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Russia, U.S. to Set Up Joint Early Warning Center

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 26, 1999 – Russia has agreed to a U.S. proposal that the two countries set up a temporary joint early warning center to reduce the risk that year 2000 computer problems may trigger a false nuclear alert.

Edward Warner III, undersecretary of defense for policy, told the press Feb. 25 that the computer problem, nicknamed "Y2K" and "the millennium bug," poses no danger of an accidental launch.

Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin agreed on creating a permanent joint early warning center in Russia when they met in Moscow in September 1998. However, the center cannot be built before the end of 1999. U.S. concerns about the Russian systems prompted the suggestion to build a temporary joint early warning center in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Warner said the temporary center will have high-quality instantaneous communications with Russian and U.S. national command authorities. U.S. early warning systems would feed the site with a continuous stream of data, including ground-based and satellite-generated information.

"It is possible the Russians will feed their early warning data to the site also," he said. "It was suggested during our talks."

The Colorado Springs center can move ahead even without the Russian data, he said. It would be operational from the beginning of December 1999 through the middle of January 2000. Warner said a DoD working group will travel to Moscow in March to meet their Russian counterparts to finalize plans for the center.

The Y2K problem stems from a computer-industry practice of recording dates using only the last two digits of a year. For instance, 1999 would be "99." Because many computers are likely to see "00" as "1900," no one knows what will happen to all the world's computer systems on Jan. 1, 2000.

The Russians have been working since May 1998 on Y2K problems related to their command and control systems for nuclear arms, Warner said. The Russians have not asked the United States for money to combat their Y2K problems, he said, and U.S. officials do not know about other aspects of the Russians' Y2K problem.

DoD officials said the Russians know about the bug and its disruptive possibilities, but they have not dedicated the resources to fight it. Russian officials said the Y2K problem could cost $3 billion. Warner said some Russian officials told him the biggest Y2K problem wasn't money, but people. Other officials told him that Russia has a large group of underemployed computer experts, so having qualified people is not a problem.

DoD will continue to work on the problem with the Russian Ministry of Defense, he said.

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Related Sites:
Dr. Edward Warner, ASD for Strategy and Threat Reduction, Briefing, Feb. 25, 1999

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