The Russian RSM-56, or Bulava, is an intercontinental-range, submarine-launched, solid propellant ballistic missile. Alongside the RS-12M and the RS-24, both land-based ICBMs, the Bulava represents the future of the Russian missile arsenal.
Though early reports suggested design similarities between the RS-12M and the Bulava missiles, later reports have indicated major design differences. The Bulava missile seems to be a considerably smaller missile, though it may borrow significant technologies from the RS-12M. The Bulava missile is 12.1 m in length, has a diameter of 2.0 m, and weighs 36,800 kg. An alternative report suggests that the missile has a length of 13.4 m, a diameter of 1.98 m, and a launch weight of 39,000 kg.
The missile is expected to carry between 4 and 6 MIRV warheads to a maximum distance of 8,300 km. Some reports have suggested that the missile will carry 10 MIRV warheads. Each MIRV will probably carry a nuclear warhead with a yield between 100 and 150 kT. An alternative version may carry a single RV with a 500 kT nuclear yield. In recent years, both the United States and Russia seem to have begun moving away from MIRV design, so it is likely that Russia will favor the single-RV, 500 kT version. Both versions are expected to carry decoys and all RVs are probably capable of in-flight maneuverability and re-targeting.
The RVs have an expected accuracy around 250 to 300 m CEP and an expected range of 8,300 km. The Bulava will be fitted to the Borey Class (Yuri Dolgoruky) Type 955 submarines with 12 missiles to a submarine. Currently, one Type 955 submarine has been completed and declared operational. The second submarine has been built and testing began in December 2010. Up to eight Type 955 submarines are expected before production ends, though problems with the Bulava missile have slowed production of the Type 955 submarines. The missile was initially tested from a converted Type 941 submarine.
As of December 2010, the Bulava missile had been tested 14 times. Among these tests, eight were failures. Because of the problems with testing, Russian engineers have been forced to push back the operational date of the missile and reconsider production methods. The missile was successfully tested in September 2005, December 2005, June 2007, November 2008, October 2010. Tests in September 2006, October 2006, December 2006, November 2007, September 2008, December 2008, July 2009, and December 2009 all ended in failure. In June of 2011 the first successful launch from a Borey-class submarine was made. Further successful tests were made in August, October, and December of 2011. 1
Presumably, as long as the recent successes are indicative of the overall program, the missile will soon enter service aboard the new Type 955 submarines.
Updated October 14, 2012
- Lennox, Duncan. “Bulava (RSM-56).” Jane’s Strategic Weapon Systems (Offensive Weapons). September 27, 2012. (accessed October 12, 2012). ↩