May 4, 2018

Worries Resolved :) All 8 Borey SSBNs will have 16 SLBMs

Since this article “Soumarsov” short for “Sous-marins soviétiques” (Soviet Submarines) has steered me in the direction of more accurate information on Russian submarines. The website is in French with lots of Russian. But these no longer present language barriers, due to:
- on-site “Translate” popups, or
- once in the site right-click mouse to Translate, and/or
- by playing around in the Google Translate box/fields.

An issue that I know keeps submarine aficionados up at night is whether Russia will go to the trouble of fitting its 5 later model Borey 955A SSBNs, not with 16 SLBMs, but with 20. A myth persists on English language websites that from the 4th Borey/Borei (Project 955) SSBN onwards 20 SLBM silos will be fitted.

Russian Wikipedia, on Russian Subs, Better Than English

“Starting from the fourth hull, all submarines of the Borei class will have 20 missile tubes each, versus 16 for the first three boats.”

But see Russian Wikipedia, which provides a more accurate description of Project 955 Borey Submarines. Once in the Russian site wait 10 seconds for any "Translate" popup or right-click mouse to Translate. Note in the right sidebar “Armament” is:

 “16 missiles of the D-30 complex [6] , SL -30 SS-NX-30 Bulava   Number of missiles: 16 (project 955), 16 (project 955A) [7]” 

So 20 Bulava SLBMs is old news, perhaps encouraged by the glory days of 20 SLBM Typhoons (confusingly called "Akulas" in Russian).

A little More Primary Sources

Returning to Boreys the 16 SLBM original intention stretches back to 2010 (see last paragraph).

Since 2013 Russian military-industrial specialists have made is clear that the current 16 SLBM silos will be retained for all Boreys. See:

February 2013’s then right-click mouse to “Translate to English” New "Borey-A" nuclear submarines will be armed with 16, not 20 "Bulavami" [Bulava SLBMs]... "The 955A project differs from the classic Borey [plain] (Project 955), but not in the number of missiles on board - there [will remain] 16. Accordingly, the displacement of the boat will remain the same," the representative of the military industrial complex said. [see much more on Borey-A improvements]


 “The [SSBNs] of the upgraded project 955A (Borey-A) will carry 16 Bulava [SLBMs] rather than 20, as previously planned, a source in the Russian defense industry told Interfax on Saturday. This will [permit later model Boreys to be built] faster and cheaper.

[which continues] “”"A few days ago at the state level, the final decision was made that all five [Borey 955As] will be armed with 16 ballistic missiles...” add four missile silos, it is necessary to extend the hull of the [Boreys] by 10 meters, to make other structural alterations in them, which would make the [Boreys] heavier and bulky.

The decision on missile armament of the modernized "Boreys" was also taken in view of the trend in the construction of strategic submarines by the leading maritime powers. The development of new missile submarines does not focus on a large number of missile silos, but on ensuring combat stability and survival of boats in the course of combat patrolling.

"16 rockets are enough to launch a nuclear strike against “Borya” [which Pete takes to mean “You know who!" ie America] the most important thing is to covertly go into combat positions and launch missiles for designated purposes." What's the point if a boat with 20 rockets is discovered and destroyed by the enemy without having to launch."

For further background and diagrams (like the Borey above) see Soumarsov’s 


One thought is that the US and Russia may see zero sum game threats (meaning "one person's gain is anothers loss") from North Korea (NK) and China building more nuclear warheads. Say 1,000 for China? 

It is possible then the rising NK and Chinese capabilities would cause:

-  the US to fit or retrofit 10m to 20m plugs (for 4 to 8 more SLBMs respectively) on to its new 16
   SLBM future Columbia class SSBNs 

-  Russia might then retrofit 10m or 20m plugs onto its Boreys for the same purpose.

I think, instead the US would build additional Columbia and Russia additional Boreys all retaining 16 SLBMs. To fit or retrofit 10m or 20m plugs would mean many major adjustments would need to be made to the subs to  maintain acceptable Columbia/Borey handling, steering and above all stealth.

Soumarsov and Pete


Peter Coates said...

The How Many Bulavas in improved Borey (16 or 20)? debate continues:

The Diplomat May 9, 2018 reports

"The Knyaz Vladimir was laid down in July 2012. It is the first of a planned fleet of five Borei II-class SSBNs destined for the Russian Navy. Borei II-class boats boast...extra missiles in comparison to the older variant of the class...

...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."

Peter Coates said...

StrategyPage article of May 13, 2018 "Submarines: Russia Redefines Combat Ready" at

is probably the most readable article on the latest Boreys/Boreis having 20 SLBMs:

"... the Delta IVs carrying the R-29s will be gone by the early 2020s, done in by old age.

...Four Boreis have been built and four others are under construction.

...first of the new Borei class SSBNs built. This boat [S1] the Yuri Dolgoruky, was launched in 2008 and then encountered further delays before undergoing sea trials in 2012. The Yuri Dolgoruky was supposed to have been launched by 2006, but there were technical problems that caused more delays.

The other two Boreis ([S2] Alexander Nevsky and [S3] Vladimir Monomakh) benefited from all those delays and were built much more quickly. Starting with the fourth Borei [S4] there have been some major changes made and this version is called Borei II [S4 to S8]. These slightly larger Boreis can again carry 20 SLBMs and have some new equipment and features as well as being a bit longer than the original Borei.

[article then goes into much more detail on the Boreys "Boreis" and the Bulava SLBMs]