RSM-56 Bulava

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RSM-56 Bulava [1]
Place of originRussia
Service history
In service2011–present
Used byRussian Navy
Production history
DesignerMoscow Institute of Thermal Technology
ManufacturerVotkinsk Plant State Production Association
Mass36.8 t (36.2 long tons; 40.6 short tons)
Length11.5 m (38 ft) (without warhead)
12.1 m (40 ft) (launch container)
Diameter2 m (6 ft 7 in) (missile)
2.1 m (6 ft 11 in) (launch container)
Warhead6[2] (can carry 10 to 40 decoys) re-entry vehicles with a yield of 150 kt each.[3]

EngineThree stage solid and liquid head stage
PropellantSolid propellant and liquid fuel
8,000-8,300 km[4] (it can reach beyond 9300, 10+k km)
Inertial guidance, possibly with Astro-inertial guidance and/or GLONASS update
Accuracy350 meters[4]
Borei-class submarines
Typhoon-class submarine Dmitri Donskoi

The RSM-56 Bulava (Russian: Булава, lit. "mace", NATO reporting name SS-NX-30 or SS-N-32, GRAU index 3M30, 3K30) is a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) developed for the Russian Navy and deployed in 2013 on the new Borei class of ballistic missile nuclear submarines. It is intended as the future cornerstone of Russia's nuclear triad, and is the most expensive weapons project in the country.[5] The weapon takes its name from bulava, a Russian word for mace.[6]

Designed by Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology, development of the missile was launched in the late 1990s as a replacement for the R-39 Rif solid-fuel SLBM.[7] The Project 955/955A Borei-class submarines carry 16 missiles per vessel. Development and deployment of the Bulava missile within the Russian Navy is not affected by the enforcement of the new START treaty.[8]

A source in the Russian defense industry told TASS on June 29, 2018 that the D-30 missile system with the R-30 Bulava intercontinental ballistic missile had been accepted for service in the Russian Navy after its successful four-missile salvo launch tests in 2018.[9]


The Bulava missile was developed by Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology under the leadership of chief designer Yury Solomonov. Although it utilizes some engineering solutions used for the recent RT-2PM2 Topol-M ICBM, the new missile has been developed virtually from scratch.[10] Bulava is both lighter and more sophisticated than the Topol-M. The two missiles are expected to have comparable ranges, and similar CEP and warhead configurations. Bulava has a declared START throw weight of 1150 kg to 9,500 kilometers.

The missile has three stages; the first and second stages use solid fuel propellant, while the third stage uses a liquid fuel to allow high maneuverability during warhead separation. The missile can be launched from an inclined position, allowing a submarine to fire them while moving. It has a low flight trajectory, and due to this could be classified as a quasi-ballistic missile.[11] The missile possesses advanced defense capabilities making it resistant to missile-defense systems.

Borei-class submarines carrying Bulava missiles are expected to be an integral part of the Russian nuclear triad until 2040.[12]

Bulava can be loaded on TEL road mobile launchers, on railway BZhRK trains and other various launchers.

Development history[edit]


In the 1990s, Russia had two submarine-launched ICBMs, the solid-fuel R-39 and the liquid-fuel R-29 Vysota family, both developed by the Makeyev Design Bureau. A new missile, designated R-39UTTH Bark was under development to replace the R-39. The Bark was planned to become the only submarine-launched ballistic missile of the Russian nuclear arsenal.[13] However, its development was plagued with problems, and after three test failures the Bark programme was canceled in 1998. Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology was now tasked with developing a new advanced missile. The institute promised that it would able to quickly develop a new naval missile based on its recent Topol-M land-based ICBM.[14]

The new missile would be deployed per 16 missiles on the Borei I (Project 955) and Borei II (Project 955A) class submarines.[15][16] As the new submarines would not be ready in time for flight tests, the Typhoon-class submarine Dmitry Donskoy was upgraded to carry Bulavas.[17]

Key people involved in the decision to develop Bulava included the institute director and Bulava's chief designer Yury Solomonov; director of the Defense Ministry's Fourth Central Research Institute, Major-General Vladimir Dvorkin; Navy Commander, Fleet Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov; Defense Minister, Marshal Igor Sergeyev; Economics Minister Yakov Urinson and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.[14]

First tests[edit]

The missile completed the first stage launch-tests at the end of 2004. Although it was initially planned to base the Bulava design on the Topol-M, the first tests showed that the new missile was completely different in terms of appearance, dimensions and warhead lay-out.[14] It was later acknowledged that the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology had developed Bulava virtually from scratch, reusing only a few engineering solutions from the Topol-M.[10]


