Streetwise Professor

December 10, 2009

It Blew Up Real Good. Again.

Filed under: Military,Russia — The Professor @ 4:41 pm

The other day people in Norway freaked out.  Not because of the impending arrival of The One to collect his Nobel Prize for Not Being Bush.  Or because Obama basically blew off his hosts.  But because of a weird, spiral apparition in the dark northern skies.  (Scroll down the link for some video.)  Due to the proximity of the event to the Russian White Sea missile testing range, some folks suspected that it had something to do with a failed missile test.

At first the Russians grudgingly conceded that yes, the new SSBN Dmitri Donskoi had launched a missile on that day, but declined to say where, and didn’t say that anything went wrong.  Later, the Russian navy admitted in a press release that it had experienced another failure of the Bulava sub-launched ballistic missile (SLBM).  The first two stages worked fine (a previous launch failing at the first stage), but the third stage malfunctioned and the missile spun out of control, producing the Norwegian pyrotechnics.  Depending on who’s counting and how “success” is defined, that’s either the ninth failure out of 13, or the 13th out of 13.

Speaking of ballistic, no doubt that’s what Putin, Medvedev, and the Russian military are going right now.  They are nervous as cats about the declining state of Russia’s nuclear deterrent, and are exceedingly reliant on this deterrent due to the erosion of Russia’s conventional military capability.  They are counting on the Bulava to help arrest that decline.  Supposedly, the Bulava program has eaten up fully half of the Russian military procurement budget, and the Donskoi class SSBNs have devoured a big chunk of what’s left.  The Russians have a functional liquid fueled SLBM, the Sineva (the Bulava being solid fueled), but the Sineva is almost two feet three meterslonger than the Bulava, and would not fit the missile tubes on the Donskois.  It would cost billions, and a lot of time, to rejigger the Donskois to carry the Sinevas.

In other words, they are so screwed.  They have missiles that work that won’t fit the subs, and the missiles that fit the subs don’t work.  More than half the procurement budget down the tubes as a result.

This latest failure came after the sacking of the head of the Bulava program and a shift of the manufacture of the missile to a different factory in the aftermath of the last failure, purportedly the result of quality control issues the old facility.

It will be interesting to see how this affects the negotiations over a new START treaty.  The old one expired, and despite repeated assurances by both sides that a new treaty would be in place by the time of that expiration, that hasn’t happened.  With the prospect of a revitalized sub-launched deterrent fading into the distant horizon, Russia has an incentive to bargain harder to reduce US launch vehicles and get more flexibility for its land based systems.

H/T to R for giving me the heads up on the story.

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  1. Fireworks in the news second week running.

    Comment by So? — December 10, 2009 @ 7:49 pm

  2. Yeah, I thought the same thing. Ironic, isn’t it, that the fireworks involving a nuclear capable missile didn’t kill anyone, but those using garden variety pyrotechnics killed 100+.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 10, 2009 @ 8:22 pm

  3. I was in Oslo last weekend. Glad it didn’t happen then ’cause that sure would have freaked me out.

    Comment by Scott — December 11, 2009 @ 7:55 am

  4. I’m obviously not a rocket scientist, but how exactly is THIS the result of a failed 3rd stage? I’ve heard something about gases from the missile and the curvature of the earth, but the seemingly perfect blue corkscrew?? How exactly does a missile create that? No conspiracy theory, I’m honestly asking for an answer, I’ve yet to see a good explanation anywhere.

    Comment by Jack — December 11, 2009 @ 12:04 pm

  5. Remember that defense journalist Ivan Safronov? A couple years ago he died from a fall out of the window of his apartment building, which police thought was a suicide. Except for the part that they threw him from the wrong floor and he had just come home from the market with some nice fresh oranges.

    But nobody could really figure out what he had done to provoke the ire of the Kremlin … he wasn’t Politkovskaya and didn’t really concern himself with Putin criticism. But he did do a lot of investigative journalism on the Bulava. Who knows what happened though…

    Comment by James — December 11, 2009 @ 1:21 pm

  6. Conspiracy theory: they could have been testing out a plasma ABM shield.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — December 11, 2009 @ 3:14 pm

  7. James–yes, I remember Safronov’s death. A man who knew too much.

    Jack–my guess: the missile “tumbled,” perhaps due to uneven ejection of the thrusting gases due to a malfunction.

