The failure of a new Russian intercontinental ballistic missile during testing was the cause of the spectacular, spiraling, blue lights seen early Wednesday in the skies over northern Norway, analysts said.
Russia's defence ministry said a Bulava missile was launched Wednesday by one of its nuclear submarines in the White Sea and that an unspecified failure occurred during the third stage of the launch.
Photographs and amateur video footage of the bluish-white lights in the Norwegian skies have been circulating on the Internet since Wednesday. The ministry did not confirm that these lights were the result of the failed launch, but military analysts said Thursday that they were clearly a result of the Bulava explosion.
"This kind of light show comes from a failed missile launch," said Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent military analyst. "Russia has run free fireworks for the Norwegians."
The botched launch was the 12th test of the Bulava and its eighth failure, which deals another blow to Kremlin's hopes that the sea-based weapon would become a cornerstone of its nuclear arsenal.
"They will have to spend quite a long time trying to make it working," said Alexander Konovalov, the head of the Moscow-based Institute of Strategic Assessment. "That is fraught with very negative consequences, up to the loss of the sea-based component of the Russian nuclear forces."
Bulava is a lighter type of missile that Russia needs
The ministry said that a government commission was looking into the possible reasons behind the test failure.
Officials have insisted the Bulava's design is fine and have blamed the previous failures on manufacturing flaws resulting from post-Soviet industrial degradation. They have said it's difficult to control the quality of all the parts supplied by hundreds of subcontractors involved in the program.
"Every time they give a different reason for the failure, and that shows that there are problems with the quality of components," said Alexander Golts, an independent military analyst. "To build a state-of-the-art weapon like the Bulava, it's necessary to have a chain of subcontractors working well. Clearly, they can't do it."
The missile was fired from one of the Russian military's new nuclear-powered submarines, launched earlier this year and currently undergoing sea trials. Two more subs are being built, and the construction of the fourth will start soon.
The new submarines will replace the aging Soviet-era ones, which are approaching the end of their lifetime. The old submarines carry Sineva missiles, but those are too big and heavy for the new type of submarines, which is why, analysts say, the military must overcome the repeated test failures and make the lighter Bulava missile work.