Submarines: Bulava Blows It


November 1, 2006: For the third time (the second in two months), a test launch of the new Russian submarine based Bulava SLBMs (Sea Launched Ballistic Missiles), was a failure. The missile will 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.

But these three test failures, and only three successes, are worrisome. So the test program has been temporarily suspended. The Russians knew there would be failures, but note that the two most recent U.S. SLBMs (Sea Launched Ballistic Missiles) had a 13 percent (23 tests of the Trident I) and two percent (49 tests of Trident II) failure rate. What makes it all worse is the fact that the Bulava is replacement for an earlier SLBM that had to be cancelled during development because of too many test failures. The Bulava is basically a navalized version of the successful Topol ICBM. For this reason, the Russians will probably move forward with Bulava, unless there are too many more failures.




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