Strategic Weapons: Bulava Breaks Into The Big Time

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August 8, 2007: After a successful test two months ago, Russia has decided to put its new Bulava SLBMs (Sea Launched Ballistic Missiles) into production. Last November, for the third time (the second in two months), a test launch of the Bulava was a failure. But the developers were not discouraged. The Bulava will equip the new Borei class SSBN (nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine). The Borei class boats would replace the aging Cold War era SSBNs, which are being retired because of safety and reliability issues and the high expense of running them. Nuclear submarines are one area of military spending that did not get cut back sharply after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

Despite the many test failures, the Russians were confident in the basic technology in the Bulava. The Russians knew there would be failures, and knew that the two most recent U.S. SLBMs had a 13 percent (23 tests of the Trident I) and two percent (49 tests of Trident II) failure rate. What did make many Russians nervous was the fact that the Bulava is replacement for an earlier SLBM that had to be cancelled during development because of too many test failures. The Bulava is basically a navalized version of the successful Topol ICBM. This is the primary reason the Russians moved forward with Bulava.

The 45 ton Bulava SCBM is a little shorter than the Topol M, so that it could fit into the missile tube. Thus Bulava 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.

 


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