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US-Russia Joint Force to Monitor Missiles' Y2K Problems 64

Hapster sent in the link to a New York Times story (free reg. req. to read) about how the US and Russia are setting up a joint task force to make sure we don't accidently get into a nuclear exchange because of Y2K bugs in missle warning and launch software. According to the article, "The confidence-building operation will use U.S. early-warning satellites and advanced computers, and could reassure Moscow if Y2K computer problems in Russia mistakenly signaled a missile launch somewhere in the world."
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US-Russia Joint Force to Monitor Missiles' Y2K Problems

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  • Dave's not here!
    Yeah, I'm a Mac programmer. You got a problem with that?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Is it just me, or is anyone else wondering why the 'Russians' still have missiles aimed at us...
  • France, Britain and possibly Israel could also attack Russia with nuclear weapons.

    One SSBN can ruin your whole day.

  • We're getting off topic here, but I just love space stories and can't resist...

    Well, China was going to launch the capsule this year, but unmanned. It may be some time (2001, at least) before they launch a manned craft.

    Take a look at this BBC news story [] for details and nice pictures.

    I seem to recall another article that stated that China's manned launch wouldn't be well into the next decade, but I couldn't find it.

    Looking forward to the next moon race! I wasn't even born yet for the last one...

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Its because when the cold war ended all those tens of thousands of nuclear warheads didn't disapear. The nuclear threat is just as real today as it was in the 80's. In 96 or 95 [someone correct me here if my date is off] Norwegian/American scientists launched a high altitude rocket from Norway for weather experiments. Even though russia space command was notified some months in advance.. the information never reached the missle command crew who interpreted the launch as a US first strike from a submarine in the north atlantic. Boris Yeltsin had his finger on "the button" if you will for about 20 minutes until it was determined that it was not a missle attack. This was covered in the news and I'll follow up with a link to it when I find it. Stuff like this seems to happen every few months.. If there is to be a nuclear war it will be most likely accidential. [I seem to recall times when the US almost launched their missles when they forgot that the computers were running a simulation that some officer left running on the system... doh]
  • though we may wish there was. Since I know it is going to be hell if the s**t hits the proverbial fan.
  • It reminds me of the China government which made all the airflight companies directors spend the night of the millennium in their planes with regular passangers.
  • You left out China, which actually does have missiles with sufficient range to hit the Lower 48.

    Indeed. In fact China is about to launch it's first manned mission in a few months, please browse Mark Wade's excellent Encyclopedia Astronautica [] for more information. AFAIK, most other nuclear powers ('sides Russia) don't have land-based ballistic missiles of sufficient range, and generally don't need to (as their arsenals are mostly aimed at their immediate neighbors).

    Well, India has launched some satellites on it's own, so I guess they can nuke whoever and whereever they want - even with heavy warheads.

  • My biggest concern is the people problem.. When people hear that people are stock piling cash and the reserves/national guard is being called out just in case.. I think the percautions people take will cause panic. Personally I expect the electricity to work and most everything else major but I am sure there will be plenty of smaller things that will break. Nothing that will ruin your day but it might make it inconvient in some aspects. All it takes is a small percent
    to panic and the rest will freak out.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Let's stop pointing missles at each other. Face it, we might need a socialist revolution in this country before the government will pay more attention to "we the people" than to the never-ending state of war which we're getting.
  • Ah. Back to the MAD ole days... 'k. Not SDI or anything like that.

    At least, supposedly, it's not *that* automated so that in theory human intervention is required before launch...
  • I thought I said they didn't build a good early warning system themselves, and this is an easy way to look at one of the best around. I never said anyone was subhuman. We would do it too, here in the US. We love to see other's technology and take it. I just don't see why they thought it was important to fix their own system, if it's so important to keep funding their other military programs.
  • it's as simple as this. We feel threadened by them because they feel threadened by us, because we feel threadened by them, because.. etc.

    I think the apprepriate term to describe this situation is "deadlock".

    Think about it.

