A $23.7-million Trident 2 missile cartwheeled out of control and exploded Tuesday just four seconds after it blasted off on the first submarine test-launch of the Navy’s newest, most powerful weapon, the Navy reported.
The crew of the nuclear submarine Tennessee launched the long-range missile while cruising submerged in the Atlantic several miles off Cape Canaveral.
The 44-foot Trident 2 burst to the ocean’s surface and its first-stage rocket motor ignited before the malfunction “caused it to veer off course and self-destruct after four seconds of flight,” a Navy statement said.
Flaming debris from the missile showered into the ocean. The Navy said no damage was done to the submarine or nearby support ships.
The Navy said divers later recovered the nose section and other wreckage from the destroyed rocket, debris that could aid in the investigation into what went wrong.
Each of the three-stage Trident 2s can deliver three to 12 warheads to individual targets up to 6,000 miles away. The Navy said the test missile carried only an instrumented dummy package.
The failure could delay Navy plans to have the intercontinental range Trident 2 operational in time to send the Tennessee on patrol late this year with 24 of the deadly weapons.
The statement said the exact cause of the malfunction cannot be determined until the flight data is studied.
The test was the first of about 10 undersea firings planned here in the next few months. That program could be put on hold while the failure is being investigated.
The Navy says the new weapon is much more accurate than its undersea predecessors, Polaris, Poseidon and Trident 1, and can match the targeting ability of land-based missiles even though it is launched from a submerged, moving submarine.
Tuesday’s launch from the Tennessee was preceded by what the Navy called a highly successful series of test firings from a land launch pad at Cape Canaveral, dating back to January, 1987.
Fifteen of those tests were rated successes and one a “no test,” which occurred when an Air Force safety officer destroyed the missile by triggering on-board explosives with a radio signal after his radar indicated it was off course.
The Tennessee is the first of nine submarines equipped to carry the Trident 2.