    Reminds me of a story my grandfather told me from his Navy days in 1920-1921. He was on a submarine (the K-2), watching battleship firing drills near Hampton Roads, VA. He said every once and awhile, shells would tumble, and come spinning out of the 14″ guns end over end.

    S/O–You need to say that in a Don Adams/Get Smart voice: “Would you believe . . . it was a test of a plasma ABM shield.” Or in the SNL liar guy’s voice: “Plasma ABM shield. THAT’s the ticket.”

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 11, 2009 @ 4:55 pm

  8. […] Blew Up Real Good….Again It Blew Up Real Good. Again. The other day people in Norway freaked out. Not because of the impending arrival of The One to […]

    Pingback by It Blew Up Real Good....Again - PPRuNe Forums — December 11, 2009 @ 5:21 pm

  9. I’m also not Bush. Where is my Nobel Prize?

    SWP: Yeah, they WANTED their Bulava system to be a total humiliating failure so we wouldn’t notice their amazing new plasma shield being tested! Pure Russian genius. Similarly, they WANTED Hitler to massacre millions of Russians, it was their clever way of guaranteeing victory.

    Comment by La Russophobe — December 11, 2009 @ 6:56 pm

  10. Actually this is a valid question.

    It may have tumbled, but why such a perfect spiral, especially since it did not seem to be in very high altitude?

    Who knows what kind of black projects the world’s militaries (including Russia’s) are working on.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — December 12, 2009 @ 4:01 am


    What factual basis do you have for believing that an object of lower altitude is less likely to spiral perfectly than one at a higher altitude?

    What factual basis do you have for believing a failed missile would not be capabable of spiraling perfectly?

    What factual basis do you have for believing this object DID spiral perfectly?

    None, none and none. Are you holding yourself out as some type of rocket scientist, Mr. Resident Mentally Ill Lunatic?

    Quarterbacks throw perfect spirals hundreds of times every Sunday. Your paranoid, delusional fantasies bespeak an ignorant caveman, characteristic of the entire population of Russia that gives Putin 70% job approval even as 140 perish in Perm and Russian missiles explode on launch.

    It’s genuinely pathetic.

    Comment by La Russophobe — December 12, 2009 @ 7:32 am

  12. The Russophile lunatics simply cannot accept that the Bulava could have failed again so spectacularly so soon after the last failure. They can’t believe the gods they worship in the Kremlin could be so incompetent both in the making and public testing of the weapon. It’s inconsistent with their fundamental worldview, and would send them into shock if they accepted it. Therefore, they are forced into a state of denial, grasping desperately for any excuse to avoid reality, just as they did in Soviet times.

    Comment by La Russophobe — December 12, 2009 @ 12:23 pm

  13. Spirals are perfectly normal, viewing simply depends on lighting conditions.

    What’s not normal is SUBLIME PSYCHOPATH’s advanced level of mental illness. Only really sick people can continue to defend the Putin dictatorship after Perm.

    Comment by La Russophobe — December 12, 2009 @ 5:26 pm

  14. S/O–Re altitude. It was a 3d stage failure. I haven’t been able to find a source that says when the 3d stage of a Bulava kicks in, but for a US Minuteman the third stage is active at between 170K feet (about 36 miles) and 900K feet (about 130 miles). So it is highly unlikely this was at low altitude. Reports suggest that the third stage failed almost immediately meaning that it was at the lower end of this stage’s altitude.

    Indeed, the fact that it spiraled so indicates that it was outside the atmosphere, or in the very upper atmosphere, when the failure occurred, so that the primary forces acting on it were gravity and its motor. A loss of the nozzle, or a puncture in the nozzle, or a displacement of the nozzle could all direct the thrust in such a way as to cause circular motion.

    One other interesting side note. Is it merely coincidence that Russia decided on a Bulava test in this area so close in time to Obama’s arrival in Norway? I’m not about to make a big deal of it one way or ‘tother, but it does seem odd.

    Correction: the sub that launched the missile was the Donskoi, but this is a not a Borei (Dolgorukiy) class sub designed to carry the Bulava. The first Borei (the Dolgorukiy) is ready for commissioning, 2 others (the Nevsky and the Monomakh) have been laid down, and the 4th, the Nikolay is scheduled to be laid down imminently. The Boreis would have to have their missile compartments and tubes modified substantially and at considerable expense to carry the much longer Sineva.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 13, 2009 @ 12:33 pm

  15. 1988 missile failure over China:

    Comment by So? — December 14, 2009 @ 6:03 pm

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