Home / November

Again: Russian Navy experiences another failed test launch of a SLBM “Bulova”

Repeatedly in the past, we did report about the new Russian SSBNs of the “Borej”-Class and their “Bulova” SLBMs as main armament planned, see our “Flotsam” issues of May, August and November 2012, as well as March, May and August 2013.

On 06 Sep 2013 a test launch to certify the missile launch capability of the SSBN Alexander Nevsky of the new “Borej”-Class failed when a SLBM RIM-56 “Bulova” (NATO Designation: SS-NX-32 Grau) was fired. Just over a minute after launch in the White Sea off Sibiria the missile targeted for Kamatschka diverted from her programmed course and had to be destroyed in flight. This was misfire No. 8 from a total of 19 test- and certification-launches of the SLBM “Bulova” yet, whose combat readiness – initially announced to be in 2009 – is still way off track.

According to media reports Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu has ordered a tentative stop to further life firing tests of the “Bulova” and initiated a comprehensive examination of the causes of the recent misfire. That includes the return of all missiles delivered so far to the production site and the execution of five more test launches from the “Typhoon”-Class SSBN “Dmitri Donsky”, which has been converted to serve as test platform for the new “Bulova”. It is not clear when the new SSBNs of the “Borej”-Class currently in the process of delivery, i.e. the Yuri Dolgoruki, the Vladimir Monomarkh and the Alexander Nevsky will be armed with combat ready “Bulova” SLBMs. Hence it follows, that the future of the Russian submarine based nuclear deterrence is even more in doubt. It needs to be pointed out that the new “Borej”-Class SSBNs are designed to receive only “Bulova” SLBMs, alternative re-designs to re-equip the SSBNs with the proven RIM-66B (NATO Designation: SS-N-23 Skiff) can be excluded. Therefore, the entire project of the “Borej”-Class SSBNs with the SLBM “Bulova” on board is doomed to be a 100 % success, anything else would constitute a severe setback for Russia´s nuclear defence capability.

The SLBM “Bulova” has been designed by the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology (MITT) and is being produced by the Russian plant for intercontinental missiles at Votkinsk (Votkinsk Machine Building Plant), some 1.000 km east of Moscow in the Russian province of Udmartra. Following first system studies in 1992 on the basis of the proven missile “Topol-M”, development and construction started of a new 3-stage-missile with a length of 11.5 m and a launch weight of 36.8 t, range between 6,500 km to 10,000 km, and carrying up to 10 nuclear warheads of up to 150 KT. The first though unsuccessful test launch occurred on 24 June 2004 from the “Typhoon”-Class SSBN Dmitri Donskoi (TK-208), only test launch No. 2 from this SSBN on 23 Sep 2004 was successful. It was a clear goal at that time to have the “Bulova” combat ready by 2009. Production plans were developed for 150 to 170 missiles. Throughout the following years further fest launches were executed. Until today, out of 13 test launches from the Dmitri Donskoi there were 6 misfirings. On the other hand, all 4 launches from the first “Borej” SSBN, the Yuri Dolgoruki (K-535), were successful. Consequently, this SSBN with its 16 SLBMs on board was taken in the OOB of the Russian Navy officially on 10 Jan 2013. The recent first and unsuccessful certification launch of a “Bulova” by the second “Borej”-Class SSBN, the Alexander Nevskiy (K-550), means a major setback for the entire armaments project of the “Borej”-Class SSBN with “Bulova” SLBM on board.

Construction of the “Borej”-Class SSBN is well underway: Already, the Yuri Dologoruki has been commissioned, the Alexander Nevskiy and the Vladimir Monomarkh are executing sea trials since October, respectively December 2012. SSBN No. 4, the Knyaz Vladimir, was keel-laid at the Sevmash shipyard in Severodvinsk, Siberia in July 2012. According to official statements, 4 more SSBNs of this class are planned, bringing the total number of the “Borej”s to 8.


Fire onboard the Russian “Oscar II”-Class SSN Tomsk

On 16 September 2913 another incident onboard a Russian nuclear powered submarine led to wild headlines in international media. According to that welding works onboard the SSN Tomsk (K-150) of the Russian Pacific Fleet currently in maintenance at the Swesda shipyard at Bolschoi Kamen near Vladivostok caused fire, which could be extinguished only after 5 hours. Official statements reported of 15 injured. However, further dangers resulting from the fire were denied, as the reactor was shut off and no weapon has been onboard. Apparently, the fire broke out at the heat and noise isolation material between the outer hull and the pressure hull.

