Strategic Weapons: Bulava Succeeds


December 23, 2005: For the second time in three months, Russia carried out a successful test launch of their new Bulava SLBM (a submarine launched ICBM). This time, the missile was launched from a moving, submerged, submarine. The 45 ton Bulava ICBM is a slightly modified version of the new land based Topol-M ICBM. The Bulava is a little shorter, to fit into the missile tube, and thus has a shorter range of some 8,000 kilometers. Bulava has three stages and uses solid fuel. Currently, each Bulava carries a single 500 kiloton nuclear weapon, plus decoys and the ability to maneuver. The warhead is also shielded to provide protection from the electronic pulse of nearby nuclear explosions. Take away all of these goodies, and the Bulava could be equipped with up to ten smaller (150 kiloton) warheads. But the big thing is still trying to defeat American anti-missile systems. The Bulava is expected to enter service next year, aboard the Dmitry Donskoi, am SSBN modified to accommodate the larger Bulava. Three new Borei subs are being built, to carry twelve Bulavas each. Russia currently has a dozen SSBNs in service, carrying a total of 192 older missiles. Russia had to abandon several other SLBM designs because, well, they didn’t work. Finally, they simply adapted a successful land based missile to naval work, and that produced the Bulava. A few more test firings and the Bulava will be ready for service. The Bulava is officially known as the R-30, and NATO has assigned it the designation SS-N-30.


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