The Russian Navy is expected to operate seven Project 955 Borei-class (“North Wind”) aka Dolgorukiy-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) by 2021, Russia’s Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, told the upper house of the Russian Parliament at the end of May.
“By 2021 <…> the naval strategic nuclear forces are expected to have 13 submarines in their combat structure, including seven promising Borei-class submarines with new Bulava missile systems,” Shoigu said, according to TASS news agency.
The modernization of the Russian Navy’s aging fleet of SSBNs remains one of the top priorities for the government and despite fiscal constraints and various technical challenges (and unlike other weapons programs) there have not been major delays in the floating out of Borei-class boomers.
“The Borei-class is the new sea leg of Russia’s nuclear triad and is slowly replacing obsolete Soviet-era Project 941 Typhoon-class and Project 667 BDRM Delta IV-class submarines,” I noted in March.
The first advanced variant of the Borei-class, dubbed Project 955A Borei II-class, is expected to be floated out in June of this year. The Russian Navy plans to operate eight Borei-class SSBNs–three Borei-class and five advanced Borei II-class subs–by the 2020s. As I explained elsewhere (See: “Russia Will Start Constructing New Ballistic Missile Submarine in December”):
In comparison to the Borei-class, Borei II-class submarines are fitted with four additional missile tubes, boast smaller hulls and cons, and feature improved acoustics and lower sound levels, next to a number of other technical improvements.
Both variants of Borei-class subs will be armed with Bulava (RSM-56) intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The Borei-class will be capable of carrying up to 16 Bulava ICBMs, whereas the improved Borei II-class can carry up to 20 ballistic missiles.
The improved variant of the Borei-class will be capable of launching 96-200 hypersonic, independently maneuverable warheads, yielding 100-150 kilotons apiece.
The exact status of the Bulava ICBM remains unclear as a number of tests of the missile system have ended in failure. “Since 2004, the missile has been tested 25 times, with varying degrees of success. The last five tests, conducted between September 2014 and September 2016, were reportedly all successful,” I explained in September of last year. However, Russia’s MoD acknowledged that of the two missiles fired during last year’s test, only one hit its designated target with the second missile self-destructing in midflight.
Three Borei-class submarines have been commissioned so far. One boomer, the Yuri Dolgoruky, currently serves with the Russian Navy’s Northern Fleet, while the remaining two–Alexander Nevsky and Vladimir Monomakh—have joined the Pacific Fleet. The first improved Borei II-class SSBN, christened Knyaz Vladimir, is expected to be commissioned in 2018, following a two-year delay due to contract disputes.