Russia launched a missile that could carry 10 nuclear warheads on Friday, the second test launch of a Russian nuclear-capable missile in a month. On Wednesday, a source told Russia’s new agency TASS that the nuclear missile test firing would happen Sunday, November 30, so Friday’s launch — announced by the Russian Defense Ministry — caught the world by surprise.
The “Bulava” inter-continental ballistic missile was fired from the the Alexander Nevsky nuclear submarine from a location in the Barents Sea. The missile — which of course was not carrying a nuclear payload for the test — successfully reached and hit its target on the Russian-held Kamchatka Peninsula, where the Russian Navy maintains a major presence, including a missile testing range.
The Bulava missile, which Russia plans to make the backbone of its nuclear arsenal, has been plagued by misfires and technical issues. But Friday’s launch was the second successful firing of the missile within the last month.
On October 29, Russia also launched a Bulava nuclear missile — that one from the other of the Russian Navy’s two newest nuclear submarines, the Yuri Dolgoruky. Both nuclear submarines are part of the state-of-the art “Borei” class. A third Borei class sub, the Vladimir Monomakh, is scheduled to enter service in December.
Despite Russia’s flagging economy, Russian President Vladimir Putin is currently overseeing a planned $500 billion defense spending spree as he attempts to re-arm the country whose military has fallen into disrepair over the past two decades, compared to the fearsome strength it displayed during the Soviet Union era.
Russia’s nuclear forces will receive the lion’s share of that massive financial outlay.
The Russian Navy expects to have eight Borei class nuclear submarines, each capable of firing up to 16 Bulava missiles with 10 nuclear warheads each, in the water by 2020.
In another element of the Russian nuclear buildup, the country plans to revive the long-defunct Soviet-era missile trains, according to a report Thursday in the Moscow Times.
Trains armed with nuclear missiles “increase the survivability of Russia’s nuclear arsenal, complicating efforts to locate its missiles by moving them quickly and consistently around the country,” the Moscow Times report said.
A top Russian official said the decision to revive the missile train program — begun by the Soviet Union in 1987 and finally ended by Russia in 2005 — was a response to the United States Prompt Global Strike initiative.
Prompt Global Strike, a system currently under development, could deliver a conventional missile attack inside Russia, or anywhere else on the planet, in no more than an hour. Currently, only a nuclear response can be carried out that quickly, with conventional strikes taking at least a day and often much longer to launch.