Last month the Russian Navy announced a successful launch of the new Bulava (SS-NX-30) sea-based intercontinental ballistic missile. Igor Digalo, chief of the navy press service, declared, “The test was successful, the missile performed according to plan on all stages of flight, the warheads hit targets at the Kura test ground in Kamchatka.” According to Digalo, the commander of the navy, Admiral Vladimir Masorin, commended the commander and crew of the nuclear strategic sub Dmitry Donskoi who performed the Bulava launch from the Barents Sea (RIA-Novosti, June 28; Kommersant, June 29).
The Bulava has been designed to be deployed on a new class of Borei (project 955) nuclear strategic subs. By 2017 Russia plans to have eight new Borei-class subs that will replace the present fleet of Delta-3 and Delta-4 class strategic subs. In April the first Borei-class sub, Yuri Dolgoruky, was officially launched in Severodvinsk, but it cannot become operational before the Bulava becomes a reliable missile (see EDM, April 18).
The Russian Navy also has plans to arm two or three Typhoon-class nuclear subs with Bulava ICBMs. With 50,000 tons displacement fully submerged, and armed with 20 ICBMs each, the six Typhoons built in the 1980s are the biggest subs ever to sail. Three of them have been scrapped, while the rest are good to sail but stand idle, since their missile silos are empty — the original SS-N-20 ICBMs that were deployed on the Typhoon-class have not been produced since 1991 and now there are none left. The Dmitry Donskoy is one of these redundant Typhoon ships that has been modified to test-launch the Bulava. The swift development of the Bulava ICBM is essential to keep Russian naval nuclear potential alive after 2015 (www.lenta.ru, June 29).
The previous four test-launches of the Bulava in September, October, November, and December 2006 ended in explosions after take-off (see EDM, September 11, 2006, November 1, 2006, and March 7, 2007). The latest Bulava launch happened a few days before the informal July 1-2 meeting between Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin at Kennebunkport, Maine. The successes of the Bulava launch could have enhanced Putin’s hand at the negotiating table (see EDM, July 3).
The Defense Ministry did its best last year to cover up the consecutive failures of Bulava test-launches, but Kommersant newspaper defense reporter Ivan Safronov, a 51-year-old retired colonel n the Space Rocket Forces who had worked as a journalist since 1997, promptly disclosed the truth. Then in March Safronov fell to his death from a fourth-story window of his apartment block in central Moscow (see EDM, March 7). The Russian authorities have ruled the case a suicide, but many in Moscow believe foul play was involved.
The Defense Ministry dismissed three active-service officers believed to have leaked information regarding the Bulava failures (Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie, July 20). With the source of accurate information effectively silenced, the media took Digalo’s announcement of the Bulava’s “successful test flight” on June 28 at face value.
However, the Kremlin-controlled media did not trumpet its success, and Digalo’s announcement was not substantiated by any higher-ranking source. Digalo is an official spokesman for the navy, but has record is questionable. He was in this post in August 2000, when the Kursk nuclear sub sank in the Barents Sea after an explosion. At the time Digalo insisted that the Navy was “in contact with the crew of the sunken Kursk,” which was not true (RIA-Novosti, August 14, 2000).
Digalo may have returned to his old ways. Last week it became obvious that the latest Bulava launch was not as successful as he had claimed. Two of the missile’s dummy warheads went seriously off target and a third was entirely lost when it did not manage to reach Kamchatka (Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie, July 20).
Most of the Russian public is today force-fed Kremlin propaganda about events inside Russia or abroad. But is the military actually misleading the Kremlin on this matter?
The main designer of the Bulava, Yuri Solomonov, has in the past attributed the multiple mishaps of test-launches to the progressive degradation of the Russian defense industry, the inferior quality of Russian-made components and materials, and the “loss” of key military technology (VPK, April 4). This apparently unstoppable degradation means that in the coming years Russia will be unable to arm its forces with modern weapons. Russian arms exports are also affected. Alexander Brindikov, deputy chief of the Russian arms trade monopoly Rosoboronexport, explains: “We are encountering colossal problems fulfilling existing export contracts and are withholding from signing some new ones, because we cannot figure how they may be fulfilled” because of the degradation of the Russian defense industry (VPK, March 21).
In the future Russia maybe forced to begin procuring Western (i.e., U.S.) arms and defense know how, or its forces will have no new weapons — and perhaps none at all. Why would Putin pick fights with the West on any possible issue when it is becoming obvious that Russia is becoming dependent on Western aid and good will? Perhaps Putin’s actions are not foolish, but the product of deliberate misinformation about the true state of the Russian military and defense industry.