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Development of strategic nuclear forces remains the top priority for the Russian military. Within the nuclear triad, the military has a big stake in reinforcing naval strategic forces, although the other two elements, ground-based missiles and strategic bombers, are also being modernized.
The navy accounts for approximately 40% of the defense ministry’s budget, according to Vice Premier Sergey Ivanov, who discussed spending in mid-2009. “It’s much more than is spent on strategic missile forces, space forces and the air force put together. It’s hundreds of billions of rubles,” he said, adding that the navy’s money will be mainly spent for procuring strategic nuclear submarines.
The Russian navy’s main program in this area is the construction of the strategic Borei-class (Project 955) submarines, each armed with 16 R-30 Bulava ICBMs with multiple warheads. These subs have a submerged displacement of 24,000 tons, submerged speed of 29 kt. and endurance of 90 days. The navy plans to have eight such submarines by 2017 to replace the aging fleet of Delta-IV-class boomers.
The first Borei-class sub, Yuri Dolgorukiy, was laid down in 1996 at the Severodvinsk Sevmash shipbuilding plant, but commenced its first sea trial in July 2009. The cost of construction is unofficially estimated to be 23 billion rubles ($760 million). The first Borei submarine was scheduled to enter service in 2009, though this has been delayed. Two more submarines of the class—Vladimir Monomakh and Alexander Nevsky—are being built at Sevmash. According to Sevmash officials, the keel of the fourth submarine was to be laid down on Dec. 22, the day Sevmash celebrated its 70th jubilee. It will reportedly be the first of the improved Borei-A class.
Last summer and fall, the Yuri Dolgorukiy conducted sea trials, but its introduction into service may be delayed because of problems with the weapon it is designed to carry. Bulava (RSM-56, SS-NX-30) is a new submarine-launched ballistic missile. The Moscow Institute of Thermotechnics (MIT) has been working on the weapon since 1988. The three-stage missile has a launch weight of 36.8 tons and can deliver a 1,150-kg. (2,530-lb.) throw-weight (i.e., payload) to a range of 8,000 km. (4,970 mi.). The engines of the first two stages are powered by a solid propellant while the third stage burns liquid fuel, which ensures the speed necessary for the warhead-separation phase. The missile reportedly carries 6-10 nuclear warheads, each 100-150 kilotons, which after separation maneuver at hypersonic speed to engage individual targets. To speed up development, Bulava has some commonality with the Topol-M mobile ICBM, also built by MIT.
Bulava’s test-firing trials started in 2004 from on board the Dmitry Donskoy (Typhoon-class) ballistic-missile submarine. So far, 11 test launches have been carried out, of which five were successful. The run of bad luck began in December 2008 when the missile self-destructed in flight. An investigation showed the reason was a bad pyrobolt that was used to separate the missile’s stages. The military insisted on additional ground testing, but the next sea launch, in July 2009, was also unsuccessful, as the first-stage engine failed after 28 sec., causing the missile to self-destruct again.
The test failure led to the resignation of MIT head Yuri Solomonov, who nevertheless continues to work as Bulava’s chief designer. The government insists that the reason for the failure was low manufacturing quality, and initiated a total inspection of Bulava’s production chain.
The military, however, decided to continue the trials. The RIA Novosti news agency cited a Russian defense industry source who said the delay was caused by the need to resolve additional technical issues between the defense ministry and the manufacturer. The navy, meanwhile, is keen to complete Bulava development despite the technical problems, because it does not have an alternative weapon for the Borei-class submarines. On Dec. 9, another test was attempted, resulting in yet another failure.
Photo credit: SEVMASH