Russia

Backbone of Russia’s Naval Nuclear Deterrent: What We Know About Bulava Missile

 / Go to the mediabankA Bulava ballistic missile launched at the Kura training ground from the submarine cruiser Yury Dolgoruky in the White Sea. File photo. / Go to the mediabank

The RSM-56 Bulava (lit. “Mace”) missile is a crucial component of Russia’s strategic nuclear deterrent, and the keystone of the Navy’s nuclear capabilities.The Bulava submarine-launched missile has been adopted into service by Russia’s military, legendary Russian rocket and missile developer and Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology (MITT) General Designer Yuri Solomonov has confirmed.“On May 7 of this year, a decree was signed on the adoption of the Bulava missile system,” Solomonov told Russian media on Tuesday.

What are the Missile’s Characteristics?

The Bulava is a 36.8-ton, three-stage solid fuel missile with a range of at least 9,300 km that can carry between 6 and 10 nuclear-capable multiple independent reentry vehicles (MIRVs) which have an explosive yield of between 100-150 kilotons each. Alternatively, the missiles can deploy up to 40 decoys to saturate enemy missile defenses. The missile’s MIRVs accelerate to hypersonic speeds during flight, and have the ability to maneuver, which makes them extremely difficult to intercept.

Compounding risks for the prospective enemy is the fact that Bulavas are sea-borne, with their Borei and Borei-A class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine carriers lurking the depths at secret patrol locations and launching the missiles from underwater, making it next to impossible to preemptively attack and destroy them in surprise aggression, and thus guaranteeing Russia’s ability to retaliate. Each sub carries 16 Bulava SLBMs.

Why Did Russia Need the Bulava, and Who Developed the Missile?

The Bulava’s development began in 1998 after the cancellation of the R-39M Bark strategic SLBM after a series of failed test firings.The task of creating the new strategic missile fell on Solomonov, a living legend of a rocket and missile designer, and the MITT – a leading Russian strategic missile developer that’s also known for the Topol, Topol-M, and Yars series of intercontinental ballistic missiles.The Bulava’s creation began at a time when Russia’s defense industry was at arguably its lowest ebb, with the collapse of the Soviet Union less than 10 years earlier stripping the sector of funding, brilliant scientific minds, and the ability to coordinate with institutes and defense producers in other post-Soviet republics.The Bulava was originally envisioned as an attempt to unify sea and ground-based solid fuel strategic missile designs as much as possible to reduce costs. This ultimately proved impossible, and designers set to work to create a new SLBM virtually from scratch.WorldVideo: Russian Borei Class Sub Vladimir Monomakh Conducts Battery Launch of 4 Bulava Missiles12 December 2020, 15:49 GMTDevelopment was plagued by an array of teething issues, with initial successful underwater testing in 2005 followed by a three-year cavalcade of test failures, attributed to software issues, manufacturing defects, and other problems resulting in missile self-destruction, course deviation, and unstable flight during testing.Solomonov attributed the failures to poor-quality materials, the lack of manufacturing equipment, inefficient quality control, lack of funding, and shortages of an array of components no longer manufactured in Russia. A defense reorganization in 2009 resulted in a marked turnaround, with testing between 2010 and 2012 proving successful, and the missile adopted for trial service in January 2013.Launches and development continued in the subsequent decade, and by the end of 2022, some 40 Bulava test launches were carried out to ensure the missile’s reliability and accuracy.In November 2023, a Bulava was launched from the Emperor Alexander III missile submarine as part of the vessel’s trials. The test proved a resounding success, with the strategic missile – launched from the White Sea off northwestern Russia, hitting its target at the Kura training ground in Kamchatka, thousands of kilometers away in Russia’s Far East.MilitaryWatch Russian Nuclear-Capable Submarine Test-Firing Bulava Ballistic Missile 5 November 2023, 07:05 GMT

Will Russia Ever Have to Resort to Using Its Deadly ‘Mace’?

Borei-class submarines and their onboard complement of Bulavas are expected to serve as the backbone of the naval component of the Russian nuclear triad, helping to assure strategic parity with the United States well into the second half of the 21st century. Besides the Bulava, the Russia Navy operates Sineva missiles, carried by Delfin and Kalmar-class strategic missile subs.Residents of countries whose governments may be plotting aggression against Russia can sleep soundly in the knowledge that as long as these nations and hostile blocs do not attempt nuclear or large-scale conventional hostilities against Russia, Moscow will never resort to deploying its Bulava missiles against them. Unlike the US nuclear doctrine, which allows for America’s nuclear deterrent to be used even against non-nuclear armed adversaries, and preemptively, Russia has pledged not to use its nuclear forces unless it faces an attack using weapons of mass destruction, or an act of conventional aggression so severe that it threatens the existence of the state.

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