A new Russian nuclear submarine is set to launch on December 19, setting sail with as many as 16 of Russia's next-generation nuclear missiles on board as President Vladimir Putin continues to rebuild his country's nuclear defenses. The new sub, named K-551 Vladimir Monomakh, already conducted a successful test firing of an ICBM which, when the vessel officially launches, would carry a nuclear warhead.
The test firing happened on September 10, when the nuclear submarine fired a single "Bulava" ballistic missile from a position in the White Sea at a target inside Russian territory.
The K-551 Vladimir Monomakh will become the third nuclear submarine in the state-of-the-art Borei-class sub series, each armed with 12 or, according to some sources, up to 16 nuclear missiles. By the year 2020, Russia plans to have added eight of the Borei-class nuclear submarines to its fleet.
The submarines are designed to give Russia an advantage in the case of a nuclear war, if the country's supply of land and air-based strategic nuclear missiles is wiped out or depleted. The submarine-based missiles will still be ready to fire at an enemy nation — most likely the United States.
"These submarines armed with the Bulava intercontinental ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads are intended to become the backbone of Russia's naval strategic forces for the coming decades," the Russian news agency TASS reported.
The Borei-class subs, with a crew size of 107 sailors, can dive to a depth of about 1,500 feet — more than a quarter-mile — and travel at a speed of 29 knots, or roughly 33 miles per hour underwater.
The nuclear missiles fired by the submarines can hit a target as far as 5,000 miles away.
The one problem with the new Russian nuclear submarine is the missile it is designed to fire. The Bulava ICBM has been plagued with problems since development on the missile began in 2009.
The test in September was the first successful firing of a Bulava, but the missile is still believed to need more tests before it can be loaded onto the new Russian nuclear submarine.