‘Dead Hand,’ Russia’s Terrifying Doomsday Device

“We have had our last chance. If we will not devise some greater and more equitable system, Armageddon will be at our door.” —General Douglas MacArthur

In A Nutshell

During the Cold War, Russia created a fail-safe device for their nuclear weapons arsenal to ensure a second strike capability even if all command and control were to be destroyed. The system (code-named Dead Hand) utilized seismic, light, radioactivity, and pressure sensors to detect an incoming nuclear attack and retaliate if necessary. The best part? The system is almost certainly still operational.

The Whole Bushel

Originally built 25 years ago, the system was created to ensure a nuclear retaliation if Russia were attacked by the US. Should this happen, the system would be triggered by an elaborate network of sensors positioned around Russia, it would then retaliate with an all-out launch of missiles against targets throughout the US.

At the time that Dead Hand was created, many Russian military strategists feared US ballistic nuclear submarines and their first strike capabilities. If the submarines were to stealthily move within Russia’s territorial waters, they could strike with very little notice. This would make it possible for the Americans to destroy the entire Soviet leadership without provoking a retaliation by the leaderless Soviet military. To combat this perceived weakness, the Soviets created Dead Hand to ensure they maintained a second strike capability regardless of a US first strike outcome.

One of the many systems that Dead Hand relies on is an interesting reserve communication system known as “Perimeter.” Perimeter consists of a network of command rockets that are used to transmit launch commands directly to the strategic missile launchers. Once Perimeter received commands to proceed, the rockets would be launched and begin broadcasting launch orders to the missile launch sites continuously for up to 50 minutes. This ensured that, even if communication networks were disabled, launch commands could still be sent to strategic missile regiments in the field and a nuclear strike could proceed.

In typical Cold War–era reasoning, Dead Hand was just one more level of annihilation stacked on top of the already terrifying idea of mutual self-destruction, perhaps (theoretically) giving the Americans one more reason to pause their itchy trigger fingers. However, the scariest part of Dead Hand is the fact that it does not require human intervention at all. If an event, like an asteroid, triggers its detectors in any way that resemble a nuclear attack, Dead Hand is more than capable of beginning the process of nuclear annihilation all on its own. According to reports, it would attempt to contact political and military leaders, and if they could not be contacted within a specified period of time, it could decide its own time for retaliation.

All is not lost it seems, as Russia had the good sense to place human intervention somewhere within this process. Situated deep underground in a bunker sit three Russian duty officers who decide whether or not to begin Armageddon. It rests in their good hands to question whether said event passed from Dead Hand was an actual nuclear attack or something of a much more benign nature. If it is determined that a real attack had occurred and the Moscow leadership had been destroyed or was unreachable, they were tasked with deciding whether or not to initiate the Perimeter system and launch all their remaining missiles.

Luckily for us Russia did not go through with their original, fully automatic version of Dead Hand . . . assuming that we take them at their word on that particular point. What do you say, Ukraine?

Show Me The Proof

Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces, by Frank Von Hippel
NPR: ‘Dead Hand’ Re-examines the Cold War Arms Race
Slate: The Return of the Doomsday Machine
ABC News: Russia’s ‘Doomsday Machine’ Still Ready for Action?

  • uıqoɹ

    Dead Hand is a much cooler name than Skynet.

  • Andy West

    Dead Hand, that’s my poker nickname.

    • the big un

      Why ? Is that what ya do to yasel before ya nightly pleasure

  • cire

    i bet other countries have this “dead-hand like” device too.

    • lotusplague

      Ya like I thought I read on listversr that Is real does…

      • lotusplague


    • Николай Сосновский

      no other countries have withdrawn all nuclear weapons, see who in the world is called a “nuclear power”

  • chairde

    Soviet technology was poorly maintained and fell apart quickly. Most likely it fell into disrepair and is about as useful as Cherbnol nuclear plant.

    • goog yubari

      Cherbnol. Cherbnol. Cherbnol. Cherbnol.

    • Chester

      Chernobyl produced power until 2000 when it was decommissioned i believe.

    • inconspicuous detective

      would you bet on the idea that a nation’s nuclear retaliation device simply fell into disrepair or not?

    • Николай Сосновский

      and you think in Russia since then all on site worth? You are even more stupid than I imagined

  • Andyman7714

    If the system detects anything. If the missiles actually launch. If they actually go where they’re suppose to go. If they actually explode. That’s a lot of “ifs” for an old outdated system.

  • KRP

    It’s rumoured that the mysterious Russian radio broadcast, UVB-76, AKA “The Buzzer”, which has been broadcasting live continuously since the 1980’s, is linked with Dead Hand. Who knows what will happen if the Buzzer stops its noise.

