed by Heckler & Koch and Alliant Techsystems, has a range-finder and the ability to determine the range at which the projectile will explode. I bet it’s easier to use, but they used to be able to do the same thing back in the black powder era, simply by cutting fuses to pre-determined lengths. In the old days, of course, they lacked hand-held miniature howitzers, and they had to estimate the range by eye, the hard way.

A rifle capable of firing explosive bullets that can detonate within a metre of a target could let soldiers fire on snipers hiding in trenches, behind walls or inside buildings.

The US army has developed the XM25 rifle to give its troops an alternative to calling in artillery fire or air strikes when an enemy has taken cover and can’t be targeted by direct fire. “This is the first leap-ahead technology for troops that we’ve been able to develop and deploy,” says Douglas Tamilio, the army’s project manager for new weapons for soldiers. “This gives them another tool in their kitbag.”

The rifle’s gunsight uses a laser rangefinder to calculate the exact distance to the obstruction. The soldier can then add or subtract up to 3 metres from that distance to enable the bullets to clear the barrier and explode above or beside the target (see diagram).

As the 25-millimetre round is fired, the gunsight sends a radio signal to a chip inside the bullet, telling it the precise distance to the target. A spiral groove inside the barrel makes the bullet rotate as it travels, and as it also contains a magnetic transducer, this rotation through the Earth’s magnetic field generates an alternating current. A patent granted to the bullet’s maker, Alliant Techsystems, reveals that the chip uses fluctuations in this current to count each revolution and, as it knows the distance covered in one spin, it can calculate how far it has travelled.

The rifle would allow a soldier faced with a sniper firing from a window to take a distance measurement to the window, add a metre, fire through the window, and have the round detonate 1 metre inside the room. The same method could be used to fire behind a wall or over a trench. …

“This airburst shell gives the close-combat capability of a grenade launcher, combined with the ability of indirect fire weapons to hit stuff on the other side of the wall,” says John Pike, a defence analyst with Washington DC think tank

02 Jun 2009

CIA Using Targeting Chip Against Taliban

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The Guardian is repeating whispers heard around nomadic campfires near the Khyber Pass.

The CIA is equipping Pakistani tribesmen with secret electronic transmitters to help target and kill al-Qaida leaders in the north-western tribal belt, in a tactic that could aid Pakistan’s army as it takes the battle against extremism to the Taliban heartland.

As the army mops up Taliban resistance in the Swat valley, where a defence official predicted fighting would be over within days, the focus is shifting to Waziristan and the Taliban warlord Baitullah Mehsud.

But a deadly war of wits is already under way in the region, where tribesmen say the US is using advanced technology and old-fashioned cash to target the enemy.

Over the last 18 months the US has launched more than 50 drone attacks, mostly in south and north Waziristan. US officials claim nine of the top 20 al-Qaida figures have been killed.

That success is reportedly in part thanks to the mysterious electronic devices, dubbed “chips” or “pathrai” (the Pashto word for a metal device), which have become a source of fear, intrigue and fascination.

“Everyone is talking about it,” said Taj Muhammad Wazir, a student from south Waziristan. “People are scared that if a pathrai comes into your house, a drone will attack it.”

According to residents and Taliban propaganda, the CIA pays tribesmen to plant the electronic devices near farmhouses sheltering al-Qaida and Taliban commanders.

Hours or days later, a drone, guided by the signal from the chip, destroys the building with a salvo of missiles. “There are body parts everywhere,” said Wazir, who witnessed the aftermath of a strike.

Declan Walsh reports on 5:27 audio

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