Our latest glimpse at Russia's hit list reveals a batch of targets that's decidedly weird.
On Sunday, February 24 Russian state television broadcast a map of targets it said could be hit by the new nuclear weapons President Vladimir Putin is threatening to bring online. The report mentioned several facilities, some very small and manned by less than two dozen people, in isolated areas near U.S. coastlines. On the outside, some of them have no apparent military use, but Seniorhelpline has uncovered the role of at least one of them in American nuclear war planning.
The reason behind this posturing is the impending possible end to the U.S.-Russian INF Treaty that bans certain nuclear weapons. Putin, concerned that the United States could reintroduce intermediate-range ballistic missiles into Western Europe that could strike Moscow in minutes, threatened to counter any such deployment with a Russian deployment of cruise and hypersonic missiles. These missiles would be based nearby or on submarines cruising off the North American coastline.
In the TV report, Russian state presenter Dmitry Kiselyov, the UK’s Guardian newspaper as “close to the Kremlin,” listed a number of targets scattered across the U.S. that would be struck by the new weapons, stating they could be hit in five minutes or less. (The American Pershing II missile, banned by the INF Treaty, could theoretically .)
According to Reuters the targets were described as “U.S. presidential or military command centers,” and included the Pentagon and the presidential retreat at Camp David. The list also included Fort Ritchie, Maryland, McClellan Air Force Base, California, and Jim Creek, Washington.
Some of the targets, such as the Pentagon and Camp David, are obvious targets in wartime. Others are more obscure or a downright mystery. Fort Ritchie was an above-ground command center for Site R, also known as , which was an underground facility designed to shelter the federal government in the event of nuclear war. However, Fort Ritchie’s role evolved away from supporting the underground facility, and it was closed completely in 1998.
located outside Sacramento, Calif., was the headquarters of Air Force Material Command, but was closed in 2001. Today, McClellan is home to the Air Force's , West Coast facility. HFGS is a worldwide network of communications outposts meant to act as relays for phone, data, and messaging for U.S. forces worldwide. It also broadcasts command and control messages for the U.S. nuclear arsenal, including orders to launch.
The last facility, , is a communications facility designed to link the U.S. Navy with its ballistic missile submarines that operate out of Kitsap, Washington. Located 55 miles northeast of Seattle, Jim Creek is home to 21 U.S. government personnel that keep the location’s AN/FRT-3 Very Low Frequency (VLF) Radio Transmitting System running 24/7. The facility has more than 360 miles of copper cable conductors to act as a giant antenna.
Between McClellan and Jim Creek the two facilities handle the bulk of nuclear command and control on the West Coast. The loss of both to a nuclear first strike would cripple America's ability to respond with nukes in kind. By publicly targeting these locations, Russia is stating it has the ability to gain the upper hand early on in a nuclear conflict, negating any perceived American advantage. As for Fort Ritchie, the former Army base's inclusion on the list is still a mystery. Russian state media may have misidentified the facility, or it may have some secret role in America's nuclear warfighting system.
Thanks to Bryan Herbert (Twitter: @KE6ZGP) for information on the High Frequency Global Communications System.