Author: Viktor Belyakov

Viktor Belyakov, Major General, Chief Engineer of the 12th Main Directorate of the Russian Defence Ministry

After the USA and the USSR had developed nuclear weapons and embarked on nuclear tests, it became necessary to get information on the very fact of such tests and specific features of nuclear charges tested in order to find out the level of the enemy nuclear arms development and its military potential. Later on such information was a must to reliably enforce international treaties, limiting or banning nuclear tests.

The US was the first to develop a nuclear explosion early warning system. By sampling air with the help of special aircraft-mounted filters and analysing the samples US experts established the fact of the first Soviet nuclear test, held at the Semipalatinsk test range on 29 August, 1949.

Despite the fact that the first nuclear test in the USSR had been prepared in absolute secrecy, US mass media published an official report on the successful test of a Soviet high-yield nuclear warhead soon afterwards.

It came as a complete surprise to Soviet top officials, since an extremely limited number of people had been privy to the nuclear arms development. In this light Joseph Stalin ordered People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs Lavrenty Beria to find out the cause of the information leak. The ensuing investigation determined that a USAF reconnaissance aircraft, which flew routine reconnaissance missions between Alaska and Japan, registered an increased radiation background in the upper atmosphere in early September, 1949. As the US did not carry out any nuclear tests in 1949, American experts came to the conclusion that the Soviet Union could be the only cause.

The USSR made the first attempts to develop a nuclear early warning system immediately after the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but no positive results were produced for a long time.

The US fervently guarded the principles of ...

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