The missile's flight test programme was problematic. Until 2009, there were 6 failures in 13 flight tests and one failure during ground test, blamed mostly on substandard components. This led to the missile's chief designer, Yury Solomonov resigning from his post in July 2009.[18] Aleksandr Sukhodolskiy was appointed as the new general designer of sea-based ballistic missiles at the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology; Solomonov however retained his post of general designer of land-based missiles.[19]

After a failure in December 2009, further tests were put on hold and a probe was conducted to find out the reasons for the failures. Testing was resumed on 7 October 2010 with a launch from the Typhoon-class submarine Dmitri Donskoi in the White Sea; the warheads successfully hit their targets at the Kura Test Range in the Russian Far East.[20] Seven launches have been conducted since the probe, all successful. On 28 June 2011, the missile was launched for the first time from its standard carrier, Borei-class submarine Yury Dolgorukiy, and on 27 August 2011 the first full-range (over 9,000 km (5,600 mi)) flight test was conducted. After this successful launch, the start of serial production of Bulava missiles in the same configuration was announced on 28 June 2011. A successful salvo launch on 23 December 2011 concluded the flight test programme. The missile was officially approved for service on 27 December 2011,[21] and was reported to be commissioned aboard Yuri Dolgorukiy on 10 January 2013. The missile did however continue to fail in the summer of 2013 and was not operational as of November 2013.[22] The Bulava became operational aboard Yury Dolgorukiy as of October 2015.[23] However, recent developments put this in question. In November 2015, the submarine Vladimir Monomakh fired two missiles while submerged. One of the missiles self-destructed during the boost phase and the other failed to deliver its warheads to the specified target. After being sent back to the manufacturer, it was determined that the missiles failed due to manufacturing defects.[24]

After two successful tests in June 2017 and May 2018, a source in the Russian defense industry told TASS on June 29, 2018 that the D-30 missile system with the R-30 Bulava intercontinental ballistic missile had been accepted for service in the Russian Navy.[9]

Explanations for the failures[edit]

Chief designer Solomonov blamed the failures on the poor state of the Russian defense industry and problems in the design-technology-production chain.

"Sometimes [the problem] is poor-quality materials, sometimes it is the lack of necessary equipment to exclude the 'human' factor in production, sometimes it is inefficient quality control"

According to Solomonov, the industry is unable to manufacture 50 of the necessary components for the missile, forcing designers to improvise and look for alternative solutions, which seriously complicates the testing process. Solomonov further said that despite the failures, there was no need for changes in the design.[25]

Sergei Kovalyov, the designer of three generations of Russian strategic submarines said that due to lack of funding, the developers had been unable to conduct test launches from a floating pad to test the underwater segment of the missile's trajectory. He also said that there were insufficient funds to conduct ground-based test launches. Both types of testing had been standard procedure during Soviet times. Kovalyov also criticised the poor quality of missile components provided by a large number of sub-contractors and the absence of military representatives at manufacturing plants.[26]

The 2009 Norwegian spiral anomalies, a temporary strange light phenomenon over vast areas of northern Norway have been explained with a failed stage of a Bulava missile test.[27][28] According to a spokesman, "The missile's first two stages worked as normal, but there was a technical malfunction at the next, third, stage of the trajectory".[29][30]

Effects on the military[edit]

Due to the delays in Bulava's development, the launch of the fourth Borei-class submarine, Svyatitel Nikolay, was pushed back.[31] Russia was planning to build eight of Borei-class submarines by 2015.[32]

Only one Typhoon-class submarine, Dmitry Donskoy, was modified to launch Bulavas. The Bulava program is the most expensive weapons project in Russia.[5]

Debate about the program[edit]

Despite continued test failures, the Russian defense minister, Anatoliy Serdyukov, has stated that the project will not be abandoned. "We will certainly not give up the Bulava. I think that despite all the failures, the missile will fly," he said in an interview in late December 2009. The Russian military has been adamant that there is no alternative to Bulava.[33]

There has been discussions among analysts about the possibility of re-equipping the Borei-class submarines with the more reliable liquid-propellant R-29RMU Sineva missiles. The Sineva is an upgrade of the R-29RM Shtil and entered service in 2007. According to RIA Novosti military analyst Ilya Kramnik, this would have been an attractive option, given that the less advanced Sineva missiles already have "virtually the same impressive specifications as the Trident II (D5) SLBMs wielded by the U.S. Navy and the Royal Navy." However, the work needed to redesign and modify the Borei-class submarines to carry Sinevas is regarded as too expensive.[34]


