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BMD Focus: Sineva launch success

Posted by Kris Roman on October 13, 2008

Russia this weekend carried out another successful submarine-launched ballistic missile test that heralded its growing global strategic power.

The test showed the “defense in depth” options that the long-troubled Soviet undersea nuclear navy is developing.

Russian Prime Minister and former President Vladimir Putin bet big on developing the long-troubled Bulava SBLM. The Bulava has failed in eight of its last 16 tests, although its most recent test results have been a lot better. But Saturday’s test was notable for its success in test-firing a different strategic nuclear-capable missile that employs a now-unfashionable but far from obsolete technicality.

On Saturday, a Russian submarine fired an RSM-54 Sineva SBLM — NATO designation SS-N-23 Skiff — 7,700 miles from the Barents Sea in the arctic all the way to an equatorial part of the Pacific Ocean, RIA Novosti reported.

The Sineva is powered by liquid fuel, not the now-fashionable solid fuel that powers the Bulava or its progenitor, the land-based, mobile Topol-M. But Saturday’s test showed that the old Sineva is still potent and capable of posing a global threat.

“For the first time in (Russian) Navy history, the launch was not to the Kura test range in Kamchatka (in the Russian Far East), but to the area of an equatorial part of the Pacific,” Captain 1st Rank Igor Dygalo said.

RIA Novosti said the test launch was carried out within the Dvina tactical exercises of the Russian Northern Fleet. But the news agency said the Dvina program was itself just a subcomponent of the enormous, monthlong Stability-2008 exercises Russia is coordinating with its neighboring former Soviet republic of Belarus. Stability-2008 is unprecedented in its scope and in the number of troops, tactical and strategic weapons systems involved among all Russian military exercises conducted since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.

Stability-2008 has already involved the test-firing of cruise missiles from Russian strategic Tupolev Tu-160 White Swan/Blackjack and Tupolev Tu-95 Bear bombers — something that had not been done since 1984 at the height of the Cold War. The exercises began last month and are scheduled to continue until Oct. 21.

As a sign of the importance of the Barents Sea Dvina operations, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited Russia’s one effective aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, Saturday to watch the test launch.

RIA Novosti said the Barents Sea operations alone required 5,000 sailors and airmen, eight warships and five submarines.

The news agency described the Sineva as “a third-generation liquid-propellant intercontinental ballistic missile that entered service with the Russian Navy in July 2007. It has a maximum range of 8,300 kilometers — 5,200 miles — and can carry four or 10 nuclear warheads, depending on the modification.”

The test was also part of an ambitious and so far largely successful test program that Medvedev and Putin have approved for the Strategic Missile Forces. Russian officials last year announced that they would carry out no less than 11 ICBM test launches in 2008 and twice as many in 2009 “to prevent the weakening of Russia’s nuclear deterrent,” RIA Novosti said.

The Sineva test launch displays the increasing number of options Russia is going to be able to deploy in its strategic arsenal as well as its reviving and formidable prowess in developing sea- and land-launched missiles of immense range and impressive accuracy.

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