Tags: 5th generation fighters, Bulava, PAK-FA, Russia, SLBM, Strategic nuclear forces
Have been a bit sparing of late on posting here and at homeplate, in large part because the day job(s) have been demanding their pound (more like tens of pounds) of flesh. And developments appear to promise a major surge on one front in the next few weeks, so we’ll take advantage of the relative calm afforded during the next day or two to catch up on some previously reported events. Today — Russia and some updates on the PAK-FA and Bulava SLBM…
Russia: Putin Pledges 30 Billion Rubles for Fine-tuning PAK-FA
Russia’s fifth generation fighter program began roughly the same time as the US’ effort that yielded the F-22A, according to Russian sources. Delays stemming from defense and industry reform and economic slowdown in the wake of the breakup of the Soviet Union drew out the program. Cul-de-sacs beginning with the Berkut and later the MiG 1-44 added further delay until Sukhoi was back in charge of the project with the PAK-FA proposal. Taking the occasion during a recent demonstration/test flight (16th since first flight in January?), Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin identified about 90B rubles (руб) (~ US$ 3.3B ) in development funding for the Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute (TsAGI), the Aircraft Construction Center at Zhukovsky and the PAK-FA. 60B руб is to go for building three additional tunnels at TsAGI and another 11B руб to the new center to be constructed at Zhukovsky. The former will be spread out in installments over the next several years, the new center is slated for completion around the end of 2012.
As for the PAK-FA — I think the expression in the photo above bespeaks volumes. As the US has discovered in the prolonged gestation periods for the F-22 and now the F-35 with commensurate rising production costs, the ticket for entry into the 5th generation fighter program is indeed an expensive one. Despite happy-talk about the PAK-FA being “two and a half and three times less than of its foreign counterparts” it is still too expensive for the Russian economy. Over 30B руб has been expended thus far on PAK-FA development and it is still sans the 5th gen engines necessary for all aspect stealth and a good bit of development remains on the weapons system. Even with the promise of another 30B руб forthcoming, much like the F-35, the PAK-FA will be heavily reliant on outside funding to come close to meeting any kind of production numbers. India has stepped to the plate, offering cash but also demanding a healthy portion of the early production, demanding 250 aircraft by 2017. And those are to be two-seaters.
Despite the acclaim the PAK-FA has received, as an expensive sink-hole in the Russian re-armament program, it has garnered its fair share of domestic criticisms:
Independent analysts give an overall negative forecast for the national rearmament program. The country has virtually wasted the 20 years which have passed since the break-up of the Soviet Union, said Anatoly Tsyganok, head of the Moscow-based Center for Military Forecasts.
Not a single new tank or fixed-wing aircraft has been developed since 1991, with only one helicopter being developed and used. “Fifth-generation planes are very expensive. Comparing total costs, Russia and the United States spend approximately the same amounts on their development and production,” Tsyganok told the paper. (Nezavisimaya Gazeta – translated)
Calvin Coolidge once waspishly commented on the high price of aircraft by asking why not buy one airplane and let pilots take turns flying it. With the advent of triple-digit million dollar fighters, we may be reaching such a point and it is evident that the US isn’t the only nation happening upon this circumstance. But, as far as the Russian leadership is concerned, for now at least the PAK-FA is flying, the same cannot be said about an even more vital element in the national defense plan, the Bulava SLBM…
Bulava SLBM to Resume Test Flights in August 2010
A recent interview with the former commander of the Soviet and Russian Navies, Admiral Vladimir Chernavin (translated), was revealing on several fronts insofar as the much troubled Bulava is concerned. Of first note was the fact that it appears testing of the Bulava will resume earlier (August 2010) than previously reported (November 2010 at earliest). At the time of the previous announcement in May, it was stated that a production run of three identical missiles was required before the next round of tests began – whether the earlier date is a reflection of that requirement being dropped or discovery of the root cause of the series of failures (particularly with the liquid-fueled third stage*) remains to be seen. Perhaps after having seen the head of the Strategic Missile Forces get sacked after less than a year on the job over probable readiness issues, Navy and industry found renewed enthusiasm for a more aggressive schedule.
The Bulava and its development trials and travails have served as a poster child for a larger view of a Russian defense industry that increasingly is finding it difficult to meet the demands for new forces while adjusting to the post-Soviet era. Consolidation has struck the industry as hard, if not harder, than its US counterpart. In his interview, ADM Chernavin pointed to the need for a replacement for the Sineva SLBM (ed: R-29RMU/RSM-54 Sineva/SS-N-23 SKIFF). The Sineva, while an exceptional missile in service (duration and capability — the last test launch was to its full 11,547 km range) is also a completely liquid-fueled missile, utilizing exceptionally dangerous hypergolics, which present a hazard to the boat and crew as well as demanding special care in materials selection and construction to avoid/contain any leakage. The drawbacks of hypergolics (ed. research and work on, I would note, have been part of the reason behind the paucity of posts – SJS) are the chief reason all US ICBMs and SLBMs as well as all new Russian ICBMs are solid-fuel. An earlier attempt at a solid-fuel SLBM, the R-39 (NATO: SS-N-20 Sturgeon) brought forth a 10-warhead missile, but one that was exceptionally heavy, with a launch weight of 90 tons. A follow-on to the R-39, the R-39UTTH “Bark“ suffered three consecutive failures in its first stage in early testing and was canceled. The Bulava followed in part, because the institute building it was also building the Topol-M land mobile ICBM and figured to gain efficiencies in development and production by emphasizing commonality between the two.
Chernavin points to the beginning of problems when the Bulava designers learned that, surprise, submarines move whereas the Topol, while a mobile missile, is fixed in place for launch. Compounding the flawed foundation decision-making was a series of cost- and schedule decisions to speed up the development process and shaving tests. The lead designer of the missile, Yury Solomonov, points the finger at Russia’s defense industry in general:
“I can say in earnest that none of the design solutions have been changed as a result of the tests. The problems occur in the links of the design-technology-production chain,” Solomonov said in an interview with the Izvestia newspaper published on Tuesday.
“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,” he said.
The designer complained that the Russian industry is unable to provide Bulava manufacturers with at least 50 of the necessary components for production of the weapon. This forces designers to search for alternative solutions, seriously complicating the testing process.
That and evident quality control problems have led to a test program with between 1 to 5 (depending on whom you are talking to) successes in 12 launch attempts. However, with nothing else even on the drawing boards and a new class of SSBNs designed such that the Bulava is the only missile they can take, the die has been cast. Chernavin underscores this state of affairs with a verbal shrug and dose of fatalism, noting so much effort has already been spent that eventually “they will force it to fly” (“Но, уверен, «Булаву» все-таки заставят летать”).
* Why a liquid third stage? That is the post-boost vehicle (PBV) that carries the MIRVs — a liquid-fuel engine allows controlled start/stops to precisely maneuver the PBV as it releases the MIRV payload.
(crossposted at steeljawscribe.com)