Tag Archives: 3M30

Bulava Plans

Plans for Bulava SLBM testing may be shifting.  When last we checked, Navy CINC Vysotskiy said look for four more tests with a salvo launch this year or next, but an OPK source said expect a salvo test in late August or fall.  The latter sounds more like what we are reading today.  In sum, it seems someone’s in a hurry to give Bulava final approval.

This morning ITAR-TASS reported Borey-class SSBN Yuriy Dolgorukiy will conduct a maximum of two Bulava SLBM test launches, including a salvo launch, before the end of this year.  The news agency’s interlocutor said:

“It’s still planned to conduct the next, the 16th, flight test of one missile in the last ten days of August, and then – in fall or even in December – a salvo launch of two ‘Bulava’ missiles.  But another possibility isn’t ruled out – conducting a salvo launch of two missiles right off in August, omitting a single missile test.  Next week it will be known which possibility was finally selected.”   

The state commission told ITAR-TASS:

“Whatever the testing variant, in the event of a successful ‘Bulava’ salvo launch, a decision on accepting this missile system into our Navy’s arsenal will follow.”

ITAR-TASS also reported Borey number two Aleksandr Nevskiy has begun factory testing, and number three Vladimir Monomakh is 50 percent complete.

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Dizzy with Bulava’s Success?

Iosif Vissarionovich might have accused Bulava’s proponents of dizziness after the SLBM’s test firing on October 7.  There’s no mistaking it was a clear boost to a troubled program.  Success always trumps failure.  It may even turn out that all of Bulava’s design, production, and assembly problems are resolved.  But one would think the history and current state of the Bulava would call for more cautious, guarded optimism.  This successful test was necessary, but far from even close to sufficient to complete the program.

The biggest news story after this successful test was the report that, as a result, the Bulava SLBM and Borey-class SSBN weapons system might be accepted into the arms inventory as early as mid-2011.

A highly-placed Navy Main Staff source told Interfaks:

“Before the end of the year, another two test launches of the missile are planned, if they are as successful as today’s launch, then it’s legitimate to consider the issue of the quickest completion of tests of this strategic system.  I’m proposing that the acceptance of Bulava into the arms inventory could happen in the middle of next year.”

He follows adding that serial production of the SLBM and its deployment in proyekt 955 Borey-class SSBNs will ensue.

The Navy Main Staff source doesn’t go into exactly what ‘quickest completion’ entails, but others do.  Presumably, this means another test from Dmitriy Donskoy before the end of October and, if that’s a success, the first launch from Borey-class Yuriy Dolgorukiy before year’s end.

Vesti.ru conjectures that ‘quickest completion’ might mean a second, ‘insurance’ shot from Yuriy Dolgorukiy in early 2011, then a volley firing of two missiles in spring or early summer.  After this, if every test is a success, the weapons system would be accepted, serial production would begin, and Bulava would be deployed on Yuriy Dolgorukiy.  That’s if everything goes right.

An irrationally exuberant Defense Ministry source even told RIA Novosti:

“The successful launch of the missile gives a basis to suppose that the entire system ‘submarine plus missile’ will be accepted into the Russian Navy’s arms inventory by the end of the year or at the beginning of next.”

Former Armaments Chief Anatoliy Sitnov was pretty confident, telling Interfaks and ARMS-TASS that no specialists are expressing doubts about Bulava, and ‘broken links’ in its production process have been overcome.

Old RVSN general Viktor Yesin told Interfaks he agrees it’s possible to plan for completing Bulava testing by mid-2011.  But he retains some caution:

“The tests conducted instill hope that the two flight tests of the Bulava ballistic missile coming before the end of this year will be successful.  If this happens, it’ll be possible to confirm that the designers and producers overcame a period of failures in the creation of the new submarine-launched missile system.”

Yesin also notes that only the telemetry can say if all the Bulava’s systems were working normally.

Forum.msk’s Anatoliy Baranov is skeptical about making Bulava part of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces even if the next two tests are successful, and make the tally 8 successes in 15 attempts.  He says having a missile you want to produce doesn’t mean you can produce it quickly in the necessary quantity:

“Incidentally, no one has answered for the strategic decision which left the country practically without a naval component of strategic nuclear forces [SYaS].  Don’t believe that the resignation of MIT director Solomonov is a sufficient measure of responsibility considering the possible consequences of such a mistake, and the fact that today our naval strategic nuclear forces [MSYaS] already lag the strategic enemy by a factor of 5.  But even given the most successful confluence of circumstances, we will have a gap between old missiles and submarines going out of service and new ones coming into service because the possibilities of domestic industry in serial production of solid-fuel missiles are very limited.  The Votkinsk factory produces 5-6 solid-fuel ‘Topol-M1’ missiles, there aren’t other producers.  This means the production of new missiles of the ‘Bulava’ type puts an extra load on production which already can’t cope with the creation of new land-based missiles — see, straining the RVSN rearmament program even worse.  In the best case, the necessary complement of armaments for the 3 new ‘Borey’ class SSBNs will be produced in nearly 15 years.  This is a catastrophe.”

Andrey Ionin doesn’t agree with Sitnov above.  He told Gazeta.ru that the Defense Ministry shouldn’t be impatient:

“A state commission report on successful testing and a formal decision on accepting the system for regular use doesn’t change the fact that the problem of low quality in joint production has not been eliminated.”

Carnegie Center Moscow associate Petr Topychkanov says:

“Three successful tests in a row is not a reason to put a type into serial production.”

But, unlike Baranov, he points out that the production run for Bulava doesn’t have to be too big since there are, and will be, relatively few tubes to fill.

