I tour a 60’s Russian missile base

About 300 KM South of Kiev out in the middle of a nondescript field lies the preserved ruins of what was a major camouflaged nuclear missile base, comprising (by my count) 12 silos each filled with SS-18 ‘Satan’ Intercontinental missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads to North American targets in 20 minutes, each with a target accuracy of 200 meters.  The lids covering the silos, all under turf, weighed 125 tons each and could open to their full extent in 8 seconds to an angle of 86 degrees.  Following missile liftoff, the lid would close under it’s own momentum and weight.

The control center is a chilly and Spartan 12 stories underground at level 11.  Level 12 contains sleeping and bathroom quarters and was only accessible by a tight crawl space.  Shifts were eight hours each, with three more officers in reserve one deck below. The control center is much smaller than I had envisioned it, quite cramped actually.

At any given time there would be three officers present.  Two in front of identical consoles with all analog computers and TV monitors. Another officer sat in a jump seat between the two consoles. All had lap and shoulder belts. The center was shielded by a meter and a half of reinforced concrete and shock absorbers at every angle.  It is said to be capable of enduring a direct nuclear hit, following which there were food, water and supplies for a 45 day sequester. Survivors had access to hidden trap doors to the surface.

The decision to push “the” button (see my finger on it in photo) was made in Moscow and the information relayed to the control center by encrypted radio transmission. The order was given by the officer in the jump seat, and, just like “Fail Safe”, both officers at the consoles must push identical buttons simultaneously. However, there was another layer of reliability. If for whatever reason, one or the other button didn’t get pushed, a Moscow control officer could bypass everything and fire the missiles by a satellite order via special antennae.

This site is said to be the one that would have fired the “Missiles of October”, during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, and there is a bronze plaque commemorating those involved on the Russian side out in front of the museum. By agreement with the major powers, all the silos are filled with cement after the missiles were removed and dismantled.

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