MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Kislyakov) - The Russian defense industry, like any modern institution, plans ahead. Thus Yury Baluyevsky, chief of the General Staff of Russia's armed forces, told a Federation Council meeting in mid-November 2007 that "we have already started creating a new program to last until 2020."
As a result, this year promises a lot in armaments, both strategic and conventional. At the end of December, General Nikolai Makarov, chief of armaments and deputy minister of defense, said that the first nuclear submarine armed with the Bulava missile would join the navy this year. He also said that an entirely new tank would start entering service next year following its tests in 2008.
That is all fine if Russia is really going to play a key role in the contradictory and conflicting modern world. However, one fundamental question arises concerning the new armory. Why do we need a new submarine-launched ballistic missile and a new tank? Although unpatriotic, this is a far from idle question. Let us pause and think.
The Bulava missile (RSM-56 for use in international treaties and SS-NX-30 as NATO's reporting name) is Russia's latest solid-fuel submarine-launched ballistic missile. It is the product of the Moscow Institute of Heat Engineering, which is also credited with the Topol-M ground-based missile.
The theory is that the new missile, when installed on the new Project 995 Borei-class missile submarines, and used in refitting one of the Project 941 Akula boats, will add a new punch to the Russian navy's strike power. This is doubtful.
To begin with, the Bulava is a half-baked product. It was first tested in December 2003 and has since had only six firings, four of which failed and during one, which was reported as successful, not all warheads behaved as they should have. To include such a weapon in the regular inventory in 2008, even if there are two further successful launches (given time and funds) is not worthwhile, to put it mildly.
In comparison the American Trident-1 missile had 25 flight tests before it entered service, and only three were aborted. Nor does the Bulava's record in anyway match the standards of previous Russian missile tests. For example, the RSD-10 Pioner (SS-20) medium-range missile had 21 launches, all of them successful. No complaint was made when the missile was later used by the troops. The RS-12M Topol (SS-25) and the RS-12M2 Topol-M (SS-27) each had only one abortive launch out of 13.
But, most important of all, the Russian navy already has a fine liquid-fuel SLBM, or the RSM-54, and its latest version Sineva R-29RMU (Skiff SSN-23) once more successfully tested on December 25. The RSM-54 carries four, and the Sineva (with a service life of several decades) 10 individually targetable reentry vehicles, with a yield of 100Kt each.
The RSM-54 can also be mounted with a HEF warhead of about two tons of conventional explosives for use in a non-nuclear conflict, or with a low-yield nuclear warhead (equivalent to up to 50 tons of TNT) for pinpoint hits.
Why the navy needs an under-tested missile is not clear. It must finally be acknowledged that sea-based solid-fuel missiles are not Russia's strong point. True, Akula-type submarines were once armed with solid-fuel RSM-52s. However, their Bark modernization program was discontinued following several abortive launches.
If the thinking behind the new sea missile is confused, the motives for developing yet another combat tank are equally murky, and require a lot of research to understand.
For the record, Russia has five combat tanks in service: the T-62 and the T-64, which are no longer produced, the T-72, which has spawned further versions, and its modifications the T-80 and T-90, which have the status of new tanks.
For all that, only a handful of battalions in Russia are equipped with tanks of the last type, and both the T-80 and the T-90 have much room for improvement, especially in their propulsion machinery - the weakest spot of Russian tanks.
So, even without a new tank project, arms companies such as Uralvagonzavod should have their hands full. In the first place with some solid research into turbo-diesels, which showed such fine performance in the mid-1980s and replaced the fuel-guzzling and fickle gas turbine engines on T-80s.
Incidentally, it is its robust diesel engine that has won enviable export fame for the T-90, a tank not yet well tried in the Russian armed forces themselves. In 2001, Russia and India signed a contract for the delivery of 310 T-90 tanks, and early in December 2007, India was reported to have ordered another 347.
As such, thought cannot be stopped, but the designer's ideas stemming from a pool of technological data are one thing, and fondly nostalgic reports of success are quite another.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.