Ria Novosti)

Bulava Launch (source: Ria Novosti)

“After its firing from the submarine Dmitry Donskoy, the Bulava missile self-liquidated and exploded into the air” – Russian MoD spokesman to Interfax 23 Dec 08

And thus was written the postscript on the latest test of the star-crossed Bulava SLBM. Five failures in eight attempts would seem to call into question the fast-track to IOC/deployment of the missile – but given that there is no alternative to speak of (yes, there is the SS-N-23, but it won’t fit the launchers on the new SSBNs), it looks like the Russians are stuck with continuing to try and make the Bulava work. And maybe not so fast on the IOC…

The Bulava scenario is pregnant with questions for our own procurement process – e.g., putting all your eggs in one basket and hoping it all works as advertised since you’ve pinned the future of a platform/capability on the success of that development (*cough*JSF*cough*). So what happens if we find ourselves in a similar coffin corner with a major program? Cancel it and hope that in the interim we can stretch out the legacy platform until the (next) new one comes on line? Been there, done that. Remember the A-12? Look what that scenario did to the VA and VF communities and our long-range strike capability in particular and TACAIR in general (still feeling the aftereffects today). There’s a lot of discussion out there right now about the F-35, some legit, some politically motivated, but enough that hope alone isn’t COA if it falls short in trials (and here I’m particularly concerned about the F-35B and it’s purported weight and cooling problems). Twasn’t always so – look at the development of the Tomcat out of the ashes of the TFX, but that was a different time. Or was it? What are your thoughts?

Posted by SteelJaw in Aviation, Foreign Policy
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  • Rubber Ducky

    Silly analogy. Missiles ain’t airplanes. For missile-to-missile comparison, I would offer two of USN’s most successful missile programs that started off in abject failure: Polaris A1 and Trident D5.

    And for every US ‘joint’ aircraft program that has gone badly, one can find another that was just fine thank you. E.g., F-4, C-47/DC-3, many WWII fighters.

    The F-35 is a complex program and has problems, but all complex development programs do and TBD if there’s anything in it to be of grave concern. The program’s real difficulties are two: Air Force and Navy hate joint programs; and Air Force hates any program that competes with the F-22 procurement. Add to these factors the joined-at-hip interests of the contractor community and the Congressional interests and you have the Iron Triangle at its finest. Fix those detractions and let the development proceed as it may without all this hand-wringing. USN needs a new airframe and the F-35 is it. We are well past the time when which program and what design were useful discussion topics for anyone interested in the future of tailhook aviation.

    Finally, a question and an observation. Question: what was the pad-shot history of this Russian bird or did it skip pad-shots? Observation: surfaced firing! Why? That ain’t an ‘SLBM’ if surfaced launch is its mode.

  • ob. the successful “joint” and WWII a/c programs…
    – most had an alternative platform in development, either simultaneously or near simultaneously, some at govt expense, some at manufacturer. Ergo, when the F2A fell on its face, the F4F was there to fill the gap until the F6F came along which, BTW, filled the gap when the F4U failed intial carrier ops.

    – The F-4 was a USN program that the USAF was directed to use. Most forget that there was a fly-off competition between the YF4 and the XF8U-3 and that while the XF8U-3 was superior in many fighter roles, the YF4 carried the day because of its multi-mission capabilties. Yet in the opening days of Vietnam, it was the XF8U-3’s predecessor, the F8U that was the superior fighter and remained as such until the advent of better tactics and training via Top Gun.

    Ref. the pad success rate of the Bulava – believe all shots have been at sea. Whether this one was submerged or not – absent the image on Ria Novosti’s site, can’t say for sure.

    Oh, and as for “We are well past the time when which program and what design were useful discussion topics for anyone interested in the future of tailhook aviation” I well remember being told the same thing at the ‘height’ of the A-12 project when I was on a major aviation staff. I don’t think the F-35C is a lead-pipe cinch (yet) and there is enough churn out there on the international and developmental fronts on the F-35B that there should be concern as well. So what happens when costs and developmental problems continue to escalate (as they are wont to do early in an a/c’s life), and budgetary pressures force the cnx of the F-35C and delay of the F-35B? Fall back on more E/F Hornet’s? Will that be sufficient?

  • Rubber Ducky

    Airedales love to design airplanes (and we bubbleheads spend endless hours of self-amusement creating new submarines made purely of nerve-end connections in human noodles). Every past program manager or minion could run any other program better than the twits-in-charge are doing. And one can always find some analogy for disaster in obscure history. But…

    But I think we’re at the same point in F-35 development as we were 30 years ago on F-18, when Tom Hayward said “enough discussion – you’re hurting the Navy.” The F-35 is the only game in town, so if naval aviation is to have a future, this is it. You should say that.

  • Byron

    Gotta wonder what the folks that might have to live with F-35 think of a Naval fighter with only ONE engine?

  • SSG Jeff (USAR)

    The same thing the Scooter and Sewerpipe drivers thought, probably.

  • doc75

    SSG Jeff, right on.

  • Byron

    You mean, when they were coming off target, trying to make it to the beach, and lost an engine they were wishing they were in a Phantom?