Another Original LR Translation: An Inconvenient Explosion

Bulava Pin-Pricks

Vitalii Portnikov

24 July 2009

Translated from the Russian by Dave Essel

Vitalii  Portnikov
Vitalii Portnikov

 Why did Yuri Solomonov, the chief design engineer of the Bulava and director of the institute which designed the rocket, resign? Is his departure from the job merited or the just top brass interference? Who is to blame for the failures of Russia latest big missile project after it was so proudly promoted to the public by the government?

Maybe Solomonov was not really up to the task, maybe his institute bit off more than it could chew? Perhaps the designer was hamstrung by having to play two roles – after all, when you are in charge of an enterprise, it cannot be easy also to have to deal with product faults. Or is it maybe that Russia’s military-industrial complex is no longer what it once was?

Back in Soviet times, any talented design engineer or scientist had an open road to any military-industrial enterprise and its appurtenant institutes where the R&D was done. Life is different now. One finds it hard to picture a young scientist who dreams of going to a closed town or of working at a secret site, after which he can forget about such things as holidays in Turkey. What will he do with his salary (not that this will be that munificent these days)?

Such considerations are to be found in much of the Russian media and internet fora since Yuri Solomovov’s resignation. But no one seems to be looking for an answer to the prime question: what does Russia want with the Bulava anyway?


I would know the answer without a shadow of a doubt if we were back in Soviet times. The Communist superpower really was in a state of permanent confrontation with the USA and the West in general. It needed new weapons not so much in order to wage war against the external enemy but rather to prove its strength to its internal one – its own people.

The people needed to be reminded over and over just how powerful the filthy party bosses ruling them were. Look: even in Washington they’re afraid of what might happen if we go wild and start bringing the world to an end! In a word, sit tight, people, and keep your mouths shut. And take pride in our wonderful rockets, in the all-penetrating KGB, and in the great Party that is providing us with all this terror and all this happiness.

On the subject of happiness, by the way, we were happily provided with a Soviet leadership that itself believed in the capabilities of their beggarly country and so got involved in an arms race with the most developed country in the world, a race they could not but lose. Thus they self-destructed their empire before the eyes of an amazed world, which from time to time had just managed to believe the Soviet Union was a real superpower.

Russia, however, is no superpower at all. Yes, it’s a big country but it’s not at all rich, with an underdeveloped infrastructure and a rapidly ageing and diminishing population. On top of this, it’s managing to get though the reserves it built up during the rich oil years at a frightening rate. To be spending impoverished taxpayers’ money on Bulavas is not just wasteful but a demonstration of clear lack of consideration for the nation’s interests.

Maybe Russia is still competing with the USA but the United States is definitely not competing with Russia, as anyone who has even once compared the economic potentials, military budgets, and investment capacities of the two countries surely understands. Russia can try all it likes and for as long as it likes to catch up with America but the result will not be Bulavas [bulava means ‘mace’ in Russian] blasting frighteningly on target but just pin pricks [bulavka is a pin in Russian].

We have witnessed this already – when Moscow sent its warships to Latin America. Nice but obsolete. It’s happening again now as patriots defend the presence in Sevastopol of a naval museum called the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation. Of course, we don’t need even such a fleet or army, with or without Bulavas, to beat Georgia. But that’s not who we’re competing against – or have I got that wrong?

One response to “Another Original LR Translation: An Inconvenient Explosion

  1. Even long time customers like the Indian defence forces are getting sick of quality and design issues with Russian made equipment.

    “For example, a deal on the Russian aircraft carrier Gorshkov is being renegotiated. The Russians have also refused to transfer technology to manufacture the T-90 tank gun, although it was part of the contract. The supply of a nuclear submarine has fallen behind by several years. Added to this, the quality of Russian hardware and technology is suspect. The Russians have reopened several of their supply contracts and are exploiting their spare parts supply position to extract more money. All of this is not sitting well with the Indians, who may over the next two decades dump them as important suppliers.”

    Putting a big question mark on the performance of the Russian beyond visual range (BVR) air-to-air missiles with the Indian Air Force, an audit report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has noted that nearly half the missiles tested either did not home in on targets during evaluations or failed ground tests because they were ageing much before their shelf lives.

    Stung by CAG criticism for escalating cost of second-hand aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov bought from Russia, the government on Wednesday assured Rajya Sabha that it would finally agree to a fresh price for the warship only after going through the audit report.

    “Before entering into any contract, the government will go through all details. We will assess the criticism, including that of CAG, on the issue. At present, the Gorshkov price escalation is in negotiation stage. Nothing has been finalised,” Defence Minister A K Antony said during Question Hour.

    India had bought the 45,000-tonne Gorshkov from Russia in January 2004 at a total cost of USD 974 million, which included its refit and repair.

    As the repair and refit of Gorshkov began in the Sevmash Shipyard, Russians made an additional demand for USD 1.2 billion towards the escalating cost of the work

    After revising the repair costs three times since 2007, Russia made a final demand for additional USD 2.9 billion in February this year.

    The CAG report for 2008 laid in Parliament last week had slammed the Defence Ministry for buying the old warship at the price of a new aircraft carrier.

    The CAG had noted that till 2008 the escalated cost was about USD 1.82 billion for the warship and another USD 52 million for the sea trials, which was originally pegged at USD 27 million in the 2004 contract.

    Thirty-two MiG series aircraft of the Indian Air Force crashed in the last five years killing eight pilots, Defence Minister A K Antony on Wednesday said.

    “32 MiG aircraft have met with accidents during the last five years and a total of eight pilots have lost their lives in these accidents,” he said while replying to a query in Rajya Sabha.

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