September 29, 2004
Russia has, in the last two weeks, successfully test fired the submarine version of its latest ICBM, the Topol-M. The submarine version is called the Beluva. The missile was fired from the Typhoon class SSBN (ballistic missile sub) Dmitry Donskoy. This particular sub had just undergone extensive modernization, and had completed its sea trials in the first week of September.
The Topol-M entered service in 1998, and the Beluva has been in the works for several years. Flight testing was expected to take place this year. The 45 ton Topol, Russias first solid fuel ICBM, was first launched in 1985. The end of the Cold War in 1989, and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, delayed ICBM development and production plans. So work was undertaken to design a larger, more capable and more reliable version of the Topol. This effort took about ten years. But the resulting 52 ton Topol-M was so successful, and Russias existing submarine ICBMs so unreliable, that undertaking the Beluva project was an easy decision. A major problem with using the Topol-M on a submarine was the missiles length (72 feet.) Thats about fifteen feet longer than Russias missile submarines can handle. So the Topol-M technology had to be repackaged to fit into a shorter, but wider, missile. The Beluva is believed to have the same range as the Topol-M (about 10,000 kilometers), and carry a 550 kiloton warhead.
The Russians also had to design, manufacture and install new missile handling equipment for the Beluvas. The new missiles are only installed in the new Borei class ballistic missile submarines, as well as refurbished Typhoons. The first of the Borei subs began construction in 1996, but was delayed for years because of a shortage of money. The first Borei sub will not be finished until next year, and wont enter service until 2007. Earlier this year, construction began on the second of six Borei class subs.