Attrition: Up In Smoke

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May 27,2008: Once more, poor Russian storage practices have led to a major loss of expensive missiles. On May 23rd, at an airbase 250 kilometers northeast of St Petersburg, a fire in a missile storage facility, led to the destruction of nearly 500 air-to-air missiles. For over an hour, nearby civilians could see and hear explosions, including several missiles which flew skyward and landed outside the base. Since the end of the Cold War, there have been several know accidents in missile storage areas. Each time, it was apparently poor layout and management of the sites which caused the problem. Many existing munitions storage sites still have the poor layout, and lax practices of the Soviet era.

The list of known disasters is long. Three years ago, in the Kamchatka Peninsula, at the mainnaval base of the Pacific Fleet, a fire broke out in an ammo depot. This is yet another such incident at Cold War era ammo depots that contain large quantities of very old ammunition. In this case, thousands of shells were stacked in the open, in preparation of destroying them. Somehow a fire broke out, and hundreds of these shells exploded. Some 4,000 local civilians were evacuated.

In 2004, an ammunition storage depot in Ukraine went up in flames, accompanied by massive explosions. Eleven years ago, a major ammunition depot in Siberia caught fire, and thousands of tons of ammo burned and exploded. But hundreds of tons of stuff (grenades, shells, bulk explosives) where blown clear of the area. For years, local civilians have been collecting this stuff, and selling it to criminals. A year later, another Siberian depot exploded, sending some shells flying for over ten kilometers. Several local civilians were killed.

The worst of these disasters occurred in 1984, when the main ammo depot of the northern fleet went up, destroying so many missiles that the fleet was critically short ofmunitions, and not combat ready, for six months.

 


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