Why Bulava rocket sank the Bark project?

Last fall, a debate erupted over whether the latest strategic submarine Borey is capable of launching a Bulava ballistic missile while in polar regions below the ice. It was stated that the boat after receiving the Start command would need to find wormwood, which could take several days. Neither a rocket is capable of breaking through a 2-meter-thick ice, nor a Borey can break it with its hull when it emerges.


The publication of the Izvestia newspaper dispels concerns that the Russian strategic submarine fleet will not be able to fulfill its combat mission in the use of nuclear weapons at the right time.


Sources in the Ministry of Defense said that nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine cruisers would be equipped with unguided rockets that would penetrate ice of the required diameter before launching rockets. Izvestia cites the words of the candidate of technical sciences, admiral, Hero of Russia Vsevolod Khmyrov as an expert opinion: “Ice should not be an obstacle to the execution of a command on the use of nuclear weapons.”


Moreover, not only strategic Borey, but also multi-purpose Yasen, which are armed with cruise missiles with a non-nuclear warhead, will be equipped with rockets.


We must say that the fall accusation of the submarine fleet of the inability to fire from under the ice, should be extended not only to the current boat and missile composition of the Navy. Never before had the Soviet Union, and then Russia, had rockets that could have been launched from under the ice. However, no one doubted the combat readiness and the possibility of emergency launches of SLBMs (ballistic missile of a submarine) when the boats were in any latitudes. The launch procedure was preceded by a break in the ice shell of a submarine that had surfaced. Actually, the current “Borey” are able to do this.


Although, of course, the use of rockets is a more “technological” business, which does not require large energy and time costs.


However, in the 2000s, new ballistic rocket could appear in Russia, it was capable of independently breaking through the ice. And it could become the third domestic solid propellant missile for submarines. But its place was taken by the “Bulava” (that means the Mace in Russian). All the rest, and there were a significant number of them, were with liquid engines.


The Soviet Union decided to abandon the use of liquid fuel in the submarine fleet, largely because its use led to a number of accidents that would not have been possible if solid mixed fuel were used. These were not only fires, but also deaths due to poisoning by highly toxic fuel components.


The first pancake was lumpy. The debut solid-fuel rocket – R-31 – was created at the Leningrad Design Bureau Arsenal, famous for the development of artillery weapons for the Navy, from 1960 to 1976. After four years of testing, in 1980, the rocket was put into service. The characteristics of the R-31 did not hold water.


It is understandable that the minimum number of these missiles was 36. The nuclear submarine K-140 of Project 667AM Navaga-M was modernized for this missile. 20 missiles were used up during the tests. 16 were shot in 1990, when the rocket was withdrawn from service, and the boat, which was only 20 years old, was sent to metal.


The second solid fuel was made already at a specialized enterprise engaged in the development of SLBMs — the Design Bureau of Mechanical Engineering (now – Makeev Design Bureau). It received the R-39 index. The three-stage rocket of truly enormous size was tied to the world’s largest project 941 Akula boat (or the Shark). It was adopted into service in 1984.


This was a big step forward compared to the R-31. The range increased to 8250 km, the casting weight became 2500 kg, and the Circular Error Probability – 500 m. It was almost the same as the liquid rocket R-29 (the forerunner of the famous “Sineva”). But from the Trident-2 American missile being tested at that time, the P39 still did not differ for the better. Especially in terms of accuracy characteristics, the “American” s Circular Error Probability was 4 times less in the absence of GPS correction, and 5 times less with GPS.


The breakthrough was made largely due to a significant increase in the dimensions and “filling” of the rocket, against which Trident-2 noticeably lost. That is why the length of the Shark boat reached 172 m, the width – 23.3 m, the total displacement – 48 thousand tons. But at the same time, the much smaller American boat Ohio contains 24 Trident-2 missiles, and the Shark – 20 P-39s.


But six excellent Akula strategic boats equipped with the R-39 missile were also doomed (like the K-140), since in 1986 it was decided to “catch up and overtake America” according to all the characteristics of solid-fuel missiles. As a result, none of them is in the arsenal of the Navy: 3 boats are cut into metal, two years ago it was decided to dispose of, one – Dmitry Donskoy – became something like a “floating laboratory” for developing Bulava missiles.


The principle of making boats for missiles, rather than missiles for boats not suitable for modernization, has borne fruit. Now, instead of the third-generation of Akula or Sharks, the Russian strategic submarine fleet operates the second-generation Delfin boats (the Dolphin).


In 1986, two resolutions of the Council of Ministers of the USSR were adopted. On the development of the D-19UTTKh Bark complex, and on the placement of the D-19UTTH on the modernized Akula-U boats.


In addition to a significant improvement in range, cast weight and accuracy of the new missile, dubbed the Bark, it was it who was supposed to break through the ice during launch from the “icy” position. Why the rocket was equipped with a shock-absorbing missile launch system (ARSS)? It had several functions. The rocket located in the mine did not lean on its bottom, but was suspended due to the ARSS installed in the head of the rocket. This prevented damage to the rocket in stormy conditions and with a close explosion of a torpedo or depth bomb. The tightness of the mine was ensured with open mine covers in preparation for salvo firing. ARSS broke ice through a strike. But there is evidence of experts close to the Makeev design bureau, regarding the fact that the thickness of the cracked ice was not so great, that is, the Bark could not cope with the two-meter thickness.


But at the same time, all other parameters should satisfy the submariners. It was assumed that the cast weight should have exceeded 3 tons, and the range – 10 thousand kilometers.


However, the rocket was created at a critical period for Russian industry, economy and navy. Funding for work was scarce. In addition, there were problems with components, which since the 91st year have been produced already outside the country. The biggest problem is solid fuel, which was produced at a Ukrainian enterprise reprofiled for the production of household chemicals. Russains had to create their own, which was somewhat inferior to the “Soviet”.


But at the same time, the plans for Bark were grandiose. It was supposed to equip with this missile not only all six Sharks, but also promising fourth-generation Borey boats. Due to the fact that the promising boat is significantly smaller than the Shark, it was planned to install 12 SLBMs on the Borey.


The construction of missiles at a pace of 3-5 units per year began in 1992. By the middle of the decade, the rate of release fell to one rocket in 3-4 years. By 1997, 3 flight tests were conducted, all of them were unsuccessful. The test program required at least 8 more launches. What could take up to 20 years. In connection with this feature of the rocket manufacturing schedule, and with extremely scarce funding, and with an incompletely solved fuel problem, the Bark project was decided to be closed.


The Moscow Institute of Thermal Engineering, specializing in ground-based ballistic missiles (mine and mobile) received a contract to develop Bulava SLBM for promising boats of the 955 Borey project.


This rocket has been criticized a lot. It is inferior to Trident-2 both in range (9,300 km – 11,300 km), and in casting weight (11,150 kg – 2,800 kg), and in power of warheads (6 × 150 ct – 8 × 475 ct), and in air-to-air ratio (250 m – 90-120 m). However, it has one very important advantage. Trident-2 has only one mechanism for overcoming the enemy’s missile defense – the individual warheads of individual guidance (RGCH IN). Bulava has a much higher probability of overcoming missile defense. The missile has a short active section (when marching engines are running) and a flat trajectory, which significantly reduces the enemy’s chances of intercepting it. In addition, there is also the RGCH IN. But at the same time, the separated warheads maneuver in flight, due to which they have significantly more chances than the Trident-2 warhead to achieve the goal.