Russia starts production of new ballistic missiles

MOSCOW Mon Dec 1, 2008 8:54am EST

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia has begun producing a new generation intercontinental missile, a senior government official said on Monday, after a successful test launch.

Russia's military hailed Friday's test of the Bulava, a submarine-launched ballistic missile that can carry nuclear warheads to targets more than 8,000 km (5,000 miles) away, after a host of mishaps that had raised doubts about its future.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, who oversees defense issues within the government, said another test launch would take place this year and that defense enterprises had already started large scale production of the weapon.

"By the end of the year another test of Bulava is planned," Ivanov told a cabinet meeting, state RIA news agency reported.

"At the same time our defense enterprises have started mass production," he said.

The 12-meter Bulava, which means "mace" in Russian and whose design is based on the Topol-M missile, was supposed to complete testing two years ago. But at least several public test launch failures had raised concerns inside the navy about the weapon.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has said the Bulava missile can penetrate anti-missile shields such as the one the United States plans to deploy in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Russia has made much of a host of "new" missiles it plans to produce in response to U.S. plans to build an anti-missile system in Europe.

But many have been in development for years and are based on older Soviet designs, according to defense analysts.

The Bulava, which is known in NATO as the SS-NX-30, is a submarine version of the Topol-M which was begun in the 1980s but redesigned just after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

Colonel-General Nikolai Solovtsov, Commander of Russia's Strategic Missile Forces, said last week Russia had intensified efforts to develop new ballistic missiles.

He said the first of a new generation of Russian RS-24 intercontinental ballistic missiles would enter service in December 2009. On Monday, Solovtsov said Russia was developing weapons to counter U.S. plans to use space weapons as part of an anti-missile shield.

Russia's Dmitry Donskoy nuclear submarine test fired the Bulava on Friday from the White Sea. It hit the Kura testing site testing site on the Kamchatka peninsula in the Pacific and the exercise was a success, the navy said.

Russia's RIA news agency quoted an unidentified Defense Ministry source as saying on Friday it was the most successful test of the Bulava to date.

The previous test of the Bulava on September 18 was pronounced a success by the navy though some media said it had not been perfect.

(Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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