German frigate Sachsen has suffered significant damage as a result of a misfiring missile.

The accident happened last week, June 21st, off Norwegian coast. We understand from local media reports that only two crew members were hurt, sustaining minor injuries.

The missile was launched from launcher in front of the bridge, but didn’t take off and burned out in launcher, inflicting serious damage.

This comes at a bad time for the German military, not long after the scathing ‘Report on the Operational Readiness of the Bundeswehr’s Primary Weapons Systems’ was published. The report lead the Bundestag’s military commissioner, Hans-Peter Bartels, to complain about “large holes in personnel and equipment” in the Bundeswehr that have resulted in two thirds of the German armed forces being being non-operational.

The problem, he explained, has worsened over time due to the German military not replacing out of date equipment.

The German Navy temporarily lost its last submarine in October, as the rudder of its last Type 212A was severely damaged in a collision with a rock off the Norwegian coast while the rest of the fleet was out of service. It is also understood that none of the new frigates, the Type 125s, are able to enter into operational service due to defects and a similar situation is faced by auxiliary ships, Berlin and Bonn, which were sent to dry dock for a year and a half of repairs.

32 COMMENTS

  1. Looks like no one was badly hurt thankfully. Locating VLS or other launchers right in front of the bridge does seem odd. The T23s and T45s have Harpoon right in front of it. Doesn’t seem the best location to me, unless I am missing something. What if the misfire resulted in the warhead exploding? It would take out the bridge and most of the officers.

    • I believe only two crew members suffered minor injuries. Most likely from banging their heads on the roof after jumping out of their skins.

    • The shielding on the launcher seems to have held up pretty well all considering. Its really strange the rocket booster appears to have performed as expected so not sure how it didn’t propel it out of the launcher. There is a photo online showing the aftermath of the launchers and it shows the lid of a launcher sitting 1/4 open but id like to think the missile wouldn’t launch unless it was fully opened.

    • T45 doesn’t have Harpoon. T23’s did but are launched to port and starboard from angled launchers. T45 is fitted with Sea-Viper a VL missile fired from its own canister

      • Srewart – not quite correct,4 of the 6 T45’s have/are to be fitted with Harpoon Launchers recovered from the retired T22 B3 Frigates.

  2. Bad enough, and thank goodness there appear to be no injuries, but it could have been so much worse. Suppose the warhead had detonated and triggered off other missiles. Don’t know if that is likely or even possible, but maybe someone more knowledgeable could comment.

    • Most modern VLS systems are strengthened so that if a missile detonates in its cell the explosion is contained within said cell. I think the correct way to do this is what the Russians do which is to install the launch systems at a slight angle so that a failed missile is ejected over the side instead of detonating in its cell.

      • I wonder whether dedicated Sea Ceptor (SC) canisters are angled, for instance what did they do on the T23 conversions?

        If a SC fails to launch then presumably that’s just the compressed gas not going off and none of the other systems are activated (e.g. thrusters might safety-catched by an accelerometer) so not a dangerous situation. If however the soft launch did toss the missile up to the 30m (I believe) ejection height and the orientation thrusters failed to fire it would drop back down and by the looks of the test firing videos I have seen that would be back onto the ship but maybe the camera angle was misleading on the videos. In that case I wonder whether the main rocket motor would fire anyway to avoid a drop back onto the ship. Would a main motor ignition at 30m be high enough for the rocket exhaust not to damage the ship or for it to at least be the safer option than falling back onto the deck? (I’m assuming here that the missile could then be detonated once it was clear of the ship in case it went straight back up and down again although that would be incredibly unlucky – then again as a kid I did very nearly kill myself by shooting an arrow straight up into the air; a friend pushed me out of the way just before it came back down and embedded itself right where I had been standing!)

        • If I remember correctly from when I was stood next to them the SC tubes do have a slight angle on them that points outboard. Hopefully that’s enough to put any temperamental missile into the water and not onto the deck. I’m not sure what the initiator circuit is for a SC motor so I cannot say the motor will fire no matter what after a cold launch.

          On the second point As you almost always have ahead speed on when doing a shoot the what goes up must come down scenario is usually avoided!

          • Many thanks for the info Gunbuster, and for the very interesting stuff on Mk41 hang fire & misfire stuff below.

            I can’t believe I disconnected my brain enough to think an upward firing missile might actually land back on the firing ship since, even if that did by some miracle look likely to happen, a simple change of speed would avoid it. I guess my childhood bow-and-arrow near death experience must have clouded my thinking!

            In case any physicists are reading, I, and I am sure Gunbuster, are aware that in pure theory (i.e. no wind or air resistance effects) the horizontal velocity vectors of missile and ship would stay identical so that a missile fired upwards from a moving ship would in fact land back on the ship but, even if by some miracle no air effects perturbed the missile’s horizontal velocity vector between launch and landing, it is trivial for the ship to change its own horizontal velocity vector by either a speed or a course change or both such that it is no longer the same as the missile’s.

