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Intercontinental ballistic missile ICBM Bulava RSM-56 officially in service with Russian Navy.

According to information published by Dzen on May 15, 2024, the RSM-56 Bulava submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) was officially commissioned just a few days ago. In practice, it has been part of the navy's arsenal and a primary armament of the naval component of the Strategic Nuclear Forces (SNF) for several years.
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Bulava missile firing by the Russian submarine Knyaz Oleg. (Picture source: Russian MoD)

The first operational carrier of the Bulava in the naval fleet was the submarine cruiser "Yuri Dolgoruky," the lead ship of Project 955. The navy accepted it in early 2013, and it soon began full service with the Northern Fleet. At the end of the same year, the fleet received the next SSBN in the series, "Alexander Nevsky." In 2014, it transitioned to its permanent base and joined the Pacific Fleet.

At the end of 2014, the navy accepted the cruiser "Vladimir Monomakh," also built for the Pacific Fleet. In June 2020, the first submarine cruiser built under the updated Project 955A was accepted. "Knyaz Vladimir" entered service with the Northern Fleet. At the end of 2021, the industry delivered the submarine "Knyaz Oleg," and a year later, the acceptance act was signed for "Generalissimus Suvorov," followed by "Imperator Alexander III" in December 2023. These vessels have joined the Pacific Fleet.

By the end of 2024, another cruiser named "Knyaz Pozharsky" is expected to be delivered. "Dmitry Donskoy" and "Knyaz Potemkin" are at various stages of construction, with plans for their commissioning no later than 2026-27. The laying down of two more Borei-class submarines under the further updated Project 955AM is anticipated in the near future.

As of now, the Russian Navy has received seven Bulava carriers – five serving with the Pacific Fleet and two with the Northern Fleet. By the start of the next decade, the number of Borei-class submarines is expected to reach twelve.

Their distribution between the two fleets has not yet been specified. It is likely that the Pacific Fleet will remain the primary operator of Project 955 (A/AM) SSBNs, but the Northern Fleet will also receive all necessary vessels.

Each Borei-class submarine, regardless of modification, is equipped with 16 silo launchers of the D-30 complex. These submarines can launch Bulava ICBMs from both surface and submerged positions, either individually or in volleys, depending on the mission requirements. The presence of multiple submarines allows the Navy and SNF to simultaneously deploy dozens of missiles. As new ships are built and commissioned, this potential will grow.

The Bulava itself is a three-stage, solid-fuel ballistic missile designed for launch from Borei-class submarines. According to known data, it is approximately 12 meters long with a diameter of 2 meters and a launch weight of 23.8 tons. It carries a payload of over 1.1 tons and has a maximum flight range of at least 9-9.3 thousand kilometers.

Like other domestic ICBMs, the R-30 is equipped with a multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) warhead. The exact configuration of its warheads is not publicly known for security reasons. Estimates suggest that the missile can carry up to 8-10 warheads with a yield of 100-150 kilotons each.

In terms of flight and technical characteristics, as well as combat payload, the R-30 missile significantly differs from other modern domestic SLBMs. The technical specifications were developed with current strategies and applications in mind.

Additionally, the Bulava has the distinct advantage of being a new system. In the coming years, it will serve alongside other submarine-launched ICBMs, but eventually, the R-30 is expected to become the primary, if not the sole, missile of its class in service.

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