  • Maybe not panic, but crime. While most people either aren't preparing much at all (perhaps getting some hardcopies of financial records, or shifting assets towards cash a *little*, and having some food on hand), while some are going all-out (moving to secluded cabins, and keeping their powder dry... but not going out and actually bothering other people) -- you're going to have some who try to take advantage of the situation.

    You might have people trying to defraud, say, banks, perhaps claiming that their debts were fictitious results of a bug; you might have people trying to take advantage of any date-based security systems that may or may not be offline; and for everybody that leaves for the woods, you might have somebody who decides that the vacated property is intriguing enough to burgle. IIRC, Congress has even restricted damage awards for Y2K-related lawsuits, but there'll still probably be lawsuits filed, considering that there are habitual plaintiffs who file literally hundreds with the sole intent of being enough of a nuisance that somebody eventually settles, or hoping that jury will buy his arguments. A lot of this won't be panicking in any way, but purely premeditated misdeeds.
  • what you said is missile can be fired 'accendently'. the real problem that Y2K presents is possible 'phatom missiles' showing up on russian (or american) radars. the possibility may exist that some y2k related computer glitch causes someone on either side to believe that a first strike is underway, and therefore orders the launch of thier nukes. Perhaps as scary is the fact that all those old and decrepid russian nuclear power plants are presumably running the same out of date computer systems...
  • It probably costs a lot of money to properly decommision a missile (meaning disassembly and destruction of important parts, and such...); while they probably could just leave the warheads intact in warehouses, that is *not* a good scenario. I believe that at least at one point, we were subsidizing decommisioning costs... for the Ukraine, methinks.

    Until then, they'll still be in their silos. You've got a point that they could probably be targeted elsewhere, 'tho, which might help in the event of an accidental launch.
  • It is actually true that their warning systems have, historically, been questionable, and that their command structure exacerbates this problem.

    Some years ago, a naval-based satellite launch north of Russian waters came reasonably close to provoking a nuclear response. Despite the fact that they had been notified in advance of the nature of this (of course, the warning could have been a lie and instead the rocket could have been a MIRV'd ICBM...), the warning had not propagated to the people in charge of deciding whether it was a pre-emptive nuclear strike (presumably by the US). In addition, the launch was close enough that there wasn't that much time to decide, since it still takes some time (unless you're already at maximum readiness) to launch a retalliatory strike.

    Be happy that the rocket turned away from Soviet territory within that timeframe...

    You also have incidents such as the apparent mis-identification of KAL007 and so forth... given that the Russian military budget has dwindled significantly, one has to worry about the state of readiness and maintenance of their systems. It's arguably in the interests of the US to help stabilize the situation, since it doesn't exactly benefit us if their nuclear arsenal is ill-kept.
  • > This is obviously needed, but really it's just giving Russia a sneak peak at our top secret > early-warning system, since they aren't smart enought to build a good one themselves. Someone has been reading too many Tom Clancy Novels. reminds me of a simpsons episode...the "russia" sign in the United Nations suddenly flips and exposes "USSR"...Lenin rises from his tomb..."Must crush capitalism!"
  • by Bowie J. Poag ( 16898 ) on Saturday September 11, 1999 @05:41AM (#1689718) Homepage

    From the beginning, i've always contended that the biggest problem with Y2K is *not* the machines. Its the people who will go and do something retarded or nutty out of the fear that something might happen.. Stockpiling weapons, hoarding food, withdrawing huge sums of money from banks..that sort of thing is the greatest threat here. The redneck factor plays into it way more than anything else.

    There will be riots -- but not because of anything computer related. There will be riots because people *expect* rioting to occur. Its completely psychological. It goes hand in hand with "My city's basketball team won a game -- Now I think i'll go turn over a squad car and set my own neighborhood on fire." People will use a simple 4-digit roll of our Gregorian calendar as a reason to steal a television. Why? Because people *expect* it to happen.