    • Nathaniel A.

      Read about that, very creepy.

    • edzyl blane

      Cheer up dude. Maybe its just an alien armada coming to our doorsteps

  • Nathaniel A.

    The worst thing about this system, is if a wildcard state such as Iran or North Korea were to attack Russia with a nuclear missile, the retaliatory strike would still be sent to the U.S.


      Why would North Korea or Iran attack Russia with a nuclear missile? Don’t they already have enemies?

    • Denis Govorkov

      Systems reacts only to massive nuclear strike. None of these countries have such a capability.

    • disqus_9WzQFZzBUd

      Iran doesn’t have nukes, nor does it want them, and North Korea’s nukes don’t work. Also, both of them like Russia.

  • Chester

    Sounds like complete BS, their are so many factors that make this all but impractical everything from rogue states with nuclear capabilities, to terrorism to meteorites. Dr Strangelove. Plus if it was built its completely reliant on technology that is more or less obsolete.

    • charmerboy

      Have you taken a moment to consider that the system may have been modernised? I doubt the russians will post it on yahoo news to inform you about that.

      • Chester

        The system has to many variables to ever be practical. Also if this is true, wouldnt the radioactive fallout of Chernobyl set it off.

        • charmerboy

          Chernobyl was in 1986, before the system was developed. The article says it was built 25 years ago. Moreover, even an asteroid can set it off and I don’t know of an asteroid with radioactive fallout like that of chernobyl. In other words, not only radioactivity sets it off. And even if chernobyl did set it off, the system contacts military leaders who can then take appropriate measures. How can you tell this didnt happen during chernobyl? These leaders had not being blown to bits by a US nuclear strike during the disaster, had they?

          • Chester

            Asteroids can 100% be radioactive, they can also produce EMP’s wich would shut down all communications and their blasts can have similar effects to nuclear bombs..

    • penguin_boy

      I strongly suspect you don’t remember the Cold War. Up until the day the Soviet Union fell apart, most of the world fully expected that a global nuclear war was inevitable. Our entire military stance was based on the idea of a conventional war in Europe escalating into a strategic exchange. The USSR and now the Russians understood that their lacking technological edge plus the highly centralized command system made them vulnerable to a first strike.

      Plus, Russians are paranoid. Their entire history is defined by being invaded. Vikings, Mongols, Poles, Swedes, Lithuanians, Teutonic Knights, more Mongols, French, and finally the Germans. The entire Russian mindset about the rest of the world is “they are going to come and kill us.” This cultural xenophobia permeates all their thinking about the West. Building a doomsday device to ensure a response strike is completely Russian.

      • Chester

        Ya ive seen Dr Strange Love thanks.

      • Ld

        BS excuse, all countries were invaded numerous times

        Also, Vikiing invasion? Vikings do not work that way

        • penguin_boy

          They do when they’re called Varangians. http://www.vikinganswerlady.com/varangians.shtml

          Can you can tell me who it was that ruled the Kingdom of Dublin for 250 years? (Vikings). Perhaps explain the term Danelaw in relation to English history, or explain where the Normans who conquered northern France came from?

          The Norse invaded whenever they could. The classic Viking period of raids was pretty short, followed by territorial expansion.

      • Николай Сосновский

        I want to shed some light on the wrong thinking citizens United States: 1. Russia never attacked first or one country, we have always defended their interests at home and then leaving in a counter offensive; (in contrast to the United States: Iran, Kosovo, Libya, Afghanistan, etc.)

        2. Russians are much friendlier than you imagine.

        3. If the American Government does not climb into the “bottle” Russia will not close “stopper” for them, we just like you don’t want to fight, we accept all people as equals until we were threatened.

        4. If you want to get better acquainted with Russia and Russian people come here not kill Russia is full of friendly people

        • penguin_boy

          Russia never attacked? This will be news to Poland, which was invaded by the Soviet Union on 17 September 1939. Also news to Finland, invaded by the Soviets on 30 November 1939.

          Germany is filled with friendly people as well. Doesn’t mean they weren’t led into disastrous wars by delusional leaders.

        • libraryrat

          Poland, The Baltics, Finland, Berlin, Sakhalin Islands, Prague, Budapest, Afghanistan, Georgia, Crimea, bombers flying over California and Alaska…..

          Mmmmmyeah….Russia, a completely passive, peace-loving state so misunderstood (especially by its neighbors)

          • Tero Kanne

            Seeing names and attidutes like this i’m not surprised russians think that everyone is coming to kill them. For example, many patriots in my country literally dream of ethnic purge in areas like East Karelia, my father is one of those.

