It is probably worth noting this is the same shipyard that is responsible for the ongoing overhaul of the INS Vikramaditya (neè Adm Gorshvov) carrier for the Indian Navy – which is also well behind schedule and considerably over budget. The root of these problems lies in the design practices of the Soviet-era navy. To wit, the ships were designed with about a 20 year lifespan in mind and without consideration for upgrades. When upgrades are installed it is often a prolonged process, especially where cabling and electronics are concerned. Those who have had opportunity to compare notes with their Russian counterparts have noted the surprise of the Russians upon seeing a 20+ year old ship with a brand new electronics suite, or some other new fitment.
So if the Dimitriy Donskoy was already around as one of the existent Typhoon-SSBN’s why spend ten years in modifications? It was the direct reslt of being IDd as the test platform for the new Bulava SLBM, while the Yuri Dolgoruky, which also has seen its fair share of construction delays, will be the lead sub of a new class of SSBNs that will carry the Bulava. All of this presupposes the Bulava can get out of the development stage without further failures.
Which, it would seem, is a bit of a challenge. Originally conceived with the idea of using as much of the Topol-M land-mobile ICBM, it in fact is a new missile (shorter/wider) than the Topol-M in order to fit SSBNs:
Development of the Bulava missile began in 1999. Originally a different new solid-propellant missile was developed (the “Bark”)that would fit in the existing R-39 missile tubes of the Typhoon-class submarines. The keel of the first Project 955 submarine, the Yuri Dolgoruky, was laid down at the Severodvinsk Nuclear Shipbuilding Centre in Arkhangelsk in 1996, and was to have entered service in 2001, replacing earlier Project 941 Typhoon-class ballistic missile submarines equipped with R-39 missiles. However the new solid-propellant ballistic missile failed in all three of its initial development tests in the late 1990′s. That missile was cancelled and the Moscow Heat Engineering Institute was ordered to develop a new missile, the Bulava, in its place. The Yuri Dolgoruky, already in construction, had to be redesigned. The Typhoon-class SSBN selected for testing the Bulava, the Dmitry Donskoi, had to be heavily modified to Project 941UM standard. All of this resulted in the first test of the new missile being delayed to 2005, over seven years late to the original schedule.(astronautix.com)
With a dismal success rate (4 failures in the first six launches and the last, in November 2007, was also a failure) there is concern over the ability of this non-traditional (for missile development/production) institute’s ability to build a functional, reliable weapon. According to Pavel’s site, it looks like they are going to try again, sometime very soon (Sept/Oct timeframe). A vote of confidence, per se, was allocated MHHI back in July 2007 with a decision to continue development and production of the Bulava. Whether that was merited or not presumably lies in the next series of tests.
Update: Survey says — successful shot.