For the time being no exercise with SM-2 missiles
All SM-2 missiles of the same type as the one that caught fire in June 2018 are currently not allowed to be used for exercises. During a launch by the German frigate FGS Sachsen, an SM-2 Block IIIA missile burnt down while it was still in the VLS. Since then, research has been carried out to determine the cause, and until that is completed, no exercise launches are done. This was reported by the German Ministry of Defence to Naviesworldwide.com.
Launch of an SM-2 missile by an US Navy destroyer. (Photo: US Navy)
On June 21, 2018, the German Navy had a live fire exercise with two frigates near Norway. The SM-2 missile of the F124 class frigate FGS Sachsen burnt down. This caused major damage to the VLS and the bridge of the ship.
As claimed by a spokesperson for the German Ministry of Defence, the engine burnt. The SM-2 has a dual-thrust solid propellant engine. This Mk 104 Dual Thrust Rocket Motor from Aerojet Rocketdyne has two types of fuel. The first part of the fuel provides an enormous amount of energy and acceleration, causing the missile to leave the launcher. Next, the fuel meant for the flight towards the target is burnt. Other missiles such as the SM-3 or Harpoon have a separate booster, which is dropped after launch.
Immediately after the accident, an investigation was launched to find out the cause. When it will be completed is not yet known. In any case, the German MOD does not expect this to happen in the coming weeks.
Until the research has ended, no SM-2 missiles will be launched for exercise. “For safety reasons, all missiles of this type were initially blocked, which they are still,” said the German MOD’s spokesperson. Earlier, the Dutch MOD had already reported that no SM-2 Block IIIA would be launched by the Netherlands while the investigation is going on.
The SM-2 Block IIIA is used by the United States, Japan, Australia, the Netherlands, Germany and South Korea. However, there are sometimes differences in electronics. Denmark is currently ordering the missile.
For the time being, these restrictions have no consequences for the Dutch and German navies. No launches of SM-2s are foreseen until the second quarter of 2019.
The launch restriction only applies to exercises. The missiles will be launched in combat situations.
Incidents with the SM-2 are rare. However, in June 2015, an SM-2 missile exploded after being launched by USS The Sullivans. As claimed by the Dutch Ministry of Defence, the cause was a defect in the rocket engine. This missile was the same type as the German SM-2, but from an older production series. After the investigation of the incident, there was contact with the navies who use the SM-2 missile “about the cause of the incident and measures to prevent recurrence”, thus the Dutch MOD. They also wrote that “the US Navy has set a maximum life for a particular part of the missile. Part of the Dutch missiles has not yet exceeded this lifetime.”
All parties are now waiting for the results of this research. It is to be expected that in the future, users will again be informed of the outcome and any measures taken.