July has not been a good month for naval missile launches. On July 18, during an exercise off the coast of Virginia, the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS The Sullivans launched a Raytheon Standard Missile 2 Block IIIA anti-aircraft missile. The missile, an older model of SM-2 originally delivered to the Navy in 1991, exploded shortly after launch, just barely clear of the ship’s superstructure—showering the ship with debris and starting a fire on its flight deck.
Then, on July 26—during a naval parade at Sevestapol, the home of the Russian Black Sea fleet in Crimea—the Russian Navy’s guided missile frigate Ladny attempted to launch an RPK-3 Metel anti-submarine missile. The RPK-3 Metel is a torpedo-carrying missile called the SS-N-14 Silex by NATO, and it has a range of about 55 kilometers. The RPK-3 was launched at a simulated target from within Sevestapol’s harbor. But the boost stage of the missile spectacularly exploded at launch, sending its rocket engines spinning wildly away while the body of the Metel splashed into the harbor. Amazingly, no one aboard the ship or watching from the shoreline was injured. The Metel weapons system was first introduced into the Soviet Navy in 1969.
This could have ruined everybody’s day.
In the wake (so to speak) of the explosion of the missile launched from The Sullivans, the US Navy has restricted use of some older SM-2 missiles to “Wartime Use Only” while a review board determines the cause of that failure. The Sullivans is in Mayport, Florida undergoing repairs to damage caused by the explosion.
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