          • Женя Квасин

            Berlin?!?! :))) Seriously?! You mean those poor and peaceful Germans?????? :))))) Sakhalin was under mutual Russian and Japanese control up until 1875, when Japan agreed to give it to the Russia under Saint-Petesburg agreement. Prague and Budapest were within soviet camp and there were not such thing as an invasion only restoration of the control, against folks inspired by western. Georgia decided to overtake northern states such as Northern Osetia and Abkhazia, however there were Russian peacekeeping forces and didn’t invade George, but could if wanted. And Crimea – it is total bullshit, I am from Crimea, and there was self-determination of the people have been living there, people and only people can decide how they want to live further on their land, not prezident nor official authorities.

  • UN

    Dr Strangelove was spot on…

    • g.g.palin

      Christ that’s such a great movie.

  • oouchan

    Totally thought of Dr. Strangelove….and the hand that kept trying to kill him. Loved it! Thinking of the guys in the bunker also reminded of the movie War Games.


    • Mom424

      I <3 War Games. Perfect family fare. That and The Last Star Fighter.

      • oouchan

        Ah!!! Love both movies! Same with Dune…which is my number 1 all time favorite. 🙂

        • shmabai

          Dune is amazing 🙂

    • TheTimmynator

      Mein fuhrer, mein gott!

  • John Vincent Flores

    all i could think about is terminator judgement day

  • ethan

    this is not very funny to people who had a stroke, and now have a dead hand. :/

  • Денис R

    it is a complete fiction

  • inconspicuous detective

    sounds like something i’d use if i were a dictator.

    • lbatfish

      You just lost my vote for Dictator. 😉

      • inconspicuous detective

        oh don’t worry. you’ll “vote” for me.


    • TheTimmynator

      Definitely. The ability to launch one final strike from beyond the grave is always beneficial.

  • Yournumbersup

    Skynet still lives at United Airlines.

  • elmofuddleputt

    I have my doubts. Like most Soviet era military equipment, it looks big, bad and scary until you actually get to take a close look at it.

  • Clyde Barrow

    “Mr. President, we cannot allow a mine shaft gap!”

    • g.g.palin

      We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when…

  • Angelin Guraj

    Looks like another WMD campaign to me. The US has no idea whether such a thing ever existed but hey, just in case we need more fake reasons, here’s another one.
    When are people going to wake up to the propaganda that they continuously use?

    This is another ridiculous attempt to find reason to get the world behind them. It’s not working as well as it did but who knows what the iliterate American armies will do next.

    This so called free nation has a strange way of doing things . Whenever someone talks of positive things about Russia, the media has no time for it but when a rant is imminent, they bite their teeth into it.

  • Николай Сосновский

    and the system is real and her improving is not to attack but to protect if you do not want to seem stupid, open and read the history of Russia can find something interesting and want to dedicate the rest of his life in Russia we are a multicultural country and there is no Russian Nazis, racists and fascists

  • Arthur709

    Any political leader/ government who deems the world worthy to be destroyed in the event that they are dethroned is an animal. Whichever side.

  • Edgar Zg

    US have weapon that can block Perimeter capability even to launch missiles.
    That is TOP Secret weapon system of national security Level 1.US knows that Perimeter is still operational in Russia.
    Russian Perimeter won’t budge.But I must admit who ever made this weapon he is very smart man.

  • Ken Bush


  • Aion_

    so if kim young un wants to start a nuclear war with the west the only thing he has to do it’s to use one only bomb against Russia… hmmm I hope they have secured this thing better than I think.

  • Evan Skinner

    Russia never ever intended to use nukes for nobody .Why such a stupid question ? This is just my(Evan Skinner) personal opinion!

  • Sandeep saini

    Divya Rana realizes that as our status precedes from around places is likely to be eager to find out the pleasures of our much talked about people next men Ludhiana escorts for them selves. Once we work on an outcall just foundation, so in the event you wish friendship using some of our Ludhiana escorts and we’re in a position to satisfy the requirements of men in an excellent physical region, Divya Rana may provide. for more info visit my site http://divyarana.in

  • Squats 0-100: Legs workout & Butt workout exercises, Pro. http://freeware-guides.com Practicing takes us on a revelatory, inspiring journey: a love affair with music.

  • The stunning Chandigarh escort friend gives an entire visit of the town to you. You are able to feature off your perfectly and attractive spectacular companion in events or your meals that you simply attend in Chandigarh. You are able to speak or may put away your center for them. Russian Chandigarh escorts are recognized due to their hearing abilities and easing the discomfort or dullness out in the existence. You may also discover a great deal about jobs and numerous lovemaking places in the Chandigarh escorts.For more info visit my site – http://desinasha.com