A week after announcing that putting the new Russian
Bulava SLBM (Sea Launched Ballistic Missile) would be delayed for more testing,
another test was conducted. The test was a failure. This was the tenth test for
Bulava, and the fifth failure. Despite the five successful tests in the last
two years, and the decision to put its new Bulava SLBMs into production, Russia
has decided that several more tests would be performed before the missile was
actually put into service.
this, the Russians are confident in the basic technology in the Bulava. They
knew there would be test failures, and believed they were facing no more
problems that the two most recent U.S. SLBMs. These had had a 13 percent (23
tests of the Trident I) and two percent (49 tests of Trident II) failure rate.
What did make many Russians nervous was the fact that the Bulava is replacement
for an earlier SLBM that had to be cancelled during development because of too
many test failures, and too many design and equipment problems that could not be
fixed. Thus the Bulava is basically a navalized version of the successful Topol
land based ICBM. The reliability of the Topol is the primary reason the
Russians moved forward with Bulava.
will equip the new Borei class SSBN (nuclear powered ballistic missile
submarine). The first one is about ready to enter service. The Borei class
boats would replace the aging Cold War era 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.
The 45 ton
Bulava SLBM is a little shorter than the Topol M, so that it could fit into the
missile tubes on the sub. Thus Bulava has a shorter range of some 8,000
kilometers. Bulava has three stages and uses solid fuel. Currently, each Bulava
is believed configured to carry ten 150 kiloton warheads. The warhead is also
shielded to provide protection from the electronic pulse of nearby nuclear explosions.
The Bulava could also carry one 500 kiloton nuclear warhead, plus decoys. Many
Russians are obsessed with trying to defeat American anti-missile systems.
doubts about Bulava are consistent with long time problems with their submarine
launched ballistic missiles. These problems were largely kept secret during the
Cold War, but since then, more information has emerged. Apparently the Russians
want to increase the reliability of the Bulava before they make lots of them
for arming the new Borei boats. This may delay deployment of the first Borei
boat by a year or more.