The dispute in the missile industry about the future of the Russian strategic forces has been simmering for a while. As I wrote in April, Yuri Solomonov, the chief designer of the Topol-M and Bulava missiles, was clearly nervous about long-term prospects of his programs. Hence all these press-conferences and constant praises to Topol-M and Bulava as "unique missiles that would penetrate all possible missile defenses."
The reason for that nervousness wasa fairly easy to guess, but now we know it. It's competition. Last week, Gerbert Yefremov, the director and chief designer of NPO Mashinostroyeniya (the Chelomey design bureau, which developed the UR-100NUTTH missiles as well as a number of space launchers and other systems), went public with his criticism of the plan to move to solid-propellant ballistic missiles, advocated by Solomonov.
Yefremov argues that the Soviet and Russian industry is traditionally good with liquid-fuel missiles and there is no reason to abandon this strength. He says that Russia should slow down the process of replacing silo-based R-36M2/SS-18 missiles with mobile Topol-Ms. The SS-18 hardened silos should be kept, Yefremov argues, to be used for deployment of a new 100-tonnes class liquid-fuel ICBM, which his design bureau will develop by 2015-2016. Judging by the launch weight, the new missile would look very much like the UR-100NUTTH/SS-19 (which has the launch weight of about 105 tonnes).
Iit is interesting to note that most of what Yefremov is lobbying for is being done anyway. For example, the R-36M2/SS-18 missiles are unlikely to be retired before 2015. The Rocket Forces are keeping at least some of the silos. In addition to that, Yefremov is careful not to deny the value of mobile missiles. So, it is the development money that he is after. But aren't they all?