Pavel Felgengauer in Novaya gazeta is skeptical about how close the Bulava RVs came to their intended targets, but, more important for this discussion, he calls saying that Bulava is almost ready for deployment after this successful test a “dangerous adventure.”  He adds:

“And here is a ‘raw’ missile, not completely ready and the not tested ‘Yuriy Dolgorukiy,’ a crew which clearly hasn’t mastered its submarine — and missile launches right away.  Very bold to put it mildly.”

Viktor Baranets sums it up:

“A successful launch instills some optimism.  But it’s still a long time before accepting the missile into the arms inventory.  And of 13 launches only 6 (including yesterday’s) [October 7]  were recognized as successful.  Or ‘partially successful.’  But this is not cause to launch the missile into a serial run.  Higher ‘positive indicators’ are needed.  Our specialists and foreign ones believe the quantity of successful launches should be steadily above 90%.”

Bulava Test Delayed Two or Three Weeks

ITAR-TASS reported this morning that the expected Bulava SLBM test has been put off for two or three weeks.  The state commission looking at the December 2009 Bulava failure apparently made the decision today ahead of an anticipated launch between 11 and 14 August.  A defense industry source didn’t give a reason for the postponement.

Three Identical Missiles

The Defense Ministry’s inter-departmental commission didn’t make any announcement about its work or the causes of Bulava SLBM test failures as had been anticipated on 20 May.  If this commission has clues about the missile’s problems, it didn’t reveal them.  But Kommersant concludes that the Defense Ministry hasn’t reliably determined the causes of previous failed launches.

However, on 21 May, Defense Minister Serdyukov announced a new approach to Bulava testing.  The Russians will make three identical missiles and launch them in hopes of pinpointing the same problem in each.  It’s a gamble, but it could work.

RIA Novosti quoted Serdyukov:

“The problem of the unsuccessful ‘Bulava’ missile launches lies in the assembly process.  We do not see any other violations there.  The whole matter is missile assembly quality.  Each unsuccessful launch has its own causes.  They are all different.”

“Now we are working on making three absolutely identical missiles.  We believe that this will allow us to precisely locate the mistake, if there is one, since it must be repeated in all three missiles.  Now we are working on how to control the assembly process in order to know that all the missiles are identical.  Toward November, I think, we can begin launching the missiles.  After this we will be able to identify the cause precisely.”

Earlier reports had said the next Bulava test would occur in June, but Serdyukov now says November at the earliest.  Over six years, only 5 of 12 Bulava launches have been successful or ‘partially successful.’  The missile launched on 9 December 2009 self-destructed after a third stage engine problem.  Grani.ru recalled that other recent problems included steering system and stage separation malfunctions.  Moscow had intended to put the Bulava on its new Borey, or Proyekt 955, SSBNs starting in 2007.

Gzt.ru describes the new three missile approach as an expensive “hit or miss” method.  The Defense Ministry hopes launching identical missiles will point to the same problem in each, if there is one.  But if they still manifest different problems, Moscow will be no closer to pinning them down.  The risk is another year without getting any closer to a new SLBM.

Gzt.ru concludes:

“Serdyukov didn’t specify what will happen if in the November series of launches of ‘Bulava’ each time a different component of the missile fails.  Apparently, this possibility isn’t being considered.”

Also in Gzt.ru, Defense Ministry critic Konstantin Sivkov describes the three missile plan as absurd and expensive.  With each missile costing 300 million rubles, it’s a 1 billion ruble effort and there’s no guarantee the bug, or bugs, will be identified.  He believes the designers will have to conduct stand tests where all components can be checked under controlled conditions.  He blames defective parts allowed into the system due to inadequate production controls.

Gazeta.ru cited one Andrey Ionin, a missile designer, who agrees the problem lies in the absence of technological discipline in the enterprises of the Russian OPK.  He says:

“Cooperation by several hundred enterprises, working under different forms of ownership, in different parts of the country, without observing all rules of technological discipline is pointless.” 

Nevertheless, simultaneous assembly of three missiles could be a way of searching for mistakes in Bulava.

MIT missile designer Yuriy Solomonov has said repeatedly it’s defective materials, production process breakdowns, and the lack of quality control, but neither he nor military men are saying which materials or processes they suspect.  He’s also said Russia lacks 50 materials needed for solid-fuel missile production.

In Kommersant, former RVSN general Viktor Yesin claims the Defense Ministry’s inter-departmental commission investigating Bulava has determined that enterprises didn’t cooperate and provided poor quality parts for the missile.  Still he sees no alternative to Bulava and believes its design is workable.

Bulava SLBM Test Failure

The failed Bulava test launch yesterday is today’s big story.  See Myasnikov in Nezavisimaya gazeta or D. Litovkin in Izvestiya for coverage. 

Myasnikov recounts delays this fall in conducting the missile’s 12th test firing.  He recalls the story of how the project was given to MIT under the apparently ill-conceived thought of unifying naval and land-based strategic missiles.  Meanwhile, the SS-N-20  follow-on missile Bark, and the TYPHOON SSBNs to carry it, basically went away.  The Defense Ministry refuses to return to stand tests for Bulava.  Myasnikov says test missiles alone may have already run $3 billion.  The rest of the Navy is starved for resources, but Bulava has a strong lobby to keep it going.

D. Litovkin wonders whether it is Bulava’s control systems or poor manufacturing.  He wants to believe the system will work, but notes that time is running out for the current DELTA IV SSBN force, even with overhaul and modernization.

ITAR-TASS says the Defense Ministry blames a defect in the third-stage engine.