    If you ask me, Times Square in NY is the absolute worst place you could be on New Years Eve. Given the number of people who will try and pack themselves into such a small space, something bad is bound to happen. Mix in some alcohol into that equation, and the outlook is even worse. Add into it the fact that 20% of the population have serious mental health issues, and greater than 1% of the population is schizophrenic, and you've got yourself a big human fruit-salad of errors ready to propogate. Think about that next time the camera pans the crowd..One out of every 100 faces in that crowd thinks that dogs can send telepathic messages from Satan directly into their minds. :)

    Lets suppose some nutcase has it in his head that the world will be coming to an end at the stroke of midnight. He figures, "Well, since I have to go to hell, i'm going to bring the greatest party in the world with me!" ..So he brings an AK-47 into the middle of the crowd in Times Square, and begins shooting at soon as the ball begins dropping. Its too noisy to hear whats going on, and no one's looking down. Theyre all looking up.
    10 seconds later, 300 people are dead, 1000 are injured, most of them killed by the ensuing stampede.

    I'm not worried about the machines. I'm worried about the morons being worried about the machines.

    Bowie J. Poag
  • 'we'?. We have no particular reasons to destroy the Americans (US'ans) at this point. But American paranoia runs deep.

  • actually, it makes sense (in a wierd governmental-paranoid sort-of-way) that missles could/should fire on y2k. it would be (to me) the ultimate fail-safe. think about it: if a y2k problem brings the computers to their knees what *could* that signify? could it *maybe* signal an all out war? now wouldn't it be best to program your missles with a fail-safe that basically comes down to an if-then statement:

    if comp!=1
    then firethemissles;
    else continuenormal;

    this way *if* the computers go down (for any reason), the missles will fire no matter what. pretty slick. 8^)
  • Is it just me, or is anyone else wondering why the 'Americans' still have missiles aimed at us...
  • by Photon ( 82956 ) on Saturday September 11, 1999 @01:44AM (#1689724)
    Ah, but this could be taken a step further, into the propaganda/government conspiracy stage. Say a missile did go off. The government says 'It was a Y2K bug we missed.' Was it? Or was it deliberate?

    Jeremy Tout
  • Now I don't have to worry about nuclear war when I'm up on Jan 1st, recieving calls from angry customers who suddenly can't get web access.

    "Well, we warned you that version 1.21 wasn't Y2K compatible."
  • India/Pakistan/Indonesia/Iran/Isreal and god knows
    who else has Nukes also..

    What happens if one of THEM goes off from a y2k
    bug? Heh then we nuke them first and while we
    are nuking them.. Russia nukes us :)

    Actually.. I am worried about a lot of the nukes
    and nuclear reactors that are NOT y2k bug free.
    Specially since im living here in Florida and
    Cuba wants to start up their Nuclear Reactor that
    they built in the 60s..

    Im SURE that plant is y2k compatable... NOT.
  • I mentioned this sometime earlier on slashdot, the U.S. and Russia have an exchange program for defence analysts to keep an eye on each others silos and command centres.

    During the mini-revolution that almost unseated Gorbachev, the russian missile command centre opened all the doors on the silos so the CIA (actually the NRO) could peer into them with the spy satellites and confirm that rogue forces hadn't taken over the government and ordered a launch. They even grabbed a CIA analyst from the moscow embassy and flew him to one of the military bases so he could report back on what was going on. It kept the U.S. in a "peaceful posture".

    There were some small announcements in defence magazines more than a year ago that both sides would be monitoring each other, and were working to get the chinese involved as well. Now they also have to worry about India and Pakistan, although only India has orbital technology and isn't currently pissed at anyone other than neighbor Pakistan.

    But its nice to see a splashy PR piece to calm Y2K fears.

    the AC
  • Where's General Jack D. Ripper when you need him?

    Let's protect our precious bodily fluids on December 31. There's nothing like revenge long after the fight is over!

    Are you with me, Slashdotters!


  • if they had them, do you think they'd be in a position to launch them? this seems like a problem (hopefully) only if they're queued up and ready to lanch (nd thus connected to a computer). there's a computer on board there, but I'm hoping like hell that either a) people can turn the triggering off or b) it's not date dependent. (I can think of schemes where it's a counter that starts at launch or something.

    question is what would happen if one of them went off. would it trigger automagical antimissile defense?

