Persistent problems encountered by the Bulava missile during its flight test program raise a an interesting question - Is this experience is any different from the "good old" Soviet days? From archival documents we now have a good record of the flight test program of the R-39/SS-N-20 missile (or, rather, of the D-19 missile system), so we can compare the two.
The decision to begin development of the D-19 system was made by the Central Committee and the Council of Ministers on 21 December 1976. Almost three years later, on 21 August 1979 the Military Industrial Commission formed a State Commission that oversaw the flight test program.
The program began with a series of pop-up tests - from a submerged platform and then from a test-bed Project 619 submarine (according to data published earlier, there were 9 and 7 tests respectively).
In January 1980, the missile was first tested from a land-based launcher at the 21 Navy test range (21 GTsNP, Nenoksa test range). There were 18 launches from the test range in 1980-1982 and then one more - in June 1983. Between these, there were 15 launches from the TK-208 submarine of the Project 941 class - today this boat is known as Dmitry Donskoy and is used for tests of the Bulava missile. The missile was accepted for service in May 1983.
|1||12/28/80||Failure||Caused by a serious error in technical documentation|
|2||04/04/80||Failure||Failure of the 2nd stage engine nozzle|
|3||06/17/80||Failure||Failure of the flight control system|
|5||10/03/80||Failure||Failure of an on-board power source|
|6||12/03/80||Failure||59.5 sec into flight. Failure of the flight control system|
|21||01/27/81||Success||5 RVs, one RV not found|
|9||04/01/81||Failure||Explosion of the 2nd stage engine at ignition, 81.3 sec|
|8||04/22/81||Failure||Missile veered off-course, self-destructed on 62.7 sec|
|10||11/27/81||Success||5 RVs, one RV not found|
|17||02/12/82||Success||3 or 4 RVs|
|23||03/03/82||Failure||Failure of the 2nd stage motor, 148-150 sec|
|30||06/29/82||Success||From submarine. 3 RVs|
|27||07/21/82||Success||From submarine. 4 RVs|
|31||07/22/82||Success||From submarine, no telemetry|
|24||08/12/82||Success||Two-missile salvo from submarine. 2 RVs|
|33||08/12/82||Success||Two-missile salvo from submarine. 3 RVs|
|19||09/01/82||Success||From a surfaced submarine|
|22||09/01/82||Success||2-missile salvo from submarine|
|29||09/01/82||Success||2-missile salvo from submarine|
|26||10/14/82||Success||4-missile salvo from submarine. 4 RV|
|28||10/14/82||Success||4-missile salvo from submarine. 1 RV. Full-range (9572 km)|
|32||10/14/82||Success||4-missile salvo from submarine. 4 RV|
|25||10/14/82||4-missile salvo from submarine. Missile not fired.|
|34||12/02/82||Success||From submarine. Full-range. 2 RVs.|
|35||12/12/82||Success||3-missile salvo from submarine. 5 RVs|
|36||12/12/82||Success||3-missile salvo from submarine. 2 RVs|
|37||12/12/82||Success||3-missile salvo from submarine. 4 RVs|
(Two more missiles produced for the flight tests - No. 4 and No. 11 - were disassembled as part of the test program. Missile No. 25, which was not fired during the 4-missile salvo on 14 October 1982, was later placed on combat duty.)
As we can see, the beginning of the R-39 flight test program was quite rocky - only three of the first ten flight tests were successful. Bulava, in fact, has a somewhat better record at this point - four of its ten flight tests are believed to be successful (although only one was declared "full success"). On the other hand, these were the Soviet times when the defense industry did not really counted the money, so any flight test program was almost expected to take tens of missiles. Nobody expects today that the Bulava program will have the luxury of expending 37 missiles during tests as the R-39 program did.