Vladimir Masorin, Commander of the Navy, has declared in Sevastopol City that the decision has been taken to start serial production of the ballistic missile Bulava-M, without waiting for the flight test completion. The decision was taken after successful test of 29 June when The Dmitry Donskoi, a submarine, made a launch of Bulava from the water area of the White Sea and “the warhead of the missile hit the calculated region of the testing area” in Kura (that’s in Kamchatka). According to some reports, though, the missile developed a fault at the final stage of the flight and the warhead didn’t hit the target. Indirectly, Masorin confirmed that saying that “manufactured will be those stages and units of the missile that have proved to be reliable.” The rest parts seem to need a refine.
The results were deplorable for five out of seven flight tests of Bulava carried out since September 2005. The missiles exploded just after the launch, self-destroyed during the mission or failed at the final stage. Two officially reported successful tests, done on 27 September 2005 and 29 June of this year don’t look convincing due to the veil of secrecy where the top brass can say whatever they want.
Masorin said that two more testing launches of Bulava would probably have been done before the end of the year. The Admiral did not exclude that “some failures may happen” during the coming tests and “this is the goal of tests conducted just to find possible defects.” Masorin is sure about success. “We have no doubts of successful results of testing of the rocket system Bulava. We have no other choice. A huge quantity of intellectual and financial effort was put into it. The two last tests will be done from the Yuri Dolgoruky, the submarine specially designed to be the carrier of this rocket system”.
All the previous launches of Bulava were done from board of The Dmitry Donskoi, the submarine built in soviet time (project 941, about 50 tonnes of total displacement ) and reequipped partly to take the new missile. The Yuri Dolgoruky is the head submarine of a new series Borei (project 955). It was officially launched in Sevmash (in Severodvinsk City) in April this year.
On that launching a bottle of champaign was smashed against the keel of the curtained with canvas submarine in a dry dock. Wicked tongues say it’s still there. It was declared in April that sea trials would start only in October. And now we can conclude that this fresher will have to launch missiles just after the sea trials, as Bulava’s tests must be finished in 2008, according to Masorin. The Commander says that “after each failing launch the faults were found and removed and then thorough lab tests were carried out so there is nothing to be worried about.”
That’s a loud statement. When testing American Trident I (analog of Bulava) 3 launches were abortive out of 23. Among further 49 tests of Trident II only 1 failed. In soviet time, before being placed on submarines, new missiles were launched many times from immersed testing platforms in the sea or from special “wet” missile launch facilities in Plesetsk that simulated the off-sea launch. And now we have unfinished missile, not ready and not trialed Yuri Dolgoruky, the crew that has not yet mastered the new ship – and we are going to launch missiles!
It’s difficult to find appropriate word for all that. Maybe “Russian roulette”? But now it’s not the case of a man holding a revolver with one cartridge inside to his head. We are talking about the crew and the big submarine. By the way, Yuri Solomonov, chief designer of Bulava, points out that failures of previous tests were due to lowering quality of materials and components, also “loss of crucially important technologies” by the defense establishment, and rising degradation and slovenliness in production process. So no one can guarantee failures won’t repeat. They say, though, that it was Solomonov who persuaded the military that 10 tests of Bulava would be enough to adopt it.
Well, in cold war times a lot of such stuff was done. In the 80s Americans, having failed their tests of strategic antiballistic defense system, boasted on their success making Soviet Union spend money on useless “asymmetrical responses”. At Khrushyov, giant models of unreal missiles were shown at military parades to scare our foes, and our first atomic submarines were so noisy and so unreliable that were really dangerous not for the enemy but for the crews themselves. Khrushyov was intimidating the West that we “make missile like hotdogs” and he nearly got into atomic war against America because of Cuba in 1962. That time we had only several oxygen-kerosene intercontinental R-7 in our pads in Plesetsk. We could deliver 10-20 nuclear charges to the USA while they were capable of delivering to us up to 10.000.
It was the arms race and it was real threat of war that justified rush serial production and rolling out of unfinished weapon systems. But now, why can’t we improve new solid-propellant Bulava without haste and atomic roulette or maybe refuse it, if it turns out to be unreliable? Anyway, with 7 submarines of the project 667BRDM Dolphin and Delta-4 being upgraded now and equipped with perfected liquid-propellant ballistic missiles Sineva, Russia won’t remain without sea nuclear forces till 2020. Who are we trying to cheat with our optimistic reports of success? Americans, using their observation facilities and telemetry data of launches given to them by us under START II, seem to know even more about our armed forces and the situation with Bulava, than the Kremlin does.
Novaya Gazeta № 60 August 09, 2007