Monday, March 21, 2011

Weapon Races-Strategic Ballistic Missile

The documentary is somewhat biased about keeping Trident up on the line as being the absolute superior over  the Russian counterparts. Though it can be said that it’s a superior missile but cannot be regarded as the the fiorst one in the Ballistic Missile class. Following is a more factual & just analysis regarding ballistic or more importantly ICBM comparison between the US & the now Russia.


RSM 56 Bulava - The missile is currently in development and slated for deployment in the Russian Navy in 2008. The Bulava is an MIRV tipped SLBM which can carry 4 - 10 independently targetable nuclear warheads of at least 100 kilotons each. The range of the Bulava is expected to be over 8300 kms taking into consideration the ranges of currently operational Russian SLBMs. The top speed of Bulava is not known but is expected to be faster than other SLBMs since it is based on the Russian Topol M class missiles (the fastest known missiles). It can be guided by a Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS) and after the fuel of the missile is expended, the warheads will follow an inertial trajectory (called ‘throw weight’ path). Twelve (12) of Bulava RSM 56 SLBMs can be fitted on each of the new generation Borei class submarines (which incidentally, was fast tracked and launched on April 2007, instead of the slated 2010).

UGM-133A Trident - The UGM-133A Trident D5, as it is technically known is currently operational and deployed by the US Navy. It has an inter-continental range with the capability to strike targets 7360+ kms away and can carry a payload of 3-6 nuclear MIRVed warheads. The Trident is also known for its high burnout speed and target accuracy of 380 meters, making it a powerful first strike nuclear missile. The guidance of this missile is based on a Global Positioning System (GPS) variant and when the fuel is expended, it follows an inertial guidance path. The Trident D5 can be fitted into Ohio class submarines and as with any SLBMs, launched from underwater submarines. The Trident D5 has been deployed since 1991 and has remained the most sophisticated submarine launched ballistic missile for a long time since.


SS-N-23 Skiff / RSM-54**

UGM-133 Trident II

First deployed in 1986

First deployed in 1990

Range (miles): 5150

Range 11100 km (6000 nm)


Weight (lbs): 89060

Weight 58900 kg (130000 lb)

Lenght (ft): 55.1

Length 13.58 m (44 ft 6.6 in)

Diameter (ft): 6.2

Diameter 2.11 m (6 ft 11 in)


Warhead: nuclear 4 x 100 ktons

Warhead: 4 MIRVs (can carry 10 MIRVs)

Yield: 100 kilotons per warhead

Warhead 6x W-88 thermonuclear (475 kT) in 6x MK 5 RV

Guidance: Inertial plus stellar reference update, computer-controlled PBV

Circular Error Probable: 900 meters

Guidance system: inertial, with Star-Sighting, GPS experiments done. but not deployed.

CEP: Requirement...90–120 m (300–400 ft) That demonstrated by flight tests is significantly better.

Locations: 7 Delta IV SSBNs

Launch sites: LC-46, Cape Canaveral
Ohio class submarines
Vanguard class submarines

Number Deployed: 112 missiles


Propulsion : Three Liquid stages

Fuel Nitrogen Tetraoxide ; Oxidizer UDMH

Propulsion 1st and 2nd stage: Hercules/Thiokol solid-fueled rocket

3rd stage: United Technologies Corp. solid-fueled rocket



Speed > 6000 m/s (20000 ft/s)


**Updated Skiff is Sineva SLBM with 10 warheads & updated range of 7175 miles in service 2007–present. 2008 Oct. 11: The K-114 Tula submarine launched the R-29RM Sineva missile from Barents Sea to the equatorial region of the Pacific Ocean, demonstrating the maximum range of the vehicle, reaching 11,547 kilometers



Comparison between Russian & American Ballistic Missiles

There is no clear cut winner, at least using the known and tested data. The Trident does score over Bulava in that while it is operational and active, the Bulava is still to be deployed in 2008. Both the Bulava and Trident have long ranges capable of targeting any part of the world. The Trident has a maximum payload of 2800 kg which is significantly higher than the Bulava’s 1600 kg - which means the Trident can carry heavier and more warheads. Until the Bulava is deployed and more tests done, a more just comparison for Trident D5 would be the Russian SLBM RSM 54 Skiff which has been deployed and operational since 1986 and is capable of carrying 4-10 MIRVed warheads (2800 kg) over 8300+ kms. If the available public data is to be believed, the Bulava is behind Trident and Skiff in most parameters except speed and navigation system. The Bulava is probably designed for its high speed and high-technology navigation capabilities, to supplement the existing Skiff SLBM. Meanwhile the current competition is between one with longer range and greater MIRV capability (Skiff) while the other with higher speed and accuracy (Trident).

The Topol M [land based ICBM] has the distinction of being the fastest missile in the world at an average speed of Mach 11+ (11 x Speed of sound). The RS 24 ICBM, which was recently tested on May 2007 is an MIRV variant of the Topol-M and is reported that it can be equipped with maneouverable warhead Igla which can change course during re-entry to overcome missile defences. The high re-entry speed of Topol-M based missiles and the multiple MIRV warheads with decoys make them the deadliest strategic nuclear missiles till date. Russian submarines are unique in their kind for using inverted MIRVed warheads. As of 2006, Russia is estimated to have over 750 nuclear ICBMs and SLBMs deployed with about 2600 warheads.

Both Minuteman III and Trident II have very high re-entry speeds in the order of 25000 km/h. Due to their high accuracy, the US long range nuclear missiles like Trident II have both first and second strike capabilities. The vulnerability of US ICBM silos to a Soviet first strike shifted the US nuclear missile force in favour of safer SLBMs. The Ohio submarines with Trident SLBMs are deployed in the Pacific region and patrol the seas about 20 times a year, the most active among global submarine based nuclear forces. By mid-2006 the United States has an arsenal of 836 nuclear missiles, actively operational with about 2500 warheads mounted on them.



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