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Force Equalizing Ballistic Bad Ass: The Bulava Missile In Full

November 3, 2011

When it’s angry it can lob a Bulava missile places.

On the last Friday of October the Russian Borei-class SSBN Yuri Dolgoruky successfully engaged a target somewhere in the Kamchatka Peninsula. The weapon employed was the storied Bulava or SS-N-X-30, a submarine-specific variant of the Topol ICBM.

The Bulava is anomalous for a lot of reasons. Foremost among them is a torturous development where repeated failures have become an embarrassment for its designers, Russia’s strategic nuclear forces, and the submarine crews tasked to carry out the doomed tests. The Bulava, however, is not a deficient weapon system but like so many other late-Cold War leftovers never got the benefit of proper R&D. Thanks to the fiscally awful 90s, no current weapon system being introduced by Russia is spared the same drawback.

Yet the Bulava possesses its own exceptional qualities. Its inception dates more than two decades ago when the Russian Ministry of Defence lobbied for a cutting edge SLBM with outstanding range and a devastating payload. The Bulava is all that and more. The problem  was…well, there were a lot of problems.

Since it’s based on a working ICBM system, it’s too big to fit in even the largest submarines despite the heroic efforts of its designers from the Moscow Institute of Heat Technology. This is why only the Yuri Dolgoruky and another Typhon class sub are modified to carry the Bulava. Thus far, these two platforms are tasked with carrying out tests in Russia’s White Sea at the frozen edge of the Pacific.

With a track record dating to the first unsuccessful series of test launches, the Bulava has earned a hit and miss reputation. These latest publicized tests from last month may finally signal its introduction to Russia’s submarine forces, among whom are the new Borei-class nuclear subs designated as its carriers.

Here’s a helpful graphic courtesy of RIA Novosti:

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