The Stanley Kubric’s movie ”Dr. Strangelove” from 1964 is about an automatic Russian Doomsday Machine. This machine would guarantee nuclear retaliation in the case the Soviet Union were hit by an U.S. surprise attack. The movie is purely fiction but reality caught up with the movie in 1985 when the Russian PERIMETR system went online. The system goes by different names like Dead Hand and Mertvaya Ruka. The information we got is contradictory, the details vary and some is speculation. We simply don’t know the facts. This is a summary of the available information:
Perimetr is not fully automatic. The system needs to be activated. It will then use its sensors to detect nuclear detonations and listen for Russian military radio. If contact over radio is not possible the system reports to a small spherical bunker deep under the Ural mountains. In this command center there are three officers waiting for Perimetr to indicate that the conditions for a counter attack is met. It’s then up to the officers to push the button. The Perimetr is then fully automatic. Command missiles will launch and also try to detect military radio. If not detected it will send launch codes to missiles on the ground.
The system was unknown until 1993 when Valery Yarynich and Bruce Blair started writing about it. The Russians are rarely talking about this system but as late as 2011 the commander of the Russian Strategic Missile Forces confirmed that the system is still operational.
Arms Control Wonk: Putin’s Dead Hand (great links and a good podcast)
Bruce Blair: Russia’s Doomsday Machine (first known article from 1993)
The Washington Post: Valery Yarnich, the man who told of the Soviet’s doomsday machine
Number Stations: The myth of the Dead Hand