MOSCOW – Russia's new sea-based ballistic missile has failed in a test launch for the fifth time, signaling serious trouble with the highly advertised key future component of the nation's nuclear forces.
The Bulava "self-destroyed and exploded in the air" after a launch from the Dmitry Donskoy nuclear submarine beneath surface of the White Sea, said Navy spokesman Capt. Igor Dygalo.
Russia has been making an aggressive effort to upgrade its missile forces after years of underfunding and a lack of testing.
The Kremlin has hailed the missile as capable of penetrating any prospective missile defenses.
Washington's plan to deploy a ballistic missile defense system in Eastern Europe has sparked increasingly belligerent comments from the Kremlin and the Russian military, who say it will undermine the nation's security.
The Bulava is reportedly designed to have a maximum range of about 6,200 miles (10,000 kilometers) and carry six individually targeted nuclear warheads. It is expected to equip three new Borei-class nuclear submarines that are under construction.
"This is a serious blow to Russia's military plans to deploy the Borei submarines," said independent military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer. "The failure delays (Bulava's) production and deployment indefinitely."
Russian news agencies said that Tuesday's test was the fifth failure out of 10 launches since 2004. After the last successful launch in late November it hit test targets on the Kamchatka Peninsula, some 4,000 miles (5,500 kilometers) to the east of the launch site in less than 15 minutes.
Windfall oil revenues in recent years have allowed the Kremlin to buy weapons and fund the development of new missiles. But a plunge in oil prices coupled with the ongoing financial crisis cast doubt over the future of the troubled weapon.
The navy said several more launches of the Bulava are planned for next year.