Home » Budget Industry » VIDEO: Missile Explodes During German Frigate Training Exercise; Incident Similar to 2015 U.S. Navy Explosion

VIDEO: Missile Explodes During German Frigate Training Exercise; Incident Similar to 2015 U.S. Navy Explosion

June 21, 2018 explosion of an SM-2 Block IIIA over the German frigate FGS Sachsen (F 219)

New video and photos released this week show the extent of the damage on a German frigate following an apparent missile explosion last week during a training event off the coast of Norway.

FGS Sachsen (F 219) was operating with FGS Lübeck (F 214) near the Arctic Circle when it attempted to fire a Standard Missile (SM) 2 Block IIIA as part of the exercise, the service said in a release.

The footage, presumably shot from Lübeck, shows an explosion after just departing the vertical launch cell of the warship. The explosion rained down a shower of sparks and debris onto the frigate.

“We were standing in front of a glistening and glowing hot wall of fire,” German Capt. Thomas Hacken, who was on the bridge, said in a translation of a news release from the service.

Photos of ship posted on a German maritime news site show the explosion scorched the paint of the frigate’s bridge and the vertical launch cells battery. Two German sailors suffered minor injuries. After a brief port call in Norway, both frigates returned to their homeport of Wilhelmshaven, Germany, on the North Sea on Tuesday.

Officials at Raytheon, the company that built the SM-2, referred questions on the incident to the U.S. and German navies.

Damage suffered by FGS Sachsen (F 219) following a June 21, 2018 missile explosion. German Navy Photo

The incident is similar to a 2015 missile explosion over the U.S. guided-missile destroyer USS The Sullivans (DDG-68) during a training exercise off of Virginia. During the attempted launch on July 18, a similar SM-2 Block IIIA exploded shortly after launch from the destroyer. The explosion resulted in no injuries and only about a $100,000 in damages to the ship.

A Raytheon SM-2 Block IIIA guided missile explodes over USS The Sullivans during a training exercise on July 18, 2015. US Navy Photo obtained by USNI News

Based on the investigation following the 2015 explosion, “SM-2s with the older Mk 104 Mod 2 Dual Thrust Rocket Motors (DTRM) manufactured by the defunct Thiokol Corporation (now part of Orbital ATK) before 1992 — which also manufactured the shuttle programs SRBs — have been placed on the ‘Wartime Use Only’ list,” USNI News reported at the time.

  • Sam42

    Dang! Gotta use them missiles before the expiration date ya know 😛

    • tpharwell

      If the missiles are not fit for use during peace time, they are not fit for use during wartime; only, more so. The Navy’s thinking about this is all wrong. These missiles are quite old, They are no longer being built the same way, which alone casts doubt on them. They should be disposed of.

      • Bubblehead

        100% correct.

        Unfortunately I think SM2 IIIA’s are large percentage of the USN stockpile of Standard missiles.

        This is a major issue that needs immediate addressing. It should not be swept under the rug by saying only use the missiles in wartime!

        • Hugh

          Do they get re-grained at time intervals?

      • NavySubNuke

        “War use only” doesn’t mean that as soon as a war breaks out the Navy will happily un-box these, load them onto ships, and send them into the fight.
        The actual truth is that “war use only” means that we would only use these when everything else has already been used up and there are literally NOT OTHER OPTIONS.
        If we are in the middle of a shooting war and the ONLY SM-2s left in the inventory are these — would you rather have an empty VLS tube or a missile that might blow up when you try to fire it?
        Personally, I’d rather have the missile that might fail because it might not. I’d like to at least have a chance and an empty VLS tube gives you no chance at all.

  • Ed L

    Lucky indeed only two sailors injured. Defected rocket motor? Hopefully there is video and enough pieces to figure out what went wrong

    • GRV01

      >>Defected rocket motor?
      Who do you think flipped them? Chinese? Russian?

    • USNVO

      The typical issue is there is a crack in the rocket propellant casting which causes an explosion instead of burning. That could be a result of a defect in the casting or there are numerous other things that could have led to the cracking after it was delivered. Unfortunately, figuring out what happened is far easier than figuring out why it happened.

  • Bob Oswald

    Thiokol…as in Morton/Thiokol?

    • publius_maximus_III

      O-ring a bell?

      • NavySubNuke

        Oh man – that was colder than a 36 degree day in Florida….

  • publius_maximus_III

    Nicht gut. From the German photos, looks like the front of the bridge got pretty fried. We’ve replaced the old powder magazine with something just as lethal.

