Russia Plans August Test of Bulava SLBM

Jul 16, 2010

By Oliver Bloom


Reports emerged yesterday that the Russian government will go ahead with tests of the Bulava missile in August. This comes after early reports in May suggested that the Bulava tests would not resume until the fall. The RSM-6 Bulava is the submarine-launched version of the Russian Topol-M ICBM, though lighter and more sophisticated, and is estimated to have a range between 8,000 and 10,000 km and be able to carry between six and ten MIRVs. The missiles are to be deployed on the Borei-class submarines, the first of which was launched in 2008. The Bulava has had quite a checkered history, of its twelve previous tests, between seven have ended in failure, including five of the last six. In spite of the test failures (most recently in December), the Russian government has defended the program and pledged to go ahead with further testing. As GSN explains:
Russia's armed forces have continued defending the weapon as an irreplaceable component of the country's future nuclear deterrent.
They quote a Russian navy insider who said that
The commission investigating the failed launch of a Bulava has completed its investigation and recommended continuing the missile's tests. The next test-fire of the Bulava from the Dmitry Donskoy nuclear submarine [of the Alula/Typhoon class] in the White Sea is planned for the end of August.
The Dmitry Donskoy is the same submarine that launched a Bulava missile in a failed test back in December, a test that many Norwegians confused for a UFO.
The GSN report goes on to say that the Russians plan three tests, one of which will be from the Borei-class ballistic missile submarine Yuri Dolgoruky. The source explained,
There is no alternative to arming the new Project 955 Borei missile cruisers with the Bulava missile. Its commissioning has been somewhat delayed, but in any case, the tests will be completed successfully and the missile will be adopted for service. There are no insurmountable obstacles to this.
The Borei-class was to originally carry the R-39M “Bark” missile, but the Russians were forced to redesign the submarine after the R-39M failed in its first three tests. No Borei-class submarine has ever launched a Bulava missile. The Russians currently have three more Borei-class submarines under construction, the Alexander Nevsky, the Vladimir Monomakh, and the Svyatitel Nikolay, each expected to be armed with between 12 and 16 Bulava missiles.       
According to RIA Novosti, a senior Russian military official has already acknowledged that the Bulava will fall under the arms control regime of New START, assuming it is ratified by the U.S. Senate. According to Lt. Gen. Anlexander Burutin, first deputy chief oth e Russian General Staff,
 any [ballistic] missile launched from a strategic submarine is subject to control and inspection regime.
He added
We are obliged to provide the Americans with [telemetric] data on the [Bulava] missile because we have already started the tests from a strategic submarine.
The Russian news report noted, however, that
The general said, though, that the Russian Defense Ministry plans to test-launch up to 12 ballistic missiles a year over the next decade and Russia could choose which launches would be subject of U.S. inspections.
As we’ve discussed on the PONI blog previously, the lack of telemetric data exchanges is not a valid concern. The limited telemetric exchange in New START is merely a confidence-building measure—because New START does not restrict missile throweight, nor does it use a maximum attribution rule like START, telemetric exchange is unncessary (what’s more, Secretary Gates has expressed confidence that U.S. national technical means can more than make up for any lose in telemetric exchanges) .
Nevertheless, given the United States’ uncertainty regarding future Russian missile development, it becomes all the more essential for the United States to have insight into the Russian missile program—insight that would come through the verification and transparency measures of the New START agreement. As these news reports show, while ratification of New START may be stalled, Russian missile development and future testing certainly isn’t.


//Talgraf777 under a Creative Commons License