Washington, 17 December 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Civilian computer systems may crash en masse in Russia on New Year's day, but the U.S. Defense Department says it is confident that Russia's military will enter the year 2000 without any serious computer trouble.
The Defense Department's second-ranking official -- Deputy Secretary John Hamre -- told reporters Thursday the U.S. is confident that controls over computer-driven defense systems in Russia will be secure during and after the change over to the new year. He says that includes the controls over Russian nuclear weapons systems and the systems that warn Russian defenders of impending attacks.
The reason for all the concern about computers is the possibility that systems might malfunction as 1999 turns to 2000, and after, because some computers may not recognize the new year and will fail. The U.S. government has spent billions of dollars over the past several years to upgrade its computer equipment. Hamre said the Defense Department alone has spent $3,600 million.
As far as other nations are concerned, Hamre said the U.S. is not anticipating serious problems developing in the military establishments because most countries exercise tight control over their armed forces. He said problems will most likely develop in civilian areas.
"For example, with Russia, they have valued control over their armed forces more highly, probably, than anybody in the world, and they don't default to "off," you know, when the computers go down. They have more redundant backup ways to communicate and control their forces than we do. So we don't think that there is a lack of coherent control over military establishments.
Where you are likely -- where we are likely to see failure around the world, it's going to be in the -- in kind of the classic infrastructure -- power, water, waste water, things of that nature. And there it's directly related to how mechanized and automated the control systems are. "
Peter Verga, a Pentagon specialist in what are called "Year 2000", or "Y2K" issues, said the U.S. has given Russia more than ten million dollars to upgrade its critical computer systems. He said Washington does not anticipate any problems developing in Russia's nuclear forces.
"The other part of the Russia program has been some work on nuclear forces command and control, which the United States Strategic Command has been working with the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces, to ensure that there is no ambiguities in the command-and-control system. We have 100 percent confidence, as Dr. Hamre said, in our side. And we are as confident in the Russians. They have given us assurances that they'll be ready on their side."
Verga conceded that there could be some problems in Russian military systems, but he said these most likely would be local in nature.
"I would say, you know, that Russia's got 18 time zones or something -- I'm not sure. There's a lot of time zones in Russia. The issue, again, is not the time that it occurs within the system itself, because we don't expect problems within systems themselves, we expect problems within infrastructures that would, for example, power a radar. That's going to be at the local system. And that's why, if an early warning radar in Russia fails, we think it would be because the power went out, which is a local time zone problem, and not because there's a fundamental problem within the system, because that's easier to address. "
U.S.-Russian military cooperation on Y2K issues was frozen by Moscow last summer because of Russian opposition to the NATO alliance air offensive against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's forces in the Serbian province of Kosovo. Cooperation resumed several weeks ago and U.S. officials say it has intensified as the year draws to a close.
Verga said a team of Russian specialists will join a similar group of U.S. experts later this month at a command center in the Rocky Mountains. The experts will monitor crucial computer systems in order to respond quickly should problems arise.