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.
In this video, released by the Russian Ministry of Defense, four of these massive ballistic missiles can be seen firing from the sub in right around 15 seconds, but the submarine itself is capable of housing as many as 16 of these missiles. If the timing holds true through a full launch, that means these submarines are able to surface and unload all 16 missiles in about a minute. In that short window of time, those 16 missiles would rapidly become 96 separate nuclear reentry vehicles, along with more than a hundred dummy warheads closing on targets spread out over thousands of miles.
According to the Russian Ministry of Defense’ statement, all four missiles covered approximately 3,500 miles before striking designated targets at the Kura range on the Kamchatka Peninsula.
While it’s important to note that the United States also has new, modernized ballistic missile submarines heading into service, the comparison between American and Russian missile submarines isn’t necessarily the point. These platforms aren’t designed to tangle with one another (like attack submarines) but instead serve as a nation’s hidden, last line of defense against nuclear war. Thanks to nuclear propulsion systems, these submarines can remain submerged and hidden for extended periods of time and do not require fuel stops that can offer the world a glimpse into the region your submarines are working in. Instead, they’re tasked with staying hidden and unleashing as much damage as possible on land based targets in the event of nuclear war.
Ultimately, that means it doesn’t matter whose ballistic missile subs are better, it’s more a question of who’s more adept at keeping them hidden in the event of war. Russia’s massive investment into this new class of submarines and their accompanying nuclear missiles serves, once again, as a reminder of the increasing emphasis Russia is placing on undersea warfare. With doomsday nukes like the Status 6 confirmed recently and successes in testing their Borei-class submarines, it appears that Russia has its sights squarely set on claiming dominance beneath the waves — and they may working toward having the equipment they need to do it.
Watch Russia’s video of the Yuri Dolgorukiy firing a four SLBM salvo below:
Image courtesy of YouTube
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