2022-11-28 Cosmos-2564.pngThe Air and Space Forces performed a successful launch of a Soyuz-2.1b rocket from the launch pad No. 3 of the launch complex No. 43 of the Plesetsk space launch site. The launch took place at 18:17 MSK (15:17 UTC) on 28 November 2022. The satellite that the rocket and its Fregat boost stage delivered into orbit is reported to be a Glonass-M navigation satellite. The satellite has been designated Cosmos-2564. It received international designation 2022-0161A and was registered by NORAD as object No. 54377.

Previous Glonass launch took place in October 2022. However, it was a satellite of a Glonass-K class (as were the other recent Glonass satellites, launched in July 2022 and in October 2020). The last Glonass-M launch took place in March 2020. It has been reported that production of newer Glonass-K satellites was suspended by the western sanctions.

2022-11-22 Uzhur.pngAs Sarmat slowly goes through the flight tests (the first one took place in April 2022), construction of silos for the missile has already started. In 2016 the Strategic Rocket Forces announced that Sarmat will be deployed in Uzhur and Dombarovskiy. Earlier, it was reported that the total of 46 missiles will be deployed eventually.

As of October 2022, construction was underway at two silos of the 302nd regiment of the 62nd missile division at Uzhur (h/t BR).

55.11361 89.63472

55.03472 89.72861

Note that it is a six-missile regiment.

2022-11-18 Avangard.pngThe ministry of defense reported that the deployment of the Avangard system continues at Dombarovskiy/Yasnyy. A video released by TASS shows emplacement of the UR-100NUTTH launcher into one of the silos. Two missiles are likely to begin combat duty by the end of 2022, bringing the total number of deployed Avangards to eight.

This is said to be the first deployment with the 368th missile regiment of the 13th missile division in Dombarovskiy/Yasnyy. The deployment of Avangard began in 2019. The first regiment that received the system was the 621st regiment of the 13th division. The current plan is to deploy 12 systems of this type.

Here are the silos where Avangard is deployed:

621st regiment:

51.0698 59.4840

51.1533 59.5247

51.1925 59.6353

51.1510 59.5973

51.1025 59.5773

51.1151 59.6351

368th regiment:

51.15493 59.74850

51.20700 59.85001

51.16841 59.96762

51.09735 60.08744

51.09348 59.84459

51.03678 59.95899

Note that while the 621st regiment is a ten-missile regiment, three of its silos have been used for tests and Dnepr launches. One more appears to be unused. The 368th regiment includes six silos.

Generalissimus Suvorov, a submarine of the Project 955A/Borey-A class, conducted a successful launch of a Bulava missile. The submarine was deployed in the White Sea, the warheads reached their targets at the Kura test site.

The launch appears to be part of the acceptance tests of the submarine. It began sea trials in July 2022.

On 2 November 2022, at 09:48 MSK (06:48 UTC) crews of the Air and Space Forces conducted a successful launch of a Soyuz-2.1b launcher from the launch pad No. 43 of the launch complex No. 4 of the Plesetsk test site.

The satellite delivered into orbit (by a Fregat booster), was designated Cosmos-2563. It received international designation 2022-145A and registered by NORAD as object 54223.

The satellite will join the space-based segment of the early-warning system, known as EKS or Kupol. The spacecraft are known as Tundra. Cosmos-2563 is the sixth satellite of the system, which will eventually include ten satellites.

Previous launch of a Tundra satellite, Cosmos-2552, was conducted in November 2021.

2022-10-26 Yars.pngOn 26 October 2022 Russia conducted an exercise of strategic forces that tested procedures of "a massive nuclear strike in response to a nuclear strike by an adversary." This is an annual exercise that is traditionally held in the fall. This time it included launches of a Yars missile from a mobile launcher in Plesetsk, a launch of a Sineva missile from the Tula submarine of the Project 667BDRM/Delta IV class, and launches of ALCMs conducted by two Tu-95MS bombers. (One of these bombers shown on the video, Vorkuta, is based in Engels.)

Previous exercise of this series was moved to February 2022 from the fall of 2021. Note that the February 2022 exercise also included launches of a range of non-strategic systems, such as Kinzhal, Kalibr, and Iskander.

Note that the ministry of defense stopped updating its YouTube channel in April 2022 and urged everyone to follow it on Telegram at t.me/mod_russia

There are a number of episodes in the Cold War history that testify to the dangers of nuclear weapons. There were quite a few close calls and some of these were (much) closer than others. One of them, which is often described as being one of the closest calls, is the September 1983 false alarm, also known as the Stanislav Petrov incident. In brief, the popular version of the story is that the Soviet early-warning satellites generated an alarm, which Petrov recognized as false thereby averting a truly catastrophic full-scale nuclear war.

With time, these episodes generate their own narratives, which give us a convenient way of thinking about the events of the past. Besides, who doesn't like a good story about avoiding an apocalypse? The problem, of course, is that these narratives may not be quite correct. But then, what is "correct"? I am sure historians deal with these kinds of things all the time, and the profession has a way of thinking about these issues. I am not a historian, so I don't know what to do in these cases. Neither I pretend to know what actually happened (does anyone?). But I can offer bits of evidence and my thoughts hoping that they could contribute to a narrative that is in some sense "more correct."

