A bad day for the Russian military

The Russian military suffered two major accidents today — a fire on the Ekaterinburg SSBN and the crash of a Su-24 on landing in Volgograd.

The submarine fire was quite serious and burned for seven hours.  The Ekaterinburg was in dry dock at the time undergoing scheduled repairs. Its nuclear reactor had been shut down and its weapons offloaded for the repair. The sub eventually had to be submerged in order to completely put out the fire, though it appears from initial news reports that the damage was limited to the outer hull as the fire didn’t penetrate to the interior.

There’s conflicting information on injuries — most news outlets are reporting that there were no injuries, but one report indicated that nine people had been taken to the hospital with injuries caused by the fire. The fire appears to have been caused by sparks emitted during a welding operation, which spread to nearby construction debris and then to scaffolding being used in the submarine’s repair. From there, the fire spread to the submarine’s outer hull, damaging the special noise-reducing rubber coating located on the submarine’s exterior between the outer and inner hull. While it seems to be too early to know for sure, early reports indicate that repair of the submarine will take at least six months.

Meanwhile, in Volgograd, a landing Su-24 on a routine training flight crashed and exploded. Both members of the crew were able to eject from the plane and survived the incident. This is the second crash of a Su-24 in the last few months. In October, a Su-24 on its way to be repaired crashed on landing in Amur oblast after overshooting the runway. In that case, the crew members were killed. It was later determined that that crash was caused by a broken chassis that caused the plane to flip over and also ruptured the plane’s fuel tank, causing a fire. According to RIA-Novosti, at least fifteen Su-24 aircraft have crashed in Russia since 2000.

These two accidents may serve as an early test for Dmitry Rogozin, the newly appointed Deputy Premier in charge of the defense industry. If he wants to show from the start that he is serious about shaking things up, he may use them as an excuse to push through a major house-cleaning of the industry, parts of which are known to have lax quality control and safety standards. Or he may continue to make strong statements that receive a great deal of media attention with little to no follow through, as he did in his previous position as Russia’s ambassador to NATO.

UPDATE: Ilya Kramnik emailed me with a correction — the rubber covering on the Ekaterinburg is not between the outer and inner hulls, but on the outside of the outer hull. There is some minor damage to communications between the two hulls.

Also, there’s been official confirmation that seven crew members and two emergency ministry personnel (i.e. firefighters, most likely) had suffered from smoke inhalation.