A Black Brant XII multi-stage sounding rocket like this almost brought the world to nuclear war in 1995 (NASA)

Canada history: January 25 1995: Two minutes to nuclear war.


When a Canadian designed rocket almost caused nuclear war

After the second world war, the world’s powers began to be interested in rockets and missiles. Canada began researching solid rocket fuels for anti-ballistic missiles and to test them began work on a rocket capable of handling a variety of fuel loads and types and payloads. By 1961 the result was the creation of a test model called the Black Brant by the Canadian Armament Research and Development Establishment (CARDE).

An early Black Brant loaded to the launch ramp which will be raised to vertical position for launch. Churchill Manitoba 1960 (Defence Research and Development Canada)

As an unusual side-benefit, scientists discovered the research rocket turned out to be a great design for use as a “sounding vehicle”, a rocket to boost research equipment to study the upper atmosphere.

It eventually proved to be an extremely successful design, and is still used to this day as the most reliable rocket design in history with several variants in payload capacity and number of boosters.

An advertisement for commercial sales of the rocket, named after the species of small black geese which nest along the Arctic (CSTMC 43850)

On this day however, January 25, 1995, one of these rockets came within 120 seconds of causing a nuclear holocaust.

The Cold War was theoretically over, but tensions were never far from the surface between East and West especially the U.S, and Russia which was still dealing with the after effects of the breakup of the Soviet Union,

Norway planned to launch a Black Brant atmospheric rocket, although a somewhat bigger version of the Black Brant, and had dutifully notified about 30 countries to expect a missile heading off over northern Europe. This included the Russian military. However the Russian military had failed to notify its nuclear forces.

Suddenly the always alert, but not avised, Russian Missile Attack Warning System, noticed a signal that matched that of a submarine launched Trident missile over the northern coast of Norway. It appeared on a trajectory seemingly on a course for Moscow. Was this a pre-emptive strike to create an electro-magnetic pulse in the high atmosphere to knock our their radar prior to a full on attack?  It would take only ten minutes from launch to reach Russia’s mainland and that was the time Russia had practiced to reach a decision to launch a counter strike.

The incoming rocket then dropped one of the boosters and fired up the next, which to the Russian radar operators, was exactly what a incoming Trident missile with warheads would do.  At the time the radar was not sophisticated enough to determine size, and so they couldn’t know it was only a relatively light and thin sounding rocket.

The readings could estimate speed, and that gave the Russians a mere five minutes to decide on launching a full out counter attack, and a couple of minutes during which the missile, apparently heading for Moscow could not be tracked by radar due to gaps in the system created with the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.

All Russian nuclear subs were ordered on full combat alert, all other strategic forces were ordered to prepare for the next command, which would have been to launch counter strikes.

A Russian Delta class nuclear missile sub. All Russian subs were put on full combat alert. (Russian Defence Ministry)

Nuclear button activated for first time in history

Russian President Boris Yeltsin was given the so-called nuclear briefcase which could launch an an all-out nuclear attack on the west.

Russia’s (then ) president Boris Yeltsin was within minutes of launching nuclear war, but held off. (wikimedia)

With just minutes remaining in the ten minute window, he could see via the nuclear information in the “cheget” and from Russian satellites that no other western missiles had been launched, and with only two minutes remaining before a response had to be launched, Russian radar reported the rocket was headed out over the sea  and not to Moscow.

The “cheget” or Russian nuclear briefcase to launch nuclear weapons on display at the Yeltsin Presidential Centre ( reddit-nuclear weapons-Martin Pfeiffer @nuclearAnthro)

Sometime later, everyone involved played down the incident as mere minor disturbance but in fact, it could be classed as the closest the world had come to nuclear holocaust.

Additional information-sources

Categories: International, Politics, Society
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Do you want to report an error or a typo? Click here!

@*@ Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available

Note: By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that Radio Canada International has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Radio Canada International does not endorse any of the views posted. Your comments will be pre-moderated and published if they meet netiquette guidelines.

Netiquette »

When you express your personal opinion in an online forum, you must be as courteous as if you were speaking with someone face-to-face. Insults and personal attacks will not be tolerated. To disagree with an opinion, an idea or an event is one thing, but to show disrespect for other people is quite another. Great minds don’t always think alike—and that’s precisely what makes online dialogue so interesting and valuable.

Netiquette is the set of rules of conduct governing how you should behave when communicating via the Internet. Before you post a message to a blog or forum, it’s important to read and understand these rules. Otherwise, you may be banned from posting.

  1. RCInet.ca’s online forums are not anonymous. Users must register, and give their full name and place of residence, which are displayed alongside each of their comments. RCInet.ca reserves the right not to publish comments if there is any doubt as to the identity of their author.
  2. Assuming the identity of another person with intent to mislead or cause harm is a serious infraction that may result in the offender being banned.
  3. RCInet.ca’s online forums are open to everyone, without regard to age, ethnic origin, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
  4. Comments that are defamatory, hateful, racist, xenophobic, sexist, or that disparage an ethnic origin, religious affiliation or age group will not be published.
  5. In online speak, writing in ALL CAPS is considered yelling, and may be interpreted as aggressive behaviour, which is unpleasant for the people reading. Any message containing one or more words in all caps (except for initialisms and acronyms) will be rejected, as will any message containing one or more words in bold, italic or underlined characters.
  6. Use of vulgar, obscene or objectionable language is prohibited. Forums are public places and your comments could offend some users. People who use inappropriate language will be banned.
  7. Mutual respect is essential among users. Insulting, threatening or harassing another user is prohibited. You can express your disagreement with an idea without attacking anyone.
  8. Exchanging arguments and opposing views is a key component of healthy debate, but it should not turn into a dialogue or private discussion between two users who address each other without regard for the other participants. Messages of this type will not be posted.
  9. Radio Canada International publishes contents in five languages. The language used in the forums has to be the same as the contents we publish or in one of the two official languages, English or French. The usage of other languages, with the exception of some words, is forbidden. Messages that are off-topic will not be published.
  10. Making repetitive posts disrupts the flow of discussions and will not be tolerated.
  11. Adding images or any other type of file to comments is forbidden. Including hyperlinks to other websites is allowed, as long as they comply with netiquette. Radio Canada International  is in no way responsible for the content of such sites, however.
  12. Copying and pasting text written by someone else, even if you credit the author, is unacceptable if that text makes up the majority of your comment.
  13. Posting any type of advertising or call to action, in any form, to Radio Canada International  forums is prohibited.
  14. All comments and other types of content are moderated before publication. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to refuse any comment for publication.
  15. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to close a forum at any time, without notice.
  16. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to amend this code of conduct (netiquette) at any time, without notice.
  17. By participating in its online forums, you allow Radio Canada International to publish your comments on the web for an indefinite time. This also implies that these messages will be indexed by Internet search engines.
  18. Radio Canada International has no obligation to remove your messages from the web if one day you request it. We invite you to carefully consider your comments and the consequences of their posting.