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Bulava missile failure caused by engine nozzle deployment mechanism

December 06, 2013, 6:43 UTC+3 MOSCOW
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MOSCOW, December 06, 5:02 /ITAR-TASS/. The abortive launch of Russia’s newest Bulava intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) from the Borei-Class Alexander Nevsky nuclear submarine in September was caused by a defect in the mechanism that extends the nozzle from the missile’s body - retractable rods, a source in the defence industry told ITAR-TASS.

“This is the second abortive Bulava launch caused by this defect. The first such incident occurred on December 9, 2009 when a Bulava missile was fired from the submarine Dmitry Donskoi, which was watched by residents of Norway. The incident occurred back then because the retractable rods were made not from titanium as they should have been but from steel,” the source said. “As a result, the nozzle did not come out and the launch failed,” he added.

“On September 6 of this year, four years after that incident, we had an identical situation where the retractable rods did not work properly,” the source said, but did not say what exactly had caused the malfunction.

The retractable rods stay inside the missile’s body until the missile goes out of the silo. The rods then extend from the body as the missile emerges out of the water and the main propulsion engine fires up.

The commission that investigated the abortive Bulava launch in September determined that the incident had been caused by production flaws.

“The commission has done its job. The causes have been determined. They are connected with technology and production of the rocket engine nozzle,” Deputy Defence Minister Yuri Borisov said.

He noted, however, that the flaws found in the nozzle did not throw into doubt the integrity of the missile as a whole.

Borisov said that similar defects had been fixed in the remaining three missiles of the same series.

Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has ordered five additional Bulava launches. “These launches will be scheduled next year,” Borisov added.

Yuri Solomonov, Director-General of the Moscow Institute of Heat Engineering, said the commission had not found any design flaws. “The commission came to the conclusion that this was a gross deviation from technology in the production of one of the components,” he said.

Solomonov said the additional five Bulava launches were not aimed at confirming the missile’s reliability. “These are not some additional launches or additional load to confirm the reliability of the missile. These features were confirmed by state flight tests, recorded by the state commission in its report and reported to the leadership of the country,” he said.

“There are no questions about reliability of the missile,” he added.

At the same time, Solomonov noted that more than five launches might be carried out as part of further Bulava tests aboard Borei-class submarines as standard carriers.

Each such submarine is required to carry out one or two control Bulava launches before adopting them as its standard armament. These launches are needed in order to confirm proper interoperability between the submarine’s systems and the missile.

“It’s quite possible that more launches will be made in 2014-2015,” Solomonov said.

An informed source in the defence industry told ITAR-TASS that Russia’s newest Borei-class nuclear submarines Alexander Nevsky and Vladimir Monomakh (Project 955) would hardly join the Russian Navy before the summer of 2014 because of problems with the Bulava missiles they are armed with.

“How can we adopt new underwater missile carriers for service in the Navy if the first of them, Alexander Nevsky, fired a Bulava only once, and it was an abortive launch, and the second one, Vladimir Monomakh, has not fired its missile at all and will not do so in the remainder of the year,” the source said.

According to the test schedule announced by Navy Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Viktor Chirkov, new Bulava launches have been postponed until 2014 and can begun in the White Sea not earlier than late May or early June because of the weather.

“Acceptance certificates for the submarines can be signed and they will be adopted into service in the Navy only after faultless Bulava launches from them,” the source said.

The Bulava carries the NATO reporting name SS-NX-30 and has been assigned the GRAU index 3M30. In international treaties, the common designation RSM-56 is used.

The decision to launch Bulava missiles from aboard the Yuri Dolgoruky submarine was made after two successful launches from a submerged position. Until then Bulava missiles were launched from the submarine Dmitry Donskoi, which was used as the starting point in the Project 941 Akula (Shark), the world’s biggest submarine.

Russia flight tested the Bulava missile from aboard the new-generation nuclear-powered submarine Yuri Dolgoruky in 2011 and in 2012.

The Bulava design is based on the SS-27 (Topol M), but is both lighter and more sophisticated. The two missiles are expected to have comparable ranges, and similar CEP and warhead configurations.

The Russian military developed Bulava to possess advanced defence capabilities making it nearly impervious to existing missile-defence systems. Among its claimed abilities are evasive manoeuvring, mid-course countermeasures and decoys and a warhead fully shielded against both physical and EMP damage. The Bulava is designed to be capable of surviving a nuclear blast at a minimum distance of 500 metres.

The first launch of a Bulava solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile with a 10-MIRV warhead was carried out by the Dmitry Donskoi submarine on September 27, 2005. The vessel was surfaced and fired the missile from a point in the White Sea. On December 21 of the same year, the new missile system was tested underwater for the first time. It successfully hit a target at the Kura firing range on the Kamchatka Peninsula.

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