The Russian Defense Ministry said on Friday it would not abandon the development of the troubled Bulava ballistic missile, and that tests could resume in August, according to RIA Novosti.
The missile, which is being developed by the Moscow-based Institute of Thermal Technology (MITT), has suffered six failures in 11 tests. The general director of the institute resigned last week over the failures, which are believed to represent a severe setback in the development of Russia`s nuclear deterrent.
"Everything depends on the conclusions reached by an investigation commission," Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Popovkin said, adding that the probe could be finalized as early as next week.
The Bulava (SS-NX-30) submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) carries up to 10 MIRV warheads and has an estimated range of over 8,000 kilometers (5,000 miles). The three-stage solid-propellant ballistic missile is designed for deployment on new Borey class nuclear-powered strategic submarines.
The Russian military expects the Bulava, along with Topol-M land-based ballistic missiles, to become the core of Russia`s nuclear triad.
Popovkin said more work has to be done to correct flaws in the Bulava`s development, but that there was no alternative to the missile for a number of reasons.
"We have no choice - we already have one [Borey class] submarine, and have laid down more, so to start a new R&D project would be unrealistic," the official said.
Russia`s newest Borey class strategic nuclear submarine, the Yury Dolgoruky, has completed the first round of sea trials in early July.
Two other Borey class nuclear submarines, the Alexander Nevsky and the Vladimir Monomakh, are currently under construction at the Sevmash plant and are expected to be completed in 2009 and 2011. Russia is planning to build eight of these submarines by 2015.
"A submarine costs about 60 billion rubles [about $2 bln], and the development of a new missile would cost up to 30 billion rubles [$1 bln] - these are serious expenses."
"But the most important thing is the years [spent on development], because we urgently need to change our sea-based strategic delivery vehicles," Popovkin said.
The future development of the Bulava has been questioned by some lawmakers and defense industry officials, who have suggested that all efforts should be focused on the existing Sineva SLBM.
The RSM-54 Sineva (NATO designation SS-N-23 Skiff) is a third-generation liquid-propellant submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) that entered service with the Russian Navy in July 2007. It can carry four or 10 nuclear warheads, depending on the modification, and has a maximum range of over 11,500 kilometers (about 7,100 miles).
Russia carried out successful test launches of two Sineva missiles from two Delta IV class nuclear-powered submarines in service with the Northern Fleet, located under an ice floe near the North Pole, on July 13-14.
The results of the tests confirmed that the Sineva would stay in service with the Russian Navy until at least 2015.