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Russia loses control of army satellites Officials say they have full control of missile warning system

MSNBC STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS MOSCOW, May 10 — Russia lost control of four military satellites overnight because of a fire at an important relay station, a senior military official said on Thursday. The devastating blaze was the latest in a string of embarrassments to the Russian military, although army chiefs insisted that their overall satellite coordinating system was working normally. ‘Restoring permanent contact with these satellites will technically be possible once the fire is extinguished.’ — ANATOLY PERMINOV Space forces commander

SOME U.S. experts have warned recently that failures by Russia’s aging early-warning satellite system could lead Moscow to launch nuclear missiles in reaction to a false alarm. But Russian military officials insisted that only four satellites were affected by the blaze. “As a result of the fire, we do not have constant contact with four satellites,” Anatoly Perminov, commander of Russia’s Space Forces, told state-run RTR television. “Restoring permanent contact with these satellites will technically be possible once the fire is extinguished,” he said. “The entire satellite control system is working normally, including ones with a military designation.”

ELECTRICAL SHORT SUSPECTED Itar-Tass news agency quoted Defense Ministry officials as saying an electrical short circuit started the blaze at the relay station near Serpukhov, in the Kaluga region some 120 miles southwest of Moscow.

Fire fighters were sent from the capital to help tackle the blaze with specialized foam-making equipment that Defense Ministry crews on the scene lacked. No one was injured and all secret documents, computer programs, weapons and equipment were rescued from the burning relay station, Perminov said. Advertisement

Starved since the collapse of the Soviet Union of the vast funds it once enjoyed, the Russian military keeps much aging equipment in use well past its designed lifespan. SATELLITES AGING Military specialist Alexander Golts told Reuters that 70 percent of Russia’s 100-130 military satellites were nearing the end of their operational life. Bureaucratic reorganizations have left the satellite network short of cash and bedeviled by a complicated chain of command.

“Another of the habitual bureaucratic restructurings is going on right now. All the space forces are being separated from the structure of the Strategic Rocket Forces. Two years ago they merged,” he said. Geoffrey Forden of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology wrote last week that Russia’s failing space-based early-warning systems posed a potential risk. “Russia no longer has the working fleet of early warning satellites that reassured its leaders that they were not under attack during the most recent false alert,” he said in an article posted on the Cato Institute website. He was referring to a 1995 incident in which Russia briefly mistook a scientific rocket launched from Norway for a U.S. nuclear missile.

“With decaying satellites, the possibility exits that, if a false alert occurs again, Russia might launch its nuclear-tipped missiles,” he wrote. Russian officials dismissed the article as groundless.

-- Martin Thompson (, May 10, 2001


Nando Times

The fire was extinguished 16 hours after it erupted, ITAR-Tass reported, citing a regional fire dispatcher. ...Sergei Shoigu, Russia's Emergency Situations Minister, told Ekho Moskvy radio that the fire spread through the building along burning cables, much as a fire spread in Moscow's Ostankino television tower last summer. That blaze knocked out television broadcasts to the capital for three days.

Perminov said the cause of the fire had not yet been determined. But ITAR-Tass reported it was caused by a short-circuit under the building and had spread to all three stories through communications networks.

-- Rachel Gibson (, May 11, 2001.

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