    Computer: Hey Ivan, look. Nuclear blast way the hell out in Siberia. Looks like de Capeetaleest Runeeng Dog United States must have blasted us. Weapons systems arming...
    Ivan: Oh, &^^#@! I thought I fixed that bug.

    actually, I could see it being a good thing if certain countries made their weapons systems a lot more docile for those few days... humans may be slow, but we're also not having Y2K bugs... at least not yet. Lea

  • And what about all the nukes that are *supposedly* in the hands of people like the Russian mafia etc. I'm sure the U.S. Government would really want to keep check of those. Or maybe I watch too many movies...
  •, what antimissile defense? I'm not aware of any (successful, still funded) ABM system. IIRC, US-Soviet treaties explicitly prohibited such in order to maintain the possibility of MAD.
  • Yeah, US, Russia, big deal. This is obviously needed, but really it's just giving Russia a sneak peak at our top secret early-warning system, since they aren't smart enought to build a good one themselves. This was all a Russian ploy to get into our systems, maybe? Why didn't we just help them fix their systems?

    Oh, and about nuclear power plants - meltdowns are coming! I don't think we can avoid this one, with hundreds of plants still not Y2K ready! Maybe we should just shut them all down for a few hundred years.

    Visit Mind.Wire, the new web site for intelligent science, technology, and mathematics discussion.
  • But its nice to see a splashy PR piece to calm Y2K fears.

    I second that motion. It sure is nice to see an occasional island of sanity in this (mostly) insane world...
  • by BJH ( 11355 ) on Saturday September 11, 1999 @01:57AM (#1689734)
    Well, we got through 9999 pretty much all in one piece. I notice that most news services were saying things like "what an anticlimax", and how there was "nothing to worry about." Strange how most of those same news services run the occasional Y2K article saying how we're all doomed.

    There was a small article in the newspaper this morning saying how there was only one problem reported in Japan with 9999 - the fire service in Okinawa lost the use of its fire reporting system (the system that lets them notify firefighters of the location of a fire) for several hours. Apparently, the system was installed a long time ago.
    If there's going to be any problems at 12:00:01, January 1st, it's going to come from systems like these - installed years ago and forgotten about - rather than things like bank databases or communications systems. On the other hand, embedded systems are supposed to be the big bugaboo, but any embedded systems programmer worth his/her salary is supposed to ensure that no matter what happens, the system will reset itself to a known state rather than opening all water valves or whatever.

    Still, I'm not going to be taking any plane flights...
  • you know what really irritates me is that in another 39 years i'm gonna have to wake up at 54 years old and fix all the damned 32bit systems still in use. and then eventually some one will have to fix the 64bit systems once their clock chip goes. it's just one endless pain in the ass.
    char *stupidsig = "this is my dumb sig";
  • Heh. You left out China, which actually does have missiles with sufficient range to hit the Lower 48; AFAIK, most other nuclear powers ('sides Russia) don't have land-based ballistic missiles of sufficient range, and generally don't need to (as their arsenals are mostly aimed at their immediate neighbors). I don't remember diddly about their naval- or air-based capabilities capabilities, 'tho.

    Lowering the, er, alertness level (removing fuel from missiles, targeting random unhabited spots in space, etc) might be a good idea 'tho. Not that retargetting can't be done in moments, but...
  • it seemed to me that it wasn't a matter of being "mad" at anybody. it doesn't matter who India is mad at, if, come New Year, dem missiles go bang by themselves.

    I agree that it's a good thing to monitor them in general, and Y2K seems like a great excuse to get this started. It's an ill wind that blows nobody good. :)

  • yeah. and if a missile goes off, antimissile defense goes off, and there won't be much gov't left to say Y2K...

    not to mention not much left of us to hear it.

  • ;) How does it go?

    We'll meet again
    Don't know how,
    Don't know when...

    Peace on Earth, heh. There'd sure be peace after Plan R, once the radioactive dust settles...
  • Socialism should not be mixed up with pacifism, even when dealing with nations of similar bent. Unless, of course, you're saying that the economy would collapse to the point where we couldn't support a significant military budget... *that* might be true. A strong case can be made that the US victory in the Cold War was on economic grounds: we could spend far more than the Soviet command economy could, and far more efficiently, as well.

