Russia approves mass production of cutting-edge Bulava missile

MOSCOW. (Military commentator Viktor Yuzbashev for RIA Novosti) - Russia has moved to a higher level in the design of strategic sea-based nuclear systems.

Admiral Vladimir Masorin, commander-in-chief of the Russian Navy, said the Bulava-M (SS-NX-30), a naval derivative of the land-based missile Topol (SS-27), had been approved for mass production.

It will be supplied to the new fourth-generation Project 955 Borey-class strategic submarines. Three such submarines, the Yury Dolgoruky, the Vladimir Monomakh and the Alexander Nevsky, are being built at the Sevmash shipyard in Severodvinsk, Arkhangelsk Region (north of European Russia).

The Yury Dolgoruky, the first of the series, will have 12 Bulava missiles. It was commissioned in the presence of First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, who is in charge of Russia's defense-related sectors, and other eminent guests in April 2007.

Development has not been smooth. At first, the Miass bureau designed the D-19M Bark (SS-NX-28) submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM), but it turned out to be too big for the subs, and flight tests later exposed other drawbacks. Russia cancelled the project in 1998, when the missile was almost ready, because of rising costs and technical difficulties.

The task was then sent to the Moscow-based Heat Technology Institute, which had developed the ground-based Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

Four of the first six flight tests of the Bulava-M (where "M" stands for morskoi, or naval) were a failure. Masorin said the recent test in late July was successful, but independent experts are not so sure. According to them, one of the three warheads of the missile did not reach its destination.

This did not deter the designers of the Bulava and their superiors. Anatoly Perminov, head of the Russian Space Agency, which is responsible for designing and supplying strategic missiles to the armed forces, said the Bulava could be delivered to the navy after 12-14 tests.

He referred to the experience of the United States, where the Trident II naval missile was delivered to the navy after 19 ground tests and nine launches from a submarine.

Admiral Masorin said the trial period of the Bulava would end in 2008 after two more tests this year. One of the trials will determine the missile's maximum range. It is not clear where that particular missile will land, but it will clearly be beyond the Kura range on the Kamchatka Peninsular in Russia's Far East. On the other hand, it could be aimed at the range, but launched not from the White Sea, as usual, but from some other sea.

According to the Western press, the three-stage solid-fuel Bulava-M missile will be one of the lightest in its class. Weighing only 30 metric tons, it was initially named Bulava-30. It has an effective range of 8,000 kilometers (4,972 miles) and will carry four to ten warheads.

Some experts claim that such a light missile could not carry ten warheads. Others argue that modern nuclear technology and composite materials allow engineers to build smaller and lighter nuclear warheads that will be as effective as their larger counterparts.

The Bulava will most likely be built to carry ten warheads, as its combat effectiveness would not be sufficient otherwise. The Yury Dolgoruky, the first of the Borey-class submarines, will have 12 missile launchers, but the two later subs, the Vladimir Monomakh and the Alexander Nevsky, will have 16 launchers.

If the designers' plans materialize, the three new submarines will carry 44 Bulava missiles with 440 nuclear warheads, an impressive contribution to strategic nuclear deterrence stipulated in Russia's military doctrine.

The results of trials of the Bulava, as well as its parameters, flight telemetry, technical characteristics and the companies involved in its construction and production, are confidential information for everyone but the United States. Washington receives information on missile technology in accordance with the START-1 treaty on strategic reductions.

So, this information is secret only to the Russian military and its designers, as well as Russian taxpayers, who are paying for the missile designed to protect them. Why?

The Bulava, as well as the Yury Dolgoruky and other submarines of its class, has become hostage to the political ambitions of some high-ranking Russian officials. They promised that a cutting-edge submarine would be built and armed with the latest missiles capable of evading any air defense systems, both existing and future ones, by the end of 2008. They have repeated this promise often and loudly enough to give the Russian public and Western politicians hearing problems. Failure to keep their word could cost them their high positions and ruin their hopes of climbing to the country's top post. This is why the Bulava has been put into production before the design stage was completed, and this is why they have again promised that the new sub will be delivered to the navy already armed with the new SLBM.

However, Masorin also hinted that not all of the new missile would go into production now, but only its blocks and stages that have proved their reliability during tests. When the trials of the Bulava-M are over and the missile receives the certificate of the state acceptance committee, they will be assembled at the Votkinsk machine tool works and supplied to the three new subs, as well as to the Dmitry Donskoi, a Project 941 Akula-class (Typhoon-class) submarine, which has been upgraded to a fourth generation submarine.

It carries 20 missile launchers, and if it is armed with the Bulava-M SLBMs, this will increase Russia's naval nuclear deterrence potential by 200 warheads.

Only, that is, if the Bulava-M missile survives the political race.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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