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Russian ICBM test ends in premature splashdown

Sub-based Bulava palaver

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A test launch of a next-generation, submarine-launched Russian ICBM ended in failure yesterday when the missile crashed into the White Sea shortly after launch, news agency Novosti reports.

The Bulava was fired from Typhoon-class ballistic missile submarine the Dmitry Donskoi. Russian navy spokesman Igor Dygalo confirmed the failure of the test, admitting: "A failure in the testing program of the Bulava missile occurred during the second stage of the test. A special commission will conduct a detailed investigation into the cause of the incident to eliminate it during further stages of the test program after the vessel returns to base."

A 2005 test from the same submarine ended more satisfactorily when the Bulava sucessfully made the trip form the White Sea to its target on the Kamchatka Peninsula.

The SS-NX-30 Bulava is the submarine-launched version of the ground-based SS-27, or Topol-M. Both are three-stage solid propellant missiles which can carry a 550 kT yield nuclear warhead up to 10,500km. The SS-27 is reckoned to be pretty well invulnerable to current anti-ballistic missile technology. According to the Russians, it is shielded against laser strike and electromagnetic attack and can allegedly withstand a nuclear blast at 500m. Furthermore, it's designed to make evasive manoeuvres as it approaches its target.

The silo-based SS-27 was first test launched in December 1994, and a Transporter-Erector-Launcher version first took to the skies six years later. The former entered service in 1997. Russia hopes to have entirely re-equipped its nuclear arsenal with SS-27s and SS-NX-30s by 2015. ®

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