Ria Novosti)

“After its firing from the submarine Dmitry Donskoy, the Bulava missile self-liquidated and exploded into the air” – Russian MoD spokesman to Interfax 23 Dec 08

And thus was written the postscript on the latest test of the star-crossed Bulava SLBM.  Five failures in eight attempts would seem to call into question the fast-track to IOC/deployment of the missile – but given that there is no alternative to speak of (yes, there is the SS-N-23, but it won’t fit the launchers on the new SSBNs), it looks like the Russians are stuck with continuing to try and make the Bulava work.  And maybe not so fast on the IOC…

The Bulava scenario is pregnant with questions for our own procurement process – e.g., putting all your eggs in one basket and hoping it all works as advertised since you’ve pinned the future of a platform/capability on the success of that development (*cough*JSF*cough*).  So what happens if we find ourselves in a similar coffin corner with a major program?  Cancel it and hope that in the interim we can stretch out the legacy platform until the (next) new one comes on line?  Been there, done that.  Remember the A-12?  Look what that scenario did to the VA and VF communities and our long-range strike capability in particular and TACAIR in general (still feeling the aftereffects today).  There’s a lot of discussion out there right now about the F-35, some legit, some politically motivated, but enough that hope alone isn’t COA if it falls short in trials (and here I’m particularly concerned about the F-35B and it’s purported weight and cooling problems).  Twasn’t always so – look at the development of the Tomcat out of the ashes of the TFX, but that was a different time.  Or was it?  What are your thoughts?


  1. Thomas Barton, J.D.

    😕 What if the F-35 is canxed and what we will use to supplant it ? Is the Super Hornet capable of updates as Boeing believes ? The F-22 is almost certain to be killed and therefore politically it seems the F-35 is better insulated from cancellation as it would be LM last major aircraft. As to Bulava the author at Russianforces.org seems confident these are Qual.Control issues and not huge intrinsic obstacles. As a final thought, have you opined on the threat to Carrier Battle Groups posed by Russian Sunburn missiles and its recent updates ?

  2. Steeljawscribe

    – There may be more life in the F-22 than some are inclined to attribute.
    – F-35C has no guarantees, unlike -A and -B models which have overseas partners. I’m not as sold on future updates to the super bug serving as a replacement for the F-35C though,,,
    – re. Bulava issues, I think it is more than quality control issues and wraps back to fundamental design shortcomings.
    – more to come re. sunburn in the coming new year as we expand the discussion on assured access issues.
    – SJS

  3. Thomas Barton, J.D.

    😯 What say ye to Japan giving up on the Raptor and its seemingly insurmountable problems on the Hill ? Is this an overstatement and one that does not do justice to the Congressional depth of support to its supplier depthand breadth ? I would rather see Raptors and SuperRhinosBlock upgrades then the continued and seemingly tragic replay of TFX as F35 Lightning II , II times the trouble and II times the Price Tag.

  4. Bob Melley

    SJS……….Looking at the Bulava missile test failures, I don’t see its just a QC issue…..There have been too many failures to date to blame QC as the main cause…..So if the Russians have “new” SSBN and no working missiles for her, who is to blame? Russia has been promising lots of new ships, aircraft et al…..who will build them? Ukraine is out of the picture……Russia, like China, is into self dillusion about a lot of military issues…..writing about the US coming apart at the seams is a might premature, we survived Jimmy Carter, so we’ll survive Barack Hussein Soweto Obama.

  5. Bob:

    I think there are several factors here — beginning with a false premise on the part of the Moscow Thermodynamics Institute that they could shoehorn a land-based missile design into an SLBM form factor with little in the way of design changes. Fold-in questionable QC in manufacture or material, pressure from higher up to perform and you have all the ingredients necessary for continued spectacular failures.
    w/r, SJS

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