Monday, December 14, 2009

Topol, Bulava and arts

Last week Russia conducted two missile tests and the results are mixed. On December 10, a Topol missile was launched without any problems from the Kapustin Yar site and hit the designated target in Sary-Shagan, Kazakhstan. Everything ran smoothly as we have seen it many times before. Things looked totally different the day before: On December 9, Russia test-launched a Bulava SLBM. The Russian Ministry of Defense confirmed that the test was a failure - like the one before, like the one before, like … - and said in a statement:

"It has been determined in analyzing the launch that the missile's first two stages performed as planned, but there was a technical malfunction at the next, the third, phase of the trajectory," the ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

Last week’s test has only been one of many failures. Here is a brief chronology of the Bulava test-launches which counts – according to RIA Novosti – seven failures out of the 13 tests:

  1. 24.06.2004 - failure: solid-propelled engine exploded during the test
  2. 23.09.2004 - success: a test of automated systems on board of Dmitry Donskoi nuclear involved the ejection of a full mockup of the Bulava missile from submerged position to a height of about 40 meters
  3. 27.09.2005 - success: the missile flew for 14 minutes and covered a distance of 5,500 km. Warheads hit all designated targets at the testing grounds
  4. 21.12.2005 - success: all targets at the Kura testing grounds after a launch from a submerged submarine
  5. 07.09.2006 - failure: a glitch in the program caused the missile to deviate from the trajectory and fall into the sea before reaching the target
  6. 25.10.2006 - failure: the missile deviated from the trajectory, self-destructed, and fell into the White Sea
  7. 24.12.2006 - failure: malfunction of the third-stage engine 3-4 minutes into the flight caused the missile to self-destruct
  8. 29.06.2007 - success: warheads hit targets at the Kura testing grounds after a launch from a submerged submarine
  9. 18.09.2008 – success: Subsurface launch at 18:45, warheads hit target at 19:05
  10. 28.11.2008 - success: a successful launch during the state-run technical tests
  11. 23.12.2008 - failure: the missile self-destructed
  12. 15.07.2009 - failure: the missile self-destructed during the separation of the first stage
  13. 09.12.2009 - failure: a technical failure in the third stage engines rendered them unstable

But some analysts suggest that in reality the number of failures has been considerably greater: According to Russian military expert Pavel Felgenhauer, of the Bulava's 11 test launches, only one was entirely successful.

Against the background of these dire results RIA Novosti demands that “we must now assess the entire project's status and the implications of the latest abortive test on the future development of Russia's strategic nuclear forces.” Well, it seems that perceptions of the state of the Russian missile arsenal vary. Andrei Shvaichenko, commander of Russia's Strategic Missile Forces (SMF) said on December 8 that Russia will complete the development of advanced missile systems by 2016:

"The future missile group will consist of two components -- standby stationary missile systems with a high level of combat readiness and long-endurance missile systems. […] By the end of 2016, the missile systems with extended service life will account for no more than 20 percent of the total, while the share of new missile systems will be about 80 percent."
If one considers the performance of the Bulava one can call these plans very … na├»ve ambitious. Of course one realistic option would be to continue with the slow introduction of the new missiles and a rapid decline of old missiles. But I assume that this was not what commander Shvaichenko was bragging about. ..

On a final note: if Russia should drop out of the missile building business it might still go into arts. The failed missile test of Russia illuminated the Norwegian sky on Wednesday morning: The spiral even caused speculations about a UFO causing bluish-white sky to pop up. The NewScientist reported that it looked like a time-travelling vortex fit for Doctor Who.

For a better hypnotic effect take a look at this video.

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