Er . . . oops?

It seems a Russian S-300 long-range anti-aircraft missile had a slight . . . er . . . problem on launch the other day.  Its tube fired it right out, but the main rocket motor failed to ignite.  That’s when it showed the real problem with a vertical-launch system . . . namely, that what goes up must come down.  Watch in full-screen mode for best results.

I hope there weren’t any operators in the launch vehicle at the time!

This also illustrates the difference between ‘cold’ and ‘hot’ launch methods.  The Russian technique is to ‘blow’ the missile out of its vertical launch tube by means of an auxiliary system, usually compressed air.  The missile’s motor fires only after ejection.  This is known as a ‘cold launch’ system.  It has the advantage that, if the main rocket motor fails to fire, it can eject the missile anyway;  but if the missile tube is pointed straight up, you get the result seen above.  The USA uses a ‘hot launch’ system, where the missile’s own motor fires inside the tube and shoots it out.  If the motor fails, the missile doesn’t launch at all.  This forces a labor- and time-intensive extraction procedure afterwards, but at least the missile can’t fall back on its launcher!



  1. America does use the cold or "soft" launch for anti-tank missiles like the TOW and Javelin. This puts less stress on the gunner, whose face is inches away from the launch motor. Similar with larger rockets, a soft launch does less harm to the launch vehicle. And sometimes the motor fails to ignite. What we see in your video is the motor igniting late (on the ground).

  2. Ouchie…

    Obviously, that left a mark!

    Man, those Russians sure know how to "throw" a party – complete with "fireworks"!

  3. The Russians also preferred "cold launch" for their ICBMs for a few reasons one of which was the ability to reload a missile silo relatively quickly if it happened to not get dug out by US nuclear strikes. If the war went on for a protracted period of time the reloading of silos with fresh missiles was seen as very advantageous. It forced your opponent to allocate precious weapons to a silo even if the first bird was on the way to its target. You'd be trying to dig out an empty hole but if it could be reloaded in a matter of hours or days you couldn't afford to ignore it. I remember reading somewhere that it normally takes Vandenberg AFB months to repair a silo after a "hot" minuteman test launch. The newer, more capable but now retired MX/Peacekeeper was "cold launched" and was much quicker to reload in an expended silo.

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