updated 10/25/2006 12:18:46 PM ET 2006-10-25T16:18:46

An experimental Russian ballistic missile veered off its course shortly after having been launched from a Russian nuclear submarine and fell into the sea Wednesday in its second consecutive launch failure in as many months, officials said.

The Bulava missile was launched from the Dmitry Donskoy nuclear submarine underwater in the White Sea toward a testing range on the far-eastern Kamchatka Peninsula, but it veered off its designated flight path minutes after the liftoff. The missile self-liquidated and its fragments fell into the sea, the navy said in a statement.

The botched launch signaled serious problems with the much-lauded Bulava.

The previous Bulava launch, from the same submarine on Sept. 7, also ended in failure, prompting Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov to urge quick action to prevent the mishap from damaging plans for commissioning new Borei-class submarines.

‘A big problem’
Three such submarines currently under construction are to be equipped with Bulava.

"The failure means that the entire new class of submarines has no missile to be equipped with," Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent military analyst, told The Associated Press. "That's a big problem for the military."

The two previous flight tests of Bulava missiles in 2005 were successful, and another test in 2004 that did not involve firing the missile's engines went well, Russian news reports said.

The missiles are being developed by the Moscow-based Heat Technology Institute, which designed the new ground-based Topol-M missile and had no previous experience in building submarine-based missiles.

The institute's chief, Yuri Solomonov, said the Bulava could also be modified for use with land-based strategic missile forces.

Earlier this year, he said the Topol-M and Bulava missiles would form the core of the nation's nuclear forces until 2040 and allow Russia to maintain nuclear parity with the United States.

Designed to carry 6 nuclear warheads
According to Russian news reports, the Bulava has a range of 6,200 miles and is designed to carry six individually targeted nuclear warheads.

Felgenhauer said that authorities had skipped test launches of Bulava from land-based launchpads in order to save funds and speed up their deployment. "During the Soviet times, they didn't test-fire experimental missiles from submarines because it was considered too risky," he told the AP.

Other submarine-based missile tests for the Russian military have ended in failure in recent years.

The navy suffered two embarrassing launch failures during Northern Fleet maneuvers attended by President Vladimir Putin in February 2004 when one missile failed to blast off from a submarine and a day later, another exploded shortly after launch.

"Russia has serious problems with the naval component of its nuclear forces," Felgenhauer said.

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