MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti military commentator Ilya Kramnik)
Problems besetting tests of the Bulava - a promising intercontinental ballistic missile for the navy - have long been in the focus of discussion.
Bulava abortive launches are putting at risk the re-equipment of Russia's naval strategic nuclear forces, which badly need replacements for aging Soviet-built missile-carrying submarines and missiles.
Russia has inherited two classes of strategic missile submarines from the Soviet Union. One is Project 667, now represented by six 667BDRM submarines built in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and five older 667BDRs. The other is Project 941, developed as a response to Ohio-class submarines that were designed in the United States.
But, with Russia lagging behind the U.S. in sea-launched solid-propellant missiles, the Soviet rocket proved far heavier: 90 tons against the 32-ton Trident-1 and the 58.5-ton Trident-2. They also differed in dimensions: the R-39 had a length of 16 meters and a diameter of 3.4 meters, while the Trident-2 being 13.4 meters long had a width of 2.11 meters and the Trident-1 was smaller still: 10.3 meters long and 1.8 meters wide.
This difference in size translated into a difference in size between the submarines. The Ohio submarine displaces 24,000 tons under water, while Project 941 submarines approach 50,000 tons, surpassing most battleships and aircraft carriers in this respect.
The operation of submarines of this class, their maintenance and keeping in combat readiness cost the navy a lot of money. So, following some unsuccessful launches of the advanced Bark missile, which was to have replaced R-39 missiles in the silos of Typhoons (the name given in the West to the largest Soviet missile submarine), it was decided to develop a lighter missile, called the Bulava. It is intended for a new submarine of Project 955, which is far smaller than Project 941.
The job of developing the Bulava was given to the Moscow Institute of Heat Engineering (MIT), which specializes in solid-propellant missiles (incidentally, it was MIT that developed Topol and Topol-M missiles). Out of nine Bulava launches, only two were successful.
The most likely causes of failures are production defects plaguing the new missile. Hundreds of components are required to assemble a missile, and all of them are made at different industrial plants, which leave much to be desired in the way of quality.
On the other hand, the Bulava is not the only option. A likely replacement could be the 29RMU Sineva, an upgraded rocket of the R-29 family, a product of the Makeyev Design Bureau.
A way out might be the upgrading of the launched Project 955 parent submarine and the re-engineering of its sister ships still on the ways to use Sineva ballistic missiles. Fortunately, the Sineva's diameter allows it to be used from silos intended for the Bulava. True, the Sineva is a bit longer, which, however, is no insurmountable obstacle.
This arrangement also solves the problem of launching two different types of missiles - according to some sources, the Makeyev Bureau has developed a Sineva version using pop-up techniques from a dry launch tube.
Should this version prove capable of being tested, there is a chance of commissioning the parent Project 955 submarine in 2010 by equipping it with Sineva missiles. The Sineva has another important advantage: the well-oiled machinery of its batch production makes it possible to get off to a quick start without delaying the commissioning of new submarines, thus eliminating any gap that might be left by retiring 667BDR-class submarines.
It will not be long before we know the decision - tests have been scheduled for March. Any misfiring of the Bulava could put an end to its career.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.