For the third time in four months, a test launch of the new Russian
submarine based Bulava missile, was a failure. This time, it was the third
stage (containing the warhead). The missile is meant to equip the new Borei
class SSBN (nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine). The Borei class boats
would replace the aging Cold War area SSBNs, which are being retired because of
safety and reliability issues and the high expense of running them. Nuclear
submarines are one area of military spending that did not get cut back sharply
after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
year ago, the Bulava has just completed two successful launches within three
months. The 45 ton Bulava ICBM is a slightly modified version of the new land
based Topol-M ICBM. The Bulava is a little shorter, to fit into the missile
tube, and thus has a shorter range of some 8,000 kilometers. Bulava uses solid
fuel. Currently, each Bulava carries a single 500 kiloton nuclear weapon, plus
decoys and the ability to maneuver. The warhead is also shielded to provide
protection from the electronic pulse of nearby nuclear explosions. Take away
all of these goodies, and the Bulava could be equipped with up to ten smaller
(150 kiloton) warheads. But the big thing is still trying to defeat American
was supposed to enter service in 2006, aboard the Dmitry Donskoi, a SSBN
modified to accommodate the larger Bulava. Three new Borei subs are being
built, to carry twelve Bulavas each. Russia currently has a dozen SSBNs in
service, carrying a total of 192 older missiles. Russia had to abandon several
other SLBM designs because, well, they didn't work. Finally, they simply
adapted a successful land based missile to naval work, and that produced the
Bulava. The Bulava is officially known as the R-30, and NATO has assigned it
the designation SS-N-30.
officials said it often takes as many as 14 test launches before a SLBM is
ready for service, so Bulava has another six or so chances to get it right.
Meanwhile, it looks like the earliest the Bulava can enter service is 2008.