Russia's nuclear sledgehammers

Russia's nuclear missile bunkers reportedly come standard-issue with a sledgehammer whose designated purpose is smashing open the safe containing the launch-codes, should the combination not work:

The sledgehammer's existence first came to light in 1980, when a group of inspecting officers from the General Staff visiting Strategic Missile Forces headquarters asked General Georgy Novikov what he would do if he received a missile launch order but the safe containing the launch codes failed to open.

Novikov said he would “knock off the safe’s lock with the sledgehammer” he kept nearby, the spokesman said.

Russian Missile Forces Have ‘Safe Busting’ Sledgehammer (via Super Punch)


        1. If you’re that keen on the contents of somebody’s house, you can always drive a car into it…

          What fuzzyfuzzyfungus said below.

    1. Two threads of explanation:

      1. Official Policy(tm) requires a Secure Solution, but didn’t actually provide the necessary resources for it to work. Peons on the ground proceeded to improvise in a manner that violates absolutely everything except the letter of the Secure Solution.(this one is the empirically plausible one)

      2. Tamper evidence and built-in delay. Can you smash your way into a safe? Sure, no problem. Can you un-smash the safe thereafter? No. Can you smash a safe quickly and quietly before your submarine colleagues notice that you are attempting to use a sledgehammer to fire ze missiles? Probably not. Thus, the safe can still be opened if jammed; but it is substantially more difficult for any unauthorized party to covertly access the system without alerting the entire ship.

      1. Sounds about right. I have heard and read a number of references to Russian T-34 tank drivers keeping hammers near the driver’s seat to operate their gearshifts. 

  1. But if your safes can be opened just by smashing the lock with a hammer, then… oh nevermind.   It’s not like they’re storing something *important*.

    1. Reminds me of a story Richard Feynman wrote about when he was working at Los Alamos on the Manhattan Project.  Being an amateur safe cracker, he found that many of the safes used to keep nuclear secrets (at the time, the Biggest Secret Ever) still had the factory default (mostly Army generals’ safes) or easily guessed combinations (like 27-18-28, the first 6 digits of ‘e’, the natural logarithm base) for the physicists.  

      He’d open them and put notes inside.  Nuclear hilarity ensued…

      1.  And, the Army’s solution to that was to send around a questionnaire. It said:

        > Have you seen Richard Feynman around your office?

        If the recipients responded yes, they got a note saying,

        > Change the combination to your safe.

        Which kind of misses the point…

  2. Ahh.. but it’s too much *trouble* to walk waaay over there …. so the idea is to inconvenience lazy evil people enough that they don’t launch the missles.

  3. The US would have a 5 million dollar special remote lock control system with its own computer system and specially trained operators.

    1. Are we thinking about the same US? The nuclear launch authorization code for strategic air command was “000000000000” until 1977. We basically didn’t even bother to change the default password until then.

      1.  it’s genius really, who would believe a spy that reported the most important password was essentially “password”? He’d be laughed out of the KGB.

      2. Probably one of the earlier recorded instances of conflict between users and the IT department over password policies…

        Congress: “WTF? No passwords on your nuclear missiles? I wouldn’t trust you with a hotmail account!”

        SAC: “Having to remember passwords is objectively Soft on Communism.”

        Congress: “Passwords. Now.”

        SAC: “Fine, our super secure passwords are 12 characters long. Happy now, pricks?”

      3. That wasn’t about “not bothering”, it was about complying with the letter of the rules while firmly opposing their intent. The military did not want to have an authorization code, so they said “yes Mr President, we have installed an authorization code device” and used an insecure code.

  4. Any safe can be picked, so the safe is just the last line of defense to protect the codes (and the system launching the missiles). The sledgehammer is just there to make it possible to get to the code faster than having to find a locksmith. It doesn’t really change how fast an attacker could get to the code — after all, somebody intent on getting it could bring their own sledgehammer.

    1. Sort of thought the same. 
      A suicide bomber with the bomb hidden in the hammer and when he hammers the hammer on the ground… BIG BANG

    2.  Either that or the hammer itself was radioactive, having been made from recycled Hot metal, just like we do with smoke detectors, etc

    1.  I was thinking the same. Soviet sledgehammers are too tough for prissy capitalist pig-dog moisturized hands!

  5. The idea is that someone can’t access the codes, copy them, and put them back with no one knowing – you have to smash the safe open. 

  6. Note that the U.S. Minuteman launch control centres kept the codes in a small metal box with two padlocks on it.  

    Not as formidable as a safe, but a missile couldn’t launch unless it received launch orders from two separate capsules (or a single capsule with code hardware from two capsules, blah blah).

  7. I hope the sledgehammer is kept close to the hard hat, ear defenders, goggles, steel toe caps and gloves with the proper health and safety regulations properly displayed. We wouldn’t want someone to have an accident now, would we?

  8. I could totally see Michael Madsen going to town on John Spencer with this in a Quentin Tarantino remake of Wargames.  TURN THE KEY, SIR!  *smash*  SIR!  Turn the key.  *oof*

  9. I’m reminded of the Yank Air Force officer who visited a Soviet fighter base and found it in great disarray with no seeming order — planes, equipment, and personnel scattered every damn whichaway. “This is a forward combat base,” the Russian C.O. explained. “This is what it will look like ten minutes into a shooting war.” 

  10. “Will be getting that bay door open even if everyone on Bear Creek is hare lipped getting …”

  11. inscribed in small print on the sledge: Кто проводит этот молот, если он будет достоин, должен обладать силой атомный

    1. ‘Who holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of the atomic.”

      Sweet. Goes along with my R.P.G weapon slant too. 

  12. It reminds me of the US practice of setting the launch codes to all zeros, which continued for many years. The personnel were simply not comfortable with the requirement for operating command and control.

  13. I imagine that the safe was built strongly enough that forcing your way in with a hammer would take a while and make a lot of noise, which would presumably bring someone to stop you if you weren’t supposed to be getting in there.

  14. I don’t think, that’s sooo easy to fire a missile. You must have the correct depth, open the hatches, power on the controls, charge the batteries, increase pressures, etc..
    The correct codes are only a single step in a very long sequence. I guess it takes far more than half an hour of meticulous work of many people, if there is no preparation before.

    Btw, can it be that this hammer is used more generally? If some other lock has to be opened, when the owner looses the keys somewhere? For example, if the key for the toilet-paper cabinet is broken, then use the “universal picklock”, which is also suitable for the safe with launch-codes.

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