‘Gut Instinct’: How a Soviet Officer Averted Nuclear Armageddon


With the deployment of the OKO (Eye) satellite system for detecting intercontinental ballistic missile launches from the continental US in late 1982, the Soviet Union was able to detect any such launch in a matter of seconds.

Twenty-five years ago, Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov, a duty officer at the Serpukhov-15 Central Military Surveillance Center in Moscow, made a decision that saved the world from nuclear war.

Armed with powerful optics and infrared sensors, Soviet satellites and infrared sensors would register the fiery exhaust of a missile leaving the silo.

Soon after midnight on September 26, 1983, duty officer Stanislav Petrov was in charge of the system’s network of satellites when he saw the radar screen showing a single missile inbound from the United States and headed toward the Soviet Union.

Moments later, the OKO system reported second, third and fourth launches of Minuteman ICBMs from the same point.

However, the screens of the video control system showed no sign of the missiles’ fiery exhaust, which meant that nothing had happened.

Having been taught that a first-strike nuclear attack by the US would likely involve hundreds of simultaneous missile launches, Petrov told his bosses the alarm must have been caused by a system malfunction.

In any case, four Minutemen missiles certainly could not inflict irreparable damage to the Soviet strategic forces and a limited attack would be suicidal for the US.

Moreover, the…

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