- The Washington Times - Friday, December 11, 2009

MOSCOW | The failure of a new Russian intercontinental ballistic missile during testing was the cause of spectacular spiraling blue lights in the skies over northern Norway, analysts said Thursday.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said a Bulava missile was launched Wednesday by a nuclear submarine submerged in the White Sea and its third stage suffered an unspecified failure.

Photographs and amateur video footage of the bluish-white in the Norwegian skies have been circulating on the Internet since Wednesday. Russia did not confirm that these lights were the result of the failed launch, but military analysts said the lights were clearly a result from the explosion of the Bulava.

“This kind of light show comes from a failed missile launch,” said Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent military analyst. “Russia has run free fireworks for the Norwegians.”

The botched launch was the 12th test of the Bulava and its eighth failure, which deals another blow to the Kremlin’s hopes that the sea-based weapon would become a cornerstone of its nuclear arsenal.

“They will have to spend quite a long time trying to make it working,” said Alexander Konovalov, the head of the Moscow-based Institute for Strategic Assessment. “That is fraught with very negative consequences, up to the loss of the sea-based component of the Russian nuclear forces.”

The ministry said that a government commission was looking into the reason for the test failure.

Officials have insisted that the Bulava’s design is fine and have blamed the previous failures on manufacturing flaws resulting from post-Soviet industrial degradation. They have said it’s difficult to control the quality of all the parts supplied by the hundreds of subcontractors involved in the program.

“Every time they give a different reason for the failure, and that shows that there are problems with the quality of components,” said Alexander Golts, an independent military analyst. “To build a state-of-the-art weapon like the Bulava, it’s necessary to have a chain of subcontractors working well. Clearly, they can’t do it.”

Despite the repeated failures, the military must make Bulava work, military analysts said.

The missile was fired from a new nuclear-powered submarine, launched earlier this year and undergoing sea trials. Two more subs are being built and the construction of a fourth will start soon.

The new submarines would replace the aging Soviet-era ones, which are approaching the end of their lifetimes. The old submarines carry the Sineva missile, which is too big and too heavy for the new type of submarines.

“It’s a paradoxical situation,” Mr. Konovalov said. “We have the Sineva missiles, which are quite good, but the submarines carrying them won’t serve for long. And we have a new good type of submarines supposed to carry the Bulava, but the Bulava isn’t available.”

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