Bulava ushers in a new era in Russia's strategic naval nuclear forces

Source: Reuters/Vostock photo

Source: Reuters/Vostock photo

After some delays, the new sub has been successfully tested and deemed ready for production.

Russia has successfully tested a next generation missile: the Bulava intercontinental ballistic missile has been launched from its projected carrier, the Yury Dolgoruky strategic ballistic missile submarine – a Project 955 Borei class sub. According to the Ministry of Defense, the serial production of the Bulava will begin soon.

During earlier trials, Bulavamissiles were launched from another specifically modified nuclear submarine, the Dmitry Donskoi, the world’s largest strategic ballistic missile submarine (a Project 941U Typhoon class). But out of 14 trials, only a few were successful. Half failed completely and five more were partially successful.

The most anticipated launch – from the Yury Dolgoruky – should have been carried out more than six months ago, but it wasn’t. Allegedly, the test launch was postponed because the canal through which submarines get from the dock to the open sea was ice-bound. However, the excuse seemed insincere to experts because the Yury Dolgoruky is designed to operate in the highest latitudes under Arctic ice and even surface if necessary through found water openings or to make such openings with its hull or torpedoes.

The excuse was also suspicious because in the winter the submarine was put into dry dock for commissioning operations, which suggests that either the submarine or the Bulava were not ready for the tests.

But now the launch has been made, and its success is important for a number of reasons. First off, it has shown skeptics that the missile has been successfully developed and can be put into service of the Russian Navy. Secondly, the successful launch of the Bulava is evidence that, despite all its problems, the Russian military-industrial complex can build new strategic submarines and design new strategic missiles – the basis for the nation’s nuclear deterrent forces.

According to Navy plans, the Project 955 submarines as well as their upgraded counterparts Project 955A / 955U will be the foundation for Russia’s naval strategic nuclear forces after 2018, when the current strategic ballistic missile submarines, the Delta-III and Delta-IV (Kalmar and Murena) class, are retired. Altogether, eight Borei class submarines are to be built at a cost of 23 billion rubles each ($830 million). Unlike the Dolgoruky, which can carry 12 Bulava missiles, the new vessels with number two and number three hulls are to carry 16 and 20 missiles, respectively.

Viktor Litovkin is the editor-in-chief of the Russian journal “Independent Military Review.”

Additional information

The Bulava-30 (SS-NX-30, a.k.a. R-30/3M30 or RSM-56) is a three-stage solid-fuel naval strategic missile developed by the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology (MITT). Yury Solomonov is the Chief designer of the project. The missile is designed for prospective Borei Class submarines. Each Bulava missile can carry up to 10 hypersonic, individually guided, maneuverable warheads that can change the trajectory height and course and strike enemy targets at ranges up to 8,000 km.

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