Strategic Culture

On May 22, the Yuri Dolgoruky Project 955 Borei-class  strategic nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) – a.k.a. “boomer” -  launched four Bulava RSM-56 missiles from the White Sea within seconds of each other. The destination of the submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) was the Kura shooting range in the far eastern Kamchatka Peninsula. The test was a success. It was the first time four SLBMs were fired during a naval exercise and the first Bulava trial since June last year. All in all, about 30 tests have taken place since 2004.

The Borei-class boats will gradually replace Project 941 Akula-class and Project 667 BDRM Delfin class SSBNs to become the core of Russia’s sea strategic component of the nuclear triad at least till 2040. Today, there are three Borei-class submarines in active service. Five more are being built.

The Yury Dolgoruky is the lead ship. It joined the Navy in 2013. The SSBN carries 16 ballistic missiles. The forth submarine of the Borei class is to meet the 955A standard, with the number of missiles increased to 20 along with many other upgrades.

Anechoic coating to reduce its acoustic signature covers the boat’s hull. All the equipment is mounted on shock absorbers. It’s widely believed that Russia’s Navy is the only one in the world to have submarines capable of evading US detection.

All the submarine’s sonars are integrated into a single automated digital system, which both locates targets and fulfills other functions, such as the search for ice openings and the measurement of its thickness. It can detect targets at a distance 50 percent greater than that of US Virginia-class vessels.

The SSBN has the following specifications: length: 170m, beam: 13,5m, draught: 10m, displacement: surfaced: 14,720t, submerged: 24,000t, depth: 450m, endurance: 100 days, crew: 107. A rescue chamber can accommodate all men aboard. The submarine is propelled by pump-jet propulsion. It is powered by the single water-cooled OK-650 nuclear reactor with a thermal capacity of 190 MW, providing a submerged speed of 29kt and a surfaced speed of 15kt.

In addition to 16 SLBMs, the Dolgoruky’s armament includes six RPK-2 Viyuga nuclear-tipped anti-submarine missiles launched through 533mm torpedo tubes and capable of striking enemy submarines at a distance of 45km. The vessel can be armed with cruise missiles.

The Bulava is a derivative of the ground-based Topol (SS-27) ICBM. Its cycle of development was not a bed of roses. There were difficulties on the way. Not all tests were a success but the May 22 training event showed the obstacles have been overcome by Russia’s shipbuilding industry and Navy.

The SLBM is a three-stage missile to use solid fuel for the first two stages and liquid fuel for the third one to make the missile more agile during warhead separation. The SLBM can be fired on the move or from under the Arctic ice. The trajectory is low enough to make the Bulava classify as a quasi-ballistic missile because it can perform maneuvers in flight or make unexpected changes in direction and range. Along with evasive maneuvers, the Bulava can deploy a variety of countermeasures and decoys making it resistant to missile-defense systems. The independently targetable re-entry vehicles are protected against both physical and electromagnetic-pulse damage.

The RSM-56 can withstand a nuclear blast at a range of 500m. An operational rage: up to 9,300 kilometers (about 5,770 miles). Circular error probable: 250-300 m. The missile has a length of 12.1m and diameter of 2.1m, launch weight: 36.8 t, throw-weight: 1,150 kg, length (in container): 12.1m.

The Borei-class SSBN with new Bulava missiles on board was listed by Business Insider UK as an “incredible” Russian weapon system. Its arrival makes possible  the resumption of strategic patrols in southern latitudes after the interval of more than 20 years. The Bulava missiles were fired from a submerged submarine known as a very silent vessel. It could be on patrol anywhere in the World Ocean with potential adversary having no idea where it is. This element of Russia’s nuclear triad offers the best of modern technology to guarantee the inevitability of retaliation in case of attack as it’s impossible to destroy it in a first strike. Retribution is unavoidable with Bulava SLBMs immune to any imaginable missile defense. The May 22 salvo test demonstrated another technological breakthrough to greatly enhance Russia’s strategic nuclear deterrent.