Chernavin on Bulava Design and Testing Problems

Svpressa.ru provided its version of this week’s comments from a Navy Main Staff source: 

“. . . there’s no alternative to equipping new proyekt 955 ‘Borey’ missile cruisers [SSBNs] with the Bulava missile.  Its acceptance into the arms inventory is delayed some, but the testing will be successfully concluded in any event and the missile will be accepted into the arms inventory.  There are no insurmountable obstacles to this.” 

Then former Soviet Navy CINC Vladimir Chernavin answered Svpressa’s questions about naval strategic systems.  He is still focused on what he sees as bad decisions in the process of designing and testing Bulava, rather than defective components and assembly problems.  But like most, he sees no alternative to Bulava at this point. 

Asked why the Navy doesn’t opt for Sineva, Chernavin said: 

“’Sineva’ is a magnificent missile, but it’s liquid-fuelled.  And this is a very dangerous ‘cargo’ for nuclear submarine crews.  The liquid fuel used in it is so corrosive, it burns through metal.  In addition, it’s extremely poisonous.” 

“In Soviet times solid-fueled missiles were put on proyekt 941 nuclear submarines.  But back then for technical reasons we could only make them in very large dimensions.  Proyekt 941 nuclear submarines had 20 90-ton missiles.  And each carried 10 MIRVed, highly accurate nuclear warheads.  The fact is one nuclear submarine [SSBN] could destroy up to 200 important targets, you can say, cities.  The biggest designer of missile-space equipment Vladimir Chelomey and his firm in Miass made all these missiles.  When I was still Soviet Navy CINC, we began to develop a missile [SS-NX-28 or Bark], like the ‘Bulava,’ to replace our heavy missiles on proyekt 941 boats.” 

Fleet Admiral Chernavin

Asked why it didn’t succeed, Chernavin replied: 

“Unfortunately, after Chelomey’s death, the continuity was broken.  One of Chelomey’s assistants headed the firm.  We gave it great resources to perfect this heavy missile – reduced dimensions, increased accuracy.  This work stopped with the USSR’s collapse.  And when the country’s leadership decided to restart it, they took as a basis not a naval missile, but the ground-based ‘Topol M.’  They changed design bureau accordingly.  The idea was tempting – to make one all-purpose missile for ground pounders and for sailors.  This would significantly reduce production costs.” 

But what was the stumbling block? 

“They didn’t figure that the firm that made the ‘Topol’ had no concept about naval missiles.  I remember a sad instance.  When ‘Topol’ specialists learned that a submarine-launched missile had to launch while the nuclear submarine is moving, they grabbed their heads.  Everyone knows ‘Topol’ fires from a stationary platform.  Everything in the calculations had to be completely changed.  The ground-based design bureau encountered problems that Chelomey had already solved, and it had to reinvent the wheel.  Another, to put it mildly, mistake was committed by cutting costs in the very course of missile development.  With Chelomey it was laid out as follows.   After the creation of a prototype so-called pop-up testing began.  We had an old specially reequipped diesel submarine in the Black Sea for this.  A missile tube was placed in it.  A telemetered missile is ejected from it.  Not less than two of such tests were needed.  Only after this did they proceed to other tests, of which there were a great number.  ‘Market consciousness’ in new Russian conditions gave the project’s directors the idea of economizing on tests.  There were no preliminary tests, but immediately they put ‘Bulava’ on a submarine and all steps were conducted with the wave of a hand, having skipped several phases of testing.  Now we all see what a ‘pretty penny’ this ‘economizing’ has cost the state.  The end of testing is not in sight, but ‘Bulava’ won’t fly.” 

 Does Bulava have any future?  

“I think there’s no longer time to give up.  Whether we want this or not, we have to get ‘Bulava’ in shape.” 

But what if its designers aren’t up to it?  

“I think they’re up to it.  They’ve hit so many bumps that they, on the whole, have gained experience and will guide it to the end, but again this will cost not a little money.  But less now than if we set out today to develop a missile from scratch.  Of course, in principle, it wasn’t necessary to let these people build a naval missile.  Now we have to get unscrewed.  And throw resources around.  But, I’m sure, they’ll still get ‘Bulava’ to fly.”

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2 responses to “Chernavin on Bulava Design and Testing Problems

  1. Russia has lost a lot of time trying to develop Bulava. It is not understandable how Chelomey’s work was lost to Russia if he had already solved the problems of delivery of a missile like ‘Bark’ from a moving underwater object. Are there no records of his work which can be accessed? The repeated failures of ‘Bulava’ point to more than just manufacturing component quality or assembly problems. The sooner Russia gets to the bottom of it the better, and without wasting enormous amount of valuable rubles. It will cost Russia dearly if Borey class submarines are not fit for the launch of SLBM’s

  2. If the design of different components is such that there is very little cushion or tolerance for error, then failures are more likely to occur. In this respect, one can say that the design that allows more tolerance or cushion for error but performs reliably although to lesser accuracy is preferable to a rigid system which is more accurate but fails frequently. It is generally recognized that nuclear missiles need not be accurate to within a few meters of CEP for necessary deterrance but must be reliable.

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