The Navy intends to proceed with a planned test launch of the controversial Trident missile this weekend, even though some White House officials are warning it could provoke Soviet ire and taint the cooperative atmosphere of the Malta summit between President Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
The Soviets consider the Trident, capable of carrying as many as 12 nuclear warheads, a "first-strike" weapon. They have been pressing for it and a wide range of Navy weapons to be included in arms control negotiations.
But the Navy has stoutly resisted a welter of naval arms control initiatives by the Soviets. This weekend's test, the service has argued, must be held promptly to allow the Navy to meet important production schedules.
"The plan has not changed," said a Navy official of the scheduled launch from the submarine Tennessee off the Florida coast.
Officials of the White House's National Security Council ordered the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff to review all of its planned military activities this week, including the missile test, and scrub unnecessary activities that could mar the summit atmosphere.
"The message was, 'What you're doing could be viewed in light of the summit, so there could be a different context for it than on any other given day,' " said one Administration official.
But the Navy has argued that it must proceed with tests as quickly as possible in an effort to satisfy congressional restrictions on the use of program funds. The bill appropriating defense funds for 1990 approved a total of $1.44 billion for the production of 42 Trident missiles. But Congress directed that the Navy must first conduct three successful flight tests before it can use more than $250 million.