Thursday, October 16, 2008

Independent Military Review Editorial: Bulava vs. Sineva

The Bulava in the Background of the Sineva

Russian Federation President Dmitriy Medvedev was present at the Sineva launch from the SSBN Tula on 11 October. With satisfaction, he noted that, "As a result of the successful launch the range was fixed at 11,547km". He underlined that the Sineva had "good prospects".

Experts were divided. They say that the Sineva is a modernized version of the long obsolescent RSM-54 sea-based missile and that there is no point to the record since the strategic submarines it is for attacks at a range of 3-4,000 km. The acceptance into service of the Bulava is planned for 2009 and the era of the Sineva will be done.

Meanwhile, even the hardest core skeptics agree that the Sineva is the best missile in the world with regards to the balance between energy and mass. The relationship of its mass to throw weight and range is 25-30 percent more than the American Trident I and II. It can carry 10 100kg warheads, it has more protection against electro-magnetic pulse and carries more missile defense penetration aids. The combined Malakhit-3 astro- and satellite navigation system allows it to destroy a target with an accuracy of 500 meters.

The maximum range of the Sineva is 8300km with a front section weight of 2.8 tons. The range increases as the front section weight decreases. Obviously the 11,500km range was acheived by carrying a front section mock-up of minimal weight. The President didn't mention this, but it is known that the 100kt small warhead weighs 100kg.

The coast of the United States, which has long been our potential enemy, is covered by a powerful system of sonars and ASW patrol aircraft. This allows the detection of submarines at a distance of several thousand kilometers. But if Sineva has an 11,000km range then it is invisible. The American anti-missile system covers the United States from the directions of the Russian Far East, the North Pole and Europe, but from the direction of Latin America, there is no protection. And even a small warhead could potentially deal unacceptable damage. In this way the Sineva poses an assymetric answer to the American anti-missile system in Europe.

The next day after the launch of the Sineva from the Tula, two missile were launched in opposite directions from two Project 667 BDRM class SSBNs (Delta IVs): the Zelenograd launched from the Sea of Okhotsk and destroyed a target at the Chiza range in the north of Arkhangel'sk Oblast' while the Ekaterinburg successfully hit the Kura range on the Kamchatka Peninsula from the Barents Sea. This confirms that the Sineva remains the main Russian Navy nuclear deterrent. Meanwhile, six Project 667 BDRM (Delta IV) SSBNs should be stricken by 2015.

(Russian Navy Blog note: Zelenograd is not a 667 BDRM Delta IV armed with the SS-N-23/Sineva, but a 667 BDR Delta III armed with the SS-N-18.)

As far as the Bulava goes, six unsuccessful launches in a row is all it has to show for 10 years of development. By the way, the President of the Russian Federation didn't say anything about the Bulava which leads to fears for the worst - that suddenly the Commander in Chief will decide to leave the Sineva in service and all the people working on and lobbying for the Bulava lose their generous budget allocations....



the Sineva is the best missile in the world with regards to the balance between energy and mass. (...) The combined Malakhit-3 astro- and satellite navigation system allows it to destroy a target with an accuracy of 500 meters

The throweight of a missile is only one factor. A CEP of 500 meters is nowhere near the accuracy of a Trident D-5 which is reported to be in the 100 meter range thus enabling it to have a hard target kill capability which the 500 meter accuracy of the Sineva cannot claim. The D-5 has been in service with the USN since the 1990s and it is high time for the Russians to deploy a truly modern SLMB. The Sineva, even modernized, cannot remain the main Russian SLBM.

Anonymous said...

The reason why the D5 is so accurate is because it is uses GPS for localisation. This basically means that as a first-strike weapon, it is extremely accurate (because in first-strike mode your GPS is still working), but as a second strike weapons (at which point the enemy has destroyed your GPS ground stations), the D5 loses its high accuracy and will probably revert to the same kind of accuracy as the Sineva achievable by the INS and stellar navigation combination of guidance.

In any case, submarine ICBM forces have always been primarily a second-strike force, tasked with counter value targeting of cities as a deterrent, a situation where 100m accuracy is totally pointless.

Anonymous said...

Also, to clarify, even though GPS is a satellite based navigation system, it still requires a ground station based system to operate. If that ground station is destroyed (as it would be in a nuclear first strike), GPS cannot function (at least not anywhere near normal accuracy).

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