After a launch failure in December 2009 caused by a defective engine nozzle and which led to the 2009 Norwegian spiral anomaly, further tests were put on hold and a review of the missile program was initiated. The results of the probe were delivered to the Russian government in May 2010.[35]

2010 tests[edit]

Testing was resumed for the first time after the probe on 7 October 2010. The missile was launched from the submerged Dmitry Donskoy, in the White Sea, and the warheads successfully hit their targets at the Kura testing range, 380 kilometres (240 mi) to the north of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky in the Russian Far East.[20][12] The launch reportedly took place at 07:15 UTC.[36] The missile travelled over 6,000 kilometres (3,700 mi), and the rocket's trajectory was within the normal parameters, according to a Navy official.[37]

The second test launch in 2010 from Dmitry Donskoy was set to 29 October[3] and was successful.[38]

The next test to be performed from Yuriy Dolgorukiy was initially planned to December 2010, but was postponed to mid-summer 2011 due to ice conditions in White Sea.[39]

Each of following new test missiles needed to be built under nearly identical conditions, in order to determine the cause of potential failures.[40]

2011 tests and deployment[edit]

Russian defense sources have stated that the Bulava missile will not enter service until it is 98-99% reliable.[41] According to the Russian Vice Premier Sergei Ivanov another six successful launches (one planned in 2010, other five in 2011) will be required before the missile could be commissioned.[42] After a successful test salvo launch in December 2011, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev announced that the Bulava missile was ready and it would now be adopted for service with the Russian Navy.[43]

2012 tests and deployment[edit]

On August 2012 a high-ranking official of Russia's United Shipbuilding Corporation said in 2012 Russia will test fire its Bulava missile only once, in November, specifically from the nuclear-powered submarine Alexander Nevsky.[44]

2013 deployment[edit]

Bulava was finally commissioned with its lead carrier Yuri Dolgorukiy on 10 January 2013. The official ceremony of raising the Russian Navy colors on the submarine was led by Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu. After another failed launch in September, Shoigu announced a pause in the state trials of the next two submarines and five more test launches.[45] The entire production run of the missiles was then recalled for factory inspections.[46] Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yury Borisov told reporters on Wednesday 20 November 2013: "The commission has completed its work. The causes have been determined. They are technological and are related to the production of the nozzle," Borisov told a roundtable meeting on state defense contracts. The cause of the failure does not call into question "the correctness of the production of the product in general," he said. The flaw that has been revealed has been corrected on the three remaining missiles in this batch, Borisov said. Borisov said Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has made a decision to hold another five Bulava launches. "These launches will be planned next year," Borisov said. The intercontinental ballistic missile Bulava was launched at the Kura testing ground in Kamchatka during the state testing of the strategic nuclear submarine Alexander Nevsky in the White Sea on September 6. "The missile left the launch container, but the its board system failed three minutes into the launch," the Russian Defense Ministry earlier said.[47]


