Interfaks reports an expected salvo launch of two Bulava SLBMs has been put off until next year, as Defense Minister Serdyukov said it might. The press agency cites a well-placed Navy Main Staff source. RIA Novosti, however, citing its own Navy Main Staff source, says the test was delayed by weather, but will occur today or tomorrow. For its part, ITAR-TASS cites an OPK source who says the Bulava test firings are off until June because of White Sea ice.
The last Bulava test, a success, took place on October 28. The Bulava / Yuriy Dolgorukiy weapons system might have been accepted into the inventory before year’s end following a successful salvo launch of two missiles.
BFM.ru talked recently to Aleksandr Golts and Vladimir Yevseyev about Bulava. It notes the last planned launch of 2010 was also put off for ice.
Golts believes there’s a political motive for postponement. He thinks the Defense Ministry can’t allow another failure and blow to its reputation and the image of Russian weapons. And, by the time of the next test, the elections will be over, and Serdyukov may no longer be at the Defense Ministry.
Golts attributes Bulava’s problems to problems in the component base and the collapse of the Soviet sub-contractor chain. The lack of serial production has made it impossible to guarantee quality component manufacturing. Hence, something different seemed to go wrong in every test failure.
Golts doesn’t rule out the possibility that there simply aren’t enough missiles for testing (or for picking ones to test) because of the GOZ-2011 contracting dispute between the Defense Ministry and Bulava’s producer.
Yevseyev is a suspicious about postponing a shot for weather. He calls the situation around Bulava ambiguous and unclear. He says defects in the missiles might have been identified, and poor weather could be an excuse.
Like Golts, Yevseyev sees Bulava’s problems as symptomatic of larger defense industrial ones, and he doesn’t exclude a political motive:
“There’s a sharp decline in the quality of production, a partial loss of specific producers, technologies. There’s aging of the machinery itself, the lack of qualified specialists who can work on it. When the OPK’s been collapsing for so much time, it’s strange to hope it can produce such a complex technological product like a missile system.”
“It’s possible there’s a danger that, if there are unsuccessful tests in the period when we’re beginning Duma and presidential election campaigns, they’ll spoil the scene. This is one of the possible reasons for the postponement.”
It seems understandable risk tolerance would be pretty low at this point given the history of the Bulava program, the bad publicity and angst generated by recent high-profile space failures, and the political season. Perhaps it’s a case of better late, but better.