December 25, 2007:
The U.S. Navy continued its record string of
successful consecutive launches as it fired off its 120th Trident II SLBM (Sea
Launched Ballistic Missile). Since 1989, none of these test launches have
failed. The Trident had two failures during its 49 development test launches,
but since then, has been the most reliable SLBM to ever enter service. Each
Trident II costs about $65 million. The 58 ton, 44 foot long, Trident II entered service in 1990. Some of
them are fired every year, to insure that the current configuration (of
hardware and software) still works as it is supposed to.
In contrast, the latest Russian SLBM,
the Bulava, is having an awful time in testing. While the overall (out of over
5,000 of them) failure rate for test launches of Russian rockets is eight
percent (and the U.S. Trident I had a failure rate of 13 percent while in
development), nearly a third of Bulava's development test launches have failed.
The Bulava will equip the new Borei class SSBN (nuclear powered ballistic
missile submarine). The Borei class boats would replace the aging Cold War area
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
The Bulava test program has been
temporarily suspended in late 2006, but later started it again, and had three
successful launches in a row. 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 M ICBM. For
this reason, the Russians will probably move forward with Bulava, unless there
are too many more failures. The 48 ton, 56 foot long Bulava costs about the
same as the Trident II.