Missile Launch Goes Wrong on German Warship

RIM-66 Standard MR/SM-2 missiles on a Mark 26 launcher

An SM-2 missile got stuck in a missile launcher on a German air defense frigate on June 21, 2018 off the coast of Norway. The exhaust from the missile caused serious damage to the bow of the ship and injured two German sailors.

The FGS Sachsen was the first of four Type 124 air defense frigates in service in the German Navy. The crew was trying to launch a Standard SM-2 air defense missile. The engine ignited but the missile did not leave the Mk.41 vertical launch system silo.

The resulting explosion was followed by a short-lived, intense fire while the rocket motor burned. A video of the incident has been uploaded to Twitter, complete with German swearing.

Though the fire lasted for only seconds the damage to the ship was extensive and severe. Fortunately, the two injured sailors received only minor injuries.

Sachsen launching an SM-2 missile. By Bundeswehr-Fotos -CC BY 2.0
Sachsen launching an SM-2 missile. By Bundeswehr-Fotos -CC BY 2.0

The German Navy called the injuries “stressverletzt” which indicates that they most likely experienced acute stress reactions to the incident. Both sailors have since recovered and have returned to duty.

German frigate Sachsen at the deperming range in Wilhelmshaven. By Ein Dahmer / CC BY-SA 4.0
German frigate Sachsen at the deperming range in Wilhelmshaven. By Ein Dahmer / CC BY-SA 4.0

Frigate Captain Thomas Hacken, the task group commander, called it “a glaring and glowing hot wall of fire.”

The German Navy credited the crew’s quick reaction with controlling the situation. The frigate also had a water sprinkler system which automatically activated to extinguish the fire.

A RIM-66 SM-2 being assembled.
A RIM-66 SM-2 being assembled.

The navy said that the system had shown no indication of having a defect and an SM-2 had been launched from the same system not long before the explosion occurred. The rocket had also been inspected and found to be in perfect technical condition.

The Sachsen was on a training mission along with the FGS Lübeck. The two frigates returned to the Harstad port in Norway on June 22. The Sachsen will be evaluated to determine the cause of the accident and determine necessary repairs.

Frigate F214 Lübeck. By Chris Bannister CC BY 2.5
Frigate F214 Lübeck. By Chris Bannister CC BY 2.5

According to the Lockheed Martin website, the Mk.41 Vertical Launching System (VLS) is capable of accepting any missile into any cell in the launcher. The system is capable of firing anti-air, anti-submarine, ship self-defense, strike and anti-surface warfare missiles. It allows crews to simultaneously prepare one missile in each half of the launcher which gives them the ability to react quickly to multiple threats.

A number of navies around the world use the Mk.41 VLS including Germany, the US, Canada, Japan, Turkey, Spain, The Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand.

Mark 41 vertical launch system onboard HMNZS Te Kaha
Mark 41 vertical launch system onboard HMNZS Te Kaha

The SM-2 missile that misfired is approximately 15 feet long and weighs over 1,500 pounds. The SM-2 was developed to give air and cruise missile defense capabilities as part of the US Navy’s Aegis Combat System.

The SM-2 family of missiles are all solid-fueled and tail-controlled. They are designed to combat high-speed, high-altitude anti-ship cruise missiles. They have mid-course guidance and radar support from the ship’s systems which help the missile locate the target.

An SM2 being launched from the Spanish frigate FFG Canaras July 2016
An SM2 being launched from the Spanish frigate FFG Canaras July 2016

The SM-2 was originally intended to replace the SM-1 surface-to-air missile. It places an emphasis on modularity in design which makes upgrading the missiles easier.

The German Type 124 frigate comes with a 32-cell Mk.41 VLS. They are armed with 24 RIM-66 Standard Missiles SM-2MR (Block IIIA) and 32 RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles / ESSM.

The German frigate Sachsen (F 219) prepares to dock into Naval Station Mayport, Florida, 8 February 2007
The German frigate Sachsen (F 219) prepares to dock into Naval Station Mayport, Florida, 8 February 2007

Read another story from us: Assembling and Launching A V-2 Rocket 

Additionally, Type 124 has an Oto-Melara 76/62 DP gun, 2 Mk.141 missile launchers armed with 8 RGM-84 Harpoon SSMs, 2 Mk.49 missile launching systems with RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missiles, 2 MLG27 27mm machine gun systems and 2 Mk.32 triple torpedo tubes (12.75”) for EuroTop MU90 Impact torpedos.