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Outside View: Betting on Bulava -- Part 1

By
YURY ZAITSEV, UPI Outside View Commentator

MOSCOW, Aug. 28 (UPI) -- Four of the first six flight tests of the Bulava-M missile (where "M" stands for morskoi, or naval) were a failure. However, Adm. Vladimir Masorin, commander in chief of the Russian navy, said the Bulava-M -- NATO designation SS-NX-30 -- a naval derivative of the land-based Topol missile -- NATO designation SS-27 -- had been approved for mass production.

Did he mean that a batch of missiles would be produced for more tests?

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Masorin said the trial period of the Bulava would end in 2008 after two more tests this year. The outcome of these tests is not clear.

In Soviet times, 16 to 20 ground tests and then naval launches were stipulated for each new missile. Americans did likewise when designing the Trident I and Trident II missiles.

The decision of the Bulava designers to begin trials with submarine launches, bypassing ground tests and launches from a sea-based stand, appears opportunistic. This has never been done in naval missile designing before.

Anatoly Perminov, head of the Russian Space Agency, which is responsible for designing and supplying strategic missiles to the armed forces, said the Bulava could be delivered to the navy after at least 12-15 tests.

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Yury Solomonov, director and chief designer of the Moscow-based Heat Technology Institute, which had developed the ground-based Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missile -- ICBM -- said after the second successful launch of the Bulava that the trial had confirmed the design characteristics of the missile's interaction with the submarine. However, he said it needed at least 10 more trial launches.

Trials are held to improve onboard systems, notably microchips, astro-correction systems, the warhead, the engine, and the like. Flight tests show what degree of the product's exploitation stability can be expected, and also its modernization potential, notably the ability to adjust to a grazing trajectory and increase resistance to external destructive factors. No mathematical models can replace live trials.

The RSD-10 Pioneer mobile ICBM -- NATO designation SS-20 Saber -- is a relevant example. It was put on combat duty after all the bugs were cleaned out in 21 successful trials. It was a very good missile. Unfortunately, it was liquidated in keeping with the Soviet-American INF treaty on intermediate- and shorter-range missiles.

Other examples are the RS-12M Topol -- NATO designation SS-25 Sickle -- and the RS-12M2 Topol-M -- NATO designation SS-27 -- missiles, which suffered only one failure in a series of 13 trials.

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In the early 1980s, it took 16 missiles to hold the submerged and surface trials of the RSM-52 -- NATO designation SS-N-20 Sturgeon -- a solid-fuel ballistic missile designed to carry 10 nuclear warheads, including nine launches from a naval stand and seven from a submarine. The missile was later supplied to six Akula-class -- NATO designation Typhoon -- submarines. The missile's warhead comprises 10 charges, command systems and a liquid-fuel multiple warhead dispensing mechanism, as well as air defense evasion systems.

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(Next: The need for more testing)

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(Yury Zaitsev is an academic adviser at the Russian Academy of Engineering Sciences. This article is reprinted by permission of RIA Novosti. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.)

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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