The Perimeter System: Unveiling the Truth Behind Russia’s Automated Nuclear Control System

Every once in a while in my comments, a discussion takes place about why don’t we take out the Kremlin, why don’t we take out Vladimir Putin? And someone inevitably comes back with, well, they have the dead hand system, which means that a nuclear strike could take place so we can’t kill Putin. Otherwise the world would end.

Well, the dead hand or what is actually called the parameter system, is a Cold War era automated nuclear control system that was developed by the Soviet Union to ensure that a retaliatory nuclear strike can take place in the event of the Soviet back then, now Russian command and control structures are destroyed.

Now the key here is retaliatory. And I want to talk about how this parameter system works. Now, every time I talk about parameter, just know that is kind of dead hand. But it’s actually called perimeter. Perimeter was developed to address the fear of a decapitation strike by the United States, which could potentially eliminate the Russian leadership and their command structure and a surprise nuclear attack.

Now, remember, this is a Soviet era system. They’ve upgraded it, obviously, but it was first developed during the Soviet Union timeframe by ensuring a retaliatory capability even in such a scenario that they were completely destroyed. Parameter was intended to enhance currents.

So before I get into talking about the system, I want to go over some of the myths. And here is what the parameter system is not. It is not a system tied to Putin’s heartbeat. No one in the Russian space would put the fate of the world in the hands of a random heart attack. It’s also not a fully autonomous system that can’t be stopped once activated. That is completely false. There is multiple levels of human verification and intervention points. No one in Russia would put the fate of the world in the hands of janky Russian tech.

Another myth is the system is susceptible to glitches that can cause an immediate launch. Again, the system has numerous fail saves and verification mechanisms to prevent access. Incidental activation, false alarms and technical malfunctions are a critical concern for any nuclear command and control system, whether it’s Russian or American or Chinese or whatever. But when it comes to parameter, the design aims to minimize such risks. The system must be turned on and placed into detection mode before it even starts looking for nuclear strikes. Russia would only do this if the geopolitical landscape showed that an imminent nuclear strike from other nuclear powers were to take place. Right now, we’re not even close to that level of insecurity across the globe. So now that we know what the parameter system is not, here’s a look at how it actually works. Now the parameter system relies on a network of sensors and monitoring systems that detect signs of a nuclear attack. These sensors include ballistic missile radar and satellite tracking systems, seismic detectors, radiation sensors and communication monitoring equipment. The system is designed to identify nuclear detonations, a loss of communication with the Russian leadership and other indicators of a large scale attack.

The decision to activate perimeter involves a combination of automated processes and human actions. If an initial detection suggests a nuclear attack, the system goes into a higher state of readiness. At that point, the system tries to communicate with the Russian leadership. If that communication is lost and other criteria are met, such as it detects a nuclear explosion, the system can authorize a retaliatory strike autonomously. Now it only works if Russia is struck with a nuclear weapon, though. So what does a retaliatory strike look like?

Well, if parameter determines that a nuclear attack has occurred and the Russian leadership is incapacitated, it triggers a launch command missile or a series of command missiles. These missiles do not carry warheads but are equipped with communications payloads. Once launched, they fly over Russian territory and broadcast launch commands to land based intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine launch ballistic missiles and other strategic nuclear forces. Incidentally, the US can see this taking place and intercept these command missiles. The Russians could also override the system at this point to stop any launches.

At this point, the perimeter is highly automated, but it is designed to include human oversight where possible during heightened states of alert, human operators can intervene to cancel or confirm the system’s activation at any time. They can even stop missiles mid flight. This adds a layer of control and prevents accidental launches.

The system includes numerous fail safe mechanisms to prevent any kind of accidental activation. These mechanisms ensure that parameter only activates under specific dire circumstances where a retaliatory strike is deemed necessary due to a complete incapacitation of the leadership. The exact current status of parameter is classified, but it is widely believed that a form of the system remains operational as part of Russia’s strategic current.

Russia’s military doctrine continues to emphasize the importance of maintaining a reliable second strike capability. And again, the emphasis here on parameter is second strike. And as I said, this system only works when a human being turns it on. A human being is monitoring it throughout the processes of detection and will only become autonomous if a nuclear strike is detected and the system cannot communicate with the Russian command structure. At that point, it will launch on its own. Up till then, there is human intervention. But if we’re to the point where the system has detected nuclear strikes or taking in place and they can’t communicate with the Russian military command structure or the Kremlin. We are already at nuclear war.