THE SINEVA INSTEAD OF THE BULAVA

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Bulava ICBM’s latest failure refocuses attention on the Sineva missile

The Dmitri Donskoy nuclear submarine carried out the Bulava ICBM’s tenth test-launch on the morning of December 23. The third stage malfunctioned, and the missile blew up in mid-air. The military now has to determine what went wrong. The Sineva missile may be preferable to the Bulava.


Army General Nikolai Makarov, Chief of the General Staff, commented over the weekend on the latest missile tests. He said that the Defense Ministry “is conducting a detailed investigation into the reasons why the missile’s third stage failed, leading it to self-destruct.” According to Makarov, “the failure could be the fault of the military-industrial complex, or the production process as such, or design flaws.” Makarov added: “Personally, I’m inclined to favor the second option.”

The Dmitri Donskoy nuclear submarine carried out the Bulava ICBM’s tenth test-launch on the morning of December 23. The third stage malfunctioned, and the missile blew up in mid-air. This was supposed to have been a decisive launch: if it had succeeded, the Bulava would have been adopted for use by the Russian Navy.

Makarov promised, however, that work on the Bulava system will continue once the reasons for the malfunction are identified. The only question is when. The military had planned to start launching its new Project 955 Borei nuclear submarines in 2009; but this should no longer be expected. If Bulava tests do continue, this won’t happen until 2010 at the earliest. Under the circumstances, the burden of nuclear deterrence will have to be carried by Project 667 BDRM Delfin nuclear submarines, armed with upgraded RSM-54 Sineva ICBMs. The Sineva system remains the chief weapon for Russia’s naval strategic nuclear forces.

“As for the Bulava, the problems lie with the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology (MITT) and the Votkinsky plant,” says Alexander Solusenko, spokesman for the Krasnoyarsk machine-building plant (KrasMash). “KrasMash has never beein involved in producing that missile.”

This statement contradicts earlier suggestions by experts that KrasMash produced the ill-fated third stage of the Bulava missile. In fact, KrasMash has produced RSM-54 sea-based ballistic missiles for submarines (a missile designed by the V.P. Makeyev Center). According to Solusenko, KrasMash suspended production of these missiles in the mid-1990s, for several reasons: a simple shortage of money, combined with MITT’s promise to deliver the Bulava missile soon. But missile production at KrasMash resumed two or three years later, in the late 1990s, with the start of Sineva upgrades.

The Sineva is unmatched by any other missile in the world on its potential capabilities. All test-launches of KrasMash-produced missiles have been successful. Moreover, the Sineva set a distance record for missiles in its class during the Stability 2008 exercises, flying 11,500 kilometers. Another advantage is that the Sineva system is so economical. It uses liquid fuel and is already in regular production. If the Bulava project is suspended for any length of time, the chief burden of nuclear deterrence will rest on Delfin submarines, armed with Sineva missiles. They could continue to perform this task until the 2030s, at least.

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