    • Surely the ship is not going fast enough such that the missile, when it falls, falls overboard? Yes the chance of the missile falling back exactly where it was launched is tiny, but it would still land further back on the ship wouldn’t it? (Ignoring the angling of launchers)

      • In practice I suspect yes because of wind resistance but in theoretical physics terms the answer is no. It’s one of the somewhat counter-intuitive things about even classical physics (relativity and especially quantum mechanics are even less intuitive).

        The example I was first taught ironically does involve a ship and a naval weapon. The example is a sailing vessel moving forward at a good rate. A sailor climbs to the top of the mast with a cannonball, holds the cannonball out 50cm in front of the mast (he was metric – pretty cutting edge for the age) and drops it. Does the cannon ball hit the deck 50cm in front of the mast or closer to the mast? The answer is that, assuming no effects from wind, air resistance etc, the cannon ball will land exactly 50cm in front of the mast. As I said, somewhat counterintuitive. The reason is because the cannonball is travelling at the same horizontal velocity as the ship and when the sailor drops it the only force acting upon it (because we’re ignoring wind resistance) is vertically downwards (gravity) so with no horizontal forces acting upon it Newton’s 2nd law tells us that it will not experience any acceleration and with no acceleration its velocity vector will not change, I.e. in the horizontal plane it’s position will continue to track that of the ship and thus it will maintain its horizontal position exactly 50cm in front of the mast as it falls towards the deck.

        What would actually happen in practice is that before dropping it the sailor is anchoring the cannonball to the ship thus keeping its horizontal velocity aligned with that of the ship. When it is released it would then in real life experience wind effects that would exert a horizontal force on it which would probably reduce its forward speed (i.e. the magnitude of the horizontal velocity) so it wouldn’t quite keep up with the ship and would fall slightly aft of the firing point. Given that missiles don’t have a big surface area and are probably quite aerodynamic even side on though I think that even in the real world were a vertical 30m eject and drop back to happen people might be quite surprised about how close to the firing point the missile landed (ignoring any angling of the launchers).

    • Whats bad on that one is after the video of the incident.
      The crew is stomping around the deck clearing up .
      The deck at this point had quantities of unstable solid rocket motor propellant all over it. Tread on it and it could ruin your day.
      That’s Sea Dart queens for you…

  3. From the looks of the video, the boost motor fired (Orange flame) but the missile stayed in place. That would indicate that the missile restraining bolts did not release and the missile stayed put.
    That’s a Hang fire , not a Misfire. Misfires don’t ignite…Hang fires do.

    The efflux will have vented from not just the efflux vents in the launcher but also out of the missile tube. From the video the white blobs flying around would indicate that the motor broke up as well and spread itself over the upper deck. Somewhere in that burning mess is also going to be the High Explosive warhead unless they had a telemetry pack fitted in place of the warhead (Doubtful). I talked to a “steely eyed missile man” US colleague and he told me an SM2 has a dual boost solid propellant rocket motor. This usually means it is a boost and sustainer motor in the same rocket tube. The boost part which burns first is a solid propellant which consists of lots of short lengths of cordite type explosive which has a high surface area. (It could look like say… star shaped macaroni or similar.) When ignited it burns quickly(High surface area) producing high volumes of gas which exits via the motor aperture giving you a high impulse thrust. When that burns out the sustainer motor (also solid propellant) takes over but burns at a slower consistent rate to give constant thrust over the range of the missile.

    All missiles have restraining bolts that hold them in place on the launcher or vertically in place in a VL launcher. They are either mechanically actuated or shear bolts. It doesn’t pay to have a VL missile rattling around in a VL tube in rough weather with the vessel pitching and rolling. Same goes for the old beam type launchers (sea sea dart video!) as you don’t want the missile sliding off the beam in roughers.

    The MK41 has a deluge system that sprays the tubes in case a hang fire like this happens. That was actuated. Missile tubes also have a lot of fireproof cladding in them to stop Hang fires burning through the deck below the rocket motor. I dont know from the reports if this cladding held.

    The damage to the bridge will be due to the ship sailing into the wind at a set speed for the shoot which is standard practice. Any hot efflux from the Hang fire will have been blown back against the bridge burning the paint.

    The door being closed probably just means the crew closed the door as best they could after the incident to stop heavy weather filling the MK41 tube with water. As it is the missiles around the damaged tube will, I expect, need to be removed and overhauled/disposed of as they have probably been exposed to excessive heat which can cause a chemical breakdown in the propellant and an increase in explosives sensitivity to shock and handling.

    All in all a very nasty incident that did not result in serious casualties which was good to see.

    • It’s actually called a restrained firing. Not a hang fire. A hang fire is when there’s a delay between the weapon receiving a firing pulse and leaving the launcher. For a hangfire the weapon is still launched.

      • Well its always been a hangfire in the RN for the 30+ years I was trained and luckily only once did have to deal with one …

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