Die Tomsk (CC BY 4.0,
The Tomsk (CC BY 4.0,

The Tomsk belongs to the “Oscar II”-Class, the Russian designation for these submarines is “”Project 949A Antey”. Some 11 units have been built between 1982 and 1996 as an improved version of the two units of the “Oscar I”-Class. Construction of two more “Oscar II” submarines was stopped, and a further fourteenth SSN did not pass planning status yet. The Tomsk was laid on keel on 27 August 1989 and commissioned on 30 December 1998 following its launch in July 1996. The submarines of the “Oscar II”-Class have a displacement of about 15,000 t surfaced and up to 25,000 t submerged. Their length is 154.7 m and their width 18.2 m, the underwater speed is said to be up to 33 kn. Main armament of these SSNs originally designed to fight US Carrier Battle Groups are the anti-ship missile P-800 “Onyx” (NATO designation = SS-N-26 Strobile) with their 300 km range, plus torpedoes to be launched from 4 tubes 53.3 cm and 2 tubes 65 cm.

In the past, there have been some incidents onboard the “Oscar II”-Class submarines. The Tomsk is in comprehensive maintenance since 2010 after she had been taken out of active service following problems with the cooling system of the reactor. By far the severest incident was the sinking of the Kursk on 12 August 2000 in the Barents Sea most probably caused by the explosion a newly developed torpedo, 108 sailors went down with the submarine.


Delays in the delivery of the new French “Barracuda”-Class SSNs

Early in October 2013 media reported widely about the deliberations of the French Defence Budget 2014 of about 31.4 Bill. Euros, which also stated the further procurement for the French Navy. According to that, the running program for 6 new SSNs of the “Barracuda”-Class will face delays after the commissioning of the First of Class, the SSN Suffren, scheduled for 2017.

As everybody knows, the French Navy operates nuclear powered submarines only as of 2001, although the French Naval shipbuilding industry is still active exporting conventional powered submarines. Currently, the French submarine force is composed of 4 SSBNs of the “Le Triomphant”-Class carrying up to 16 SLBM “M51” each, guaranteeing French nuclear deterrence, plus 6 SSNs of the “Rubis”-Class, These SSNs, which have a displacement of less than 3,000 t submerged, were commissioned between 1982 and 1994 (the latter 2 SSNs are named as “Amethyste”-Class). The 4 SSBNs displacing some 14,000 t submerged were commissioned between 1997 and 2010. To replace the older SSNs a procurement program was signed with the state owned shipyard DCNS in 2006, costing a minimum of estimated 8 Bill. Euros for design and construction.

On 19 Dec 2007 the Suffren was laid on keel as First of Class, followed by the Duguay-Trouin on 26 June 2009 and the Tourville on 28 June 2011. Now, the 2014 budget has finally approved the construction of SSN No. 4, the “Dupetit-Trouin”, although its construction has experienced already a delay of one year. At the same time it became known that the delivery schedule of the new SSNs after the Suffren will face a delay of a minimum of three years, i.e. SSN No. 2 not before 2020, SSN No. 3 not before 2023 and SSN No. 4 not before 2026. Also, the commissioning of the last two SSNs of the procurement program, the Duquesne and the De Grasse, will slip from the announced 2025 respectively 2027 for some years.

The SSNs of the “Barracuda”-Class will have a displacement of about 5,000 t submerged, their length will be 99 m and their width 8.8 m, With that, they will be significantly larger than their “Rubis”-Class predecessors. However, they still will be remarkably smaller than their counterparts SSNs/ SSGNs in the US Navy, the Royal Navy and the Russian Navy. Their armament will be composed of up to 18 torpedoes and a newly developed Land Attack Cruise Missile “Navy Scalp”, with a range of up to 1,000 km, all weapons to be launched from the 4 torpedo tubes 53.3 cm. Therefore, the new French SSNs will become true SSGNs. The crew is said to comprise some 60 sailors.


Perfect marketing stunt using a U-Boat

In the morning of 01 October 2013, a marvelous marketing stunt involving a submarine led to worldwide attention: Suddenly right in the center of Milan, Italy, in the Via dei Mercanti close by the Milan Cathedral, a submarine with a strange hull number of “#L1F3” appeared to have just broken the surface, with sailors climbing out of the conning towers and rescue services rushing to the scene, and chaotic traffic conditions developing. Anyway, the hull number disclosed the originator of this “lost” submarine: This by all means perfect PR-stunt was launched by the Italian subsidiary of the big insurance company “Europ Assistance Group” (a 100% subsidiary of the well known “Generali” insurance) which wanted to promote its “Protect your Life” campaign. Conclusion: Fascinating pictures.