This post has been updated with additional information from NAVSEA.
A Navy guided missile destroyer was damaged after a missile exploded shortly after launch during an exercise off the U.S. Atlantic coast on Saturday, Navy officials have confirmed to USNI News.
“On July 18 at approximately 9 a.m. (EDT) a Standard Missile-2 (SM-2) test missile exploded after suffering a malfunction as it was fired from the guided-missile destroyer USS The Sullivans (DDG-68) during a planned missile exercise off the coast of Virginia,” read a statement from Naval Sea Systems Command provided to USNI News.
There were no reported injuries and though the ship suffered a small fire on its port side “from missile debris” the destroyer was able to return to Naval Station Norfolk, Va. unassisted, NAVSEA said.
“It is too early to determine what, if any, effect this will have on the ship’s schedule,” read the statement.
The missile, believed to be an older Raytheon Standard Missile 2 Block IIIA, exploded shortly after takeoff and showered the ship with debris sparking the fire on the ship’s port side, according to pictures of the incident obtained by USNI News. The photographs show ignited debris shower the ship and the surrounding ocean. The explosion appears to have occurred slightly lower than the mast of The Sullivans.
The warhead on the missile was unarmed, NAVSEA told USNI News.
Naval Sea Systems Command’s program executive office Integrated Warfare Systems (PEO IWS) is now investigating the cause of the malfunctioning missile, NAVSEA officials told USNI News.
According to pictures of the explosion obtained by USNI News, a fire broke out on the port side of The Sullivans shortly after the missile launched.
The Sullivans was performing a missile exercise along with the guided missile destroyer USS Carney (DDG-64) which was not damaged during the incident, USNI News understands.
The SM-2 Block IIIA, first fielded in 1991, was developed to not only handle traditional air threats like fighters but was modified to interdict sea skimming targets like cruise missiles.
While the Navy didn’t comment on why the missile failed, the photos point to a problem with the rocket engines that drove the SM-2.
Largely for safety reasons, the Navy almost exclusively uses solid rocket fuel for its missiles and incidents involving failures of the engines are largely non-existent.
Several experts contacted by USNI News could not recall a similar incident with any other SM-2 missiles but all recalled a solid rocket failure from more than four decades ago.
In 1969, the solid rocket motor of a MK-32 Zuni rocket was overheated and misfired from a F-4 Phantom onboard the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) that sparked a fire on the flight deck resulting in the death of 27 personnel.
The following is the complete July 22, 2015 statement from the Naval Sea Systems Command on the July 18 incident.
On July 18 at approximately 9 a.m. (EDT) a Standard Missile-2 (SM-2) test missile exploded after suffering a malfunction as it was fired from the guided-missile destroyer USS The Sullivans (DDG 68) during a planned missile exercise off the coast of Virginia. There were no injuries and only minor damage to the port side of the ship resulting from missile debris. The ship returned to Naval Station Norfolk for assessment. An investigation into the malfunction has been ordered and is being conducted by the Navy’s Program Executive Office for Integrated Warfare Systems, which is part of Naval Sea Systems Command. It is too early to determine what, if any, effect this will have on the ship’s schedule.