Strategic Weapons: Topol The Unlimited

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December 7, 2008: Russia is working on a new ICBM (the RS-24), with an emphasis on equipping it with decoys and other deception measures to get past U.S. anti-missile systems. This new missile is believed to be an upgrade of the existing Topol-M. The new Bulava is also a modified version of the land based Topol-M, which was the last new ICBM Russia developed before the Cold War ended in 1991. The RS-24 has been tested three times in the last two years. Russia plans to put the RS-24 in service next year.

The new Bulava SLBMs (Sea Launched Ballistic Missiles) has also finally gone into production. The Bulava will equip the new Borei class SSBN (nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine). The Borei class boats 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 several 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. Russia is paranoid about their nuclear missiles, as the rest of their armed forces are a shambles, and only the ICBMs and SLBMs really provide any clout.

 


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