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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Designer Quits After Missile Failure

The country’s top missile designer resigned Wednesday after the failed test-launch of a naval ballistic missile last week weakened Moscow’s negotiating position with Washington over a new arms treaty.

“Yury Solomonov has submitted a letter asking that he be relieved from his duties as the general director and chief designer of the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology,” said Alexander Vorobyov, a spokesman for the Federal Space Agency, which oversees the top-secret institute.

Vorobyov said the resignation had been accepted.

Solomonov’s Bulava intercontinental missile has failed in seven out of 11 test launches since 2004, the latest on July 15 when the missile self-destructed 20 seconds after launch from the submerged Dmitry Donskoi submarine in the White Sea.

This was the first test in 2009 and the first since Russia and the United States began negotiations over a new strategic arms reduction treaty to replace the Cold War-era START I agreement, which expires in December.

“If Russia had the Bulava coming soon, this would make its negotiating position stronger,” said Vladimir Yevseyev, a security analyst with the Institute of Global Economy and International Relations. “Now, we don’t have the missile, and a lot of the blame for this rests on Solomonov.”

U.S. and Russian negotiators met in Geneva on Wednesday for their first round of talks since Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev agreed on the framework for the new treaty at a Moscow summit on July 6.

The Bulava, which can carry up to 10 nuclear warheads, is based on the Topol, which was also designed by Solomonov’s institute and carries only a single warhead. Analysts say Russia needs the Bulava to maintain its nuclear parity with the United States as its Soviet-built missiles rapidly age and are decommissioned.

The military had planned to enter the Bulava into service in 2008, but after the first failed tests the deadline was delayed by a year and is now undecided. The military has postponed further tests until an internal investigation is carried out over the latest failure.

Solomonov’s resignation does not mean that work on the Bulava will stop, Interfax reported, quoting an unidentified senior officer with the General Staff.

Solomonov, 64, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Solomonov started working at the design bureau in 1971 and became its chief designer in 1997. He gained significant clout after he developed the land-based Topol and Topol-M in response to a Defense Ministry order for a missile that could be produced with purely Russian-made parts. The older missiles contained components made in Ukraine, where several enterprises involved in maintaining the Soviet nuclear arsenal were left after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Solomonov’s newfound clout helped him to persuade the military to chose the Bulava over another proposed intercontinental ballistic missile, the Bark, said Ruslan Pukhov, an analyst with the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies.

Solomonov’s design bureau traditionally led in research and design for land-based missiles, while naval missiles were developed at the Miass, Chelyabinsk-based Makeyev State Rocket Center.

“Solomonov made a successful land missile, but he overestimated his ability with the naval one,” said Gennady Yevstafyev, a retired lieutenant general and a nuclear arms researcher with the PIR Center think tank. “It took Solomonov too long to acknowledge this.”

The military has a lot riding on the Bulava. Its three newest Borei-class nuclear submarines are designed especially to carry Bulavas. One of the submarines, the Yury Dolgoruky, cost 23 billion rubles ($800 million) to build, and it completed sea tests earlier this month.

Redesigning the Borei submarines to carry the Sineva, the intercontinental ballistic missile currently deployed on nuclear submarines, would cost roughly as much as building new submarines, said Alexander Khramchikhin, an analyst with the Institute of Political and Military Analysis.

Solomonov’s departure is likely to open the way for new designers who specialize in naval missiles to join the Bulava project, analysts said.

The Federal Space Agency said Wednesday that it had started a search for a replacement for Solomonov and that Solomonov’s first deputy, Alexander Dorofeyev, would serve as acting head for now. The new chief designer will be named in September, it said.