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Bulava Cankered by Corruption

Bulava Cankered by Corruption

05.08.2009 — Analysis

Russia is failing to create the new generation strategic missile because due to a systemic crisis. Experts who talked to the RusBusinessNews observer see the way out of it only in the strengthening of the State's role and the reduction of corruption which forces the government to make erroneous decisions.


Failing yet another launch of the sea based intercontinental ballistic missile R-30 3M30 Bulava-30 made the specialists think of the future of the Russian strategic nuclear arms. Independent experts are categorical in their assessments: the Moscow Heat Engineering Institute (MHEI), which ten years ago had been entrusted with the development of the arms, the future basis of Russia's nuclear complex, has failed to deliver.

Specialists fear to voice the cost of the failure: only the construction of Yuri Dolgorukiy, the missile carrying submarine which "Bulava" was designed for had incurred 23 billion roubles costs. It is planned to commission two more submarines for the Borei project. Moreover, it cannot be excluded that the only right decision in the situation would be the development of a new strategic missile, which would incur further massive costs.

The committee investigating the causes of the July failure has not yet come up with a conclusion. However, lessons could be learned from the creation of Bulava right now. For instance, because the specialists already know what is going to be written in the conclusion. The Deputy Director General of the Ekaterinburg NPO Automation Mikhail Trapeznikov informed RusBusinessNews that he is in agreement with the future conclusions of the committee. It is true, the expert have not stated what they were as that would be incorrect. The media, however, has already published the statement of a representative of special services that "a finding of a defect in the making of the missile would be considered as an act of sabotage". It is likely that Mikhail Trapeznikov does not doubt that this will be named the main cause of the failure. The expert noted that he could express his own opinion on Bulava but only in a private conversation, in a sauna for instance.

It is not hard to guess what one of the NPO Automation managers really thinks. Experienced specialists of the company who developed the guidance systems for sea based missiles have a very negative attitude to the commissioning of the armaments for Yuri Dolgorukiy from MHEI. By 1998, when that decision was made, the Academician V.P.Makeyev State Rocket Centre in Miass had completed 80% of the work on the creation of the Bark strategic missile. The project had been shut down after three failed launches of the new missile. Bulava, by the way, is continued to be developed after six missile self-destructions.

The director General of the Regional Centre for Information and Market Environment Anatoly Kenin, who worked for NPO Automation for a long time, regrets that the Bark project was shut down by discretionary decision. That project, according to him, was not as bad as the launches of Bulava. For instance, the guidance system did not raise any questions. Moreover, the missile was made using domestic elements which is not and insignificant factor for country's defence capacity.

Vagiz Yusupov, an entrepreneur, who spent many years in the missile building sphere, thinks that MHEI was not capable of achieving the goal set: making an institute, which developed only terrestrial armaments before, a leading developer of the marine missile is comparable, in his opinion, to the appointment of a farm manager to be a country's president.

A sea based missile must meet higher requirements specifications as it is located in a submarine's silo and it is impossible to check its systems' good working order when at sea. It must not heat up too much as the submarine will become vulnerable to the discovery by the enemy, it must not weigh much, and technologically it is much more complex that a land based missile.

The developers of the marine missile proceeded from the given fact that the missile would have to take off after a nuclear explosion when all electronic devices are rendered inoperable. This is why already in the soviet times specialists designed the missile on a hydro-stabilised platform with a telescope. The missile is held in the position by a mechanical device. After the explosion it takes off, jettisons the telescope, which hovers and helps the missile orientate in the terrain and aim for the target. The Americans, Anatoly Kenin claims, managed to make such a missile only three years ago.

NPO Automation spent a lot of time on the design and testing of just the launching of the marine missile: it would take off from the launch complex and soon fall down. The Moscow Heat Engineering Institute, however, decided to replace the testing by mathematical modelling which, in Mr. Kenin's ironic definition, serves only as a tool for testing your own stupidity: "You calculate all parameters and then you look at how limited the capabilities of your brain are, as the reality gives all sorts of most unbelievable surprises".

However, the MHEI's problems are due not only to the underestimation of the complexity of a marine missile. Experts claim that the system of equipping of the military plants is totally destroyed in Russia. While before several enterprises were set up for the manufacturing of the same components, now it is difficult to find even one. The military-grade component testing has been abolished, the system of control and the network planning have disintegrated. This has lead to chaos: nobody manages the resources and component shipment timeframes.

Experts are convinced that manufacturing of complex machine building products is impossible without the good old planning, as it happens in developed countries. According to Mr. Kenin's data, up to 54% of the US national product is controlled by the state. In Russia the enterprises are surrounded by little companies supplying components for the military products, often these are used, taken off other products. It is impossible to make any quality related claims as there are too many middlemen between the producer and the consumer. It is the same companies which pass around the money allocated for the financing of state defence contracts. The money changes hands between 4 to 6 middlemen and gets to the developers and manufacturers with long delays.

Bulava, probably, could never fly in such circumstances. The Government has to answer a difficult question today: what can be done with the project for the creation of the new generation of strategic arms?

The head of the Analysis Department of the Institute for Political and Military Analysis Aleksandr Khramchikhin thinks that the Bulava project has to be shut down immediately and that we have to come back to old, well tested products and start working on a new missile. A new design bureau may have to be set up for this, but the Miass rocket centre may be sufficient.

Anatoly Kenin thinks that it would not be possible to recreate Bark today as we live in different times. Bulava is hopelessly outdated too as all possible deadlines have been missed. It may still be possible to make it work, but the development of a new missile is necessary. The Miass enterprise, the expert is convinced, would have done it better than MHEI as the town is rather small and the specialists have nowhere to go much. They can still be mobilized for a new project. It will be too late in 5-6 years time.

Experts dare not predict the decision the Government might take. Possibly it would not be the best, as it was in the case of Bulava: they wanted to do it better, to save the money, but it turned out as usual, i.e. a total waste. Aleksandr Khramchikhin sees the cause of such low quality management in the power structure of Russian authorities. Our main problem, in his opinion, is in the corruption forcing the Government into making erroneous decisions. Plus, the soviet, in essence, authorities do not have as much power as they did in the soviet time.

The way out of this situation with the development of new nuclear arms is, essentially, simple: corruption has to be combated, a civil society controls must find their place in the building and arming of the Russian military. This, thinks Mr. Khramchikhin, is impossible in a undemocratic society. This is why situations with wasting money are, most likely, bound to be repeated.

Vladimir Terletski

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