Y2K bugs Russian Navy

Publish date: June 3, 1999

Written by: Igor Kudrik

The Northern Fleet is getting prepared to meet millennium bug with zero funding.

The Russian Northern Fleet, which currently has 40 nuclear-powered submarines and three nuclear-powered surface cruisers in operation, says it is fully armed to face the year 2000. The cross-checking of the Fleet’s systems started after the Russian Government issued a special Y2K resolution in May 1998. A working group was reportedly put together at the Fleet’s HQ in Severomorsk, but the Fleet has not received any funding to work with the problem.

The information on the total costs to deal with the Y2K issue in the Northern Fleet is not available and, most probably, has never been estimated. However, navy officials named one number as an example. To ensure that the Fleet’s local computer network shall function properly $500,000 and 5-6 months of hard work is required. To obtain the funding, the Fleet has proposed to sell its out-dated computer hardware, which contains valuable metals. To do this the fleet needs a permission from Moscow favouring the deal, but there has been no response so far.

U.S. aid rejected
With a new wave of coolness in the relationship between the United States and Russia, the Y2K issue seems to be taken off the agenda. As a matter of fact, the agenda itself does not exist any longer because of the lack of military contacts between the two countries, as a result of the conflict in Kosovo. Controversial reports were circulating a month ago on the possible Y2K contacts between the defence ministries of Russia and the U.S., but eventually no projects materialised.

The Pentagon has never dramatised the situation regarding unauthorised launches of Russian missiles caused by computer glitches. The U.S. defence officials said that Russian military entity has been far more conservative in replacing human resources with dependence on strict automated command and control systems. Hence Russia has back up and redundancy that was never engineered into American systems.

However, the U.S. Department of Defence admitted that Russia seemed not to be fully aware of the extent of the Y2K problem and wanted to see the same degree of passion about it as there is in the United States. Russian side says there are no problems on the 2000-horison…theoretically.

Uncontrolled missile launch
"Impossible," says Vladimir Kiselev, Northern Fleet’s expert on automated command systems, in an interview with Northern Fleet’s daily Na Strazhe Zapolyar’ya. Kiselev says that the system for the combat control was integrated into the global network of the USSR strategic forces operation system. The system is not linked to the calendar dates and can be launched only with human intervention. This system, according to Kiselev, has back up and redundancy. However, the efforts to confirm the consistence of this theory with reality are strictly limited by scarce financial resources. The Fleet have not received neither funding nor necessary hardware or software upgrades to deal with the Y2K issue.

Navigation systems most vulnerable
Satellite navigation systems installed onboard warships are the most vulnerable to Y2K. Northern Fleet officials expect that 30 per cents of such systems will stop functioning after December 31, 1999. However, the local combat operation systems (the computer "brain" of a vessel) are said not to suffer much, as, again, human intervention plays a major role in their operation.

Better stay moored
Experts find it hard to draw any distinct conclusions upon the impact of the Y2K. But even the fuzzy information available on the Northern Fleet’s preparedness for the millennium bug, suggests that warships should better stay moored and inactive on the New Year’s Eve.