Seemingly pulled right from a James Bond movie, we got a glimpse this week of Russia’s new super military nerve center in action, called the National Defense Control Center (NDCC), as Russian heavy bombers made their combat debut in the Syrian conflict. This was also the first time the venerable Tu-95 Bears or the Tu-160 Blackjacks would see combat.
The video above was released by the Russian government and media apparatus showing the center supposedly at work, with a montage of the heavy bomber’s mission being displayed on a massive screen. The video may have also inadvertently shown that Russia has ground artillery units far outside of its forward operating outpost south of the Syrian port city of Latakia, something that the Russian Ministry of Defense still denies.
This immense military command and control headquarters was built incredibly fast, in under two years, out of an existing Ministry of Defense complex located along the Moskva River, just a mile and a half south of the Kremlin. Claimed by the Russian press to be “more powerful than the Pentagon,” this facility houses multiple new command and control assembly areas, all supposedly hardened from external attacks.
Additionally, a labyrinth of underground tunnels, transportation routes and facilities are said to exist below the sprawling compound. Three helicopter pads, one of which is floating, are used to move Russia’s military and political elite to and from the series of buildings. The centerpiece of this updated complex is a truly impressive and giant central atrium built out of glass and steel.
The decision to re-build the facility into the National Defense Command Center was made by Vladimir Putin himself in May of 2013 out of a need to modernize, consolidate and physically expand the size of Russia’s command and control and information fusion capabilities for a new “wartime government.” The complex’s three major auditorium-like control areas include the Control Center of Strategic Nuclear Forces, the Combat Control Center that analyses threats, and the Daily Activities Control Center which is said to deal with procurement and general military activities.
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu described the facility when it opened:
“The establishment of the center is an important step towards forming a single information space for solving tasks in the interests of the country’s defense,” he continued “it will allow conducting a continuous analysis of the environment and developing means of responding towards changes and rapidly coordinating the activity of federal bodies of the executive power in the defense sphere.”
One of the command and control rooms looks like a more futuristic and much brighter version of the one featured in the Cold War classic film Dr. Strangelove. It features a ringed central seating area and a 180 degree wall of seamless video projection. There is even a theater-like seating area for onlookers. Tablet computers can be seen at every seating station.
The command and control hall that we saw Putin preside over this week is gigantic with rows and rows of officers sitting at identical computer stations, and three levels of seating. On its second level, right in the center, sitting behind a frosted glass railing with a five pointed star emblazoned on it were Putin and his generals.
During the video, it appears that the room was being used more as a giant briefing room than anything else, with the biggest question being what the heck were all those officers doing at those computer terminals and very clean desks? Maybe during a potential nuclear exchange these officers would all have a role, but it seemed like for the purposes of that day, and for the camera, the facility was being used as a giant movie theater.
When it comes to computers, the new center is said to only utilize Russian-built computer components so as to limit the chances of espionage and cyber intrusion. These terminals are all connected to a super-computer, which is the heart of the whole center and is claimed to be a huge upgrade over what Russia used in the past. In fact, Russian military leaders claim that the NDCC has far more computing power than the Pentagon, three times more according to them, and 15 times the storage capacity. This extreme computing power will be used to crunch elaborate mathematical models for war-gaming along with supporting more mundane command and control, communications and data-fusion tasks.
The third cavernous assembly area is a wood paneled room that appears to have less of a real-time strategic purpose than the other two control rooms. This may be the “daily activities control center” that is more purposed for procurement meetings and less pressing military briefing and planning purposes. Once again, tablet computers, wrap around projection screens and elaborate light fixtures appear to be all the rage.
Based on fragmented reports, other command and control facilities within the National Defense Command Center seem to exist beyond the three primary ones. These include what appears to be a air combat command center, similar to America’s Combined Air Operations Center, from which Russia’s air campaign in Syria is being waged.
Also, a Russian Army meeting and control room was just opened, which is decorated in rich wood tones you would be more likely to find in an old court room than a military bunker. Based on these two additions, one would think that there would be something in the works for the Russian Navy as well.
Russia is trying to modernize its forces after decades of neglect, although that road has been a rocky one as the country has fallen into economic turmoil due to plummeting oil prices and international sanctions due to its seizing of Crimea and its involvement in the conflict in Ukraine. The National Defense Command Center is clearly one of these modernization projects, giving Russia a glitzy version of the Pentagon all their own.
We have no way of knowing how much of it is for show and how much of it is for function. Nor do we know for sure what other potential uses this gargantuan facility may hold.
Regardless of its true capabilities, it sure looks impressive, and in the end, maybe that is all that matters.
Contact the author Tyler@Jalopnik.com
External shots of NDCC via Shutterstock (head-on credit Woe, side view credit Banauke), photos of large three story command center with Putin at its center and photo not showing its screens via AP, other shots via Russian Ministry of Defense.