  • John Locke

    Chinese parts

  • NavySubNuke

    Yikes, glad to hear no one was seriously injured.
    Hopefully it was just a problem with a bad missile and not a problem with the entire lot of missiles.

  • Duane

    Seems like a missile rocket motor that has a tendency to explode shortly after ignition should not be designated “for wartime use only”, but rather should be replaced or upgraded. Wartime is a very bad time to find out that your missiles don’t work.

    The logic here seems bass-ackwards.

    • bob

      It sounds like: “well, we bought a crap-ton of these things, they’re ancient should we get rid of them? Nah, we just hang onto them if there’s a war. If they go boom no one will notice”

      Beancounters, gotta love them

      • NavySubNuke

        But if it is a real war and we have already fired off the reliable SM-2s — wouldn’t you rather have one of these to fill up your VLS tubes rather than going to see with an empty VLS tube?
        Some chance of taking out an enemy missile is better than no chance after all.
        Remember – “war time use only” doesn’t mean — “oh yes, we are at war — go grab all that crappy old stuff”. What it actually means is, “oh crap, we have been at war so long that we have already fired all of our reliable missiles, the only missiles we have left are these old ones that might blow up. Oh well, it is better than not having any missiles at all!”

        • bob

          Sorry, that was meant as a dig at the finance types that bought so much at one time that we couldn’t rotate the stocks. And yes, it is better than nothing.

          • NavySubNuke

            Well we put this version in service in 1991 so chances are the buy was sized to the needs of the cold war Navy and we suddenly found ourselves with plenty of extra when the cold war ended and we were friends with everyone who had missiles to shoot at us.
            In 2018 however, we probably need to start buying like it is 1990 again….

    • TomD

      Just like our torpedoes in early WW2.

    • waveshaper1

      Yep, they should only be used on the 4th of July as part of the fireworks display and only initiated from an unmanned/remote platform :<)

    • NavySubNuke

      Think of it this way — if the war has gone on so long that our stocks of reliable SMs and ESSMs are all gone and the the choice is then between having a missile that might (or even probably) will explode or having no missile at all – which would you choose?
      I personally would rather a missile that *might* blow up than to have an empty VLS.

      • Duane

        I would very much prefer that a defensive missile, one whose sole purpose to defeat incoming missiles capable of knocking out our ships, actually works.

        It’s like showing up at a duel with a pistol loaded with blanks. Or maybe like showing up at a medievel joust with a shield and suit of armor that doesn’t actually shield.

        • NavySubNuke

          As would anyone.Life doesn’t always give you that chance though.
          Of course I would prefer a missile that is 95% reliable to a missile that is 35%. But by the same token, I’d rather a missile that is 35% reliable than no missile at all.

          • Duane

            How you operate your ship and fleet is tremendously affected by whether your defenses are 35% reliable or 95% reliable. If it is the former, a fleet commander will first and formost avoid engaging the enemy.

            It’s math.

          • NavySubNuke

            Certainly – but that has no actual relevance to this discussion.
            The issue at hand is your objection to the navy saying these unreliable missiles are for war use only.
            To people who don’t know that they are talking about that means as soon as a war breaks out the Navy will happily un-box these, load them onto ships, and send them into the fight.
            The actual truth is that “war use only” means that we would only use these when everything else has already been used up and there are literally NOT OTHER OPTIONS.

          • Duane

            As usual you are just trolling me looking for any excuse to disagree.

            You are apparently not intelligent enough to understand that the only correct response is to fix the rocket motors so they do not fail.

            You know, like the Navy did back in 1943 when it was finally forced to acknowledge that its torpedoes were unreliable, but only after ignoring repeated pleas from our sub commanders and chief torpedomen, such that too many enemy ships escaped destruction and way too many of our sub sailors ended up on eternal patrol.

            And here you are arguing that it is no big deal that the rocket motors don’t work on one of our key missile defense weapons.

