Streetwise Professor

July 17, 2009

It Blew Up Real Good. Again. But Not When It Was Supposed To.

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 11:14 am

The Russian military and government were looking towards the most recent test of its troubled Bulava sub launched ballistic missile (a modification of the Topol ICBM) with great anticipation.  Today, they met with yet more disappointment:

News agencies says Russia’s latest test of the advanced ballistic missile Bulava has failed, with the missile self-destructing.

It’s the sixth failure in 10 test launches for the Bulava — a major setback for Russia’s efforts to upgrade its aging missile arsenal.

RIA-Novosti and Interfax cite Defense Ministry officials as saying the missile was fired Wednesday from the submarine Dmitry Donskoi and that the first stage malfunctioned and the missile self-destructed.

A Defense Ministry duty officer said Thursday he could not immediately comment on the report.

Despite the failures, Russian leaders have boasted of the Bulava’s capability to penetrate missile defenses and described it as a key part of the military’s future nuclear arsenal.

Uhm, you can’t penetrate anything if the first stage blows up less than 30 seconds into flight.

And speaking of missile defense, it is interesting to compare the results of the Bulava tests (60 percent failure rate) to those for tests of the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system, which has failed in only 2 out of 13 tests.  Considering that (a) SLBM technology is 50+ years old, (b) the Bulava is the modification of an existing system, and (c) BMD is a far more difficult task with many more moving parts (e.g., multiple sensors, missile), the differential performance is pretty staggering.

Since technology is unlikely to be the issue, Bulava’s problems are more likely attributable to manufacturing problems, and provide further testimony of the erosion of Russia’s military production capabilities.  (The fiasco over the reconstruction of the Gorshkov is another example.)

The main effect of the test failure is likely to be an increase in the Russian leadership’s angst.  Russia places great emphasis on its military strength.  It realizes that its conventional forces are decrepit, and that the just-beginning reform process will take a long time to succeed, if it does, and that there is a high probability of failure.  It therefore places heavy emphasis on its nuclear forces.  A huge fraction of its defense spending is directed to these forces, and they take first priority.  Russia knows that without nukes, it is pathetic, a dying country with gas and a UN Security Council Veto and not much else to exert the influence on the world that its leadership (and a good fraction of its population) believes is its due.

Anything that impedes the rejuvenation of its nuclear forces will lead to increased anxiety, not to say paranoia about missile defenses, including missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic, even though those pose no threat to Russian ICBMs.  Indeed, the weaker the SLBM leg of the Russian nuclear forces, the more paranoid it gets about any threat real or imagined to its land based systems.  Thus, expect more histrionics and pressure regarding the BMD systems in Europe.  The Bulava failure may also make the more aggressive in strategic weapons negotiations with the United States.  Consequently, this test failure may contribute to increased tension with the US.

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  1. They couldn’t necessarily penetrate anything even if it left the launcher in a successful test. It would have to reach the target, then evade defenses, then detonate. Asking for all that from the Russians is like asking Sweden to become Zimbabwe. Maybe this is why the Russians are willing to talk about nuclear disarmament, they may as well get something from the USA since they are already unilaterally disarming themselves.

    Comment by La Russophobe — July 17, 2009 @ 11:43 am

  2. Russian journalists get themselves murdered for writing the type of things you’ve written in this post.

    Comment by La Russophobe — July 17, 2009 @ 12:03 pm

  3. American journalists can kiss their $$ status goodbye if they don’t tow a preferred line.

    Russian journalists can be killed for reasons other than their profession.

    Meantime, there are a good number of relatively well paid Russian journalists, sucking up to people who are overly negative about Russia.

    Comment by Sissy — July 17, 2009 @ 3:38 pm

  4. Really?

    Sissy is news to me.

    What about Penny, Dixie and some others?

    Talk about pathetic.

    Comment by Cutie Pie — July 18, 2009 @ 12:15 am

  5. btw- what’s up with the awful Kremlin-backed troll names… Cutie Pie, Sissy?

    Sissy = Cutie Pie = Mike Averko aka Averkobot. Even the Kremlin won’t pay for his retarded “russocentric” crap.

    Comment by peter — July 18, 2009 @ 5:34 am

  6. Maybe it’s just me in seeing this pattern, but, here and on another blog I look at regularly Putin’s hardcore pilot fish seem to appear in pairs. Sockpuppets? I think so.

    The content is the scripted Kremlin playbook rebuttal for each topic with the monikers changing to make it look fresher.

    Comment by penny — July 18, 2009 @ 9:34 am

  7. Trolls have a habit of getting off topic with personal side notes that are off topic.

    This can include citing other trolls, who come to think of it could be themselves.

    Comment by Cutie Pie — July 18, 2009 @ 2:24 pm

  8. Re-sock puppets.

    Takes one to (think you) know one?

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — July 18, 2009 @ 2:38 pm

  9. Re-SLBM’s.

    1. Most of them had rocky starts, including Trident and Rif.

    2. Even if Bulava keeps on failing, it has Sineva to fall back on; the main difference being that the Borei class planned for the future will have to be modified and somewhat delayed.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — July 18, 2009 @ 2:41 pm

  10. peter–LOL. Though unless Sissy is trying to be deliberately non-grammatical as a cover (“tow the line”–hahaha), I don’t think that Cutie Pie=Sissy, as the former doesn’t typically make such errors. I do see, though, some similarities between Cutie Pie and Averko. But correlation is not causation, of course.

    In any event, the use of opposite-sex screen names is common among trolls/sock-puppets. What’s up with that?

    S/O–Trident made it through its teething problems more rapidly than Bulava. And the key thing is that Putin and the Russian military have hyped Bulava to the Nth degree, raised expectations about it, and made it the showpiece of the revitalization of Russia’s deterrent.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — July 18, 2009 @ 3:22 pm

  11. “What’s up” with not challenging Peter’s identity over some others (rhetorical question)?

    This point serves as an example of the kind of selective stressing that’s out there.

    Meantime, I’ll try keeping the discussion on topic, while not letting the trolls have their way. This approach isn’t always so easy to balance.

    Comment by Cutie Pie — July 18, 2009 @ 4:10 pm

  12. ”tow the line”–hahaha

    Yep, that’s exactly how you spot the Averkobot.

    As for Cutie Pie, it’s already way way past the point of confident recognition — which in Mike’s case is one to three comments depending on how hard he tries to behave.

    Comment by peter — July 19, 2009 @ 5:16 am

  13. The “Peter” troll strikes again. He/she takes several forms, while showing little in terms of substantive input.

    It’d be interesting to see how many of his/her SWP comments deal with the subject matter over the more off topic personal taunts.

    Comment by Cutie Pie — July 19, 2009 @ 8:09 am

  14. Cutie Pie & Peter–I’ve written before on the issue of anonymity. I know there are a variety of reasons for remaining anonymous, some good, some not so good. But it’s not something I give a lot of thought to. To each his/her own, and let the comments sink or swim on the merits.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — July 19, 2009 @ 10:40 am

  15. […] Professor discusses the problems that the new Russian sea launched ballistic missile (SLBM), the Bulava, is still […]

    Pingback by Official Russia | Russia: Rocket science in reverse — July 20, 2009 @ 5:54 am

  16. I’m quite agreeable on that Professor.

    Have to wonder about pious people who suggest good manners while acting rudely. This shouldn’t be confused with people who come on and deal with the issues while not bowing down to sleazy off topic antics. (This includes referencing people and sites which actively promote trolling.)

    Comment by Cutie Pie — July 25, 2009 @ 3:16 pm

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