RSM-56 Bulava launches
Date Result Position Submarine Notes
01 24 June 2004 Failure Surfaced Dmitriy Donskoi Solid-propellant engine exploded during the test.[48]
02 23 September 2004 Success Submerged Dmitriy Donskoi Ejection of a full mock-up of the Bulava missile from a submerged position.[48]
03 27 September 2005 Success Surfaced Dmitriy Donskoi First flight test. The missile flew for 14 minutes and covered a distance of 5,500 km (3,400 mi). Warheads hit all designated targets at the testing grounds.[48]
04 21 December 2005 Success Submerged Dmitriy Donskoi All targets at the Kura Missile Test Range were hit.[48]
05 7 September 2006 Failure Submerged Dmitriy Donskoi A glitch in the program caused the missile to deviate from set trajectory and fall into the sea before reaching the target.[48]
06 25 October 2006 Failure Submerged Dmitriy Donskoi The missile deviated from the trajectory, self-destructed and fell into the White Sea.[48]
07 24 December 2006 Failure Surfaced Dmitriy Donskoi Malfunction of the third-stage engine caused the missile to self-destruct.[48]
08 29 June 2007 Success Submerged Dmitriy Donskoi Warheads hit targets at the Kura Missile Test Range.[48]
09 18 September 2008 Success Submerged Dmitriy Donskoi Launch at 18:45, warheads hit target at 19:05.[49]
10 28 November 2008 Success Submerged Dmitriy Donskoi The first statements suggests that the test was a success.[50]
11 23 December 2008 Failure Submerged Dmitriy Donskoi The missile malfunctioned during firing of its third-stage and self-destructed on command.[51]
12 15 July 2009 Failure Submerged Dmitriy Donskoi The missile self-destructed after a malfunction during the first-stage of its flight from the White Sea.[52]
13 9 December 2009 Failure Submerged Dmitriy Donskoi The missile test failed due to a malfunction in the third-stage engine.[53] Notably caused the 2009 Norwegian spiral anomaly.
14 7 October 2010 Success Submerged Dmitriy Donskoi Targets at the Kura Missile Test Range in the Russian Far East were successfully hit.[54]
15 29 October 2010 Success Submerged Dmitriy Donskoi Launch from the White Sea. Targets at the Kura Missile Test Range were hit successfully.[55]
16 27 June 2011 Success Submerged Yury Dolgorukiy First launch from standard missile carrier from the White Sea. Targets at the Kura Missile Test Range were hit successfully.[56]
17 27 August 2011 Failure Submerged Yury Dolgorukiy Launch from the White Sea. Targets at the Pacific Ocean were hit unsuccessfully at a range, self-destruction of 120 km (75 mi).[57]
18 28 October 2011 Success Submerged Yury Dolgorukiy Successful launch from the White Sea. Warheads hit target at the Kura Missile Test Range in Kamchatka.[58]
19 23 December 2011 Success Submerged Yury Dolgorukiy A salvo launch involving two missiles. Warheads hit designated targets at the Kura Missile Test Range in Kamchatka.[59]
20 6 September 2013 Failure Submerged Alexander Nevsky A malfunction in one of its systems on the second minute of the flight.[60]
21 9 September 2014 Success Submerged Vladimir Monomakh The missile was launched from a location off northwest Russia's White Sea and hit a designated target at the Kura Missile Test Range.[61]
22 29 October 2014 Success Submerged Yury Dolgorukiy The missile successfully hit all targets at the Kura Missile Test Range.[62]
23 28 November 2014 Success Submerged Alexander Nevsky Alexander Nevsky fired the missile from under water in the Barents Sea and it landed on a military training ground in Kamchatka, as planned.[63]
24 15 November 2015 Failure or success Submerged Vladimir Monomakh One of the missiles self-destructed during the boost phase and the other failed to deliver its warheads to the specified target. After being sent back to the manufacturer, it was determined that the missiles failed due to manufacturing defects.[64] Different sources say the two missiles were flown.[65]
25 27 September 2016 Partial Success Submerged Yury Dolgorukiy Two missiles were launched, one successfully struck a designated target at the Kura Missile Test Range, another one self-destructed.[66]
26 26 June 2017 Success Submerged Yury Dolgorukiy The warheads of the intercontinental ballistic missile performed a full cycle of the flight and successfully hit the designated targets at the Kura Missile Test Range in Kamchatka.[67][68]
27 22 May 2018 Success Submerged Yury Dolgorukiy Firing a salvo of four SLBM missiles. The tactical and technical characteristics and reliability of the strategic missile submarine of Project 955 Borey and the Bulava missile system were confirmed. Firing was done from submerged position. It was the first time the submarine cruiser launched the volley fire of such a number of missiles.[69][70]


In October 2010 it was reported that 150-170 operational missiles would be built (124 active + reserve for training and tests).[71] After the successful launch on 27 June 2011, the Russian government announced the start of serial production of Bulava missiles.[72] On 10 January 2013, Bulava was adopted into experimentai service with its lead carrier submarine Yuri Dolgorukiy. A source in the Russian defense industry told TASS on June 29, 2018 that the D-30 missile system with the R-30 Bulava intercontinental ballistic missile had been accepted for service in the Russian Navy after its successful tests in 2018.[73]


  • The Russian Navy is the only operator of the RSM-56 Bulava. As of 2017, 48 missiles are deployed on the Borei-class ballistic missile submarines:[74]
    • Yury Dolgorukiy
    • Alexander Nevsky
    • Vladimir Monomakh


Bulava R-30 Trident C4 Trident D5
Number of stages 3 3 3
Length of assembled missile without front section, m 11.5 10.3 13.59
Maximum diameter of missile airframe (without stabilizers, raceways, protruding elements), m 2 1.88 2.11
Launch weight, tonnes 36.8 32.3 58.5
Total length of missile as a unit with launch canister (with front section), m 12.1 n/a 13.58
Throw weight, kg 3400 1500 2800
Accuracy, CEP (meters) 350 380 90

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]