Conducting test launches of long range, nuclear capable ballistic missiles may be seen as wantonly aggressive act when done by states like North Korea, but among the world’s established super powers, it’s seen primarily as a maintenance endeavor. The United States and Russia are both no strangers to launching ICBMs and similar platforms to test and train the personnel assigned to these powerful weapons systems, as well as a part of continued testing tied to modernizing each nations’ respective nuclear forces.
For the most part, these tests offer little more than a dramatic visual and accompanying public relations pieces about nuclear deterrence and countering global threats but occasionally, such tests offer an important glimpse into the mindset and approach of nuclear competitors. Last week, just such a launch took place in the White Sea, a sovereign Russian inlet near the border of Finland.
For the first time ever, one of Russia’s newest and most advanced class of submarines successfully fired a salvo of four submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) within a dauntingly short period of just 15 seconds. The submarine, named the Yuri Dolgoruky, is one of three operational Borei-class nuclear subs — a class of submarines designed to replace the nation’s aging Delta-class subs as Russia’s primarily submersible ballistic missile platform. The missiles, however, are the real feature of the show.
The Bulava missile platform has been touted as the cornerstone of the Russia’s future SLBM arsenal, and is the most expensive weapon system the nation has ever developed. The platform is truly intercontinental-target capable, with a claimed range of nearly 5,000 miles and six individual warheads housed within the nose, along with decoy warheads designed to confuse incoming interceptors. Each of those six active reentry vehicles is said to hold a 100-150 kiloton nuclear weapon — making each of the six separate reentry vehicles more than 6 times, and possibly as much as 10 times, as powerful as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.