            SMH squared

          • NavySubNuke

            Oh dear – “the only correct response is to fix the rocket motors” — that is neither the only response nor the correct response.
            1) You don’t “fix” solid rocket motors — you replace them
            2) It costs money to replace solid rocket motors — money that has been a little scarce since this issue was identified in 2015
            3) If you don’t have enough money to fix the problem right away you have to accept the risk until you actually have the money to fix the problem by either:
            3A) Procuring new motors to replace the motors that have aged out
            3B) Procuring new missile assets to replace the ones with aged out motors
            While you are waiting for the money to carry out 3A or 3B —- both of which are perfectly viable solutions consider the Block IIIA is an old missile design that has been in service since 1991 —- you simply take the missiles that you are worried about and mark them as “for war use only” —- in which case you would only use them IF YOU HAVE NO OTHER MISSILES AND THE ONLY ALTERNATIVE IS TO DEPLOY WITH EMPTY VLS TUBES
            You do realize there is only so much money in the budget each year right? You also realize that there is only so much production capacity for solid rocket motors in this country right? We can’t just wave our hands and magically pour a bunch of new SM-2 motors out of thin air for no money — we need both funding and spare production capacity.
            Nice try through!

          • USNVO

            You mean we don’t have a huge surplus of depot technicians and spare parts just waiting to change out the whole navy’s missiles every time something happens?

            There are other options as well. For instance (note that all numbers that follow have no relationship to reality but are used for demonstration purposes only), let’s just say that the missile has a 30 year shelf life. And, let’s further say that there have been 57 launches of the same batch of rocket motors over the last 24 years and all of them worked fine. Then you might choose option

            3C) Transfer the missiles to War Use Only and wait for them to age out. After all, the odds of a rocket failure is pretty slim even if it is a manufacturing defect (there are numerous post-delivery actions that could have resulted in the rocket motor being damaged including lousy crane operators, lousy fork lift operators, etc.). But, since it is only a few years until they age out anyway regardless of the motor, only use them if you have too. By the time you could change the rocket motor out, it is time to demil the missile anyway.

            And of course, it is unlikely that the German missiles are from the same lot since they were probably not purchased until after 2000 when they had ships that could actually fire them.

          • USNVO

            “…the only correct response is to fix the rocket motors so they do not fail.”

            Actually, there are plenty of things you can do but let me give you an example.

            In the early 80s, there were a string of Trident C4 OT failures. Did they fix anything? No, they shot off a bunch more and demonstrated the missile was reliable. All ordnance (absent the D5 so far) rarely works perfectly every time.

            The missile in 2015 failed rather spectacularly, but how many others have failed in a similar fashion out of the, literally, hundreds fired to date?

          • Duane

            Then you volunteer to serve on a ship where its primary missile defense weapon has unknown performance? And you don’t even havy any freaking idea why some work and some don’t?

            I didn’t think so.

            That was the same attitude displayed by the Navy in 1942-1943 concerning the Mk 14 torpedo and its magnetic exploder, which almost certainly had a big effect on the 52 submarines that went on eternal patrol.

          • USNVO

            Sure, if by unknown you mean the SM-2 Blk IIA, though why you would use that missile for “missile” defense is beyond me (you might want to look up how a Blk IIA varies from a Blk IIB and what they are used for. How many standard missiles with rockets from that lot have been fired? Hundreds. How many have resulted in this problem? One. I will take those odds. And if you had any first hand experience with naval ordnance, you would know it happens all the time (albeit not in such spectacular fashion).

            By your logic, big guns are unsafe because there have been a handful of turret explosions in a hundred years! Or Tomahawks because they sometimes fail to achieve horizontal flight.

            I spent a couple of weeks at NWAC during my time at NPS and got to look at the telemetry of a bunch of seasparrow and standard missile shots (I was working on a systems effectiveness model). Several were of failed tests, did they immediately recall every missile? No. Bottom line, one failure doesn’t make a trend.

            The most likely scenario was they investigated the problem, looked at a bunch of rocket motors of the same production lot, could not find anything wrong, probably even shot some off in tests, and concluded that the missiles were safe (there are numerous reasons why a rocket motor might fail on launch and only one of them involves an inherent flaw in the rocket as delivered). However, in an abundance of caution, they determined to not fire anymore in exercises. At the time, they were almost 25years old, they had to be due for demil or rebuild fairly soon when the problem would be addressed anyway.

            And please, the sample you cite about the torpedos in WWII is completely different. Yes, they are both situations with ordnance problems but the circumstances are completely different. In one case, you had a torpedo that had never, not once, been tested as a war shot versus one that goes through war shot tests dozens of times a year.

            So to summarize, one event doesn’t make a trend. Even two events which seem similar but probably aren’t doesn’t make a trend and certainly not a reason to act like chicken little.

          • Fortunately, the choice here is not between 35% and 95%. Since hundreds of Standard missiles have been fired during naval exercises (both U.S. and allied), and since over 99% are NOT exploding upon launch, then every naval leader’s math leads to the same conclusion.

