Today Russian Northern Fleet Borey-class SSBN Yuriy Dolgorukiy (K-535) salvo-fired four Bulava (RSM-56 / SS-N-32) SLBMs while submerged in the White Sea.
According to RIA Novosti, the fleet press-service said the “established missions were completely fulfilled.” The press-service continued saying, the “tactical-technical characteristics and reliability [of the submarine and missiles] were confirmed.” It added this was the first time a Borey-class SSBN salvo-fired so many SLBMs.
The launches come at the end of the video (5:37). The first looks normal. The second, however, not so much. The missile looks a bit like it’s going to heel over before the engine kicks on. Perhaps that’s normal. But what appear to be the third and fourth launches look to the naked eye like a replay of the first and second.
Were there four missiles fired by Yuriy Dolgorukiy, or two? No surprise but the video isn’t convincing. Presumably DEFSMAC, DOD, and the U.S. Navy know for sure. Maybe they’ll inform John Q. Public.
Recall Bulava had its share of developmental troubles. Dolgorukiy salvo-fired two SLBMs in late September 2016; one launch was successful but the other missile self-destructed.
The salvo-firing has been a program milestone since 2011.
This all remains a far cry from operation “Hippopotаmus-2” when Delta IV-class SSBN Novomoskovsk (K-407) fired all 16 Shtil (RSM-54 / SS-N-23) SLBMs in a single salvo on August 6, 1991. But the circumstances were somewhat different. Both the boat and the missiles were very well tested by then.
Failed Bulava Launch on 6 September (photo: Northern Fleet Press Service)
The Russian Navy doesn’t intend to use its two newest Borey-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) without their Bulava missiles in a multipurpose role. Not even temporarily. At least according to one source.
On 1 November, a Navy Main Staff source told ITAR-TASS that operating the new SSBNs without 16 Bulava (SS-NX-30) submarine-launched ballistic missiles would be analogous to employing Tu-160 strategic bombers like fighter aircraft.
Earlier, however, RIA Novosti reported the Navy might accept the two Borey SSBNs for “experimental” use without Bulava missiles, citing a highly-placed General Staff source.
A submarine in such a status would not technically be in the order-of-battle. Russia’s first Lada-class (proyekt 677) diesel submarine Sankt-Peterburg currently operates “experimentally” in the Northern Fleet.
The General Staff source said, without their primary armament, Borey hull 2 Aleksandr Nevskiy and hull 3 Vladimir Monomakh could serve temporarily as multipurpose submarines. Their crews could fulfill non-strategic combat training missions until problems with Bulava are resolved.
Both new SSBNs were ready for fleet acceptance before the end of 2013. Vladimir Monomakh just completed sea trials in early October.
On 6 September, Defense Minister Shoygu stopped the acceptance process for both submarines after an unsuccessful Bulava test launch from Aleksandr Nevskiy. Before that failure, the missile had five consecutive successful launches in 2010-2011.
The Navy accepted the first Borey-class submarine, Yuriy Dolgorukiy, in early 2013.
Vedomosti’s Aleksey Nikolskiy sees a possible end to the conflict between the Defense Ministry and industry over the production of strategic nuclear systems. His OSK source claims a multiyear Defense Ministry contract with Sevmash for proyekt 955 Borey-class SSBNs will be concluded in the coming week. This would reportedly leave OSK with just one contract remaining to be completed.
Conclusion of a 40-billion-ruble contract for three proyekt 11356M frigates was announced Wednesday.
Vedomosti’s source said the Defense Ministry and OSK also finished a deal for proyekt 885 Yasen-class SSNs several days ago. The paper once again cites Konstantin Makiyenko’s 500 billion ruble price tag for the new SSBNs and SSNs.
An industry source tells Vedomosti that all MIT’s ballistic missile contracts are complete.
While deals for renovating Russia’s strategic forces are apparently done at last, not all contracts for conventional armaments are finished, particularly those involving Rostekhnologii and its enterprises, according to the director of one of them.
What’s this mean?
The conclusion of submarine / SLBM / ICBM production contracts would be a relief to both sides since their absence has been the biggest GOZ news story. If all this is done, or almost done, one would expect a major government or Defense Ministry press announcement soon.
If the submarine deals are worth 500 billion rubles, that is, once again, apparently closer to Defense Minister Serdyukov’s price than to OSK’s.
The proyekt 11356M frigates are updated Krivaks (or Talwars for India), and they aren’t exactly cheap.
The issue of incomplete contracts with Rostekhnologii’s enterprises is significant given the size and breadth of their work on weapons and military equipment. People will ask which enterprises and systems are in question. It also contradicts Serdyukov’s recent claims that only OSK deals needed to be inked, and implies there are lingering problems and issues in areas other than shipbuilding.