    Greens might do it, 'tho. They tend to have a strongly anti-nuclear, pacifist stance compared to everyone else around. Not that they tend to be revolutionaries...
  • I suspect their apathy over this issue has to do with the question of trust - would they have any reason to trust us to not fire our own nukes, and tell them they were a false alarm?

    I know that doesn't seem too sensible, since we have no particular reason to destroy the Russians at this point. But Russian paranoia runs deep.


  • by Anonymous Coward
    The dawn of Y2K will be the perfect time for all sorts of attacks. _Some_ computers will surely be affected, incapacitating the target to some extent. As the NY Times points out, we are worried about false alarms. The meere possibility of such false alarms will likely delay any retaliation, giving the attacker a crucial advantage.
  • > This is obviously needed, but really it's just giving Russia a sneak peak at our top secret
    > early-warning system, since they aren't smart enought to build a good one themselves.

    Do you really thing, there's something that they don't know already?!? (Hint: The KGB was not as dump as James Bond movies make you think.)
  • Well, 64 bits should outlast the Sun, anyway. I seem to remember that it's expected to only last for another 5 billion years or so.

    Something like 512 bits at a second resolution should last on the order of, hm, roughly 10^145 years or so methinks. Anybody know the current age of the universe?
  • by TrevorB ( 57780 ) on Saturday September 11, 1999 @02:55AM (#1689746) Homepage
    It's amazing that the majority of the American populace isn't bracing for the end of the world... Forget Y2K. In 1899, there was a huge dip in the stock market, and there was way more panic by September a century ago than there is today. (The stock market did jump back within a few months in 1900).

    I think by focusing everyones attention on Y2K, we're not panicing! A modern day apocolypse myth can be explained away as a technical problem to be solved. "Yes, there is a problem with the end of the century, but our best technicians are working on it and we'll have it fixed just in time!". I bet they couldn't say that in 1899...

    It doesn't matter how bad y2k is. It's the end of the millenium! Where are the thousands of doomsday cultists committing suicide? Where is that stock market panic? Why haven't end of the millenium trinkets shown up everywhere?

    Well, I guess I could be wrong about the trinkets... :)
  • In case you don't know. James Bond was not shown in cinema in the Soviet era but people watched its taped version :).

  • Of course, to get in without registering yourself use the l/p:


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  • Computer: Hey Ivan, look.

    It then falls to Ivan to decide what to do next, according to my (wildly limited) understanding of the way they've got things set up. The warning system tells Ivan how many missiles are flying, and from where. If it looks plausible, he presses a button to set things in motion on his end.

    This button, I understand, is labelled "Start."

    After he clicks "Start," he chooses "Programs" from the resulting menu, then "Applications" from the submenu, then "ICBM Manager."

    No, I'm lying. But it is labelled "Start."

  • The US and Russia have a policy of mutually asured destruction. An example of the policy was used in the movie "Wargames." The US will not fire an accidental missile due to Y2K, simple because it requires a person to turn a key after entering the launch codes to launch a missile. The russians also have a system which requires human intervention. Both countries use this system to one, prevent a person from comporomising military computer systems and launching the missiles itself, or a bug accidentally launching the nukes. I assure you that russian and us departments of defence take this issue far more seriously than we do.
  • C'mon, do you really believe this? If so, please explain why a satellite or a missile can misoperate due to Y2K????!!!!
    Satellites just fly high above scanning the surface for, most probably, sources of heat to detect missile launches.
    Of course, if they were made by M$, they could send you a nice-looking ASP with arms and flag to notify
    that Russians misbehave again.
    But believe me, all military appliances in SU were designed and built to be damn simple and robust so
    even brainless can press the right button and can not press the wrong one. Just consider that
    there always was a compulsory military duty.
    Someone could say that satellites need clock to track their location. Correct. But who says this has to be an 'absolute' clock? Count of milliseconds since the launch is enough.
    Moreof, sats are closer to the most precise clock- Sun and stars.
    Damn, it all looks like Russians got them scared to rise some more funds :) Call it political engineering :)

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