The best description of the incident is in David Hoffman's book "The Dead Hand," which I highly recommend. (Full disclosure - I helped David with preparing some materials he used in the book, the Kataev archive among them, and we discussed many things, including the Petrov episode.) Hoffman interviewed Petrov and used other materials to reconstruct the events of that day. I must say right away that there is absolutely no reason to doubt Petrov's account of the events. Also, there is no doubt that Stanislav Petrov did the right thing when he reported up the chain of command that in his assessment the alarm was false. That was a good call in stressful circumstances and Petrov fully deserves the praise for making it.

But did he literally avert a nuclear war and saved the world? In my view, that was not quite what happened. (I would note that as far as I know Petrov himself never claimed that he did.)

To begin with, one assumption that is absolutely critical for the "saved the world" version of the events is that the Soviet Union maintained the so-called launch-on-warning posture. This would mean that it was prepared to launch its missiles as soon as its early-warning system detects a missile attack. This is how US system works and, as it usually happens, most people automatically assume that everybody does the same. Or at least tries to. This assumption is, of course, wrong. The Soviet Union structured its strategic forces to absorb a nuclear attack and focused on assuring retaliation - the posture known as "deep second strike" ("ответный удар"). The idea was that some missiles (and submarines) will survive an attack and will be launched in retaliation once it is over.

The full story is a bit complicated - the Soviet Union did invest in early-warning radars and satellites in the 1970s. That development, however, did not mean that the Soviet Union had a chance of implementing launch on warning even if it wanted to. Its geographical position made it very much impossible, with or without dual phenomenology (i.e. satellites plus radars). The early-warning system did play a role in the decision-making mechanism, but that role was to trigger the release of a preliminary command that would bring the strategic forces into the state from which a retaliatory strike is possible. Check this excerpt from the Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces book for a more detailed description of the procedure.

In the 1980s the Soviet Union began implementing measures to support the "launch under attack" option ("ответно-встречный удар"). This strategy was intended to take advantage of the fact that even a well-coordinated strike against strategic forces could not hit all targets at the same time. This meant that while some missiles will have a chance to escape from under attack even though others are already destroyed. The move toward the launch under attack required substantial investment, but in the 1980s the Soviet Union was on the way there.

What is important here is that in either case the Soviet Union would have waited for actual nuclear detonations on its soil. Nobody would have launched anything based on an alarm generated by the early-warning system, let alone by only one of its segments - the satellites.

In any event, an operator of the space segment of the early-warning system is not the person who determines the course of actions. Once the computer classifies the signal as an indicator of a launch, it generates an alarm that is automatically sent up the chain of command (especially if it is not a single launch). There were at least three assessment and decision-making layers above the command center of the army that operated the satellites - command centers of the early-warning army, the Air Defense Forces (which was a separate service back then), and, finally, the General Staff. The decision to act would have been taken only at the very top. It is certain that the alarm would have been recognized as false at some stages. But even if it wasn't, the most radical thing the General Staff (with the involvement of the political leadership) would do was to issue a preliminary command. No missiles would be launched unless the system detected actual nuclear detonations on the Soviet territory.

Having said that, what Stanislav Petrov did was indeed commendable. The algorithm that generated the alarm got it wrong. The designers of the early-warning satellites took particular pride in the fact that the assessment is done by computers rather than by humans. So, it definitely took courage to make that call to the command center up the chain of command and insist that the alarm is false. We simply don't know what would have happened if he kept silence or confirmed the alarm as positive. And, importantly, he did not know it either. He just did all he could to prevent the worst from happening.

P.S. False alarms, of course, happened all the time. This one seems to have been more serious than others. It is mentioned in a some semi-official accounts, like this one "Рубежи обороны - в космосе и на земле" (p. 152). That account placed the episode in July 1983, but that may be an error. The episode resulted in a "stern conversation" between the minister of defense and the chief designer of the system. Other incidents are mentioned briefly as well - apparently the Soviet Union had its own "training tape" accident in the 1970s.

On 21 October 2022, at 22:20 MSK (19:20 UTC) crews of the Air and Space Forces conducted a successful launch of a Soyuz-2.1v rocket from the launch pad No. 4 of the launch complex No. 43 of the Plesetsk space launch site.

The satellites delivered into orbit were designated Cosmos-2561 and Cosmos-2562. They received international designations 2022-137A and 2022-137B and registered by NORAD as objects 54109 and 54110.

Some reports suggest that these are inspector satellites. They were place in the same orbital plane as USA 326, which was earlier approached by Cosmos-2558.

On 15 October 2022, at 22:55 MSK (19:55 UTC) crews of the Air and Space Forces conducted a successful launch of an Angara 1.2 launcher from the Plesetsk test site.

The satellite delivered into orbit was designated Cosmos-2560. It received international designation 2022-135A and registered by NORAD as object 54050.

Cosmos-2560 was deployed on a circular orbit with altitude of about 330 km, which suggests that it is similar to the small imaging satellites of the EO MKA/Razbeg type - Cosmos-2525, Cosmos-2551, and Cosmos-2555.

The Air and Space Forces conducted a successful launch of a Soyuz-2.1b rocket from the launch pad No. 3 of the launch complex No. 43 of the Plesetsk space launch site. The launch took place at 05:52 MSK (02:52 UTC) on 10 October 2022. The satellite that the rocket and its Fregat boost stage delivered into orbit is a Glonass-K navigation satellite No. 17L.

The satellite was designated Cosmos-2559. It received international designation 2022-130A and was registered by NORAD as object 54031.

Previous Glonass-K launch was in July 2022.