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Russian nuclear missile test fails, visible in Norway

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia admitted on Thursday another failed test of its much-touted Bulava intercontinental missile, after unusual lights were spotted in Norway across the border from the launch site.

The submarine-based Bulava (Mace) missile has been billed as Russia’s newest technological breakthrough to support its nuclear deterrent, but the repeated test failures are an embarrassment for the Kremlin.

The missile failed in its 13th test on Wednesday morning, Russia’s leading economic dailies Vedomosti and Kommersant reported on Thursday, quoting sources in the military-industrial complex.

Hours later, the Defense Ministry admitted the failure, saying the launch had been made by the Dmitry Donskoi nuclear submarine from a submerged position in the White Sea.

“It has been established ... that the missile’s first two stages worked as normal, but there was a technical malfunction at the next, third, stage of the trajectory,” a Defense Ministry spokesman said.

Norwegian experts reported sighting of phenomena in the atmosphere near the White Sea, where earlier Bulava rockets were fired, the Kommersant and Vedomosti newspapers reported.

Russia’s REN-TV showed footage of a spiral of white light, which it said was taken on Wednesday in Norway. The footage also showed a bright white light with a long blue tail on the horizon.

A strange light phenomenon is sighted in the night sky above parts of northern Norway, early December 9, 2009. Russia's new submarine-based intercontinental missile suffered the latest in a series of test failures, newspapers reported on Thursday, as unusual lights were spotted in Norway across the border from the launch site. REUTERS/Anita Olsen/Scanpix Norway


Staking heavily on the Bulava, the Kremlin also has overseen a costly project aimed at building a new class of nuclear submarines to carry the missile -- the Borei (Arctic Wind).

The first submarine of the class -- Yuri Dolgoruky -- for months has been undergoing sea tests, while two others are being built. The laying of the keel for a submarine of the more advanced Borei-A class is reported to be set by year’s end.

“This is a catastrophe ... Huge funds were siphoned off from Russia’s moribund navy for the Bulava project. In fact, billions of dollars have been flushed down the drain,” Alexander Khramchikhin, chief analyst at the Moscow-based Institute of Military and Political Analysis, said.

Of 11 previous reported tests, at least six have been unsuccessful, including one on July 15 when a Bulava self destructed after a malfunction during the first stage of its flight from the White Sea.

Later media reports said there also had been an attempt to launch the Bulava in October but it was put off at the last moment due to a technical glitch.

The 37-tonne, 12-meter (39-ft) intercontinental ballistic missile, known as the Bulava-30 inside the Russian military, is capable of carrying multiple warheads to the distances of up to 8,000 km (5,000 miles). Some sources say the Bulava can carry up to six warheads, others say 10.

The Kremlin has touted the missile as a unique weapon capable of breaching any air defense and a way to bolster the country’s once mighty submarine fleet.

Analysts criticize Moscow’s hurry to build the Bulava, as it already has a highly reliable Soviet-built Sineva submarine-based ballistic missile.

They also question awarding the Bulava contract to the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology which has never before built missiles for submarines.

(Additional reporting by Conor Humphries)

Writing by Conor Humphries and Dmitry Solovyov; editing by Michael Roddy