Trident 2 Tumbles, Blows Up in Failure of First Sea Launch
A Trident 2 missile somersaulted end over end and exploded in a spectacular fireball four seconds after launch from a submarine today in a major failure for the first sea test of the Navy’s deadliest weapon system.
With a Soviet trawler on hand to witness the brief flight, the three-stage $26.5-million missile, carrying a load of dummy warheads, was fired from the Tennessee at 11:20 a.m. while the giant submarine was cruising submerged east of Cape Canaveral.
Propelled from one of the Tennessee’s 24 missile tubes by a powerful charge of compressed gas, the first stage of the 126,000-pound solid-fuel missile ignited as planned seconds after the rocket cleared the ocean surface. Almost instantly, the big missile began cartwheeling through the sky, witnesses said.
“It went up just like normal, it popped out of the water and then it spiraled around twice and then it exploded,” photographer Bill Mitchell said by radiotelephone from an observation ship 5,000 yards from the submarine.
‘Two Quick Loops’
“It got about two missile lengths above the water. It was like the engine gimbaled over to one side and then it made two quick loops, end over end. It cartwheeled . . . and then it exploded.”
An Air Force spokesman, reading a statement, said the first stage fired as planned and that a “malfunction during first-stage powered flight” caused it to “veer off course.”
“It self-destructed after about four seconds of flight,” he said. “Exact cause of the malfunction can’t be determined until telemetry data is studied.”
It was the fourth failure of a Trident 2 test flight in 20 launches dating back to January, 1987, and was especially disappointing to the Navy because it came during the first sea test of the new weapon system. The others were launched from a ground pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The 44-foot missiles are thought to have a maximum range of up to 6,900 miles, depending on how many warheads are carried, and they are believed to be so accurate they can deliver an independently targetable nuclear bomb to within 400 feet of a target.
Critics claim that with such pinpoint accuracy the Trident 2 could be used to knock out “hardened” enemy command posts and missile silos and as such, it should be viewed as a “first-strike” offensive weapon.
The missile system has been a frequent target for protesters at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station since test flights began in January, 1987.
The Trident 2 is built by Lockheed Missiles and Space Co. of Sunnyvale, Calif.