            Given a choice between: 1.) maintaining fleet presence with 99% reliability (while also investigating the incident), or 2.) cowering under a 1% risk, surrending the seas and retreating all vessels to home port, then option #1’s 99% confidence is the only rational choice.

            There is no fairy tale option #3: assert perfect hindsight, claim to have a time machine, transport to the past and fix an anomaly that appears 1% of the time and hasn’t even been defined yet. Your choice is 99% effectiveness or retreat – decide.

  • TomD


    1) What would have happened if the missile exploded inside the cell? We can assume an answer is available, but what is it, in full?

    2) In wartime the ship cannot stop firing missiles. Is the VLS capable of continued operations after such an incident “cools down”?

    PS, the first German comment on the video needed no translation!

    • waveshaper1

      I would imagine if it explodes in the cell there is a possibility it could breach neighboring cells in the VLS module. This could start a chain reaction type explosive event involving missile motors/warheads/explosive components of missiles located in other cells (initiating/igniting/low order det/high order det or a combination of these). I assume an event like this could potentially breach the module itself, anyway it definitely wouldn’t be good for the crew/ship and I’m sure the USN has data on this type stuff.

  • WhiskyTangoFoxtrot

    Imagine if this would’ve happened to an LCS, a Hellfire exploding over the ‘open’ missile cell bay-massive explosion followed by burning and melting of the thin aluminum superstructure all the way down to the water line. The ship and crew would be ‘gone’ in a matter of minutes. This German ship only suffered some scorched paint due to it’s Naval standard level of construction, steel, armored box, etc. The none-warship, commercial grade build LCS will not survive such an accident. Now I’m sure the fleet admiral’s comeback is “this will never happen to an LCS,,,” “the Hellfire is superior to and SM missile….” “The LCS is tougher than a destroyer..” “no sailor has ever been hurt on an LCS…” “sheesh, sheesh, sheesh, sheesh.” But the world awaits his rant.

    • Duane

      Your surmise on what would happen to an LCS with an exploding rocket motor is full of hot air. It would have done damage to an LCS similar to what resulted on the German frigate. A rocket motor blowing up provides nowhere near the destructive power of an armor piercing blast frag ASCM warhead detonation.

      Remember that a UAE Swift vessel in late 2016 took a direct cruise missile hit on the foredeck and not only survived but made it back to port.

      A Swift (the former HSV-2) is an all aluminum transport catamaran built to commercial standards and has no defensive systems whatsoever, and is less than half the displacement of LCS at 1,600 tons. The missile warhead (a Chinese built C-802, with a 350 pound warhead – about twice the warhead size of the French Exocet that took the USS Stark out of action, killing 37 sailors) made a direct hit near the bow and detonated. The ship survived and made it back home, but was later salvaged.

      The lesson from these and other anti ship cruise missile hits is that if a medium to heavy cruise missile hits any warship, it will do heavy damage, kill a bunch of sailors, and most likely knock the ship out of action for a very long time, if not permanently.

      Therefore the overriding consideration in ship design is to successfully prevent enemy ASCMs from hitting the ship. That applies just as much to an Arleigh Burke DDG, or a Nimitz class CVN, as it does to a LCS.

      • Retired

        butt-hurt much?

        • Jon Tessler

          Duane is not butt hurt…every post WTF comes out with the same spiel about LCS’s and their inability to be anything more than a target. we ALL GET IT…..he hates the LCS……i guess he thinks if he says the same thing 5 million more times, some bean counter in the E ring of the Pentagon will wave his magic wand and completely erase the LCS program from existence.

          at this point he is simply boring and adds nothing to the conversation

          • Mk-Ultra

            In every comment section you guys post paragraphs crying about Duane. Then when he comments you people complain some more.

          • Jon Tessler

            i am not complaining about Duane…i am complaining about the complainers….

          • Mk-Ultra

            I didn’t realize I was replying to you. I meant to reply to “Retired”


  • cunning linguist

    Guess Germany still does need to rely on the U.S. for its defense. Oops.

  • Ed L

    I seen this happen with old model rocket motors. And with a sea sparrow missile twice.

  • coakl

    Did the warhead go off? Or just the rocket/fuel?

    I would change ‘Wartime use only’ to, “Fourth of July celebrations only”.
    Shoot it out of a fireworks mortar, not a billion-dollar destroyer.
    Can’t think of any CO who would want something like that in the missile magazine.

  • sferrin

    Now imagine if that CATO had occurred IN the cell.

