German Navy Fail: Watch Missile Explode Aboard Frigate During Launch

The German navy suffered an embarrassing and perilous training accident on June 21, when a failed missile launch ended up showering one of its frigates with sparks and debris.

The FGS Sachsen was operating off the coast of Norway when the mishap occurred, USNI News reported. Two sailors were lightly injured—but as video of the accident shows, it could have been much worse.

Footage shot from another ship, likely the FGS Lübeck, which accompanied Sachsen on the exercise, showed the front portion of the frigate bathed in flames and smoke as the missile exploded immediately after leaving its launcher. Sailors filming the accident can be heard cursing in shock as a loud bang echoes across the waves.

German Ship Explosion
An SM-2 missile explodes on launch from the German frigate FGS Sachsen off the coast of Norway, on June 21. Two sailors were lightly injured, but it could have been much worse. USNI

The Sachsen is the first of the highly advanced Type 124 air-defense frigates ordered by the German navy. It entered service at the very end of 2013. The ships are some of the most potent in the German arsenal, and the project to build the current fleet of three vessels (a fourth was planned but has not been built) was one of the most expensive in the service's history, costing around $2.3 billion.

"We were standing in front of a glistening and glowing hot wall of fire," Captain Thomas Hacken said in a press release from the German navy. Hacken was on the bridge at the time of the explosion, right next to the launch tube. Photos posted to Twitter showed the paint on the outside of the bridge had been burned off by the fire.

The weapon that malfunctioned was a Raytheon-made SM-2 missile. Each one is around 15 feet long and weighs more than 1,500 pounds. The SM-2 is designed to intercept enemy aircraft and anti-ship missiles out to 90 nautical miles and an altitude of 65,000 feet.

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An investigation has been launched to establish the cause of the failure. Two sailors were lightly injured, suffering from light traumatic stress. Both received treatment and quickly returned to service, the navy said. Following the accident, both the Sachsen and Lübeck sailed to the Norwegian port of Harstad.

The navy press release said the missile had been checked before firing and was found to be "in perfect condition." The failure came immediately after another launch that went off without a hitch. The crew will be evaluating the damage and establishing what went wrong over the coming days, they explained.

The navy told Newsweek that although the cause of the explosion had not been confirmed, the accident had no operational impact. The spokesperson also noted that the Type 124 frigates are the only German vessels using the SM-2.

The accident is reminiscent of an incident on the American guided-missile destroyer USS The Sullivans in July 2015. While training off the coast of Virginia, the ship launched an SM-2 missile that exploded soon afterward. There were no injuries, but about $100,000 worth of damage was inflicted on the ship.

Updated | This article has been updated to include a statement from the German navy.