updated 7/16/2009 3:18:31 PM ET 2009-07-16T19:18:31

Russia's latest test of its advanced submarine-launched ballistic missile Bulava has failed, with the missile self-destructing, the Defense Ministry said Thursday — another setback for the nation's efforts to upgrade its aging arsenal.

The failure was the seventh in 11 test launches for the Bulava, and could have consequences for Russia's top missile designers and missile force commanders.

The Defense Ministry said in a statement that the missile was fired Wednesday from the submarine Dmitry Donskoi, but its first-stage malfunctioned and the weapon self-destructed.

No other information was released.

Russian forces earlier this week conducted two successful tests of another less-advanced missile, the Sineva. Military analysts, however, had been closely watching for the latest, long-promised test of the Bulava.

Defense Ministry officials had suggested a test was likely on Wednesday. However, there was no announcement of any sort that day, stoking speculation that the missile had again failed.

"Another failure would certainly provoke a serious soul searching in Russia," Pavel Podvig, a well-known analyst of Russia's missile forces, wrote in his blog on Wednesday. "It is probably too late to shut the program down, but the fact that the industry is not able to get the missile to fly ... is quite worrying."

Despite the failures, Russian leaders have boasted about the Bulava's capability to penetrate missile defenses and described it as a key part of the military's future nuclear arsenal.

Aging arsenal
Military commentator Alexander Golts said the failure was due to the fact that top government and military leaders were rushing to upgrade the aging-Soviet arsenal to keep up with the U.S.' technological advances.

He said missile designers skipped crucial steps in the testing process, such as running tests on land, instead of going straight to maritime conditions.

He also noted that the Bulava is the first missile to be designed and manufactured in post-Soviet Russia. That means that many of the research institutes and scientists who worked closely under the Soviet military industrial complex have withered away, for lack of government funding.

"The system disappeared, and they've had to build the system from scratch, and therefore serious failures," he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, who is overseeing efforts to upgrade some of Russia's military capabilities, was quoted last month as saying that the Bulava would have to undergo many more tests before being commissioned into use.

Ivanov also blamed the failures on manufacturing flaws, saying that it's difficult to control the quality of all parts supplied by the 650 subcontractors involved.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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