  • Herman Moore

    You guys are all missing what really happened since 2015 ”Misfire” The U.S. Gave/Sold the faulty missiles to their NATO Partners, and here we see the result of that decision.

  • RDF

    Low order explosions are typically caused by cracks in the propellant over time that don’t burn, but act more like well, low order explosions. The case gets ruptured and burning propellant gets sprayed. Not good.

  • waveshaper1

    I think he’s referring to the motor cooking off in the cell and possibly causing the warhead to experience some type of burning/explosive reaction. Also, a warhead doesn’t need to be armed to also cook off/burn in a rocket motor induced fire type event (burn/low order det/high order det). The SM 2 Block IIIA contains the MK 125 warhead and lots of info should be available on how this warhead reacts in a module/cell type confined space fire event. I’m sure the US Navy has all the data on all the SM 2 Block IIIA/MK125 Warhead Hazard Classification Tests (fast cook off test/slow cook off test/bullet – high velocity frag impact test/etc).

  • waveshaper1

    Good info but; in both these recent rocket motor incidents, the rocket motor casing was violently breached/ruptured in an uncontrolled/damaging explosive event. IMHO, these two incidents wouldn’t be classified has either a misfire or restrained fire event. I would imagine these two abnormal explosive events would cause significantly more damage to the VLS (if this happens while it’s still loaded in the tube/cell) than a normal misfire (no damage obviously) or restrained fire (which the VLS is designed to safely handle/vent). Unless I’m missing something here (I’m getting old), this is how I see it;

    – Misfire = The rocket motor igniter malfunctions (this could be for a number of reason) and the rocket motor propellant is never ignited. Basically you still have a complete live missile with its full-up live rocket motor still in its tube.

    – Restrained Fire = Igniter functions properly and ignites the rocket motor propellant which “functions normally” but the missile doesn’t leave its tube. The reason it doesn’t leave its tube is because its restrained in its normal loaded position. This is because the detent/explosive bolt that’s used to hold the missile in its locked/restrained position malfunctioned. The rocket motor still functions and goes through its normal burn time, all gas is vented through the VLS vent system, and its cooled by the deluge system.

  • NavySubNuke

    I’m not trolling in the slightest – I’m simply pointing out the truth to someone who has no actual clue what they are talking about.
    If you actually knew anything about solid rocket motors like this you would realize why you can’t simply “fix” a motor problem.
    “Standing around with your head up you as* doing nothing about a repeated failure is exactly the wrong thing to do.”
    There is is literally zero evidence that this is true – this is merely an assumption on your part that in no way reflects the reality of the situation.
    “It appears that the SuW fleet and you and a few other commenters here simply don’t care, and are perfectly willing to gamble with sailors lives from the safety of your own home”
    LOL, funny words from the guy who wants to send sailors to sea on virtually unarmed death traps not even meant for combat rather than on real warships.
    But again, your viewpoint on this is based on 1) your incorrect assumption nothing is being done 2) your ignorance of solid rocket motors.

    • Jon Tessler

      Duane, the fact is missiles, guns etc…sometimes do not work as advertised. You investigate the problem, and devise a fix. Most of the time the fix does not include reworking entire ordnance systems. I was a GMG in the 80’s and 90’s, I saw plenty of systems have “failures”. Sorry but you don’t call a weapon system failure a “warranty repair” issue. Heck I have shot thousands of rounds out of Gun Mounts with no issue, and then I get either gun or ammunition failure. I don’t go to the CO and go “sorry sir, but the failure means i gotta take the mount and ammo out of service so we can fix everything”. It doesn’t work like that.

      Heck, so this is the 2nd “restrained fire” incident…now you have to ask how many missile launches with this same lot of missile and rocket motor have occurred. If it is 2 failures in 3 launches….then yep, you have a problem. If it is 2 failures out of 100 launches, you simply have what amounts to a “system anomaly”. You review all the data, and most likely do nothing, except schedule that lot of missiles for further inspection at the earliest convenience.

      oh as far as “SUW fleet willing to gamble with sailors lives”….Sailors know that they are in a dangerous business, and people do die in the military…..they also die walking their dog, and driving their cars…..you don’t get to pick the place and time that Death comes knocking at your door, you just hope it isn’t sooner rather than later.

      • waveshaper1

        “Heck, so this is the 2nd “restrained fire” incident”
        I don’t believe these 2 incidents fall in the “restrained fire” category.

  • waveshaper1

    Now that’s what I call detailed info, thanks.